Tower of Terror

What if the very first Disney theme park was being built today? 

Would the classics make the cut?

For most of Disney's iconic attractions, the answer just might be "no!" That's why today, we're taking a close look at eight major hurdles today's Disney Parks leadership might have a hard time getting over, and the eight (or more!) beloved, fan-favorite attractions that would probably NEVER get the green-light today.

1. "It's a roller coaster in the dark? ... That's it?"

Image: Disney

CASE STUDY: Space Mountain

It was Walt Disney himself who first dreamed up the idea of an enclosed roller coaster through space – which he called “Space Port” – as the centerpiece of the New Tomorrowland his designers were working on in the 1960s. He even enlisted the legendary Imagineer John Hench to draft the first sketches of what it might look like. We traced the complete history of the Tomorrowland classic in its own feature, Modern Marvels: Space Mountain, but the long and short is that the thrill ride aligned perfectly with where pop culture was in the ‘60s, just as Americans’ fascination with the Space Race ramped up.

Image: Joe Pennison, Flickr

It’s not even that executives today would request a Wall-e or Thor tie-in (though they might)... It’s that they wouldn’t get the concept at all. An almost-abstract roller coaster in the dark with disco balls and projected cookies; a light-up tunnel as its most memorable special effect? Those aren’t the ingredients of an E-Ticket. At least, not today. But to be fair to those second-guessing executives, would fans be excited if Space Mountain were announced for the first time today? Or would they be asking for a copy of Shanghai’s Modern Marvel: TRON – Lightcycle Power Run in its place?

OTHER EXAMPLES: By this metric, it's difficult to imagine Big Thunder Mountain being built today, isn't it? Insanely simple, it seems that this wouldn't pass muster for executives... and maybe not for fans, either. Could we say the same of Jungle Cruise? Soarin'? If they weren't already Disney classics, you might argue that they don't fit at Disney Parks!

2. "You want HOW MANY Animatronics?"

Image: Disney

CASE STUDY: Pirates of the Caribbean

Often called Walt’s magnum opus (and the last major attraction in whose development he was deeply involved), Pirates of the Caribbean is a masterpiece. It’s also outrageously scaled, housed in the largest single-ride showbuilding in a Disney Park, on three levels, over sixteen minutes, and with 119 Audio-Animatronics.

That’s grossly out-of-sync with Disney’s more recent game plan, which typically involves having a single Audio-Animatronic (albeit, an incredible one) as the centerpiece of its rides post-2000. It even seemed unlikely that we’d ever again see a leisurely, boat-based dark ride from Disney until the opening of Na’vi River Journey in Pandora – The World of Avatar (though it lacks Pirates’ scale and length, and features – you guessed it – one Audio-Animatronic).

Image: Disney

But before you feel depressed, there may be a new hope… After all, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance – the new anchor attraction in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – is a massive, multi-system dark ride that includes 65 robotic figures! Admittedly, most are relatively motionless Stormtroopers... So while Rise features a half-dozen truly unbelievable figures, it feels like more of an expansion of the "solo starring Audio Animatronic" M.O. of late than a return to the liveliness of Pirates.

OTHER EXAMPLES: It's hard to imagine Disney approving the Great Movie Ride today, isn't it? Of course, it's not just because of the very large, very involved ride packed with animatronics... It's also because of the next question executives would undoubtedly ask...



Great article-- I actually think about this a lot. The decision to only move forward with rides involving characters/property is a disappointing one that limits the creativity of the Imagineers. In both EPCOT and Disneyland there are rides based on Finding Nemo, and, guess what? In BOTH of them, Nemo is LOST! It's sad and a huge waste if Disney continues down this path. It's insulting to the countless guests that visit Disney parks to assume they'll only be interested if a popular character is associated with the ride.

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