While a lot of people are excited to experience Disneyland’s new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge for the fun of it, University of California Irvine’s Roland Betancourt is looking forward to adding it to his lesson plan.
The associate professor of art history teaches a course, “Disneyland: Art, Architecture and Operation,” in which students explore the design and history of theme parks.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Betancourt had 20 students in the course — which features an optional field trip to the Anaheim, Calif., park — when he taught it for the first time last spring.
“The goal of the class is not to just look at the design end or to just look at the operational end, but to really think about how these things have to inherently come together,” Betancourt told the newspaper.
He said the idea came from a graduate course he previously taught on themed, artificial spaces. In that course, he examined Las Vegas and churches from medieval times.
Besides, Betancourt has taught many students who have or will work at the park. Many of them have undoubtedly visited it in their free time, too.
Betancourt himself went to the “Happiest Place on Earth” 130 times over 18 months to prepare for the class. Of course, that was more about research than rides.
Course-prep can include rollercoasters! To prepare for his course on #Disneyland, @ProfBetancourt of @UCIArtHistory visited the park 130 times. Students in the class explored #architecture, #patents, #fan #literature & more. See the @latimes coverage here: https://t.co/CwNh5pGZpO
— UCI Humanities (@UCIHumanities) June 7, 2019
His lessons are serious. Students are required to sort through accident reports, training and safety manuals for park employees and scripts that Disneyland cast members have used for attractions such as the Jungle Cruise. They also watch YouTube videos, review social media posts and things such as the patent document for “Amusement Ride for Traveling Down a Water Chute With Reduced Splash.”
They aim to “rethink what makes Disneyland a unique cultural space,” Betancourt said.
On the field trip, Betancourt encourages students to truly take in the park as a whole. For example, he prods them to go and meet the women playing the famous princesses.
“I know nobody wants to do this, but it’s a very weird and interesting experience that exposes a different side of the park,” Betancourt said. “Unlike most Disney characters, the princesses don’t wear masks, and they can speak and interact with guests. In particular, Snow White often emulates her movie version’s voice, meaning you have a cast member doing a 1937 classic Hollywood accent and cadence.”
Betancourt plans to teach the course again in 2020.
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