In more than 60 years of Disney Parks history, the only thing to stay the same has been change. From the blacklight cut-out classics of the '50s to the epic and cinematic dark rides of the '60s; the '70s thrill rides to the "ride the movies" favorites of the '80s and '90s. Today, it's IP that powers the parks; a synergistic cross-promotion with Disney's created and acquired characters...
So when it comes to 2020 and beyond, one thing we know for sure is that any ride Disney does build today needs one thing to get the green-light: characters. In some instances, we don't have to wonder or imagine what that might be like since Disney really has overlayed or even completely transformed some of their long-standing classics with character. Think of Maelstrom... with Frozen; The Living Seas... with Finding Nemo; Space Mountain... with Star Wars; California Screamin'... with The Incredibles.
Today, we'll take a look at 10 "classic" attractions that – if built today – would definitely have characters built in. To be clear, we're not suggesting we approve of these ideas! Some actually sound alright, while others sound awful. Which of these would you actually not mind seeing? Which are frustrating enough to make your skin crawl? Let us know in the comments below!
1. Adventure Thru Inner Space... with Ant-Man
When we told the full, in-depth story of Disneyland's Lost Legend: Adventure Thru Inner Space, we couldn't help but celebrate the lesser-known classic's many milestones. Not only was it the first ride to utilize Disney's patented Omnimover ride system (later famously used on the Haunted Mansion), but it was also the anchor attraction of Walt's Space-Age-inspired New Tomorrowland. But perhaps most importantly, it was a hallmark of Imagineering's intellectual era; an almost-academic, abstract dark ride down to the size of an atom and back, born of Walt's fasination with the Atomic Age and setting the stage for the EPCOT Center classics to follow.
Ultimately, Adventure Thru Inner Space – the ride that defined Tomorrowland and Walt's interest in real science and technology – was coincidentally replaced with the ride that redefined Tomorrowland and Disney Parks: the Lost Legend: Star Tours. The Omnimover lived on, even in Tomorrowland, in a series of Buzz Lightyear dark rides that span the globe. And here's the ironic part: Hong Kong Disneyland's Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters dark ride closed in 2017... and became Ant-Man and the Wasp: Nano Battle, shrinking guests to the size of a spec of dust for a nanobot war inside of a microchip!
Unfortunately, reception to the Ant-Man ride in Hong Kong has been pretty poor. Mostly made of static, unmoving sets accentuated by projection mapping, the primary complaint against the ride is that it's stylized as an action ride, which is inherently incompatible with the slow-moving Omnimover and laser gun "targets" that... well... don't do anything.
But it does make us wonder aloud how spectacular it would be if Disney dared design a ride with all the brains of Adventure Thru Inner Space – authentically trying to teach guests about the microscopic world! – just with Ant-Man as its narrator and host...! For example, instead of the Mighty Monsanto Microscope, Omnimovers could advance into the Pym Technologies Miniaturizer for a Stark Expo-sponsored journey to the size of an atom with Ant-Man's voice leading us through the microscopic trip; a ride where nothing "goes wrong," with no laser guns needed! Might Marvel heroes be a way to interest today's guests in real STEM learning? We'd love to find out...
2. Journey into Imagination... with Inside Out
Like most of EPCOT Center's opening day pavilions, the Imagination pavilion was headlined by an epic, massively-scaled dark ride. But unlike the more industrious and concrete pavilion themes of Future World, Imagination's ride – a Lost Legend: Journey into Imagination – was a flight of fancy, with guests following the enigmatic Dreamfinder and his purple dragon Figment into realms of art, literature, performing arts, and science. A catastrophic renovation in 1999 axed the original characters, halved the ride's length, and replaced the abstract artistic plot with what some call Disney's worst ride ever – the Declassified Disaster: Journey into YOUR Imagination. A cobbled-together correction quickly replaced it, but the current ride is still far from a source of pride for Disney fans.
There's practically no way to imagine a path forward for the Imagination pavilion (supposing it remains themed to Imagination) but for Inside Out to become involved. The spectacular, hit Pixar film of 2015 was a generational classic, examining the inner workings of a young girl's mind and the anthropomorphic emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear – that pilot her perceptions through adolescence. As a matter of fact, this might be one place in the former Future World where even fans would agree that a Pixar movie makes more sense than what's already there.
That's why it was so unexpected that changes to Imagination were about the only Epcot changes not announced at 2019's D23 Expo. It's odd to imagine the completely-reborn version of the park still featuring the uninspired Journey into Imagination with Figment ride, and while a 21st century return of Dreamfinder and Figment would be astounding, that feels... unlikely. Inside Out, meanwhile, may be a real path forward.
3. ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter... with Alien
There's perhaps no more controversial closed Disney attraction on earth than the Lost Legend: Alien Encounter – a theater-in-the-round style special effects show that was wrapped into the mid-century sci-fi Tomorrowland Magic Kingdom debuted in the mid-'90s. The multi-sensory attraction is sometimes called Disney's scariest ever, essentially trapping guests in their seats while an insectoid alien escapes into the crowd, drools on their neck, kills a security guard, then explodes.
But as we explored in our in-depth look at Alien Encounter, the Imagineers dreaming up a sci-fi horror ride initially hoped to use 20th Century Fox's generation-defining 1979 interstellar horror film, Alien as a basis. In fact, they hoped then-CEO Michael Eisner could convince Fox to license the film's iconic Xenomorph creature for use in Disney Parks (a real possibility given Eisner's cross-industry agreements for Star Wars and Indiana Jones).
Importantly, Imagineers believed that explicitly featuring Fox's Alien would give Disney license to make the attraction ultra-intense, since the Alien tie-in would concisely and overtly build-in parental controls. Ultimately, Eisner was talked out of using the Xenomorph before he even made the ask, convinced by George Lucas that the R-rated sci-fi body horror film was too intense for a Disney Park.
Now tasked with designing something scary – but not too scary – from scratch, designers created the attraction that debuted in 1994... and was closed soon after for a myriad of reasons, including a veritable line of parents outside of City Hall complaining about the massively dark experience that was so at odds with anything else at Magic Kingdom. The irony now is that Disney owns Alien, having purchased Fox outright for $71.3 billion. That makes the Xenomorph a character in the expanded Disney Company character collection... and a shoe-in for Alien Encounter if it were built today.