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Carousel of Progress

If you’ve been a theme park fan long enough, one thing you’ve learned to deal with is change. It seems that attractions are always coming and going from Disney and Universal’s parks, and with both operators’ new unspoken commitment to featuring box office blockbusters and “hot” intellectual properties (sometimes at the expense of classics!), that tempo seems likely to only increase... 

Which brings us to a hard truth: standing at the dawn of a new decade, we have to imagine that there are quite a few classics that won’t survive the 2020s. To guide us through this rundown of “endangered” attractions, we’ll use the same rising classification used on at-risk species:

  • (1) Near threatened
  • (2) Vulnerable
  • (3) Endangered
  • (4) Critically endangered

Maybe in a decade we’ll look back to see that all 13 of these “unlucky” attractions survived the chopping block! Or maybe, we’ll have 13 new stories to tell in our Lost Legends collection… Either way, our advice is that the next time you visit a Disney or Universal park, take special care to experience these endangered attractions that, very reasonably, may not be around come 2030… for better or worse, your next ride could be your last...

1. Journey into Imagination with Figment

Image: Disney

Location: EPCOT | Status: (4) Critically endangered

In case you haven’t heard, EPCOT is on the move. After enduring decades of piecemeal changes representing a handful of different directions for the park (many at odds with one another), the latest reimagining of the park appears to be the most sweeping one yet. Reintroducing matching iconography and a reborn visual identity, the park’s return to its (retro-)modernist roots nonetheless relies on… you guessed it… characters.

After a slow leak of meet-and-greets, The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and Frozen, the floodgates have opened as Disney’s animated (and live action) classics pour through the pavilions. Strangely, one of the few pavilions Disney has not discussed during this total reimagining is Imagination. Since the pavilion dropped its Lost Legend: Journey into Imagination before the New Millennium, it’s been a sorry state. First its iconic characters Dreamfinder and Figment were booted for a depressing redesign, then the latter returned in annoying form for the pavilion’s current dark ride: a depressingly dull and unimaginative "tour" through the bland Imagination Institute labs that’s somehow outlasted the treasured classic!

Image: Disney

WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN: Everyone - including Imagineers - knows that the Imagination pavilion is in bad shape. The Epcot Experience preview center prominently features its glass pyramids in a stylized model of the park’s upcoming changes, but so far nothing’s official. Though a return to Dreamfinder and Figment would be preferred and the cast of Inside Out is often rumored, we’d offer that the Muppets might also make great hosts in a journey into imagination should the project need an intellectual property overlay… While fans don’t know what form it’ll take, it’s almost certain that the current ride won’t make it to 2030. 

2. Poseidon’s Fury

Image: Universal

Location: Universal’s Islands of Adventure | Status: (3) Endangered

When Universal’s Islands of Adventure opened in 1999, it promised to redefine what Disney’s biggest competitor was capable of. Finally evolving beyond soundstage-littered “studio” parks, Islands of Adventure matched Disney’s storytelling blow-for-blow, inventing the idea of IP-dedicated lands bringing the literary worlds of Jurassic Park, Marvel comic books, Dr. Seuss stories, and the Sunday funnies to life. But one of the park’s most impressive lands was an original one - the Lost Legend: Lost Continent themed to the myths and legends of the ancient world.

Though most of the Lost Continent was absorbed into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2011, one attraction remains: the Declassified Disaster: Poseidon’s Fury. A walkthrough dark ride / special effects extravaganza, the attraction leads guests through the crumbling corridors of the ancient Temple of Poseidon in search of a legendary, sealed connection to the ocean and the lost Trident that can unlock it. Poseidon’s Fury contains two of the coolest practical effects ever, but… it’s a bit of a mess. The current show is actually a shoestring-budget redesign of a short-lived and incoherent first version of the attraction, but one that was clearly not meant to be a two-decade fix.

Image: Universal

WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN: If you ask us, Poseidon’s Fury isn’t quite sunk… it just needs a life preserver. We’d love to see the attraction given a proper budget for a rewrite! But this somewhat messy mythological show can’t be long for this world in its current state, especially because it’s the last “original” attraction left at Universal Orlando… and is allegedly eyed as prime real estate for a more attractive intellectual property, like Nintendo’s Zelda... 

3. Rivers of Light

Image: Disney

Location: Disney’s Animal Kingdom | Status: (3) Endangered

Fantasmic. World of Color. Happily Ever After. Illuminations. Harmonious. What is a Disney Park without a “nighttime spectacular” to end the day? For most of its life, Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened early in the morning, and closed early in the evening. After all, exploding fireworks and bellowing musical soundtracks would be downright alarming to the park’s main draw - its animals. But in 2017, the animals of Animal Kingdom gave up part of their starring spotlight to Pandora - The World of Avatar. The massive expansion invites guests as eco-tourists to the verdant moon of Pandora to stand beneath floating mountains amid bioluminescent jungles. 

Naturally, the land’s ethereal nighttime glow became a motivation to stay after dark, meaning Animal Kingdom needed an influx of evening activities. From an artificial, perpetual sunset added to Kilimanjaro Safaris to the subtle projection-based Tree of Life Awakenings show, the park’s twilight offerings were meant to crescendo with Rivers of Light - an Asian-influenced, World-of-Color-scaled ceremony of floating barges, live performers, shadow puppets, fountains, water screens, and animal footage.

Image: Disney

WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN: Somehow, Rivers of Light failed to float. The show’s headlining status was quickly revoked as its gargantuan, purpose-built, 5000-seat stadium on the Discovery River sat half empty at each performance. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, Disney responded to the poor reception by pulling the show’s live actors, which only lessened guest interest. In 2019, the show was retooled as Rivers of Light: We Are One, interspersing Disney songs and characters as a would-be panacea. If anything, reviews have worsened. While Disney may keep fiddling with this uneven show, we expect it’ll be replaced or removed entirely before the decade’s over.

4. Carousel of Progress

Image: Disney

Location: Magic Kingdom | Status: (2) Vulnerable

Put your pitchforks away. We don’t want this Walt Disney classic to disappear. As a matter of fact, we celebrated the attraction in its own origin story, Modern Marvels: Carousel of Progress! This spectacular attraction has made its way from the New York World’s Fair, to Disneyland’s New Tomorrowland, and finally to the new Magic Kingdom, where it made its Floridian debut in 1975. The animatronic attraction tells the story of an American family and the ease and conveniences of life brought on by progress. In fact, Walt is known to have called the ride his personal favorite, declaring that it should “never cease operation.”

Except… it has. During Disney’s darker years in the early 2000s, Carousel was moved to the dreaded “seasonal” status (often a death knell for Disney Parks rides). Obviously it has rebounded since, but… well… The ride was initially meant to show four eras - 1900, 1920, 1940, and “today” (the 1960s), each a poetic 20 years apart. For better or worse, the final scene was updated in 1994, replacing the ‘60s with the “New Millennium” as viewed from the ‘90s. But of course, the “predictions” made in the ‘90s are yesterday’s headlines to us: clunky VR-headsets, flat screen video games, and appliances responding to voice command, with the family embarrassingly dressed in ‘90s garb!

Image: Disney

WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN: The result is that the attraction needs more than a refurbishment; it needs another full-on facelift. But 1900, 1920, 1940, and 2020 would be… well… quite a jump. To our thinking, if Carousel of Progress is still around in 2030, it’ll need to have either returned to its 1900-1920-1940-1960 timeline as a nod to Space Age nostalgia, OR it’ll need reimagined with a new timeline… We argue that a 60-year interval presenting life in 1900-1960-2020-2080 would retain the ride’s spirit of optimism and innovation while also keeping it stylish and relevant in Tomorrowland.

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Comments

We went to Disney World sometime in the early 90s and didn't make it back again until 2019 but we are planning another trip this year so we don't miss another 30 years of magic. There were so many fantastic new things, but I admit to being a bit disappointed in some of the changes.

Journey Into the Imagination was one of those rides that I remembered so fondly that just didn't cut it last year - I agree that I wouldn't be surprised to see it go, though I hope the exploratory interactive exhibits (like those found at a children's science museum) are retained in some way or another. Those are pretty cool and a great thing to do on hot afternoons.

I thought the Muppet one had changed from when we were there before - I remembered it being touted as MuppetVision 4D and the seats squirted water among other effects so I was surprised that you said it hasn't changed - but I probably was remembering something else. Either way I am a Muppet fan and would love to see more of their presence, but I know they just aren't as popular with the kids these days because of the influx of computer generated characters.

I do wish they would cover more of their movies rather than focusing on a small handful that are almost over done. (Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid...) I really missed the variety of wandering characters there used to be.

I think the only one on this list that I would really hate to see go would be Rivers of Light - that is my absolute favorite of the nighttime shows, it is so beautiful and serene, it suits the park and feels like a calmer way to end the day than the other shows. I'll be sure to go as many times as possible, just in case.

The worst part of the carosel is they didnt have to ever change it at all! Why didnt they just build a 2nd carosel? They could throw n away that really stupid "space stage" in the MK then display the massive advancements in anamatronics disney owns!

The magic for me was the wicked witch at MGM. I could sware as a kid that, that bitç; was real!

I wish that Disney would leave the carousel of progress the way Walt Disney built it as a nod to Dismeys past and build a brand new one starting with today's age then into the future as a nod to Disneys vision.

Boy would you have loved Epcot's Horizons, which followed the Carousel of Progress family into the 21st century!

https://www.themeparktourist.com/features/20150607/30334/horizons-depth-look-back-epcots-view-future

You need to do your research before posting. The Carousel of Progress will be closing this year for a major renovation, which is supposed to include a reimagining of the final scene.

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