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Lost Legends: How California Adventure's One Soarin' Success Spread Around The World

New Destinations

Image: Disney

At both Epcot and Disney California Adventure, Soarin’ Over California took its last flight on June 15, 2016. The ride closed for a single day and re-opened on both coasts on June 17 with Soarin’ Around the World – the ride film an almost-exact duplicate of Soaring Over the Horizon, which had premiered alongside the opening of Shanghai Disneyland the day before.

Soarin’ Around the World (like Soaring Over the Horizon) sends guests from Switzerland’s Matterhorn to the icy tundra of Isfjord in Greenland; The Great Wall of China to Neuschwanstein Castle (Walt Disney’s inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland) in Germany. The epic ride visits the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, Utah’s Monument Valley National Park, and Mount Kilimanjaro before touching down in Disneyland or Epcot (depending on where you ride).

One surprising switch is the addition of transitions (swooping seaplanes, kites, and sea birds) between scenes… a radical departure from the acclaimed simplicity of the Californian version. It’s a change that’s been both praised and criticized by fans.

What hasn’t changed is that the ride is accentuated by wind and scent and brought to stunning, emotional life via a moving score orchestrated by Bruce Broughton (given that the original composer, Jerry Goldsmith, passed away in 2004) and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. And yes, Broughton’s arrangement is based very closely on Goldsmith’s original with new international flair and pacing appropriate for the new ride film. (Another thing that hasn't changed? Patrick Warburton's pre-show, rumored to be lost to the transition, seems to have been intentionally retained as a shoutout to fans.)

You can watch a gorgeous point-of-view video of the new Soarin' Around the World at Disney California Adventure here:

Californian Controversy

The decision to replace Epcot’s Soarin’ with the global Soarin’ Around the World was a no-brainer – a natural and overdue evolution of the 15-year-old ride, even if the aerial tour of mostly-man-made landmarks technically made it a worse fit in The Land pavilion.

At Disney California Adventure, the decision read as... well... strange.

Think of it this way: it started with minor attractions themed to California's history, culture, and industry  like Golden Dreams (an educational film about the history of California’s people and culture) and the Bountiful Valley Farm leaving in favor of The Little Mermaid and A Bug’s Life (both upgrades, to be sure). Disney’s worst ride ever – which earned its own entry in our Disaster Files: Superstar Limo – then closed to make way for Monsters Inc. (again, an upgrade).

But eventually, fans started realize there wasn’t that much California left in California Adventure. The addition of Cars Land (set somewhere in the American Southwest, but decidedly not California) only exemplified the unusual issue.

The 2012 park wide redesign did insert the historic 1920s Los Angeles streetscape of Buena Vista Street, though, and it renewed the park’s themed lands to celebrate the idealized, romanticized state’s iconic locales. Plus, rides like Grizzly River Run, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Soarin’ Over California ensured that the park retained “California” where it counts – in its headlining adventure rides.

Image: Disney

Maybe that’s why fans were shocked when it was announced that Soarin’ Around the World would replace Soarin’ Over California at Disneyland Resort, too. The fan-favorite that launched a generation of “Soarin’” attractions and proved that California Adventure did have a concept worth rallying around would change. It’s not that Soarin’ Around the World isn’t beautiful and moving and well done – it is! It’s that the original ride film was custom-made for a park dedicated to celebrating California’s stories. Flying over the Great Wall of China and the Eiffel Tower doesn’t fit, especially given that we know the right fit exists... and used to be there.

And the degradation of the reborn California Adventure didn’t end there. Fans were shocked when it was announced that the looming, legendary Hollywood Tower Hotel and its distinctly Californian lore would give way to Marvel super heroes, as the 1920s art-deco lost Golden Age hotel would become a sci-fi “warehouse fortress power plant” as part of the new Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! We traced the unbelievable history of Disney’s drop ride and its inclusion in and removal from California Adventure in its own feature – Lost Legends: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

The end result is that Disney California Adventure is a park of beautifully decorated themed lands that exude the history and magnificence of California’s story, people, and places… but the attractions in those lands are themed exclusively to Cars, The Little Mermaid, Toy Story, Marvel, Monsters Inc., Frozen, and A Bug’s Life, with the towering Guardians of the Galaxy tower looming over it all where once had been an elegant Hollywood hotel… a fitting visual for the park’s current state.

Clear For Takeoff

Image: Disney

Soarin’ Over California was a landmark ride.

First, it served as the anchor for an otherwise depressed Disney’s California Adventure and provided early evidence that the park could survive off its Californian narrative if executives were willing to take chances in new forms of storytelling and innovative ride systems like Soarin’.

Second, its duplication at Epcot served both as a testament to the varied beauty of California and kick-started a new way of looking at Disney World’s second gate. Like it or not, Soarin’s success meant that Epcot could become a 21st century thrill park, and executives have taken the idea and run with it.

Third (and perhaps most importantly), Soarin’ Over California pioneered a ride system so magnificently versatile and so consistently astounding, it’s now entered the Disney Parks canon and spread around the world. The core technology and experience even evolved at Disney’s Animal Kingdom where AVATAR Flight of Passage is undisputed E-Ticket in the new Pandora – The World of AVATAR.

Around the world, flying theaters (of all shapes, sizes, and price-points) are becoming standard family fare at theme parks, amusement parks, boardwalks, and even shopping malls... and it’s no surprise. Soarin’ Over California showed just how effective, subtle, emotional, impressive, and stunning the feeling of flight can be. And now that we’ve got a taste, we’re thrilled to imagine where this technology could take off next…

If you enjoyed our in-depth look at the surprising story of Soarin' Over California, make the jump to our In-Depth Features Library to set course for your next Lost Legend. In the comments below, share your thoughts and stories about Soarin'. Has this tear-jerker ever made you a little misty? How does the "Around the World" version compare with the Californian original? At Epcot? At California Adventure? What should the future hold for this amazing technology? We look forward to hearing your comments. In the meantime, thanks for soarin' with us.

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There is 1 comment.

This is a good example of where I think Disney has proven to not listen to it's core fan base when it comes to theme park attractions. There is absolutely no reason that they can't at least show both films and have Soarin' be Soarin' over California and/or Soarin' around the world. I think it would be a good way to appeal to fans of both versions of the ride. And it would add rerideability to this attraction.


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