‘FastPass’: This YouTube Doc Offers a Fascinating Look at Disney Parks’ Troubled History With Long Lines (Commentary)

Queue up for “FastPass: A Complicated History”

Waiting in line is one of the least enjoyable aspects of any Disney trip. But watching a lengthy YouTube video about the process, it turns out, is oddly enjoyable.

For years, Defunctland has been one of the leading Disney-adjacent YouTube channels, frequently delving into the unknown history of some of the best, most beloved extinct Disney parks attractions with wit, humor and a truly staggering amount of research. But yesterday, the channel, created by filmmaker Kevin Purjerer, uploaded one of its biggest and most ambitious projects yet: a feature-length investigation into the history of waiting in line at the Disney Parks. Or, more specifically, Disney’s troubled history with alleviating the need to wait in line at Disney Parks. “Disney’s FastPass: A Complicated History” isn’t just a thorough and entertaining look at an aspect of the Disney Parks experience we all try and avoid; it’s also a sobering, frequently surprising experience that anyone who has visited the parks can relate to.

The documentary first looks at the “ticket book” system that was employed early on at both Disneyland and, when it opened in 1971, Walt Disney World. Each show or attraction was assigned a letter in the book – an “E” ticket was historically the most sophisticated, and most desirable, distinction. But when Walt Disney World opened, management assigned attractions that maybe weren’t actually an “E” ticket that letter, thus disrupting guest flow and creating unwarranted demand. Hilariously, the Country Bear Jamboree, an attraction that is (miraculously) still in operation to half-full rooms, was initially said to be an “E” ticket attraction. Lines snaked around the building for a show in which animatronic bears tell problematic jokes and sing questionable songs. Thus began, as the documentary states, Walt Disney World’s troubled legacy with the attempted management of lines.

As the title suggests, a bulk of the Defunctland documentary is devoted to the history and implementation of FastPass, a late-’90s initiative engineered by park operations and an enterprising executive named Bruce Laval, who sought to maximize guest satisfaction while increasing the park’s overall efficiency. Guests would basically be given the option of skipping the line once they obtained a paper FastPass; this freed guests up to explore other parts of the park or, more tantalizing to upper management like Michael Eisner, use their extra time to buy food and drinks or do a little bit of shopping. But there were problems from the get-go – outdated technology, communication hiccups and a general lack of understanding from the guests. Still, it mostly worked.

Of course, all good things come to an end, and as the documentary beautifully points out, a program started by parks operations people was soon co-opted by marketing wonks (during a particularly fraught period of the company’s history, especially for the parks). So FastPass, at least at Walt Disney World, was significantly overhauled, the keystone to a $1 billion project. FastPass+ and My Disney Experience was born, a system so labyrinthine and incomprehensible that, in one of the documentary’s funniest stretches, Perjurer plays a seeming endless montage from other YouTube creators who are desperately trying to explain the procedure.

But beyond explaining the history of FastPass, Perjurer also wanted to answer a question: Does FastPass actually work? Does it cut down on overall wait times, and does it positively impact the average guest’s experience? To answer this, he created a vast simulation inside a computer, then animated that simulation to really drive the point home. And not to ruin the documentary (which you can watch above), but the results are both shocking and weirdly expected, especially when you factor in a very specific kind of class warfare implemented by the changes to FastPass (seriously). And since Defunctland is all about attractions and experiences that no longer exist at the Disney Parks (and other parks), everything you see in the video has already been scrapped in favor of a new process that debuted in October in Walt Disney World and will be launching soon at Disneyland.

Yes, it gets worse.

If you’ve ever asked yourself why you have to wait so long for Space Mountain or wondered if the system was ever better, “FastPass: A Complicated History” has you covered. It’s easily the best documentary about Disney you’ll see all year, and its length and complexity is a testament to how byzantine the process of going to a Disney park has become. “FastPass: A Complicated History” plays like what would have happened if Oliver Stone was particularly scarred by a trip to Pandora: The World of Avatar, with a rich texture of ideas, concepts and history. And it might just change the way you look at your next Disney vacation.

Watch the full “FastPass” documentary above.