Story behind Mystic Manor: Imagineers get inspired by classic dark rides to create new adventures for Hong Kong Disneyland

in Disney, Entertainment, Theme Parks

When Hong Kong Disneyland officially opens Mystic Point this week, guests will witness the debut of an all-new attraction that feels oddly familiar. Though the story and characters of Mystic Manor are fresh creations for this new ride, longtime fans of Disney’s spookier side will notice some similarities to a few classic theme park experiences, but may be surprised at its high-tech differences.

There is a version of The Haunted Mansion attraction in every Disney theme park resort worldwide – except Hong Kong Disneyland. At Walt Disney World in Florida, Disneyland in California, and Tokyo Disneyland in Japan, it’s Disney’s ever-popular dark experience filled with 999 happy haunts. At Disneyland Paris in France, the same basic idea became Phantom Manor, giving The Haunted Mansion a Frontierland twist. And now in Hong Kong, Imagineers have been inspired once again to create Mystic Manor, offering a similar trip through an unusual mansion, but replacing the supernatural with mystery and intrigue blended with worldly culture.

The two videos below explore offer an extensive overview of the entire Mystic Point area and a closer look inside Mystic Manor, guided by Imagineers and executives responsible for the creations.

We’ve already shared a few ride-throughs of Mystic Manor, but these videos offer a more in-depth look at what these experiences are all about – without giving too much away – followed by an extensive interview that further explores the inspiration behind it all.

Video: Closer Look at Mystic Point experiences – Characters, store, restaurant

Video: Making of Mystic Manor with Imagineers

The Story Behind the Story

Walt Disney Imagineer Mark Schirmer is the Executive Creative Director of Mystic Manor along with Mystic Point, the new land that’s home to the groundbreaking new ride. He recently has worked on popular attractions like Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek and Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters in Tokyo Disneyland.

For Hong Kong Disneyland, Schirmer and his Imagineering team crafted an elaborate story inspired by some of the most widely-enjoyed Disney attractions of all time, knowing that what they were creating would immediately be compared to The Haunted Mansion.

“We actually embraced that,” Schirmer admitted. “That was one of the things we took on as a challenge from a design point of view. On one hand we wanted to go back to classic Disney roots and figure out what is it that was done in the days that Walt developed The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, or some of the great dark rides, and we wanted to go back to that, which was obviously core storytelling.”

But in today’s high-tech society, it wouldn’t be good enough to simply rehash the past. Disney wanted to create something that had never been seen before.

“The idea of this brand new story and brand new characters – that was something that we really wanted to dive into, but at the same time bring it forward to 21st century and really embellish it with state-of-the-art special effects. So that combination of the old and new was really something we were going after.”

And so began the tale of Mystic Point.

An Adventure Like No Other

Both Mystic Point and Mystic Manor share a common story. One does not exist without the other as they were all created, as the story goes, by the eccentric explorer Lord Henry Mystic. It’s a name unfamiliar to fans, new to the Disney universe. But anyone who steps foot onto the grounds created for him at Hong Kong Disneyland will quickly become acquainted with him – and his curious little monkey.

Schirmer said it all started when Imagineers decided on the topic of world travel and exploration.

“I think that set the stage for us to go forward and really get into the backstory of Mystic Point. Using that, obviously developing the character Lord Henry Mystic, […] and setting it back in 1908, is the essence where we’re taking you back,” explained Schirmer.

From there, the backstory of Mystic Point was developed, as Schirmer tells it:

On one of his expeditions he basically fell in love with this location – this uncharted tropical wilderness – and wanted to stake his claim, make his home there. So he cleared out part of the jungle along the river bank and built this Victorian manor. He’s obviously a well to-do British gentleman and he wanted a little bit of home in this tropical wilderness. He started with the essence of a Victorian manor but of course wanted to embellish it with all the different places that he’s been. So it’s this eclectic Victorian manor sitting in this cleared out jungle along the river.

While he was there, that’s where he met and actually rescued his traveling companion, a young monkey that he named Albert, after one of his beloved uncles. Between finding this location and meeting his now lifelong pal and companion Albert, this is really the essence of Mystic Point.

Continuing that idea through, we wanted to tell the story about his collection. Anyone willing to make this hard journey and stumble on or find Mystic Point, he – being kind of a philanthropic character – wanted to open the doors of his home to showcase his collection. And that’s what guests are coming to Mystic Point for, to showcase and be able to view the collection and also meet Lord Henry and Albert.

Part of Lord Henry Mystic’s collection.

The Mysteries of Mystic Manor

Mystic Point is comprised of multiple locations to explore, but the centerpiece is clearly the ornately decorated Mystic Manor, residence of Lord Henry Mystic and home to Hong Kong Disneyland’s newest ride.

But guests aren’t simply wandering through this extravagant house unannounced. Each and every visitor is invited there by Lord Henry Mystic, ready to show off his findings. Even before stepping onto the ride, guests have their first encounter with Henry and Albert.

Guests meet Lord Henry Mystic and Albert.

“The idea for the attraction is you go in and Lord Henry sets up the expectation that you’re coming to view his collection,” tells Schirmer. “But being an eclectic explorer / adventurer but also an inventor, he’s invented this carriage, this Magneto-Electric Carriage that is allowing you to ride through his museum collection, as opposed to walking through. So another special entity that Lord Henry is introducing is this ride carriage and we basically follow Albert through the museum and we get to see what takes place through Albert’s eyes.”

The Magneto-Electric Carriage.

The “Magneto-Electric Carriage” Schirmer mentioned is the ornate, trackless ride system that guides guests freely through Mystic Manor, sometimes gathering multiple vehicles together, other times breaking apart to offer a closer look at the events that unfold inside. He calls the unique ride system “one of our biggest advantages and biggest challenges at the same time.”

But unlike the linear path of The Haunted Mansion’s famous Omnimover system of Doom Buggies, Mystic Manor’s trackless system allows a certain freedom of exploration.

“Having this whole idea of illusion, mystery, and intrigue, the vehicle being able to follow a unique path and not get in your way by seeing a bus bar nor a track through the entire attraction has really been a plus for us,” said Schirmer. “And it’s really giving each vehicle almost a front row seat for all of the different scenes. That’s one of the things we think is really fun. It begs you to take on different vehicles, come back a second and third time and ride from a different perspective so you can see that.”

Once on board, guests are thrust before Albert who can’t help but get his paws into Lord Henry Mystic’s latest acquisition – a music box. And much like Pandora’s box, opening this one starts a series of unexpected, and possibly unexplainable, happenings.

Video: Mystic Manor ride preview

Magneto-Electric Carriages gather to begin the Mystic Manor experience.

As Albert opens the music box, magical “music dust” emerges and acts as the trail that unites the rest of the attraction, accompanied by the unique stylings of composer Danny Elfman.

Mystic Manor’s Music dust.

Without giving too much away, the rest of the Mystic Manor experience sends guests flowing through a series of the mansion’s rooms, each with its own visual effects.

Music plays a big part in Mystic Manor.
A closer look reveals hidden tributes to names like composer Danny Elfman and Imagineer Joe Lanzisero.
Lord Henry Mystic’s Armory offers plenty of surprises.
The adventure continues with tribal influences inside Mystic Manor.

Taking a high-tech approach to a classic dark ride, Mystic Manor is certainly like none of Disney’s other eerie experiences. But much like The Haunted Mansion, despite a darker tone, its visual style was decided to stay much more lighthearted.

Selecting a Style

The whimsical look of the ghostly characters that reside inside The Haunted Mansion can be attributed to famed Imagineer Marc Davis, whose inimitable style has influenced many a Disney artist. And it was exactly Davis’ style that Imagineers looked to when developing Mystic Manor.

“Interesting that you bring up Marc’s name,” replied Schirmer when asked about the caricature-like looks of Lord Henry Mystic and Albert. “That was certainly one of our inspirations too and a chance for us to tip our hat back. And that was something we really wanted to do.”

Albert’s big eyes and strong features make him instantly recognizable.

But there was some debate as to exactly how these characters would appear in the attraction.

“We initially were looking at doing real characters dressed in costume, possibly be on green screen and inserting them into the show as we could we that kind of media expertise,” explained Schirmer. “But if you go back to what I said earlier, we really went back to our roots and said that works for certain scenes, this really wants to be classic Disney caricatures and storytelling and so we ended up going away into the direction of really pushing these characters to be really unique and special, iconic, and immediately identifiable.”

Imagineers took the character designs in the exact opposite direction, making sure guests could easily follow them throughout the experience, despite having just met them.

“We don’t have a whole lot of time in these attractions. Our overall attraction is just over 5 minutes, which isn’t a whole lot of time and so these characters want to be really recognizable immediately seeing them,” said Schirmer. “Albert is the star of the show, really, and we wanted to push him and make him immediately identifiable to the guests and have that immediate connection where you’re going to want to follow him through his adventure.”

And after guests form that connection, naturally, the next stop is a visit to the gift shop to snatch up plenty of merchandise featuring these new friends.

The Archive Shop

Disney’s merchandising team has worked hard to make sure Mystic Point debuts with nearly every kind of products guests could possibly want to remember their visit. The Archive Shop not only features merchandise exclusive to Hong Kong Disneyland, but in keeping with the theme of exploration also includes products from Disney theme parks worldwide.

Exploring Mystic Point

But there’s much more to the story than just Mystic Manor. Disney has developed live entertainment and a restaurant concept that further the adventures of Mystic Point, with some familiar elements from outside Hong Kong Disneyland.

“It also contains a 400-seat restaurant called the Explorers Club,” explains Schirmer. “So anyone going to Mystic Point actually becomes an honorary member for the day, that gets access not only to the manor and the collection but also the Explorers Club restaurant. You get rights and privileges around the restaurant and the manor and his garden and his estate where he also is perpetuating that idea of his collection.”

The Explorers Club is separated into rooms inspired by countries around the world – China, Morocco, Egypt, and more. And fans of the extinct Adventurers Club at Walt Disney World will recognize some animated elements scattered throughout, though Schirmer didn’t want to give away those surprises.

The food and beverages served in the Explorers Club also mirrors the international theme, serving a variety of cuisines.

Mystic Point also contains an area called the Garden of Wonders, filled with elements for guests to discover.

“It’s basically a sculpture garden that has several illusions connected with it,” describes Schirmer. “So if you see the sculptures on their own they’re really quite nice and interesting to look at, but we’ve set up these viewing stations that if you look through the viewing station a visual illusion happens where their friends can interact with the sculptures and they take on a slightly different shape or morphs the people to be either really close or really far away or it morphs the sculpture itself into taking on a new shape.”

And at the Mystic Point Freight Depot, Disney has developed a small show featuring Lord Henry Mystic’s nephews who present travelers representing cultures from around the world, dubbed “ambassadors.”

Designing for a Culture

Creating Mystic Point and Mystic Manor for Hong Kong Disneyland presented Imagineers with a challenge, ensuring their stories and visuals fit in with the local cultures.

“That was something we did a lot of research on and why the idea of just lifting The Haunted Mansion really maybe didn’t make sense for the core audience here at Hong Kong Disneyland,” noted Schirmer.

“We wanted to not only develop something brand new and exciting for the guests coming to Hong Kong Disneyland but also make it culturally relevant and be sensitive to that piece, so the idea of illusions, mystery, a little bit of intrigue was really something, as opposed to full on ghosts and things like that, and staying more in that mysterious vein.”

And in previews so far, guests have been thrilled with the results.

More Making-Of Mystic Manor

To learn even more about the creation of Mystic Manor and Mystic Point, listen to my full interview with executive creative director Mark Schirmer on Show 424, to be released on Sunday, May 19, 2013.

Further topics about Mystic Manor include working with composer Danny Elfman on the ride’s score, the possibility of a future soundtrack release or holiday overlays, and tributes to The Haunted Mansion found within.

Mystic Manor and Mystic Point will have a small opening ceremony on May 16 followed by the public grand opening on May 17, 2013 at Hong Kong Disneyland.

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