Unlike its Orlando area competitors, Walt Disney World has never openly admitted a drive to provide the biggest, fastest, or highest-tech attractions. While Universal Orlando welcomes controversy, pushing the limits and courting protestors each year as it ramps up the gore factor and teeters on the edge of good taste at Halloween Horror Nights, Walt Disney World continues to do what it’s always done. Unique and highly themed, but relatively tame, family attractions blended with a carefully measured dose of thrills are its recipe for success.
Yet throughout the years, Imagineering has managed to stir up its fair share of controversy. Here’s a look at the 3 most controversial attractions ever to appear at Walt Disney World.
1. The Making of Me
Opened with the Wonders of Life pavilion in 1989, The Making of Me was a 16 minute film that covered the miracle of conception and childbirth. By turns touchingly honest and openly funny, the film interspersed stunning footage of fetal development taken by Swedish scientist and photographer Lennart Nilsson that had previously been featured on Nova. The subject matter was deftly handled in a Disney way, ensuring its suitability for families. Warning signs were also posted outside the theater, providing the opportunity for parents to decide whether to allow their children to view the film.
Of course, none of that stopped the protests and complaints. Legions of parents were angry that Walt Disney World would tackle such a subject. It wasn’t enough to keep their own kids out of the theater, they wanted to make that decision for everyone else’s children as well. Worse, some parents read the signage, decided to ignore it, and then got mad about the fact that their kids saw the film.
To Disney’s credit, the company never wavered. The Making of Me remained a signature attraction until the entire pavilion closed permanently on January 1, 2007, following three years on “seasonal” status.
2. ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter
Pitch blackness. Claustrophobia. A menacing alien bent on destruction. Blood dripping from the ceiling. If you guessed that this was one of Universal Orlando or Busch Gardens Tampa’s Halloween haunted houses, you would be absolutely…incorrect. Placed in soft opening in December 1994, extensively retooled, and officially opened in June 1995, this experience played out over and over again until October 2003, in the middle of the Magic Kingdom of all places!
Alien Encounter replaced Mission to Mars, itself a replacement for Flight to the Moon. The much-discussed Tomorrowland problem, in which technological advances rapidly cause futuristic attractions to become dated, was in full swing in the mid-1990s. Alien Encounter presented a much more dystopian future, along with a bizarre alien storyline that wasn’t likely to play out anytime soon in real life.
It was a brilliantly conceived and created attraction, and many Disney fans were happy to see something truly edgy finally make its way to the parks…especially given the irony of its appearance in the most family-friendly park of all. However, not everyone felt the same way.
Despite warning signs and repeated verbal warnings by cast members, many wandered into the theater with small children. After all, the Magic Kingdom was their park, right? How bad could it possibly be? The pre-show was reimagined to give a more direct glimpse at the horror that was to follow, but the complaints continued. Part of the issue was the restraint system. A tremendously clever way to enhance the in-theater effects, the over-the-shoulder restraints also prevented scared guests from bolting in the middle of the show. Dragging crying kids behind them, many parents complained to attraction personnel and Guest Relations.
In 2003, Alien Encounter was replaced by Stitch’s Great Escape. Using many of the same set pieces and props, including the restraint system, this is popularly considered one of the worst attractions on Disney property. Now it has very little storyline and even less entertainment value. And it still scares kids! How was this possibly an improvement?