TPT logo

Your guide to theme parks in Orlando and beyond

 

Main menu

Disney's "Worst Attraction Ever" is FINALLY Closed. This Is Why it All Went Wrong.

Eisner’s decree that Disneyland and Magic Kingdom should receive New Tomorrowlands set off fantastic design work at Imagineering. In fact, a young group of Imagineers had a brave idea for incorporating another movie franchise into this fresh land. Their choice? Alien.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Eisner was ecstatic as he looked over their plans for a point-and-shoot laser-gun dark ride through the decaying industrial ship Nostromo, with guests zapping the terrifying Xenomorph alien and its parasitic Facehuggers and Chestbursters from the revolutionary 21st Century Fox film. This was exactly what Disney Parks needed – a chance to draw in pre-teens and teenagers like his own son who viewed Disneyland as a kiddie park.

However, a group of legacy Imagineers was decidedly less enthusiastic. They battled back and forth with Eisner, trying desperately to convince him that the horrifying, R-rated Alien had no place in Disneyland. These Imagineers were aghast that Eisner actually thought families ­– children! – should be armed with laser guns and do battle with fierce extraterrestrials. What would Walt have thought?

Ultimately, those seasoned Imagineers knew that only one person could quell Eisner’s enthusiasm and take Alien off the table: George Lucas. Indeed, Lucas agreed that Alien was too intense for a Disney Park and Eisner regrettably informed the young group of new Imagineers that their plans would just need to change. He still wanted a thrilling attraction for these New Tomorrowlands, but they’d need to leave the signature alien Xenomorph behind and come up with something a little less scary.

ExtraTERRORestrial

Those young Imagineers set to work and came up with a plan Eisner adored: a multi-sensory dark ride attraction that would be thrilling and scary and nice and cheap. How? They’d use an existing attraction: Mission to Mars. By equipping each of the seats in the theater with shoulder restraints packed with special effects, they could simply turn out the lights and convince guests that they were in the presence of a hungry alien.

Gnashing fangs, blood splatters, racing heartbeats, warm drool dripping down your neck… If you'd like to know more about the incredibly interesting story behind the creation of the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter and know what happened during the ride, we've chronicled the in-depth story of Disney’s scariest attraction ever in its own Lost Legends feature that’s an absolute must-read. That Lost Legends entry contains everything you need to know leading into Stitch's Great Escape's tragic tale, so start there and catch up.

Image: Disney

But here's the quick version: the brilliant New Tomorrowland Imagineers designed for Florida was creatively unprecedented. The land was re-built as a science-fiction city – a living alien spaceport where extraterrestrials live, work, eat, and do business. Brilliantly, this master-planned land had an overarching story; a single continuity connecting every ride, show, shop, even restaurant in the land, with each playing a role in the "real" spaceport city. The bustling silver city of neon signs and alien languages and landed spacecrafts looked right out of a Buck Rogers comic and best of all, it was timeless! Because it didn’t even try to imagine what the real future would look like, it would never need to be updated.

And there along the gleaming city’s Avenue of Planets entry stood the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center. In the continuity of the brilliantly designed land, this expo hall was available for rent for any corporations wishing to display their wares. And wouldn’t you know it, the current lessee is the Martian company X-S Tech showing off their newest device: an interstellar teleportation technology supposedly capable of beaming us across the cosmos. This was, of course, The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter.

Image: Disney

First, it started with a chilling and dark pre-show where a simple demonstration of the technology – teleporting a fuzzy alien creature named Skippy from one side of the room to another – goes horribly wrong, leaving the little guy burnt to a crisp, wailing and in pain. This morbid and startling pre-show was an intentional check meant to weed out guests who couldn’t have imagined that this “terrifying” attraction might ACTUALLY terrify. 

Guests who dared continue on entered into the main demonstration chamber. Still arranged in concentric circles, guests now faced a massive glass tube fed by wires and pipes overhead. Locked in via shoulder restraints, the technological showcase would begin.

Image: Disney

Of course, when the commander of X-S Tech offers to beam himself to the theater, we know something is likely to go wrong, and boy does it. The teleportation ray is intercepted by a bloodthirsty insectoid creature that gets beam in, instead. It makes quick work of shattering the glass tube and taking flight into the audience. As the lights sizzle, guests are left in pitch black darkness as special effects embedded in the seats, harnesses, and floor simulate the stomping alien growing closer, growling in guests’ ears and drooling down their necks, splattering blood from an unlucky convention center worker overhead, and more. 

At the last second, the alien is lured back into the shattered glass tube as the X-S technicians boost the power. Wires break loose spewing fog as the machine powers up and a metallic blast shield falls just as the creature explodes, splattering guests with goo. The intense attraction took place almost entirely in pitch-black darkness and the innovative use of 3D audio and in-seat special effects meant that it was inescapable. Think about it – closing your eyes would only make it worse! Terrifyingly intense, brilliantly original, and a rare dark experience at Magic Kingdom made Alien Encounter a cult classic adored by fans.

Legacy

To be clear: ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter is, far and away, the scariest attraction Disney ever designed, and our in-depth feature will walk you through the entire thing. Alien Encounter scarred a generation of kids (now twenty-somethings) who not-so-fondly recall the immobilizing experience, but now wish desperately that they could see it again. (Read through the dozens of comments on the Alien Encounter feature for proof.)

Yes, Alien Encounter was terrifying and uncharacteristically serious for a Disney attraction. But unlike any other theme park experience we can think of, the mix of darkness and atmospheric dread let many guests totally let go. There, in the pitch-black darkness, they would scream, laugh, and holler, surrendering to the idea that maybe – just maybe – a carnivorous alien really was loose in the building. At the end of the day, Alien Encounter was good fun and a sincere memory-maker.

Image: Disney

It was also that most revered kind of Disney attraction – an original. Based on original characters in a purpose-made setting that wrapped perfectly into the overarching story of a gorgeous New Tomorrowland. While it may be unfair to group Alien Encounter with the Enchanted Tiki Room, Country Bear Jamboree, or Carousel of Progress, it really fit there – a uniquely conceived, fresh concept that could’ve gone down in history as a classic. It was smart, fun, dark, scary, and an instant classic.

And, boy, was it doomed.

Complaints

From the start, guests complained madly about the unimaginable attraction, so out of place in the G-rated fantasy of Magic Kingdom. Sure, signs offered that the attraction may not be suitable for children, and the word TERROR was emblazoned in the attraction’s very name, but even imaginative parents couldn’t have thought that a Disney attraction might literally terrify their children. And indeed, we have no doubt that Alien Encounter ruined many days.

Image: Disney

(By the way, we argue in the Lost Legends feature above that if Alien Encounter had debuted at Disneyland as originally intended, it would still be around today. After all, Disneyland has much more in the way of “PG-13” attractions, and Alien Encounter would be right at home with Star Tours, Matterhorn, and Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye. Magic Kingdom, though, lacks all three. It’s almost purely a G-rated park and Alien Encounter stood out like a sore thumb.)

After only eight years, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter closed forever on October 12, 2003. Scary? Sure. But if you thought a carnivorous, flying alien was horrifying; just WAIT until you see what comes next… Disney’s most disastrous attraction ever is about to land.

Go to page:

Pages


There are 25 comments.

As someone who has done both attractions, i think stitch is 100 times better than Alien ever was.

Furthermore, your ascertation that this attraction appeals to no age group is an assumption at best n based on opinion. I see no survey data nor snippets stating unbiased individual opinions of said attraction.
As someone whom has written for established news papers before, a good journalist knows how to write an article without interjecting opinion(which is highly evident throughout the article).
Maybe in thr future actusl numerical compilation can be done to show ridership of an attraction to support basis of claim. Or maybe solicit others opinions n post them to support the basis of an article.

Just my opinion as someone whom has been published in the past.

I don't know that I ever broadcast any entries in this series as entirely, objectively journalistic. In fact, I continuously denote that they're in-depth stories behind beloved-and-lost attractions or disastrous misses! From the start, a series called "Lost Legends" or "Designing Disasters" should hint that the contents are hardly objective! In fact, they're subjective deep-dives that intentionally ask for people to share their memories, experiences, and stories. The point is to look critically and creatively at these attractions and preserve the experiences for future generations through storytelling (mine and yours in the comments), not to save their data or their scientific survey results.

I don't *have* survey data to tell me that the attraction is too juvenile for pre-teens and too scary for anyone younger; frankly, I don't need it! My "ascertation" is shared by many. The attraction's odd tone is a result of its odd history as chronicled here, and that's part of its intriguing origin story that I hope I captured! An overwhelming majority Disney Parks fans agree that Stitch's Great Escape is simply not a good attraction, as evidenced by stories, comments, data, ratings, and anecdotal evidence preserved here and across the internet and parks. While some people appreciate it (and I have absolute respect for those people), it's largely agreed upon that it's a mess.

I maintain that this article – and each entry in the rest of my extensive collection here! – is a thoughtful, well-researched, well-written piece that generates critical thinking, conversation, appreciation for detail, and an idea of the "big picture" that shaped these attractions. The purpose of these Designing Disaster and Lost Legends articles is to spark discussion and bring varying opinions to the table, and I sincerely enjoy that! But as a "good journalist" who's written for established newspapers before, I'm sure you realize the value of storytelling. I don't believe I need "thr future actusl numerical compilation ... to support basis of claim." Instead, I tell the story as I know it and let everyone here fill in the blanks and tell their stories. Thanks for the thoughts though! Hoping I'll be published one day, too. ;P

I'm 0/2 on these stories, this is my favorite Tomorrowland ride...and I loved Under New Management. I guess my Disney taste is just bad...

Takes all kinds...! Maybe we'll end up with an entry that you can agree with. Can you think of any "disastrous" attractions past or present? I've got a few more I'm thinking of...

I liked Under New Management better too!

My guess is Disney only out stitch in place of the alien because they could copy the animatronic put into the Tokyo Disneyland enchanted tiki room when they added stitch there. It's the same basic audio animatronic.

Young kids today haven't been exposed to Lilo & Stitch, and there were far more popular IPs that Miillenials and older folks remember. its time to do something else with the building. Heck, tears it down entirely and mak8ng a wider walkway would be more welcome than what is there now!

I hate this attraction. I loved Alien Encounter and thought it was groundbreaking. Meanwhile, Stich comes along and ruins a lot of good things. I agree, I hate that Tomorrowland has turned into Pixarland and it's gotten away from what it was. I wasn't too thrilled with the redo initially but it grew on me. I'll always have that nostalgic spot in my heart for the gleaming white buildings and straight lines. However, Stich is horrible and needs to be removed. If they want something more risqué, why not put something more in line with exploration gone wrong or something? Like the ship that would take you to Horizons, make that something or make a Time Travel based attraction or something that travels to the Center of the Earth. They could even put in a new ride system like the omnimover and make something there. The options are limitless, just like the imagination.

You hash over again and again how GREAT alien encounter was, but it was awful. It was painful and uncomfortable just like the stitch ride is. That's what makes the ride bad. The design of the ride itself, where you're locked in to uncomfortable restraints and bothered until mercifully the ride ends. The reality is both rides are bad. They should save that stitch animatronic and repurpose him though. He's fabulous.

This ride basically ruined the whole trip for us in 2014. My then 5 year old wanted to go on it, and I took him, not remembering how awful it was.

He was terrified and crying hysterically and refused to go on any other ride in the park. Refused! Wouldn't do Peter Pan, Winnie-the-Pooh, Dumbo. Wouldn't even ride the train.

Even now at 7 he still hesitates getting on dark rides.

Oh, and bonus, he won't watch Lili and Stich.

Okay, hold tight guys,
I just went last month and made sure to ride it A) because I'm a sound guy and wanted to check out the binaural design and B) in tribute to Alien Encounter, which I loved - it blew me away as a kid. But every step of the way through Stitch made me sad and unmagically nostalgic.
Some defense for Alien Encounter's closure: originally (and probably this should continue) Tomorrowland was a hopeful and hope filled place where hard work, technology, and innovation promised guests a great big beautiful tomorrow. Alien Encounter did not fit that hopeful mold (a mold I love), but then again, New Tomorrowland didn't fit it either. New Tomorrowland, with its ageless, sci-fi feel could now house the attitudes of classic films like Alien and Blade Runner, with cautionary tales of the world to come, of corruption, selfishness, greed, etc. And if you're making a sci-fi world, those are fairly consistent themes (from Metropolis to Janelle Monae). And though those themes can prompt thoughtful change, they aren't Walt's optimism. Do we keep them or nay?
Okay, but then what on earth does Stitch have to say about anything? It's not bleak; it's not hopeful. Like the article says, it doesn't fit the New Tomorrowland world - and it sure as heck doesn't fit former iterations either. And honestly, I'd much rather have a dark warning than a narrative nil. It's just kind of bland and there (though the big old canons look pretty cool when they move and shoot, so I guess it's not a total loss).
There are other things at play, too, like the overboard franchising (Guardians of the Galaxy also taking extra flack because it perpetuates a too-long pattern) and the pandering (acting on complaints rather than greater potential). That's a tricky business, too, though, because Disneyland isn't academia, it's entertainment, and if people aren't having fun, in the end, maybe it's wrong and needs to change. And, though I think the Tim Curry pre-show helped some, a lot of people were really upset with Alien Encounter, so that gives a clue that something might need a fix.
In the end, heck yeah, bring it to Disneyland. We would take such good care of it. And our Tomorrowland desperately needs some life. (Rides aside, I couldn't take my eyes off the life of Florida's Tomorrowland, especially at night.) The fans would cheer. Bring it here.

I would have to submit that the attraction in Disney's California Adventure: Superstar Limo was one of the worst disasters. Nicknamed "Stupid Star Lamo", it didn't last long and its replacement "Mike and Sully to the Rescue" was a welcome relief!

Good thought, Mel! I think you'll see a Superstar Limo entry in this series before too long... What a mess.

Great article! Only 1 thing to add. STOP BUYING STITCH PLUSH! The reason this attraction goes on and on is the gift shop. If we all band together and stop buying the cuddly version of Experiment 626 Disney will close down the doors to his Great Escape. Together we can get a new attraction in this spot!

Thank you so much, for making me miss Alien Encounter even more, what a great attraction that was. I LOATHE the Stitch replacement, its always a 'must skip'.

I can't agree with this article enough. Not only was Stitch a woeful replacement for Alien Encounter, I completely agree with the writer's comments about the removal of the overall storyline of Tomorrowland. When riding the Peoplemover, the most recently updated spiel doesn't include us as participants in a space-city of the future; instead, it is a commercial for all of the neat attractions in this area of Magic Kingdom. I don't feel 'transported' anywhere. Disney had a great thing going in Tomorrowland, and I am glad that I am old enough to remember when it was indeed a 'Tomorrowland'. It's sad that so many will never experience that one.

I could not agree more with you about how bad this ride is. I was so disappointed the first time we rode it, as Disney Channel was talking about it often and I was excited for a good Tomorrowland ride. After that we'd go to ride it i'd dread the darn coney dog smell effect. Now you walk into the ride and that is all the room smells like. Not only ruins the effect, but it's also the worst effect that's stuck in the room. I say bad idea imagineers. I will say that I was too young to ride Alien Encounter before it closed, unfortunately, but that doesn't mean those of us who didn't ride it don't know how bad this ride is. Also this article was interesting because it's the first time I have heard any good things about Alien Encounter. I enjoy these articles, especially loved the tiki room one. I have to say about that though, that some 90's kids also hated the new one, not all of us liked it. My family celebrated it's symbolic end and were praying for the return of the original. We even mourned the song cuts in Disneyland.

Yes, and yes! My husband and I rode Alien Encounter on our honeymoon and LOVED it! I do agree that The Magic Kingdom probably wasn't the right place for it, but it was still amazing. We rode it multiple times, and couldn't wait to tell others about it. It was new, innovative and truly scary. When we went back to WDW in 2007 with our kids, it had been replaced by Stitch's Great Escape, and we couldn't have been more disappointed. I can't stand the bodily function humor of that time, and neither can my kids. We had built up this amazing ride, and they were so bummed that it was not only different, but a complete waste of time!

But why is it still there? You didn't tell us!

Agreed! The ride may be pretty bad, but why then is it still operating?
My guess is that it has a lot to do with the small size of the ride. Stitch has the pre-ride room with Sarge and Skippy, the main showroom with Stitch, and... that's all! Fitting a new attraction into the small space would be difficult to do, and expanding the ride would mean removing the souvenir shops or Cosmic Ray's cafe. The building is in the interior of the park, so renovation would be difficult and there's no room to expand the building. There's also the low cost to operate the ride to consider - there's no track system or ride cars, and only a handful of animatronics and screens to maintain.

A rumor just came out this week that Stitch might be replaced with a Wreck-It Ralph attraction. Although I'm not sure how that fits in Tomorrowland....

My family just got back from Disney World and we rode Stitch. It was awful. Even my 5 and 8 year olds hated it. Neither were scared by any of it. My 8 year old said, "she didn't get it." Neither of my kids have ever been lilo and stitch fans. Time to ditch this ride. If Eisner wants to make Magic Kingdom less babyish, he's going the wrong way. It was too babyish for my 8 year old. She liked Epcot much better.

I agree with everything you have to say about the ride itself, but I do object to the implication that Lilo & Stitch has aged poorly. It's true that Disney has run the franchise into the ground with countless ill-advised sequels and a dubious TV spin-off, but the original film, taken by itself, still holds up as one of Disney's strongest features from the early 2000s.

Regarding the rumored replacement: Unfortunately the "sequel coming" is jettisoning the "retro game" thing in favor of the Internet and even calling it "Ralph Breaks the Internet" (read: naming it in reference to a stupid meme we all should have just long forgotten by now). Which answers the comment on how "Wreck-It Ralph" would fit into Tomorrowland, though the Internet being this cool new thing and a "world" unto itself is late-90s-mid-2000s dated territory if you ask me.

I went on this ride in 2009 when I was 16. I was at the age where I can appreciate the work that went into animatronics, themes, and tech that went into each attraction. We did Stitch once. Just once. We did under new management once. Iago was ugly as all hell, Zazu looked much better but I was a huge fan of the Tiki Room in Disneyland and hated the corporate feel to Under New Management. Now Stitch was a weird one. I loved the theme, thought it was downright adorable. Hated the animation used for the ride, felt like the robot was out of place horribly since we see no robots in the Lilo and Stitch franchise at all. Thought the story of the ride was actually horrible. How'd Gantu forget about stitch? This clearly doesn't take place before the movie starts because he calls himself Stitch at the end of the ride right before he's transported to earth. Gantu wouldn't underestimate Stitch in the movie when he's in lockdown at the start after seeing what he did in the holding cell. It fit so horribly. That's my biggest problem with it. At least Star Tours just took place in the same universe and didn't say "Oh yeah and Quigon is driving the ship even though he's dead."

After all of that I wanted to ride it again. Why? Because the tech used in the ride was interesting to look at. I wasn't uncomfortable sitting in the ride, the pressing down of the harness doesn't hurt as much as someone his size actually standing on your shoulders like I've actually done with my young siblings. The jokes were childish but I was like "Oh this is for little kids." But you do make a very good point. The darkness isn't for little kids and my brother at the time still slept with a nightlight on. He didn't like it much and same with the rest of my family. I just wanted to see the Stitch animatronic again. Tokyo Disney did much better with putting Stitch in a pre-existing ride. I really liked what they did with it, there was actual passion that went into redoing Tiki Room with Stitch ruining the ride on purpose, it embraces what people actually liked about Lilo and Stitch and it was the modern Hawaiian culture mixed with a little bit of tradition, then a little bit of Stitch messing around and ruining everything. So I'm not against stitch in any way, I just find what we got versus what other places got is unfair. I was actually upset that other places got amazing technology put into their rides, mystic manor, shanghai pirates, etc, and what we got for our first trackless ride and remaking of pirates was a Ho-down and removing the wenches being sold off and removing my favorite parts of the ride, removing the oldman echoing through the caverns and putting in davy jones and now we don't hear the captain auctioning off the women. I loved those voices. We aren't doing well as far as our rides go in the states, we need the help of the imagineers who worked in the overseas parks.

Pages

Connect with Theme Park Tourist: