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This Ride Was Hailed as a Masterpiece. Here's Why Disney Closed it After 18 Years

Adventure Thru Inner Space closed more than three decades ago, but it lives on in a number of astounding ways.

1. The Omnimover

Believe it or not, Adventure Thru Inner Space was the first ride to use Disney’s patented Omnimover ride system when it opened in 1967, predating what might be its most famous application in Disney’s own Haunted Mansion in 1969. And it wasn’t done there – the Omnimover would go on to star in many of Epcot’s classic dark rides like World of Motion, Journey Into Imagination, Horizons, Spaceship Earth, and the Living Seas. The still-revolutionary design was even taken out of the mothballs and used as the ride system in the two 21st century dark rides based on The Little Mermaid that opened at Disney California Adventure and Magic Kingdom in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

The ingenious and groundbreaking ride system is comprised of a continuously moving chain of ride vehicles that guests board from a moving walkway. Because they’re continuously moving and constantly loading, Omnimover ride systems have exceptionally high capacities and tremendous hourly throughput. Many rides using the system direct the vehicles to turn and pivot at precise moments along the leisurely course, directing riders’ attention exactly where designers want, giving Imagineers the real-world power of a movie camera.

In a most unusual twist of fate, the Omnimover lives on in Tomorrowland, too. Adventure Thru Inner Space closed in 1985 in Tomorrowland's south showbuilding. Almost two decades later, the mirror-image north showbuilding along Tomorrowland's entry (formerly home to Circlevision 360 and, later, to a Disaster File: Rocket Rods), opened with Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. On board, guests join Star Command from Disney-Pixar's Toy Story 2 and take flight aboard a continuous chain of constantly-moving intergalactic space ships... An Omnimover alive in Tomorrowland just a few dozen feet from where the technology was first pioneered.

From under the sea to the dreamy clouds of imagination; the atomic inner world to the farthest reaches of toy-sized space, the Omnimover can do it all. So renowned and versatile is the Omnimover ride system, it scored among our list of the Seven Modern Wonders of the Theme Park World, and it all debuted in Tomorrowland's Adventure Thru Inner Space!

2. Star Tours

There’s no denying that in terms of guest satisfaction, Star Tours is a very worthy replacement for Adventure Thru Inner Space.

The storyline for Star Tours is a brilliant one: that here in our world, we have airports and airlines that carry us off to exotic destinations, and likewise, the Star Wars universe has its own intergalactic transportation company ­– Star Tours – offering trips to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. As would-be passengers entering the Earth terminal of this interstellar transit system, we see that it’s very much rooted in reality: there’s an arrivals / departures board, a host of aliens paging passengers over an intercom, a security checkpoint, a luggage scan… It’s a humorous look at how even the Star Wars universe has its mundane elements, and their public transportation is really quite like our own.

But to those who experienced Adventure Thru Inner Space, the terminal concourse of Star Wars looks very familiar. The winding, descending path toward the parked Star Speeder is actually a very in-tact remnant of the Inner Space queue, right down to the lighting. Of course, back then, that parked Star Speeder was instead the Mighty Monsanto Microscope with the continuously moving chain of Omnimovers advancing into it. Yes, this first room of Star Tours’ queue is where riders boarded their Atommobile and were miniaturized.

Because Star Tours requires so much less room than the more elaborate dark ride of old, parts of the dark ride were reconfigured into the rest of Star Tours’ elaborate queue, space for the four military-grade motion-simulators that Star Tours takes place in, and the Star Traders gift shop it exits into, all of which was formerly space taken up by the dark ride itself. (Click and expand the blueprint above to see a detailed comparison of the two rides side-to-side.)

It’s strange-but-true to consider that, in a way, Adventure Thru Inner Space lives on even in parks where it next existed: when Star Tours was cloned at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris, the original queue at Disneyland was copied, too, bringing the iconic queue of Inner Space to Florida, Japan, and France. Even though those three parks never had Adventure Thru Inner Space, they all have a very obvious piece of its DNA!

3. The Mighty Microscope… in space

While it’s now impossible to see at a Disney Park, the original Star Tours paid tribute to Adventure Thru Inner Space in an exciting way. After Rex’s first faulty maneuver (“Brakes… Brakes! Where are the brakes?!”), the Star Speeder fell down into a Maintenance area and pulled up at the last second, gliding past a Control Booth. Just past the control tower, you could catch a glimpse of the Mighty Microscope jutting out. The Microscope made this cameo appearance (at about :50 in the video embedded below) in all four versions of Star Tours across the globe.

In 2010, Star Tours closed at Disneyland, reopening a year later in June 2011 as Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. The new, HD-3D iteration includes randomized beginnings, middles, and ends, producing dozens and dozens of possible combinations so that your journey is different every time. Amid the chaos of this new iteration, the Mighty Microscope lives on. In one of the three possible endings to your journey, the Star Speeder arrives at an under-construction Death Star orbiting Geonosis. As you escape through a hangar bay filled with Stormtroopers, the Mighty Microscope appears on the left, apparently overtaken by the Empire. (You’ll see it at about 6:20 in the video below.)

Here again, it's interesting that – because the ride film was cloned to all four Disney Parks where Star Tours (and then, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue) exists, the Mighty Microscope made cameo appearances at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris.

4. A younger sister

Image: Disney

Claude Coats – the famed Imagineer and Disney Legend responsible for designing Adventure Thru Inner Space – was far from finished. Coates would go on to lead dozens of beloved Imagineering projects including the Haunted Mansion, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and most of EPCOT Center's beloved dark rides. However, in designing Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland, Coates reached into his own archive and crafted another Omnimover-based ride built off the blueprints for Adventure Thru Inner Space.

Replace the Mighty Monsanto Microscope with a globe and airport terminal and you've got the basics for another Lost Legend: If You Had Wings. The aviation-themed dark ride (sponsored by Eastern Air Lines) gave a generation wings to widen their world and set the course for EPCOT Center. We soared into the in-depth story of Coates' creations in that standalone feature – a must-read for fans of Magic Kingdom's early years.

Looking Forward and Back

Adventure Thru Inner Space has been gone for a very long time; so long, in fact, that many Disney fans never got the chance to ride it. But it remains beloved today for another reason: because of what it represented.

It was a holdout of Walt’s Tomorrowland – an optimistic world whose limitless advances in technology signaled a rebirth of culture. Guests were astounded by the hope of atomic energy and in awe of what the future could hold. It was a time when families wanted to come to Disneyland to learn about America’s past, present, and future.

Image: Disney

Maybe if Adventure Thru Inner Space were recreated today, it would be beloved and revered and celebrated as a retrofuturistic spectacle and a grand show of Imagineering’s artistry. Who could say? But take a look at Epcot and you’ll notice that what we want – or at least, what Disney thinks we want – is to leave the real world behind. In their thinking, we don’t want to bother with science or history or learning. We’d rather blast aliens with Buzz than shrink to the size of an atom on a self-serious dark ride that teaches us the structure of atoms. Maybe they’re right.

But Adventure Thru Inner Space will remain a beloved memory of a different time and a different Disneyland. For our part, we do hope that one day, the Omnimover across the way in Tomorrowland gets a nostalgic and classic facelift to become an Adventure Thru Inner Space style exploration of science. But we won’t hold our breath. The continued invasion of Monsters Inc. and Lilo and Stitch seems a more likely – and unfortunate – path for Walt’s vista into wondrous ideas signifying man’s achievements.

Now, head over to our In-Depth Feature Library to set course for another Lost Legend.

But first, it’s your turn. Use the comments below to tell us what you think about Adventure Thru Inner Space. Is it yet another Lost Legend and a painful reminder of the high aspirations Disney once had in Epcot-style learning adventures? Or was it a dated remnant of a Tomorrowland that tried and failed to keep up with real scientific progress? Tell us your stories and thoughts as we keep memories of this lost classic alive.

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There are 8 comments.

I grew up a few miles from Disneyland. In high school, it was well known that Adventures Through Inner Space (or "Monsanto" for short) earned the dubious distinction as the "make-out ride." In later years, the giant styrofoam snowflakes too close to the Omnimover vehicles were decorated with wads of gum.

I worked at the park, starting in 1983 as a Park Decorater, in the "inner-space" attraction we took care of the scrims in about the middle of the ride, guests spit on everything in the ride, it was bad, same in the Haunted Mansion in the Attic, to service a prop or clean, you wore gloves. Anyway, I always loved the ride. the day after it closed, I went into the per-show to maybe get one of the "Atomoblies" to put on my work station, all were gone when I got there, I kept doing my "Park Checks" walking the ride, it got to be an echo chamber , then I got a security guard who I knew said you can't be in here anymore, I guess I was one of the last to see, I guess respect this great attraction!

All I got to say about this ride is I rode it when I was about young and my sister made sure she pointed out that no people were coming out. The ride was so convincing and was terrified by Fantastic voyage I was very much starting to freak out. When I saw the eye at the end I just completely freaked out screaming and just was a wreck took me about 10 minutes to calm down once off the ride.

That ride was awesome.

I thought it was weird, must have been age 7 through 9 when I rode it. The whole thing about atoms maybe were just a bit over my head. I remember thinking what is this weird ride? Now as an adult reminiscing over my long lost childhood I fondly remember the eyeball looking at me as the atom mobile turned around. It was weird and way too much knowledge for a small child to understand. Perhaps that is why Buzzlight Year, Star Wars and Monsters inc has taken over Tomorrowland. The all mighty dollar rules over everything. I do remember that the transportation aspect of Tomorrowland was very awesome and the main reason I think that Disneyland in the 70's was a far more grand place than it is now. All the motion and sounds of motion was breathtaking and is what I miss most. The lonely and largely abandoned Peoplemover track and station is so solemn and only stands as monument to the glory days of Walt's Tomorrowland. Gone are the Skyway towers and cables with only abandoned stations with only a hole through the Matterhorn as a reminder of Tomorrowland's former glory. Gone are the Rocketjets platform and towering rocket structure only to be replaced by a version that has faster rider through put placed in front of the "Y" of the old Peoplemover track. So sad is the current Tomorrowland that kids of today will never know of its former glorious past.

Two of the greatest things about the Monsanto Ride (as we all called it) were, #1: It was dark and hidden and a great place to be with your girlfriend, and #2: It was free! You didn't need to waste a ticket on it.

I rode this many, many times. Don't remember ever spitting or wadding up gum on the walls, but I did take advantage of it being a dark ride from time to time with my dates.

This is an all-time classic ride! Disney should bring it back in its classic form down to the tiniest details. (See what I did there?) DisneyWorld should have their own version that is a complete re-imagining using the the latest technology. That's my two cents.

What will become of the space when they move Star Tours to Star Wars Land?

This was one of my favorites as a kid. It's still would be today. I was sad when it finally went away. Good stuff!

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