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

All due respect to Stitch fans and an upcoming generation of Disney Parks enthusiasts who grew up with the rehashed ride and don’t know any different: Stitch’s Great Escape was a bad attraction. Yes, there are those who sincerely enjoyed it, and that's absolutely fine. We're big believers in celebrating differing opinions, and we welcome discussion! But there's no denying that much of the criticism targeted at the attraction was earned. At worst, it topped our list of the most flubbed and failed attractions of all time. At best, even those who defended it concede that it’s not that good. And despite what's argued in that defense, most of us didn't dislike Stitch's Great Escape just because it's hip or cool to. We objectively realize it was just not a very good attraction! ...Don’t believe us? Here are five reasons.

Image: Disney

1) It caused the death of a rare “original” idea

Especially lately, Disney is obsessed with intellectual property. Fans believe (rightly, it would seem) that the U.S. Disney Parks have a moratorium on original attractions. Put another way: if it’s not tied to a pre-existing and financially viable film franchise, you will NOT see it brought to life at Disneyland or Walt Disney World. To an extent, that’s a good thing. After all, Disney has made some phenomenal films in the last decades (Big Hero 6, Frozen, TangledInside Out, Finding Dory, Wreck-It Ralph) and spent tens of billions of dollars to acquire many more (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Marvel, Pixar, The Muppets). They’d be downright stupid to NOT use the ingredients that have been added to their cookbooks.

But man, you know what’ll really get fans frenzied? Original ideas. It’s why many fans would rather have Discovery Bay than a Star Wars landBeastly Kingdom rather than PANDORA – the World of Avatar. It’s why fans celebrate Expedition Everest and Mystic Manor and Roaring Rapids and DisneySea’s Tower of Terror. These attractions prove that, when untethered from box office predictions and shoehorning in pre-existing characters, Imagineering has still "got it." They can still work wonders and create 21st century competitors to storied classics like Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean – attractions that are just as brilliant for a new generation.

Even worse than closing a brave original ride is replacing it with a proven character. It’s a double-slap to fans and a painful reminder of the creative slump U.S. Disney Parks were in. It’s the same groan-worthy move that nearly ruined a Walt Disney classic and inspired another feature in our series, Disaster Files: The Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management; the controversial choice to replace fan-favorite, retro-cultural Lost Legend: Maelstrom with Frozen; closing California Adventure's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Epcot's Universe of Energy with super heros, or the Victorian Paradise Pier with Pixar Pier.

In retrospect, Alien Encounter was one of those pre-21st century E-Tickets – a “new classic.” An original story (albeit, one with flaws) that set a unique tone, excited a generation, and lorded over New Tomorrowland with an eerie presence. It was powerful and special and original. Yes, Stitch's Great Escape was particularly bad when compared to Alien Encounter. But to be fair, even if Alien Encounter hadn't existed, we'd still fault Stitch's Great Escape. It was just not fun. 

2) It was another blow to Tomorrowland’s foundation

Speaking of which, Stitch’s entry kicked off an epidemic that’s sweeping through Tomorrowlands the world over: cartoonification.

When Imagineers were tasked with creating New Tomorrowlands that defied scientific advancement, they did a surprisingly stellar job. Whether it was the silver alien spaceport of Florida (a sci-fi future) or the golden literary seaport in Paris (a fantasy future), those Tomorrowlands really did seem poised to last. Unfortunately, both have fallen not because their styles have become dated, but because their substance did.

Magic Kingdom’s New Tomorrowland was brave, immersing guests into a 20th century pop serial comic sci-fi city. The land was cast as a functioning world where aliens, humans, and robots would actually live, work, play and eat. Alien Encounter was the city’s convention center; the Peoplemover, its public transportation; the Timekeeper, its science center; Space Mountain, its transportation hub; Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe, its local watering hole; even the arcade was themed as the city's power plant! While a visit today still allows you to stroll through the detailed and well-dressed city, the 1930s pulp comic style is merely a façade.

While it looks sci-fi, those sci-fi fronts house attractions themed to Monsters Inc.Toy Story, and Lilo & Stitch. None make any modicum of sense in Tomorrowland at all, but especially not in the once-thoughtful and detailed version of Tomorrowland that Magic Kingdom has.

The situation is just as bad in Disneyland's even-more-jumbled Tomorrowland, home to Toy Story 2Star Wars, and Finding Nemo of all things.

In other words, Stitch’s Great Escape was an early chip away at Tomorrowland, slowly turning the once-thoughtful land into a catch-all for literally anything, but mostly Pixar cartoons. (Ironically, Wall-e is about the only Pixar film that actually fits in Tomorrowland and could inspire a breathtaking E-ticket ride, and it's absent.)

3) It was an obviously hasty and thoughtless replacement

Obviously cooked up to re-use as much of Alien Encounter as possible with as little cost as possible, Stitch’s Great Escape looked, felyt, sounded, and acted like a pandering, fast-tracked replacement for Alien Encounter… Because it was. And given that Stitch’s Great Escape survived for 13 years – nearly twice as long as Alien Encounter survived – it shouldn’t have felt like a reductive, hasty replacement to the end.

Defenders can offer that it's unfair to compare Stitch's Great Escape to Alien Encounter, but of course it's fair. Disney summarily overhauled a creative, brave, ambitious, and controversial ride and did as little as they could to turn it into a more palatable family-friendly version. That in and of itself lends the new ride to being compared to the former. But even beyond that, Disney did a slapdash job. Fans will always hold a grudge against Frozen Ever After for replacing another Lost Legend: Maelstrom, but at least Frozen Ever After is good! It’s bad enough that Stitch’s Great Escape replaced the cult classic Alien Encounter. Even worse, it did it with no substance or innovation of its own.

4) It’s troublingly infantile

It’s a slap in the face to Imagineers that a unique, smart, thoughtful experience like Alien Encounter was closed for the most juvenile and pointless attraction at any Disney Park on Earth, filled with burps and spitting and drooling and bad puns. It was a seriously dated reminder of the late-90s-early-2000s and felt right at home amid the terrible direct-to-video movies Disney was churning out during that period. It was classless and gross and silly, and not in the good ways.

In our in-depth Disaster Files feature on the Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management, we pointed out that the dated humor and gross-out slapstick of the ‘90s overlay dated it from the get-go, removing any chance that the “refreshed” attraction could become a timeless classic like the original. This situation isn’t much different. Stitch himself is a product of a by-gone time (with his once-viral appeal already having waned significantly) and the animation, “humor,” and atmosphere of the attraction ended up being obvious leftovers from that era – not at all in step with what a timeless attraction feels like.

5) It was appropriate for practically no one

At the end of the day, this may be the most important error Stitch’s Great Escape made, and the easiest for us as fans of the industry to learn from. Stitch’s Great Escape didn't have an audience. I’m not only speaking about how the attraction was practically always a walk-on, skipped by any guest who’s ever had the displeasure of trying it out.

I mean that the experience offered tried too hard to impress, but without anyone specific in mind.

Stitch’s Great Escape was annoying and offensively pandering to pre-teens or older, who would sooner sit out than muddle through such a tedious attraction based on such a juvenile character. Meanwhile, anyone younger than 10 would've been horrified by the darkness and pandemonium! In other words, there was no age group that could predictably enjoy it. It was too juvenile for teens, too scary for anyone younger.

Replacing a frightening alien with a goofy one might read well on paper, but in practice the attraction bombed.

The End in Sight

Just two months after the initial publication of this piece, Disney did take action. On September 21, 2016, Disney's spokesperson confirmed that, as of October 2, 2016, Stitch's Great Escape would switch to seasonal operation, opening only when crowd levels at Magic Kingdom peaked around holidays. Insiders say that the choice was, ultimately, a no-brainer, and that guest satisfaction for Magic Kingdom as a whole is higher by statistically significant percentage points on days that Stitch's Great Escape is closed. Put another way: the park is actually stronger with no attraction open in that spot than with Stitch's Great Escape.

That dreaded "seasonal" status so common in doomed attractions continued for well over a year. When the crowds left Walt Disney World at the conclusion of its 2017 holiday celebrations, Stitch left too. The attraction was quietly and permanently closed on January 6, 2018 without much fanfare, without an announcement or entry on the Disney Parks Blog... and with no indication of a replacement.

During the attraction's year of seasonal status, the first pre-show room was briefly converted to "Stitch's Alien Encounter" meet and greet (get it?), and it's likely that – at least for now – that'll become a standard use for the site... which is a shame, given the attraction's prime placement, clearly positioned for the kind of land-defining E-Ticket Alien Encounter was.

Even before Stitch officially closed, it was long reported that it would be replaced with virtual reality (VR) attraction themed to 2012's Wreck-It Ralph.

Image: Disney

Should this rumored Wreck-It Ralph attration come about, the remains of the Mission to Mars theaters would likely be leveled, replaced with individual motion simulating pods equipped with VR headsets. Guests would be transported via those immersive VR headsets into the film's candy-coated Sugar Rush video game to race alongside Ralph and Penelope. Sure, Wreck-It Ralph deals more in the retro gaming of the '80s and '90s than it does the future, but at least it's an intellectual property that seems a tad more evergreen than Lilo and Stitch. After all, Wreck-It Ralph has a sequel on the way, and the attraction would apparently be backed by the very trendy and vaguely futuristic virtual reality technology taking amusement parks by storm.

It hardly sounds like a permanent fix (indeed, any attraction inseparably tied to an emerging technology is doomed out the gate... something Epcot's Future World learned all too well), but at least it would give the former Interplanetary Convention Center something worth showcasing.

Disaster Personified

Let’s face it: with Stitch’s Great Escape, Walt Disney World had by far its least successful attraction creatively, commercially, and emotionally. It was too scary for kids, too juvenile for teens; filled with dated humor and '90s straight-to-video styling; it was a thoughtless and hasty replacement of a storied cult classic… it was a laughing stock. Just as insultingly, only a few tweaks (and a new and improved Audio Animatronic alien) kept Stitch’s Great Escape from becoming Alien Encounter once more. But that ship has sailed.

Will Alien Encounter ever appear at another Disney Park? Don’t hold your breath. We maintain still that Alien Encounter could still today work at Disneyland if and when a New Tomorrowland finally lands there, but today's Disney is far less interested in original concepts and far more likely to bring more Disney and Pixar characters into Walt's world of tomorrow.

Now, Magic Kingdom is finally freed from Stitch's Great Escape. And if Disney's guest satisfaction ratings are correct, that's a good thing for everyone.

If you enjoyed looking through the details of this Disaster File, make the jump to our In-Depth Collections Library to dig into another disastrous feature.

Then let us know: Have you ever been on Alien Encounter or Stitch's Great Escape? How do they compare? Do you agree with our assertion that Stitch's Great Escape is one of (if not the) worst attractions Disney's ever dealt in? Or are we overexaggerating? As we continue our Disaster Files series, we look to you to share your thoughts, memories, and stories in the comments and to let us know what other "disasters" in Disney Parks and beyond you'd like to hear the full stories behind. We can't wait to read your comments below!

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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.

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