If time travel were easy, everyone would do it. Instead, we’re left dreaming of stumbling upon a TARDIS the next time we’re in England. Of course, a place in Orlando is home to a time machine, too, and you don’t have to be from Gallifrey to ride it. I’m speaking of the CTX Time Rover, the vehicle at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that will transport you into the past. To ride it, you’ll have to head over to DinoLand U.S.A and get in line for its finest attraction, DINOSAUR. Let’s go Behind the Ride to learn the inner workings of DINOSAUR.
The Experience: Building an amazing ride from a clunker of a movie
The Trick: Ignoring the movie and simply emphasizing the amazing
One of the dirty secrets of DINOSAUR is that it’s the second dinosaur attraction hosted in its building. When Disney’s Animal Kingdom debuted in 1998, it featured a dinosaur ride called Countdown to Extinction. Several of the ideas and innovations discussed here are applicable to both iterations of the attraction, although I’ll specify some key differences along the way.
The most important fact about the change from Countdown to Extinction to DINOSAUR is that then-CEO Michael Eisner loved synergy. When he saw a novel way to market an upcoming Disney animated movie, he embraced the concept. That marketing ploy was the conversion of a still new ride into one simply called DINOSAUR.
The changes that park planners performed were largely cosmetic and family-driven. The original version, Countdown to Extinction, intensified the journey through time. The ride carts jostled theme park tourists, providing them with a better feel for the rough terrain of the era. Since Dinosaur the movie was (theoretically) aimed at children, they calmed the ride carts to make them more appropriate for kids.
Disney didn’t create any direct ties to the movie. And the explanation here is quite funny. While Eisner wanted a connection between the film and the attraction, he didn’t want to spend extra money for such changes. This odd choice proved fortuitous for Disney, as Dinosaur the film was a total bust. DINOSAUR the attraction’s lack of a distinct tie-in has allowed it to age gracefully. Otherwise, children would still be asking their parents, “What’s the Dinosaur movie?” And those poor parents might feel obliged to watch it.
The closest thing to a link from film to attraction is in a name. Dinosaur the movie tells the story of an abandoned Iguanodon named Aladar. In the second version of the ride, the mission is to save an Iguanodon from extinction. Disney's indicated in various news articles that the dinosaur in question IS Aladar, but that's not even explicitly spelled out at any point in the ride. This fact alone tells you how much confidence Eisner and his team had in Dinosaur’s theatrical release, which is to say none.
This is the part of the DINOSAUR conversion that fascinates me. Money was especially tight in the wake of Animal Kingdom’s opening. Dinosaur the movie was viewed as the most expensive production ever or, at best, 1A to Titanic. Eisner had to drop plans for Beastly Kingdom. If Countdown to Extinction hadn’t existed already, there wouldn’t be a DINOSAUR today. Eisner never would have expended the requisite funds to start a dinosaur attraction from scratch. We should all be thankful to that dud of a movie for (indirectly) leading to the best version of this attraction.