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Disney's "Worst Ride Ever" Was So Hated, It Closed After Just One Year. This is Why.

Monsters. Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue

Image: Disney

Four years after Superstar Limo whisked its last guests into stardom, Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! opened at Disney’s California Adventure on January 23, 2006. Skillfully reusing Superstar Limo’s queue, vehicles, track, layout, and even the basic layout of show scenes, the redressed ride is certainly not in Disney’s highest tier of dark ride masterpieces, but it is a lovely aside and a perfect fit for the park. It’s also a rarity: a “classic” style dark ride based on Disney’s modern Pixar films that – but for its otherworldly setting – would feel at home among Fantasyland’s classics.

As in the 2001 film, we’re invited to Monstropolis – a bustling city where monsters of all shapes, sizes, colors, and configurations live, work, and play. The hub of activity is Monsters Inc. where the city’s burliest, hairiest, slimiest residents sneak into kids’ bedrooms via world-bridging closet doors, collecting scares to power the city. Despite their demeanor at work, monsters are terrified of humans, leading to quite the confusion when itty-bitty Boo the toddler finds her way into the factory and clings onto Sulley, legendary scarer.

Image: Disney

Guests in line pass through the Monstropolis Transit Authority office (full of actually-enjoyable puns via transit timetables, newscasts, and vending machines) and board taxis for tours of the city. Of course, the in-cab monitors now spring to life with the breaking news that a human child has been spotted in town. “It picked me up with its mind powers and shook me like a dog!” twangs a multi-eyed resident.

It would be easy to write Monsters Inc. off as a “book report” dark ride (that most detested-by-fans format when we simply ride, scene-by-scene, through a three minute version of the 90-minute story we already know) but really; it’s more than that. Perhaps due to the constraints of the already-built show rooms, we see elements of the story of Monsters Inc. from a new point of view, making the ride refreshing and bright, and just different enough to let us relive our favorite characters in a new way. From the seaweed-smell in the sushi restaurant to the "massive" door warehouse, the ride is fun and unique. 

Those who watch carefully will no doubt recognize some of Superstar Limo's DNA living on – the cabs themselves, the monitor screen in each row, etc – as well as some clever re-uses of the old celebrity mannequin bodies. (In one particualrly easy-to-spot re-use, a karate-kicking Jackie Chan is still there, now just dressed in the Child Detection Agency's bright yellow haz-mat suit.)

Best of all, the ride ends with a face-to-face encounter with the slug-like Roz, a convincingly curmudgeon Audio-Animatronic who’s digitally puppeted, meaning that she can and will interact with riders. “Hey, you, in the third row! Yeah, with the camera! Make sure you get my good side.”

Image: Disney

What's next?

In 2007, Disney did something unprecedented: they admitted defeat with Disney’s California Adventure. The “Band-Aid” style fix that had brought Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue, and “a bug’s land” to the park in its first years had boosted attendance a bit, but a hundred new one-off rides couldn’t fix that foundational problem with the park’s identity.

That would take some cash. And California Adventure got it. An unprecedented $1.2 billion transformation was announced. Over the course of five years, each of the park’s themed lands would be stripped to the rivets and rebuilt in the style of Disneyland: idealized, romanticized, reverent lands that told California’s stories through new, built-out settings like Buena Vista Street (Los Angeles in the 1920s), Grizzly Peak Airfield (a 1950s High Sierras air base), Paradise Pier, now a turn-of-the-century Victorian Boardwalk, and more.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot became Hollywood Land, swapping out its cheetah-print awnings and pun-filled window displays for sincere Golden Age details that masked the façade-style buildings. That said, Hollywood Land remained by far the weakest of the park’s lands with what amounted mostly to a change in name only; it was the only one of the park’s seven lands to not get a sincere floor-to-ceiling rebuild.

Maybe that’s because Disney had plans.

Don’t get too attached to Mike & Sulley at California Adventure.

Image: Disney

A massive infrastructure shift around the resort is aimed to reroute the monorail and create an expansion pad directly behind the Monsters Inc. / Superstar Limo showbuilding (marked in red). While nothing's been announced except that a Marvel land is coming to California Adventure, insiders say that the plan is simple: what's left of Hollywood Land's "backlot" area (Monsters Inc. and the former Muppet*Vision 3D theatre, now permanently showing upcoming movie previews) will be bulldozed so that the larger area including the expansion pad can become a land based on Marvel's super hero franchises.

Truthfully, replacing the underutilized sub-land within Hollywood Land with Marvel E-Tickets is well worth the loss of Monsters Inc. and the 3D theatre, and under this arrangement, Hollywood Land would continue to exist, just with a Marvel land set next to it.

Image: Disney

What doesn't sit well with fans is the rest of the plan: the park’s headlining Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is checking out in favor of the park’s first Marvel attraction: Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission – BREAKOUT! Lambasted and derided by fans, the takeover of the Hollywood Tower Hotel now means that Hollywood Land – and indeed, the carefully rebuilt park infused with a new, Californian narrative – will now be lorded over by a 180 foot tall “warehouse fortress power plant." (Those are Imagineer Joe Rohde's words, not ours.)

The odd choice will see the gorgeous 1920s Pueblo Deco hotel affixed with pipes, rivets, and neon emblems to make it appear like a futuristic sci-fi prison. (Huh?) In an editorial here, I argued that the loss of Tower of Terror for a futuristic Marvel ride may very well go down in history as the stupidest and most damaging creative decision ever forced on the California resort.

Image: Disney

So imagine walking down Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood Land. The plan now is that Hollywood Land (if you'd even bother calling it a land after all this) will remain, as the single Hollywood Blvd. Its only attractions will be the Animation building, and the Hyperion Theater (doubtlessly still showing Frozen: Live at the Hyperion) directly at the end of the street. At the end of the street, standing at the Hyperion Theater, you'll be able to turn left to head into the Marvel Land made from the bulldozed remains of the "backlot" area, OR turn to the right and have super heroes in the building formerly known as the Hollywood Tower Hotel with the view above. Huh? Two mini Marvel lands separated by a 1940s Hollywood Blvd., with the vaguely-art-deco sci-fi warehouse space tower looming over it and Buena Vista Street. Wow.

Legacy

Our Declassified Disaster series exists as a log of the mistakes made in the past in hopes that they won’t be made again. Superstar Limo was evidence of California Adventure’s foundational problem: modern music, comic book styling, an irreverent tone, and a distinctly modern story were not what guests wanted from a Disney park. They wanted to be transported to a romanticized, idealized, legendary Hollywood; to see a bustling young Tinseltown at the height of its Golden Age.

Image: Disney / Pixar

George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We have to wonder if Disney’s thinking carefully about undoing the careful world-building and reverent storytelling the failure of Superstar Limo spurred by gutting Hollywood Land again and closing the Tower of Terror. Nearly a billion-and-a-half dollars spent making the rest of the park a thoughtful and reverent celebration of California’s stories and legends will now see the anchor of them all – the Hollywood Tower Hotel – bend to modern music, gritty industrial design, and a nonsensical comic book aesthetic. See also, the recently-romanticized Victorian Paradise Pier becoming a collection of shuffled Pixar properties with no anchor in any real time or place.

Ah well. The lesson remains:

Superstar Limo is often remembered as the worst Disney dark ride ever built, even by those who didn’t experience it themselves. Like the “original” California Adventure, there’s an aura of infamy around the ride. It far and away represented everything wrong with Disney’s take on California Adventure and, indeed, with the budget cuts, creative drought, and mismanagement that plagued the parks during this time.

While it was short-lived, it will always be remembered. And maybe that’s a good thing. The more we can capture these disastrous stories and nail down the bad decisions behind them, the better chance we have to stop them from happening again. We hope.

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There are 6 comments.

I dunno--I watched the video of the ride and it looked like fun. Not the kind to wait in a long line for. Maybe a 10 minute wait.

Lol! I couldn't even finish the 4 minute video!

Am I the only one excited for gaurdians of the galaxy mission breakout?

I was at California Adventure on opening day and many times that first year...Yeah, Superstar Limo was dumb, but it was kitschy and fun, like a lot of what most of us native Southern Californians know Hollywood REALLY is...kinda sleazy, too, that this thing made it into the opening day lineup....your disdain for the park does not match my own, though...I have always loved this park, despite the flaws and, even on opening day, it featured at least six really top notch attractions to me; California Screaming, Grizzy River Rapids, Soarin, Animation, and the two Orlando transplants (Tough to be a Bug and Muppets)...park is much improved now but was very lovable even those first years

I rode Superstar Limo on DCA's second day of operation. Nobody was in the park, and there was no wait at all for it. It was indeed dumb and completely pointless, but it wasn't that much worse than some other things in the park. Steps in Time at the Hyperion was just awful, and the Maliboomer was as un-Disney as an attraction can get. At least Superstar Limo had some theming.

Thank you so much for posting this. I visited DCA on opening month for the first time on February 2001. I was only 8 at the time, and I wanted to ride Superstar Limo, but it was closed.

But now, looking back on it, and with the negative reception it got, I can say that I'm glad I missed it! :)

This ride deserved an article like this.

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