6. Ratatouille: L’Aventure
Park: Walt Disney Studios and Epcot
When Disneyland Paris’ second gate opened in 2002, it was – by far – the most pathetic Disney Park on Earth. In fact, we took a walk through the underbuilt “studio” in its own standalone feature, Declassified Disaster: Walt Disney Studios. Though a few “Band-Aid” rides were added in its first decade, none could fix the park’s proverbial broken bone: its tired “studio” aesthetic and lack of anchor attractions.
The opening of Ratatouille: L'Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy in 2014 was meant to change that. Not only did the ride finally dispense with “soundstage” styling in favor of an immersive and pleasant Parisian mini-land, but it also merged Disney’s trackless technology with the concept of Universal’s Modern Marvel: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, using 3D screens to expand physical sets.
Ultimately, the Ratatouille ride does succeed at giving Walt Disney Studios an exclusive hit ride (at least until its clone in Epcot opens this year), but it’s not the homerun fans hoped for. Instead, it’s a fun and frantic family adventure that feels like a next generation Fantasyland dark ride rather than a showstopper. Why? Make the jump to our Modern Marvels: Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure feature to get the full story.
The Netherlands' Efteling is perhaps one of the beautiful parks on Earth. Built around its origins as a "fairy tale forest," the gorgeous park is filled with incredibly scaled attractions that don't just borrow from Disney flair, but add in uniquely ambitious twists of their own. Perhaps the park's new signature attraction, Symbolica invites guests into the castle of King Pardulfus.
But then the court jester (and the park's mascot), the whimsical Pardoes, interrupts the walking tour in one of the most spectacular practical effects we've seen: a splitting staircase opening a secret passage into the heart of the castle! There, guests choose one of three paths forward (the "Hero Tour," "Music Tour," or "Treasure Tour") and board Fantasievaarders ("Fantasy Floats") that glide through spectacular, epic scenes.
From the central Observatorium of the wizard Almar to the royal champagne stocks, every inch of Symbolica is hypnotizing. However, the most iconic must be the Botanicum, an otherworldly greenhouse that magically becomes an aquarium, ushering in one of the most imaginative moments in any modern dark ride.
Naturally, there are aspects of Symbolica that read as clear adaptations of scenes from a certain Disney trackless ride (appearing further on this list), but altogether, there’s simply no denying that the ride’s most impressive scenes are the ones that are original, anyway. That makes Symbolica an attraction that builds on Disney’s formula in a spectacularly showstopping way.
4. Pooh’s Hunny Hunt
Park: Tokyo Disneyland
Pooh’s Hunny Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland was the first of Disney’s trackless dark rides. And against all odds, it remains one of the best. That would be a surprise to most U.S. visitors since the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh dark rides in all but one Disney park aren’t exactly celebrated for their ambition. In fact, the other Pooh rides are traditionally simple Fantasyland-style dark rides through lightly-animated blacklight scenes in bumbling vehicles.
Tokyo’s ride, though, is in a class all its own… and is perhaps the E-Ticket anchor of the park. Seated in “hunny” pots, guests are whisked through the Hundred Acre Wood in nimble, darting motion. And even though Disney has installed quite a few LPS-based dark rides since, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt probably remains the best at showcasing the system’s seemingly random movements, offering multiple scenes in which the pots speed up, slow down, turn backwards, and spin around each other in perfect coordination.
The most spectacular scene must be Pooh’s hunny-induced fever dream of Heffalumps and Woozles, where multiple “batches” of vehicles interact in a dizzying (and collision-defying) dance… in fact, a vehicle with Heffalumps on board joins in the play, darting around and between riders! Pooh’s Hunny Hunt literally set the standard for LPS-based dark rides and created the idea of the chaotic interactions most fans picture of the ride system.
3. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Park: Disney’s Hollywood Studios
A product of Imagineering’s epic “Ride the Movies” era, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is often ranked among the pantheon of modern Imagineering masterpieces. The attraction invites guests into the haunted grounds of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, where a rogue lightning strike on Halloween night, 1939, caused a wing of the hotel (and its elevator) to flicker out of existence. It’s a story strange enough to star in its own episode of The Twilight Zone, which is why guests are welcomed aboard the hotel’s maintenance service elevator to relive the mysterious events first-hand.
But why does the ride make our list of trackless wonders? Simple. One of the most inexplicable and amazing features of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is its spine-tingling advance into the “Fifth Dimension.” Against all odds, the elevator physically moves out of the elevator shaft, advancing horizontally through a maintenance hallway, which promptly melts away to reveal the endless madness of the Twilight Zone itself.
For Imagineering fans, the Fifth Dimension scene can easily be taken for granted. But for first-timers, the sensation of your elevator suddenly exiting the elevator shaft is mind-blowing and unsettling. Even though adrenaline usually obscures it, a similar trackless moment occurs when the drops finally end, with the elevator pulling backwards into a dim basement before re-aligning for guests to exit. (The empty elevator then drives itself back to a show shaft to rise and pick up new riders, by the way.) Given that the ride runs on early ‘90s technology, the scene isn’t too fancy (controlled by embedded wires rather than Wifi or LPS) but it's a sincerely astounding moment.
2. Mystic Manor
Park: Hong Kong Disneyland
When Hong Kong Disneyland opened in 2005, it represented the third (and final) cheap-out product of the end of Michael Eisner’s penny-pinching era. The underbuilt park featured only one dark ride in its entire layout, and lacked many “must-haves” fans expect. No Pirates. No Peter Pan. No “small world.” No Big Thunder Mountain. No Haunted Mansion.
But a purposeful, all-at-once expansion added an unprecedented “outer ring” comprised of three lands outside of the park’s Railroad, including the original Mystic Point. The jungle mini-land is built around the home of the reclusive Lord Henry Mystic, international explorer extraordinaire and longtime member of S.E.A. Serving as a spiritual sequel to the Haunted Mansion, Mystic’s home is full of ancient treasures from around the globe… including a gem-encrusted music box said to grant life to the lifeless...
Luckily for us, the kindly Lord Mystic welcomes us to tour his collections aboard an elegant Victorian creation of his own: Mystic Magneto-Electric Carriages that glide through the home and into the Cataloguing and Acquisition Room, where the legendary music box awaits… Naturally, his inquisitive monkey Albert can’t help but disturb the music box, releasing the music and launching riders into the Modern Marvel: Mystic Manor – a must-read feature for all Imagineering fans.
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