Home » Disney’s “Worst Ride Ever” Was So Hated, It Closed After Just One Year. This is Why.

Disney’s “Worst Ride Ever” Was So Hated, It Closed After Just One Year. This is Why.

Ready to peel out on a high-speed race through Hollywood? Or perhaps you’d prefer a journey through the cinematic classics that shaped generations in an epic dark ride? Maybe instead you’d like a laugh-out-loud, comic dark ride through the entertainment industry? There are dozens of intriguing and incredible ways to build a ride around the concept of Hollywood.

No matter what you’re looking for from a Disney dark ride, you aren’t likely to find it in Superstar Limo. Often regarded as the worst dark ride Disney has ever created, this short-lived monstrosity spent more time in development than it spent open for guests! Irreverent, unfunny, instantly dated, and creatively starved, Superstar Limo was more than just a one-off accident; it was the anchor of an entire creative concept that nearly killed Disney’s California Adventure.

Image: Disney, via AngryAP

Here at Theme Park Tourist, our comprehensive In-Depth Collections are fan-favorites that tell the complete stories behind beloved Lost Legends, unbuilt Possibilitylands, and spectacular Modern Marvels. But one of our series is a little more disastrous. Declassified Disasters chronicle the unfortunate tales of the darkest moments in theme park history, like the 90s-drenched Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management, the frazzled Rocket Rods and Tomorrowland 1998, the demolished DisneyQuest, and the king of all Disney disasters, Stitch’s Great Escape.

Today, we return to the West Coast for another installment sure to make you cringe. The story of Superstar Limo – that it actually got built – is nearly unbelievable. How could Disney abandon its careful storytelling, character, and detail for a disastrous dark ride into Hollywood’s worst puns, populated by C-list actors?

There’s only one way to find out. Let’s ride on.

Catching Up 

Superstar Limo – or something like it – existed from the earliest concepts of Disney’s California Adventure. You can catch up on the full, in-depth, incredible story that lead to Disneyland’s infamous second gate (and its fall and rebirth) in our in-depth Declassified Disaster: Disney’s California Adventure feature, but here’s what you need to know…

Image: Disney

When Michael Eisner took over the Walt Disney Company as CEO in the mid-1980s, he had brave and ambitious ideas to grow Disney’s lagging theme parks and studios that had languished for decades. Under Eisner’s watch, parks began to grow creatively and commercially as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, MGM, and CBS forged partnerships with Disney, and the great Disney Renaissance began to revive the company’s animation and live action studios.

At this time of great and unprecedented growth, Eisner decreed the start of the Disney Decade, with the opening of new parks at each Disney Resort around the globe, including an unheard-of plan to add a second gate at the tiny, miniscule Disneyland that had been a local gem, evading the expansion that had made Walt Disney World into an international destination. It was official: Disneyland would be joined by an ambitious 21st century sister park called Westcot (with all the details contained in the feature linked above).

Image: Disney

But Eisner’s optimism and enthusiasm began to wane… Faced with a ballooning price tag for the ambitious Westcot and bludgeoned by the dismal debut of Disneyland Paris, Disney executives reeled. Eisner infamously became wary of any large-scale expansion, slashing projects across the parks, surrounding himself with financial analysts, and freezing spending (which would in turn create a decade of dismal and wrenching treatment of the parks from which they’re only now recovering.)

Still, Eisner insisted that Disneyland would get a second park… It just couldn’t be as expensive as Westcot. At an exclusive summit for executives, it was decided that if Disney hoped to keep tourists from seeing the rest of California, they needed to bring the rest of California to Disneyland.

Image: Disney

The idea of a California-based theme park was born. And that notion – that the park could “stand-in” for the rest of the state for tourists – is probably at the heart of the concept’s later collapse.

Glitz, Glitter, and Cheetah Print

In a park based around California, there’s much to explore. And that was kind of the point. “California Adventure” could encompass snowy mountain peaks, white sand beaches, redwood forests, bustling cities, and cultural wharfs – natural ingredients for themed “lands!” The park practically designed itself conceptually. As early as 1996 (above), the park began to take shape around a towering golden spire. 

Image: Disney via AngryAP.com

So fast forward to early plans that called for a Hollywood-themed “land” to populate the new park. A natural fit. Sure, Eisner’s Disney-MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) at Walt Disney World had been a dichotomous park – half immersive, idealized, romanticized streets of Hollywood forever locked in its Golden Age of the 1930s and 40s; half behind-the-scenes access, towering tan showbuildings, and façade-lined avenues and commissaries. Disney could do both.

However, the Hollywood land at California Adventure would be neither, instead recreating modern (well, 2001’s modern) Hollywood with all the stardom, celebrity, smart phones, cheetah-print, reality TV, and red carpets that went with it. After all, if guests were going to cut their Disney visit short to see modern Hollywood, than it was modern Hollywood that Disney needed to bring to them.

Image: Prayitno, Flickr (license)

So early plans for this Hollywood zone included a scaled recreation of Los Angeles International Airport’s famed Theme Building – the mid-century modern, white, Googie-influenced building between LAX’s terminals that had become an icon of the city. The towering recreation of the Theme Building would fill tourists with the same thrill and awe they’d experience landing at LAX and realizing they were indeed in the City of Angels, ready to become movie stars themselves. (Even better, a then-recent renovation in 1997 had seen Walt Disney Imagineering hired to design a new restaurant for the Theme Building’s saucer, and a recreation of that restaurant in California Adventure’s tower could be a highly-sought-after dining experience!)

Speeding Superstars

Image: Disney

In any case, guests would enter the Hollywood area’s signature ride under the Theme Building recreation, feeling as if they’d just landed in Los Angeles as the newest, hottest celebrity in town. As they’d board purple stretch limos, Michael Eisner himself would appear via in-cab monitors to goad guests for being late to their own movie premiere. Eisner would reportedly remind them that they still hadn’t signed their contract, and that if they could make it to the red carpet at the Chinese Theater in time, he’d be there in person to sign them onto Walt Disney Studios’ newest picture and make them into stars.

But, he’d warn, lookout for the paparazzi. They’re out in full force today. Don’t do anything to embarrass yourself. To hear Disney expert and analyst Jim Hill say it, what followed would’ve been a madcap ride through Hollywood, zigging and zagging to avoid the flash of the paparazzi en route to the Chinese Theater.

Don’t misunderstand though – this would not have like Florida’s Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Instead, picture something along the lines of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride taken a step further, with larger vehicles and banked turns (which Walt had envisioned for Toad, anyway) on a truly ridiculous ride through Hollywood, with flashing paparazzi cameras at every turn.

One scene Hill mentions, for example, would’ve seen guests approach the historic Tail O’ the Pup (a famed Hollywood walkup eatery shaped like a giant hotdog-in-a-bun) behind the back of a “grotesquely fat man dressed in a white rhinestone studded jumpsuit,” with the sound of flatulence clearly heard. Of course, in the frantic and wild style of Mr. Toad, you’d dart away at the last second, only to glimpse that this obese man was, of course, Mr. Elvis Presley; the sound caused by his squirting mustard onto a hot dog.

On and on it would go, weaving through blacklight scenes and darting left and right to escape the flashes of paparazzi cameras through Los Angeles’ tunnels, visiting iconic Southern California locales all in one ride. In retrospect, we can see that this version of the ride wouldn’t have stood the test of time, either. If it were built exactly as Imagineers first planned, it still wouldn’t have survived the massive rebuild that eventually came to California Adventure, where the LAX Theme Building would have no place at all in a 1930s Hollywood. However, we can admit that this version of the ride would’ve featured some truly unique and clever gags. But it was never built for good reason… The entire concept was doomed after one fateful event shocked the world…


In August 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. The worldwide story sparked international grieving and a host of conspiracy theories as to what could’ve caused the princess’s limo to collide head-on with a concrete pillar. At the time, it was believed that the fatal crash was caused by the mad chase of paparazzi after the limo… the very story Disney was developing to fuel its wild trip through Hollywood.

This would not be the first nor last time that a theme park operator would be forced to censor itself in the wake of tragedy or controversy. As just a few examples show:

  • When the press discovered the legendary death-knolling connotation of the mythical Banshee, Cedar Point hastily renamed its upcoming Banshee roller coaster to Mantis ahead its 1996 debut. (It would later go forward with the name for Kings Island’s 2014 inverted coaster, this time without the PR pushback.)
  • In 1998, the planned February debut of Universal Studios Florida’s “Twister… Ride It Out!” was put on indefinite hold after a series of deadly tornadoes devastated the state, killing 42 people and injuring hundreds more. The idea of “surviving” a simulated tornado in a special effects attraction was suddenly not quite as charming. The attraction ended up opening three months later in May. 
  • After the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City, Universal Orlando hurriedly revised its Halloween Horror Nights event, replacing red lights with green ones, changing any references to “blood” into “slime,” and recasting the event’s character icon completely; meanwhile, Disney cut references to crashed planes from the Jungle Cruise skippers’ spiel.
  • Just a few years ago, Disney famously removed any and all references to crocodiles or alligators from Jungle Cruise spiels, parades, and shows following the tragic death of a 2-year-old killed by an alligator along the shores of Walt Disney World’s Seven Seas Lagoon.

In a world where celebrity was just starting to take its turn toward gossip columns, Internet buzz, paparazzi stalking stars, tabloids, X-rated tapes, and reality TV, the death of Princess Diana was a reminder that celebrity can have serious consequences. Suddenly the idea of racing through town, swerving left and right to avoid paparazzi wasn’t so funny, and Disney designers were tasked with making something new.

Their first idea was simply to axe the idea of Superstar Limo altogether. If the ride couldn’t be quick and couldn’t feature paparazzi, what was the point?

Instead, they looked to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and allegedly toyed with bringing one of the Florida park’s headliners to California Adventure’s Hollywood land instead: The Great Movie Ride, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (here as Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring No Doubt, featuring the Anaheim-born, internationally renowned rock group headed by Gwen Stefani). Each idea simply proved too expensive for the low-budget park. That meant that the idea of Superstar Limo would go ahead, just with some key limitations. 

Final Draft

Image: FigmentJedi, Flickr – All rights reserved, used with permission

Faced with a concept that didn’t click anymore, executives who’d lost interest, and budgets sliding ever downward, designers went back to work on what would become the final version of Superstar Limo, and emerged with a ride starved of purpose and misaligned with the public. One step at a time, the ride crumbled.

STEP 1: A mandated shift in concept and execution. In light of Princess Diana’s tragedy, the first directive was that the paparazzi be left in the dust. They were cut from the ride, and certainly the idea of escaping them was no longer a motivating factor. (Which, again in retrospect, is probably good. We’ve largely gravitated out of the reality TV era where Paris Hilton was all the rage and we longed to be celebrities ourselves. The idea of the paparazzi is its own kind of tired, and not a great plot point for a Disney ride anyway.)

Second, the ride needed to be slowed way down. Whatever attraction Imagineers ended up designing to take the place of this wild Hollywood chase, it needed to be a scenic tour rather than an out-of-control race.

STEP 2: Budgets were slashed. First, the Theme Building exterior to the ride had its restaurant cut. Then, the Theme Building was cut altogether. The concept of the land evolved into the Hollywood Pictures Backlot, a strange rag-tag recreation of what Hollywood would look like if it were built on a Hollywood set. Superstar Limo would be relegated to a big, tan showbuilding in a desolate corner of an industrial “studio backlot” purposefully decorated by electrical wires, rusted ductwork, and steel walls.

Image: Disney

It wasn’t just Superstar Limo or the Hollywood Pictures Backlot. All of California Adventure was built on-the-cheap, using as many off-the-shelf rides as possible and packing the park with retail and dining to try to stage the new California Adventure as a more “cultured” park like Epcot – a plan executives thought very clever, but blew up in their face when people didn’t care for the modern, edgy “culture” the park created.

STEP 3: A major change in style and setting. As a result, Imagineers had to go back to the drawing board entirely. A slow-moving ride not motivated by the paparazzi required a new plot and a new pace. If Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride were slowed to the speed of “it’s a small world,” it would seem downright sparse. A slow-moving ride requires a lot to look at in order to keep riders from becoming bored. So rather than one-off, broad puns and simple set-ups, this new, slow Superstar Limo would need to be an oversaturated, highly-populated world with plenty to see.

STEP 4: Eisner’s elite and executive humor. A slow moving ride without a plot or purpose wouldn’t do, so the ride was recast as a humorous tour of Los Angeles’ neighborhoods, packed with puns and jokes.

The problem is, Eisner and his cronies, in an effort to skewer celebrity, had been unwittingly clamped into it. They slowly evolved the ride into blacklight style recreations of Los Angeles’s cliquey neighborhoods and swanky gated communities, packed with puns that only Hollywood’s elite would care to understand. In the Malibu / Muscle Beach scene on the ride, eagle-eyes guests would notice the hills of Malibu plagued by both fires and mudslides at once – the sort of “in-joke” that must’ve earned self-important chuckles from Eisner and his Hollywood elite friends, but meant very little to a family from Akron, Ohio or even Buena Park.

STEP 5: Pack the ride with all the “celebrities” you don’t have to pay for. And a slow-moving tour through Hollywood with lots to see meant that these new cartoon-style streetscapes needed people.

But as the budget took a nose-dive and Eisner lost interest in his pet project, it was decided that Superstar Limo needed modern celebrities. But with a budget slashed and no new funds available to get them on board, designers were tasked with finding celebrities that Disney already worked with who would graciously allow their likenesses to be used on-board.

They managed to collect a cadre of “stars” (C-list or below, in 2001 terms) that could be created in cartoon, comic book, and waist-high style. More than mannequins but far from animatronics, this new cast would take up residence among the unusual ride’s odd sets.

Who? Well, we’re getting there. It’s time now to step inside and take a ride through Superstar Limo to relive what might be Disney’s most pointless and embarrassing ride ever. 

Image: Lyle Scott Photography, Flickr – All rights reserved, used with permission

The experience of Superstar Limo begins long before you’ve stepped onto the ride. Tucked away into the corner of Hollywood Pictures Backlot’s industrial backlot area, the ride’s exterior is certainly a far cry from the grand recreation of the Theme Building once imagined. Instead, it’s a series of flat cutouts layered on top of one another, representing the neighborhoods and features of Los Angeles. 

The easy-to-ignore exterior is actually packed with some fun details, as chronicled by a Yesterland article on the facade. It may not help you to understand that on this ride, you should be pretending to be a newly-minted movie star, but at least it’s better than a big, boxy showbuilding. Around the corner, you step into “Baggage Claim” inside LAX where the television monitors are alight with breaking news from a rather odd, latex puppet-version of Joan Rivers, who’s eagerly awaiting the arrival of Hollywood’s brightest new star, who’s apparently just landed! (Pst, that’s you.) You can watch the entire queue experience (and hear some of the very unusual PA announcements made in the “terminal” here.

Passing through the terminal’s advertisements for taxi services and gift shops, you find that your ride is a little more elite: A deluxe cartoon-proportioned limousine with a yellow star emblem on the hood. A Cast Member in a luxurious red valet outfit gestures you onboard and tells you to “Enjoy your premiere.”

As the limo advances slowly toward a highway on-ramp, a light-up traffic sign signals that “All freeways are jammed,” so the limo makes a right and heads for a tunnel. That’s when you recieve a collect call from your agent – a similarly frightening latex puppet head. He welcomes you to Hollywood and tells you to get to the Chinese Theater pronto. 

First stop? “Glamorous Rodeo Drive” and the ornate, cartoon-proportioned exterior of “The Bauble Room” is dead ahead (Ha! Get it? Because of the Bubble Room, the ultra-exclusive LA club. Oh… You didn’t get the reference? “I guess you had to be there,” Eisner would likely say). As the door swings open, a Regis Philbin mannequin leans out, waving cash at you as your limo “driver” narrator makes a timely reference to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?  Continuing along, you’ll see “vivacious Melanie Griffith and dashing Antonio Banderas” who lift their glasses to you as you pass shops like “Law Suits” and “Fur Sure.” And there standing outside Dollars Scents is “Hollywood beauty Cindy Crawford.”

Image: FigmentJedi, Flickr – All rights reserved, used with permission 

Next, you drive to the Sunset Strip for a close encounter with Tim Allen and Jackie Chan. At this point, you’re probably thinking this ride is pretty dark for a blacklight ride, painted almost entirely in deep greens and dull oranges. It’s certainly not very pretty. Maybe the idea was to make it look like a neon lit streetscape at night? The next scene, the Bel Air room, features Drew Carey sitting in a lawnchair under an umbrella and selling maps to the homes of the stars. 

Cher’s hanging out in a busy Malibu room that sends you into a tattoo parlor and then to the streets of Hollywood where your adoring fans ask for your autograph via flat cutouts. As cameras flash, you arrive at the premier of your movie and a comic-book style Chinese Theater where you’re ready for your last celebrity encounter: the big finale. 

Whoopi Goldberg! “You’re a sensation! And you know what that means, baby – you’ve arrived!” With your photo plastered across a giant overhead billboard, you truly are a star.

And… there you go.

You can watch the complete experience from queue to exit here, or relieve your glamorous experience in this rare on-board video:

What did you think? Does Superstar Limo rank among Disney’s best dark rides? Certainly not. It shouldn’t even be in the same sentence as Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion. It wasn’t supposed to be on their level, though, so what about Alice in Wonderland or Snow White’s Scary Adventures? Not even close. There’s no plot, no lovable characters, no emotion, and it’s not even fun to look at.

So maybe newer, C-Ticket rides like Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin or Finding Nemo’s Submarine Voyage? Sorry. Not even close.

Superstar Limo is, in a word, bad. It’s not fun, or charming, or interesting, or compelling, and it’s doubtful you’d care to go on it again. And for a park struggling to get half of its expected attendence, that’s not a good thing. 

What could be done about Superstar Limo? We’re about to dissect its issues and get to the bottom of this before finding out how Disney fixed the ride for good.  

Disney’s California Adventure Park opened on February 8, 2001. Comprised of four “districts,” Disney’s edgiest and most modern park yet was infamously short on attractions and even shorter on storytelling.

While Disneyland Park across the way offers a dozen classic and modern dark rides (Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Alice In Wonderland, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Indiana Jones Adventure, Splash Mountain, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Star Tours), California Adventure had one: Superstar Limo.

In part, the shortcomings of Superstar Limo closely mirror the failure of the larger Disney’s California Adventure Park it resided in. Consider that Disney officials had warned in the months leading up to California Adventure’s opening that roads in and around Anaheim would be gridlocked as people descended on the new park. They warned that most weekends, it would meet its 33,000 person capacity and be forced to close its gates.

In fact, its weekend average was 12,000 guests.

In California Adventure’s opening year, 5 million guests came through the gate. Sounds substantial… until you learn that the original Disneyland just a few hundred feet away saw 12.3 million in the same year. Put another way, when interest in California Adventure should’ve been at its peak, only 40% of people who came to Disneyland bothered to see California Adventure, too.

Those who did visit in 2001 faced an army of data-collectors at the exit as Disney sought feedback on its newest theme park. What they found was unimaginable: only 20% of people reported being “satisfied” or better by what the park had to offer, and Superstar Limo far and away ranked as the least enjoyed experience.


There was no denying: Disney had faced its first large-scale bust in Disney’s California Adventure, and Superstar Limo was evidence of the problem.

Image: Disney

The uneven dark ride lacked the charm, storytelling, or detail Disney was known for. Devoid of character, presented in an irreverent comic book style, and packed with C-list ABC stars, the ride was just… bad. Across the Esplanade, guests could soar over a misty London with Peter Pan, brave the rivers of the world on Jungle Cruise, escape the wrath of a vengeful god on Indiana Jones Adventure, or be awed by the unimaginable animatronics of Splash Mountain.

Who, then, would care to lumber through a disenchanting, pun-riddled cartoon spoof of modern Hollywood with Regis Philbin and Whoopi Goldberg waving to them?

Flat jokes understood only by Hollywood’s elite, C-list “stars,” terrible puns, a ‘90s attitude, and a style that was so unlike anything Disney had ever one before only exacerbated the real issue: people didn’t come to Disneyland to see a spoof of modern Hollywood.

Image: Disney

Though Eisner had taken on the wild Hollywood chase as his pet project, even he must’ve seen the cracks forming. By the end of the ride’s development, the golden concept he’d nurtured was looking more and more like a dud, and even Eisner turned his back on the idea and wrote it off. (It wasn’t the first time one of Eisner’s pet projects had been over-tweaked and manipulated to the extent that he disowned the final project and left it to wither… The same problem fueled the creation and closure of Disney’s scariest attraction ever, as chronicled in its own in-depth Lost Legends: ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter feature that’s a must-read for Disney Parks fans.)

The very experience of Superstar Limo was simply not very good, and the ride itself was far below Disney’s standards. However, the problems run even deeper.

A much larger problem

Superstar Limo suffered from the same foundational problem that cursed California Adventure: it was too modern, irreverent, and over-stylized. The terrible dark ride was really just a symptom of a much larger problem. 

Image: Disney

We discussed the foundational identity crisis of the original park in its own Declassified Disaster: Disney’s California Adventure feature, but the long and short is simple: people come to Disneyland to be whisked away from the real world, and into idealized, romantic spaces that let them live out legendary adventures. Main Street is the epitome of the idea – we know that at the turn of the century, towns didn’t really look, sound, and feel like Main Street does. But through a storytelling lens where everything’s perfected and romantic and flawless, Main Street is the way our public consciousness and pop culture preserve that time and place.

It’s true of Adventureland and Frontierland and Fantasyland, too. Loosely based on real places during real times, they nonetheless are more storybook than reality, crafting idealized visions of what the Old West, the wild jungle, and European villages were like.

You’ll see the concept again at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World, where the park’s “Main Street” is Hollywoodland, perfectly and romantically frozen in the 1920s – 1940s – the “Golden Age” of Hollywood.

Then, step into Disney’s California Adventure in 2001 and you were transported to… well… California, 2001. The time is now. The place is here.

Image: FigmentJedi, Flickr – All rights reserved, used with permission

You might’ve expected California Adventure to take you to that Golden Age of Hollywood; to transport you to romanticized worlds the way only Disney can. Instead, the Hollywood Pictures Backlot set you step into a Hollywood studio set recreating a modern Hollywood street. (Huh?) The irreverent, modern theme was an affront to the storytelling that made Disney unique. If you wanted to see a studio backlot, you could’ve visited a real one just 45 minutes north in the real Hollywood, right?

And the rest of the park was just as guilty, with a “modern” redwood forest with rundown mills, a “modern” spoof of seaside carnivals, and a “modern” tour of San Francisco.

The point is, the budget-built Disney’s California Adventure, its Hollywood Pictures Backlot, and the Superstar Limo that resided there were foundational failures, too reliant on puns and modern styling while completely devoid of Disney characters or the kind of storytelling and detail people expected of Disney.

Superstar Limo was doomed.

Ultimately, Superstar Limo spent more time in development than it did whisking guests through Tinseltown. It closed forever on January 11, 2002 – a month before the park’s first birthday. Even as the park’s only dark ride, Superstar Limo was closed with no immediate plans to replace it. The park was simply stronger without any dark ride at all than it was with Superstar Limo.

For four years, the empty showbuilding sat alone in a distant corner of a desolate and derided theme park that was hemorrhaging money. But eventually, Disney did craft a plan. A new resort president named Matt Ouimet had extensive plans to bring Disneyland Resort back to life after the penny-pinching days of old, and Eisner’s replacement was coming on board. Superstar Limo, the Hollywood Pictures Backlot, and Disney’s California Adventure were about to change to the grand tune of about $1.5 billion dollars, all things considered.

And it doesn’t even stop there. On the last page, we’ll explore what happened to Superstar Limo’s showbuilding and how its DNA lives on. Then, we’ll discuss the almost-unbelievable expectation for what’s about to happen there that could change Disney Parks forever. 

Monsters. Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue

Image: Disney

Four years after Superstar Limo whisked its last guests into stardom, Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! opened at Disney’s California Adventure on January 23, 2006. Skillfully reusing Superstar Limo’s queue, vehicles, track, layout, and even the basic layout of show scenes, the redressed ride is certainly not in Disney’s highest tier of dark ride masterpieces, but it is a lovely aside and a perfect fit for the park. It’s also a rarity: a “classic” style dark ride based on Disney’s modern Pixar films that – but for its otherworldly setting – would feel at home among Fantasyland’s classics.

As in the 2001 film, we’re invited to Monstropolis – a bustling city where monsters of all shapes, sizes, colors, and configurations live, work, and play. The hub of activity is Monsters Inc. where the city’s burliest, hairiest, slimiest residents sneak into kids’ bedrooms via world-bridging closet doors, collecting scares to power the city. Despite their demeanor at work, monsters are terrified of humans, leading to quite the confusion when itty-bitty Boo the toddler finds her way into the factory and clings onto Sulley, legendary scarer.

Image: Disney

Guests in line pass through the Monstropolis Transit Authority office (full of actually-enjoyable puns via transit timetables, newscasts, and vending machines) and board taxis for tours of the city. Of course, the in-cab monitors now spring to life with the breaking news that a human child has been spotted in town. “It picked me up with its mind powers and shook me like a dog!” twangs a multi-eyed resident.

It would be easy to write Monsters Inc. off as a “book report” dark ride (that most detested-by-fans format when we simply ride, scene-by-scene, through a three minute version of the 90-minute story we already know) but really; it’s more than that. Perhaps due to the constraints of the already-built show rooms, we see elements of the story of Monsters Inc. from a new point of view, making the ride refreshing and bright, and just different enough to let us relive our favorite characters in a new way. From the seaweed-smell in the sushi restaurant to the “massive” door warehouse, the ride is fun and unique. 

Those who watch carefully will no doubt recognize some of Superstar Limo’s DNA living on – the cabs themselves, the monitor screen in each row, etc – as well as some clever re-uses of the old celebrity mannequin bodies. (In one particualrly easy-to-spot re-use, a karate-kicking Jackie Chan is still there, now just dressed in the Child Detection Agency’s bright yellow haz-mat suit.)

Best of all, the ride ends with a face-to-face encounter with the slug-like Roz, a convincingly curmudgeon Audio-Animatronic who’s digitally puppeted, meaning that she can and will interact with riders. “Hey, you, in the third row! Yeah, with the camera! Make sure you get my good side.”

Image: Disney

What’s next?

In 2007, Disney did something unprecedented: they admitted defeat with Disney’s California Adventure. The “Band-Aid” style fix that had brought Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue, and “a bug’s land” to the park in its first years had boosted attendance a bit, but a hundred new one-off rides couldn’t fix that foundational problem with the park’s identity.

That would take some cash. And California Adventure got it. An unprecedented $1.2 billion transformation was announced. Over the course of five years, each of the park’s themed lands would be stripped to the rivets and rebuilt in the style of Disneyland: idealized, romanticized, reverent lands that told California’s stories through new, built-out settings like Buena Vista Street (Los Angeles in the 1920s), Grizzly Peak Airfield (a 1950s High Sierras air base), Paradise Pier, now a turn-of-the-century Victorian Boardwalk, and more.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot became Hollywood Land, swapping out its cheetah-print awnings and pun-filled window displays for sincere Golden Age details that masked the façade-style buildings. That said, Hollywood Land remained by far the weakest of the park’s lands with what amounted mostly to a change in name only; it was the only one of the park’s seven lands to not get a sincere floor-to-ceiling rebuild.

Maybe that’s because Disney had plans.

Don’t get too attached to Mike & Sulley at California Adventure.

Image: Disney

A massive infrastructure shift around the resort is aimed to reroute the monorail and create an expansion pad directly behind the Monsters Inc. / Superstar Limo showbuilding (marked in red). While nothing’s been announced except that a Marvel land is coming to California Adventure, insiders say that the plan is simple: what’s left of Hollywood Land’s “backlot” area (Monsters Inc. and the former Muppet*Vision 3D theatre, now permanently showing upcoming movie previews) will be bulldozed so that the larger area including the expansion pad can become a land based on Marvel’s super hero franchises.

Truthfully, replacing the underutilized sub-land within Hollywood Land with Marvel E-Tickets is well worth the loss of Monsters Inc. and the 3D theatre, and under this arrangement, Hollywood Land would continue to exist, just with a Marvel land set next to it.

Image: Disney

What doesn’t sit well with fans is the rest of the plan: the park’s headlining Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is checking out in favor of the park’s first Marvel attraction: Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission – BREAKOUT! Lambasted and derided by fans, the takeover of the Hollywood Tower Hotel now means that Hollywood Land – and indeed, the carefully rebuilt park infused with a new, Californian narrative – will now be lorded over by a 180 foot tall “warehouse fortress power plant.” (Those are Imagineer Joe Rohde’s words, not ours.)

The odd choice will see the gorgeous 1920s Pueblo Deco hotel affixed with pipes, rivets, and neon emblems to make it appear like a futuristic sci-fi prison. (Huh?) In an editorial here, I argued that the loss of Tower of Terror for a futuristic Marvel ride may very well go down in history as the stupidest and most damaging creative decision ever forced on the California resort.

Image: Disney

So imagine walking down Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood Land. The plan now is that Hollywood Land (if you’d even bother calling it a land after all this) will remain, as the single Hollywood Blvd. Its only attractions will be the Animation building, and the Hyperion Theater (doubtlessly still showing Frozen: Live at the Hyperion) directly at the end of the street. At the end of the street, standing at the Hyperion Theater, you’ll be able to turn left to head into the Marvel Land made from the bulldozed remains of the “backlot” area, OR turn to the right and have super heroes in the building formerly known as the Hollywood Tower Hotel with the view above. Huh? Two mini Marvel lands separated by a 1940s Hollywood Blvd., with the vaguely-art-deco sci-fi warehouse space tower looming over it and Buena Vista Street. Wow.


Our Declassified Disaster series exists as a log of the mistakes made in the past in hopes that they won’t be made again. Superstar Limo was evidence of California Adventure’s foundational problem: modern music, comic book styling, an irreverent tone, and a distinctly modern story were not what guests wanted from a Disney park. They wanted to be transported to a romanticized, idealized, legendary Hollywood; to see a bustling young Tinseltown at the height of its Golden Age.

Image: Disney / Pixar

George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We have to wonder if Disney’s thinking carefully about undoing the careful world-building and reverent storytelling the failure of Superstar Limo spurred by gutting Hollywood Land again and closing the Tower of Terror. Nearly a billion-and-a-half dollars spent making the rest of the park a thoughtful and reverent celebration of California’s stories and legends will now see the anchor of them all – the Hollywood Tower Hotel – bend to modern music, gritty industrial design, and a nonsensical comic book aesthetic. See also, the recently-romanticized Victorian Paradise Pier becoming a collection of shuffled Pixar properties with no anchor in any real time or place.

Ah well. The lesson remains:

Superstar Limo is often remembered as the worst Disney dark ride ever built, even by those who didn’t experience it themselves. Like the “original” California Adventure, there’s an aura of infamy around the ride. It far and away represented everything wrong with Disney’s take on California Adventure and, indeed, with the budget cuts, creative drought, and mismanagement that plagued the parks during this time.

While it was short-lived, it will always be remembered. And maybe that’s a good thing. The more we can capture these disastrous stories and nail down the bad decisions behind them, the better chance we have to stop them from happening again. We hope.