An Ode to… is a weekly column where we share the stuff we’re really into in hopes that you’ll be really into it, too.
Just as Ben and Jerry’s has their Flavor Graveyard, a virtual space also exists to mourn our favorite theme park losses.
Decades after the doors shut on park rides and attractions, many become moss-covered liminal spaces where so-called urban explorers love to run amok. But one man rises above the rusty tracks to give these rides lost to time the love they deserve.
Kevin Perjurer is the creator behind the popular YouTube series and podcast Defunctland, which gives history lessons on the life, and subsequent death, of amusement park attractions. It’s a topic that doesn’t seem to hold a lot of scandal at first glance: park builds rollercoaster, coaster breaks down, ride closes, right?
But Defunctland shows that there’s much more going on behind the glittery E-ticket curtain. Ride creation can actually consist of a lot of tense battles between creative minds, executive power, and lots of money.
In an interview with Mashable, Perjurer, an avid park-goer himself, said he started the channel because of his passion for “knowing that there are rides and sometimes entire places where millions of people experienced strong, memorable joy, and knowing that these places are now completely gone.”
The series is a unique time capsule full of wildly fascinating stories, such as how the Muppets almost took over Disney World, how Nickelodeon tried to start a hotel, and why there are so many damn Santa Claus-themed parks. Perjurer’s engaging style feels like a combination of the world’s most interesting history lecture and a love letter to the storytelling of amusement parks.
Defunctland also uncovers long-running feuds and warring egos behind the biggest parks. Did you know that Disney tried to beat Universal Studios by rushing production on its Hollywood Studios? Or the Euro Disneyland was mostly despised by French citizens?
The most fascinating episodes are Defunctland‘s deep-dives into projects that spiraled directly due to corporate greed and poor decision-making. In one such video, “The War for Disney’s America,” Perjurer shows how Disney tried to build a historic theme park in Virginia that was ultimately blocked by historians.
“That episode I explored the relationship between Disney and the United States … while other episodes, such as Nickelodeon Hotel, I’ll focus more on all of the weird creative aspects because the conflict had lower stakes,” Perjurer said.
And sometimes, as he states, the rides simply don’t make the cut not because of company drama, but because the idea took a bizarre creative risk, or the intellectual property it was based on was just too dated.
When the blame is less apparent, the slow track ride down memory lane is bittersweet instead of infuriating. Such is the case with Journey Into Imagination, a much beloved Disney ride that was updated twice — once to critical scorn by replacing the iconic theme One Little Spark, and nixing the ride’s lovable mascot, Figment, and once more to its current iteration.
As Perjurer says, “so much of Defunctland comes down to the struggle between art and business. Some episodes, art prevails. Most episodes, business does.”
So many of us never get to know why are favorite rides get shut down when they do, or even why they were created in the first place. Defunctland taps into our nostalgia for the rose-colored worlds these parks create, as well as our adult fascination with finding out how things get made.
Perjurer’s ultimate goal for Defunctland is to “shine a light on a medium of art that does not receive enough praise.” He says that while film is seen as being the ultimate medium for combining many different forms of art at once, theme park entertainment does all this, but in a 3D space.
So if you ever find yourself wondering what happened to the animatronics from America Sings, or why Back to the Future: The Ride is a thing of the past, come on down to Defunctland. Make sure the bar is secured in position — it’s gonna be a bumpy, educational ride.