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

Believe it or not, even Disney gets it wrong once in a while. Sometimes, they get it really, really wrong. 

Here on Theme Park Tourist, we’ve been building a library of Lost Legends – in-depth features that chronicle the epic stories behind the world’s best and most adored lost attractions. We’ve voyaged 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, escaped a vengeful goddess aboard TOMB RAIDER: The Ride, ignited a spark on Journey into Imagination, huffed and puffed through German forests aboard Big Bad Wolf, raced through Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and many more, all with the sincere hope that your comments, stories, and memories will preserve those long-lost but still-loved rides for a new generation.

But the hits are only half the story. Our new series, Disaster Files, dives deep into a very different world: theme park flops, failures, and missteps that simply can’t be forgotten. It started with our in-depth look at the Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management, a distinctly '90s overlay of a Walt Disney classic that was so disjointed, many fans were relieved when it literally caught on fire. We saw Epcot's most hated ride ever come to life in the full story behind Journey into YOUR Imagination. Then there was the in-depth story behind Disney California Adventure's Superstar Limo, understood as the worst dark ride Disney ever created.

Image: Disney

But today, we’ll strap into one of – if not the most – disastrous, ill-fated, and unanimously disliked attractions Disney has ever designed. Avoided by guests, skipped by fans, and mercilessly mocked by all, this can only be the story of the Magic Kingdom menace that is Stitch’s Great Escape.

Arguably the worst attraction at any Disney Park on Earth, most fans will tell you that Stitch’s Great Escape is truly the embodiment of a disaster. And most unbelievably, after more than a decade of backlash and declining interest, Disney is finally beginning to mothball this most disliked attraction. But how did we get here? What’s the evolution behind the most despised Disney attraction on Earth? The story may be more complex than you know. Hold on tight.

Blast from the past

Stitch’s Great Escape opened November 16, 2004. But our story begins two decades before. Twenty years earlier, Disney’s destiny appeared sunk. If you can imagine, the Walt Disney Company in the early 1980s was floundering. A series of live action box office bombs and forgettable, regrettable animated films had stretched the company to its breaking point and – just as importantly – soured its once-golden reputation. Disney was far from an industry leader.

In 1984, a knight in shining armor arrived to revive Disney’s soggy status, rejuvenate its film and animation, and breathe new life into its slow-growing theme parks. We’re talking about Michael Eisner.

Image: Disney

Sure, a few decades later (and even unto today), Eisner’s name would be tied to a creative and financial drought, leading to half-baked theme parks, under built rides, an irreverent infusion of cartoon characters, and company-wide cost-cutting. But in 1984, Eisner was exactly who Disney needed. Fresh from a stint as CEO of Paramount Pictures, Eisner’s finger was on the pulse of pop culture, entertainment, and film, and he at once set out to revive Disney from its foundation. Eisner’s influence is what triggered what we now know as the Disney Renaissance (when Disney produced hit after hit after hit from The Little Mermaid to AladdinBeauty and the Beast to the The Lion King and beyond).

While he might’ve been a natural in the movie industry, he knew decidedly less about theme parks. Allegedly, when he received the role as CEO, Michael invited his son, Breck, to tour Disneyland with him. Breck’s response – that Disneyland was for babies – shook Eisner to his core. He threw himself into the Imagineering facilities in Glendale, California and – surprisingly frankly – asked Imagineers to show and explain what they were working on. It was on that day, apparently, that Eisner began to green light projects left and right, trusting that Imagineers knew their parks and could craft exceptional attractions given the freedom to dream big. Eisner was certain that his team could build Disneyland into a place even teenagers would want to visit. To make it happen, he’d use his strength once again: movies.

Ride the movies

It was Eisner’s controversial idea that Disney Parks could be a place where guests would “ride the movies.” While that was a brave enough idea, he also argued that they didn’t necessarily have to be Disney movies! After all, remember that Disney wasn’t making many movies worth celebrating in the early 1980s. But someone was.

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

Eisner reached out to George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, about bringing the world of the film series (owned and distributed by 20th Century Fox) into Disney Parks. The partnership was a success, resulting in Captain EO (1986) and, less than a year later, the real test of Eisner's cinematic formula: a ride that changed Disney Parks forever. We chronicled the full and complete story of that stellar collaboration in a standalone feature – Lost Legend: Star Tours.

Star Tours' success paved the way for more, and Eisner’s movie-making mantra came to life again shortly thereafter when plans for a filmmaking-themed pavilion at EPCOT Center took on a life of their own and became a full-fledged, standalone movie-making park: Disney-MGM Studios. Shortly after opening, the park became home to its own Star Tours and, nearby, the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular based on Lucas’ other runaway smash property.

“The Tomorrowland Problem”

As the 1990s approached, Imagineers faced a unique and growing challenge: one we’ve often referred to here as the Tomorrowland Problem. Both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom contain Tomorrowlands – themed areas that, according to Walt’s dedication speech, are meant to “signify man’s achievements… A step into the future, with predictions of constructed things to come.”

Sounds easy. However, the “tomorrow” that Imagineers had designed in 1955 was set in the unimaginably distant year of… 1986. It didn’t last enough to become outdated, though. In 1967 – just 12 years after the park opened – Tomorrowland leapt forward. The New Tomorrowland Walt and his Imagineers designed was iconic – a white, geometric, simple land of pastel colors with the glorious Peoplemover zipping overhead, submarines churning through crystal lakes, the rotating Carousel Theater, and an expansion pad cordoned off to become the gleaming Space Mountain.

Image: Disney

The “old” Tomorrowland had contained a starring attraction called Flight to the Moon. The predecessor to a modern motion simulator, Flight to the Moon was really just a series of seats arranged in concentric circles around a central platform (above). Seated guests would watch through projected “portholes” and “glass windows” at the center, simulating a trip through space and a moon landing. Evidence of “the Tomorrowland Problem,” Flight to the Moon wasn’t feeling very futuristic by the 1960s, as regular trips to the moon made the ride seem like the stuff of today’s headlines, not tomorrow’s. Fittingly, the simple attraction received a simple upgrade and re-debuted in this New Tomorrowland as the much more futuristic Mission to Mars.

When Magic Kingdom opened in 1971 with its own Tomorrowland, it had the benefit of learning from Disneyland’s mistakes and its Tomorrowland was already future-ready with its own Peoplemover, Circlevision, Carousel Theater, and a purpose-built Mission to Mars.

Trouble is, tomorrow always becomes today, and by the 1990s, both Tomorrowlands were feeling downright dated. Luckily, Imagineers had a new blank canvas on which to put a new idea to the test.

Image: Disney

Imagineers designing Disneyland Paris set out to fix the Tomorrowland Problem permanently by leaving Tomorrowland out of the French park entirely. In its place stands Discoveryland, a retro­-­futuristic land. Discoveryland doesn’t even try to imagine what the future might really look like. Instead, it’s a vision of the future as imagined from great thinkers of the past! Rather than sleek white landscapes showcasing evolving technologies, Discoveryland is a golden seaport that looks right out of the pages of Jules Verne, Leonardo da Vinci, or H.G. Wells.

Spurred by the innovation, Eisner okayed a major change at Disney Parks in the U.S. He wanted Imagineers to craft New New Tomorrowlands. But unlike the New Tomorrowlands of old, these overlays would fix the Tomorrowland Problem permanently by taking the science out of the land. Instead of really trying to predict what the future might look like (an impossible, expensive, and maintenance-heavy task), these New Tomorrowland’s would follow Paris’ example.

This is where things get interesting…. Not to mention, terrifying.

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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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