One of the biggest maze debuts last season at Knott’s Scary Farm in Buena Park, California, was Pinocchio Unstrung. Designed by Halloween Haunt veteran Daniel Miller, Pinocchio Unstrung received huge praise from hard core fans and industry figures alike, including Disney Imagineering Legend Tony Baxter, who said the maze was stunning, and “Disney quality” in its execution. Definitely a great debut year for Pinocchio; the real proof is in how well a Haunt maze ages over the seasons. With great anticipation, fans looked forward to seeing Pinocchio Unstrung return for 2013…
This year, the marionette returned to Knott’s Scary Farm, seeking revenge on the Blue Fairy for not granting the wish to make him a real boy. In Pinocchio’s wake were left scenes of violence and devastation. Daniel’s dark twist on the famous fairytale remained as it was in 2012. This was both a good thing and a challenge for Pinocchio Unstrung, as I’ll explain in this review.
Aesthetically, Pinocchio Unstrung is gorgeous, and suffered little wear and tear between last year and this year. The maze was virtually the same, with very little alteration to any of the props, scenes or layout. Since it was so well received by everyone in 2012, having very little physical change this year was a plus for the maze.
One of the aspects of Pinocchio Unstrung that we noticed this year is the over-use of masks throughout the maze, or at least to us what felt like too many. As Halloween Haunt and its mazes evolve and become better quality each year, older mazes such as this one need to be part of that trend; not forgotten or left behind simply because they are “older designs”. The maze and its theme lend so beautifully to telling the dark tale of Pinocchio that I feel there were many missed opportunities for characters to interact with guests, adding a very rich layer to the overall experience. Imagine the Donkey Boys crying and begging to be taken home or rescued, or perhaps Pleasure Island barkers actually barking at people to play their games of chance. Now, there were face characters in the maze; don’t get me wrong. And those who could did interact with guests often and well. It just struck me this year that Pinocchio Unstrung had a lot of masks that we have seen before in other mazes at Knott’s. And that simply isn’t good enough. Not now. Definitely not in 2014. The stakes are higher now than ever for haunted attractions. This applies to all mazes at Knott’s Scary Farm; not just the shiny new ones.
The soundtrack used throughout Pinocchio Unstrung is strong – fairly complex and definitely dark. One thing that Daniel Miller always gets right regardless of maze theme are the soundtrack selections and direction. Even back in the day with mazes like Asylum or Carnival of Carnivorous Clowns, the mazes that Daniel created have always been spot on when it comes to their soundscapes, and we love that.
As I stated before, the talent in Pinocchio Unstrung best engaged guests when not behind masks. However, each time we went through, just about all of the monsters attempted to interact – which tells us the team desperately wants to do better and be unencumbered by bulky, ill-fitting masks. We always feel bad when a monster has to try and talk to guests or act a part, only to have it muffled and unintelligible. TPA does like that custom masks were made for the Pinocchio character in this maze; custom masks are always better than off the shelf ones. If anything, Knott’s-produced masks that allow talent to actually speak to guests by way of “hinged mouths” or by being partial-face only latex should be the next step toward simply using make-up and prosthetics. Theme Park Adventure gives huge props to everyone in Pinocchio Unstrung for trying their best to tell the tale and stay in character.
TPA would love to see Pinocchio Unstrung continue to remain popular for at least another season at Halloween Haunt. It’s a fantastic design, unique theme and has a lot of built-in potential to last years. The main danger it faces is the same fate that became The Doll Factory’s burden years ago – the story is so specific and disturbing, that once guests experience it the first time, it depreciates in shock value much more rapidly than mazes with more “generic” appeal, such as Asylum, Slaughterhouse, or even Cornstalkers. The ironic danger that Pinocchio Unstrung faces is that it could burn out much faster than other Haunt mazes simply because it is so different and pointed in style/story. That’s a really strange phenomenon that we’ve seen beginning to play out as new, story-specific mazes debut at Knott’s. Only time will tell. I think a strong infusion of more face characters and perhaps a slightly new layout with some spruced up props or sets in 2014 could do wonders for this maze’s future trajectory at the Scary Farm.
Pinocchio Unstrung remains a fan favorite at Halloween Haunt and we continue to admire the hell out of it. It’s a tremendous effort that Daniel and everyone involved should be proud of; it definitely held up in a year of really strong additions made to the event.
What did you think of Pinocchio Unstrung this year at Knott’s Scary Farm? We want to know; sound off below and share your own thoughts with fellow TPAers as the discussion continues well past Haunt 2013!
– Rick West