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4. Journey into Imagination with Figment

Image: Disney

Location: Epcot Opened: 2002

As unfortunate as it sounds, yet another of the worst Disney attractions of this century is most certainly at Epcot... but unlike Mission: SPACE which is at least in part made worse by knowing what it replaced, you could say that Journey Into Imagination with Figment is actually better because of what it replaced.

You know the story... In 1983, EPCOT Center's Imagination pavilion gained its own lengthy, musical, educational, and iconic dark ride – the Lost Legend: Journey into Imagination. A flight of fancy into realms of art, literature, and science, this epic dark ride introduced fans to two of the most beloved original characters ever created just for Disney Parks: the inventive Dreamfinder and his purple dragon Figment. To the tune of the timeless "One Little Spark," the duo whisked guests away in search of "sparks" of inspiration to power new ideas – a sort of fancy-free, foundational fit for the park's otherwise solemn and scientific purposes.

Image: Disney

In 1999, the ride was cut. Literally. An ill-fated, low-budget, New Millennium attempt to update the pavilion saw Dreamfinder and Figment ousted in favor of a sterile tour through the scholarly Imagination Institute (one of our tell-tale signs of a "bad" attraction story). With Monty Python's Eric Idle on board as a new host studying imagination, the dark ride's layout was physically halved, losing its most iconic scene entirely, and transformed into what is almost inarguably the worst dark ride Walt Disney World has ever, ever hosted. It was bad. So bad, in fact, that we immortalized the experience in a standalone feature – Declassified Disasters: Journey into YOUR Imagination – just to make sure we never forgot the lessons learned. Frankly, that version of the ride would probably top this list of the worst attractions except that it opened last century. 

Disney's internal evaluation allegedly suggested that the new ride was despised... So much so that they initiated a quick fix solution. After barely two years (just long enough to survive Epcot's Millennium Celebration), the ride was closed again. On a shoestring budget, designers were given the unenviable task of keeping as much as possible from the hated 1999 version while increasing guest satisfaction.

Image: Disney

The resulting ride – Journey into Imagination With Figment – continues to play to this day. It's... fine? It looks like what it is: an early 2000s quick fix that tried its best to inexpensively reintroduce a CGI figment wherever possible, cranking up the chaos and fun and reinserting "One Little Spark." But no one would ever argue that the "fixed" ride should still be limping along two decades later in its Band-aided form. All on its own merits, Journey into Imagination With Figment is a pretty bad ride, even if it's an improvement over its short-lived 1999 predecessor.

Unfortunately, EPCOT's ongoing reinvention hadn't yet announced a new rebirth for the Imagination pavilion (though one was heavily hinted and rumored), and is even less likely to now that the project is allegedly being downsized due to the 2020 pandemic.

 3. Stitch's Great Escape

Image: Disney

Location: Magic Kingdom Opened: 2004 - 2018

There's probably no Disney Parks attraction quite as infamous as Stitch's Great Escape. The theater-in-the-round special effects extravaganza was technically the fourth inhabitant of the showbuilding north along Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland entryway, which opened with the park in 1971 as Flight to the Moon, then in 1975 as Mission to Mars. As any Disney Parks aficianado will tell you, though, the circular theater experience earned its most definitive renter in 1994 when – as part of a sweeping and still-celebrated New Tomorrowland – the theater became t he demonstration hall of the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Conference Center. Yes, the Lost Legend: Alien Encounter might've traumatized a generation of Millennials... but it also set the stage for one hell of an experience.

Suffice it to say that the hideous, insectoid alien released onto unsuspecting Magic Kingdom crowds by way of in-your-face special effects, drool, blood splatters, 3D audio, and one spectacularly monstrous Audio Animatronics figure didn't make many parents happy. The wacko, out-of-this-world product of the cinematic Ride the Movies era was – frankly – a bit of a mess, beloved now as a cult classic.

Image: Disney

But in the early 2000s, Disney Imagineers – famously under a mandate of Eisner's direct-to-video era – made what seemed like a sensible swap, replacing the terrifying alien with the infantile Stitch from 2002's Lilo & Stitch. The troublemaking invader still terrorized guests, but with bouncing, burps, and spit. As it turned out, Stitch's Great Escape landed a little too late to capitalize on the character's meteoric rise... and unfortunately, the retooled experience ended up being just as terrifying for kids while (no pun intended) alienating thrillseekers who now reverered the original as an Imagineering icon.

Stitch's Great Escape closed permanently after the Christmas 2017 season without much fanfare... or even an official announcement. For two and a half years, the prime real estate along Tomorrowland's entry simply remained closed until Disney made it official in July 2020, finally fessing up that the show would never return.

If you've got to get to the bottom of how this attraction ever came to be to begin with, what it contained, and what could be next for the space, we've got the full story in a standalone feature – Declassified Disasters: Stitch's Great Escape.

2. Superstar Limo

Image: Disney

Location: Disney's California Adventure Opened: 2001 - 2002

It's a ride so bad, it practically lives in infamy... "The worst Disney dark ride ever." One look at the ride and you can see why.

Superstar Limo was a victim of circumstance. The ride was born at the wrong place and the wrong time. Crafted by committee, congealed in the direct-to-video humor of the early 2000s, and sapped of budget by its corporate overlords, the ride was perhaps the perfect representation of the park it opened in: Disney's California Adventure. A cynical, budget-cut creation meant to represent a bold, edgy, modern counterpart to the tired, old-fashioned, idealized Disneyland, in California Adventure, the time was now and the place was here!

Image: Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, via Yesterland.com

Perfect evidence of the park's satirical spoof of modern California was the Hollywood Pictures Backlot. Though we know by way of the Disney-MGM Studios that Imagineers could've created a romanticized, glamorous, glittering recreation of the heyday of Hollywood reigned over by the Chinese Theater or the Hollywood Tower Hotel, California's land instead was a Hollywood studio's set... of Hollywood.

A cheap, plywood bouelvard of flimsy facades terminating in a "blue sky" backdrop with punny retail signs spoofing big screen classics and alluding to the era's paparazzi culture, sex abuse scandals, and the rise of the gossip tabloid.

Image: Disney

As for its one, single ride (which, by the way, was the park's only dark ride)? Superstar Limo was almost exhaustingly bad. It was shallow. Cheap. Unfunny. Packed with embarassing references to Los Angeles, puns only Michael Eisner and his Hollywood executive friends would ever grasp, and populated with C-List stars already on Disney's payroll. The slow-moving ride through Hollywood's elite neighborhoods was such an unmitigated disaster, it closed after less than a year... even with no plans to replace it! In other words, California Adventure was simply stronger with no dark ride at all than with Superstar Limo.

If you're brave, you can dig into the complete history of the ride – including how and why it came to be and a depressing drive through its scenes – in a full standalone feature – Declassified Disasters: Superstar Limo

1. Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic

Image: Disney

Location: Walt Disney Studios Park Opened: 2002 - 2020

Okay, look... Stitch's Great Escape was awful. Superstar Limo was too. But frankly, there's one Disney Parks attraction so abysmally bad, it's hard to believe it ever existed to begin with... much less that it continues to exist today. For those of you "lucky" enough to have visited Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris (or the next-best thing, our Declassified Disaster: Walt Disney Studios walkthrough of the park), you've seen firsthand just what happens when Disney doesn't try. When the park opened in 2002 (above), it had three rides. Three. The second gate... next to Disneyland Paris... had three rides. One was a clone of Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. The other was a Magic Carpets Over Agrabah spinner. And the last was Behind the Magic: Studio Tram Tour.

Given that it's one of the most-read features on Theme Park Tourist, you may already be familiar with the concept by way of our in-depth look at another Declassified Disaster: The Backstage Studio Tour that once traversed the "behind the scenes" of the Disney-MGM Studios in Florida. But at least Orlando's "studio tram tour" actually had... well... a studio! 

Image: Disney

Paris' studio tour somehow existed without a studio in sight. Instead, riders would pile into trams to whisked through... well... fields and woodlands forming the upper boundary of the tiny park, occasionally pausing to view sets from surefire hits like ABC's 2002 miniseries Dinotopia. The experience did include two staged special effects encounters at extreme ends of the course: Catastrophe Canyon (cloned from the Disney-MGM Studios) and a pass through a ruined London streetscape where a single flamethrower effect was meant to evoke Touchstone's 2002 box office flop Reign of Fire. The barren experience was punctuated by in-cab, '90s quality videos hosted by Jeremy Irons and Irène Jacob (in English and French, respectively) pontificating on all the elements the tour did not include, like costumes, soundstages, cameras, lighting, and more. The ride gradually shrank more and more as new additions to the tiny park required rerouting the pointless attraction.

Honestly, we dare you to sit down and focus on the whole attraction without skipping ahead. And this is how it looked in 2019!

And the Behind the Magic tour might be relegated to mere urban legend... if it hadn't existed until 2020! Yes, Walt Disney Studios' Studio Tram Tour only ceased operation on January 5, 2020 – inevitable given that the ride awkwardly served as an artificial boundary to the tiny park, hemming it in with its course that hugged the Y-shaped upper border. Pending the results of the pandemic closures, that boundary needed broken to make way for the enormous reimagining theoretically en route to the park, adding lands themed to Marvel, Star Wars, and Frozen in previously-unused land... But the strangest part of it all? The Studio Tram Tour just will. Not. Die.

Image: Disney

In a move absolutely no one asked for, the ride will be shortened again as it takes on a new form. Soon to begin departing from Toy Story Land, the Cars Route 66 Road Rally seems to serve the singular purpose of shuttling guests to Catastrophe Canyon (which will almost-unbelievably just have its exploding tanker truck affixed with Cars-esque eyes and a Dinoco logo).

Image: ED92 on Twitter

We can appreciate that Walt Disney Studios needs all the ride capacity it can get in the lead-up to its expansion, but salvaging the Studio Tram Tour in its most embarrassing edit yet is... well... a choice.

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Comments

I loved Frozen Ever After! The theming works so well with the Norway Pavilion, and it was a good high-tech upgrade to a low-tech neglected ride.

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