Storyteller conjures Disney magic at Shanghai Disney Resort
By Lu Feiran
Disneyland is more than just a theme park. It’s a magical world where fairytales and dreams become reality. With the power of her words, creative writer and Disney Imagineer Fangxing Pitcher, along with her fellow writers from Disney’s Show Development team, has been working behind the scenes for almost six years to help bring this world to life. Although visitors to the soon-to-open park will likely never encounter examples of Pitcher’s work, her concept writing and storylines were vital to the design and execution of the park’s rides, shows, restaurants and characters. “What makes Disneyland unique, makes it different from other theme parks around the world, is the effort we put into storytelling,” she explained.
Pitcher pointed to Mickey Avenue as an example of this characteristic attention to details. At first glance, this store-lined thoroughfare might seem like merely a relaxing place to shop or grab a bit to eat. But together its boutiques and restaurants add up to a coherent narrative about Mickey Mouse and his friends. Inside Minnie’s Sweethearts Confectionery, for instance, visitors can find hints of Minnie Mouse’s backstory. According to Pitcher, the character discovered an interest in baking at a young age, and then went on to open the candy store with the support of her family and friends. “We created the story, and the designers made that story visible in the store,” said Pitcher. “Visitors won’t be given a piece of paper where they can read this story, but they’ll get the idea through the furnishings, the interior design and the art works on the wall. Guests will understand where the name of the store came from, and what kind of character Minnie is.” Pitcher said she was lucky enough to have worked on every one of the park’s themed areas, but one of her personal favorites was Adventure Isle. This first-of-its-kind land called for the creation of an entirely new plotline, complete with fully-imagined characters. For visitors, the mysterious Adventure Isle turns back the clock to the early 1930s, when, as the storyline goes, a group of international explorers known as the League of Adventurers discovered the island and its nature-loving inhabitants, the Arbori people. “At the early stages, our team set the scene by thinking about the when and the where of this place, as well as details about those who live there,” said Pitcher. “It took us a while to develop the story. I would say that, when visitors step into this land, they will feel like they’ve been transported into a world beyond their imagination. But at the same time, everything there is believable.”
Pitcher said she and her team have put a lot of efforts bridging classic Disney storytelling with the people of China. “When we developed the stories, we had to make sure they would resonate with Chinese visitors,” she said. “This was the biggest challenge, but also the most fun part.” To help local guests identify with the League of Adventurers and their journey of discovery, Pitcher and her team developed several Chinese characters. “We created a Chinese photographer, an archeologist and an artist, whose works would help convey the ideas of the story,” said Pitcher. Pitcher hopes that the Shanghai Disney Resort will be a place where guests are inspired to create their own adventures. She also hopes her work will help visitors come to a deeper understanding about the value of friendship and family. To make their original stories more convincing, Pitcher and her colleagues visited other Disneyland parks in search of inspiration. “We often reminded ourselves that ultimately, the park is about people,” she said. “What we do is help people create happy memories.” Born and raised in China, Pitcher says she’s always been interested in stories. This interest led her into a career as a reporter and editor for a local newspaper. Eventually, she went to the United States to study filmmaking, directing and script writing. After graduation, she joined The Walt Disney Company. “The Disney stories tell us that no matter what challenges we meet, or what difficulties we face in life, there is always hope,” said Pitcher. “These stories help people see the light in life and find what is truly inspiring.”