Home » Good Movie, Bad Ride: Weird Big Screen Attraction Adaptations at Disney & Universal Parks

Good Movie, Bad Ride: Weird Big Screen Attraction Adaptations at Disney & Universal Parks

Whether you like it or not, Disney and Universal Parks have evolved. Since at least the 1990s, theme parks M.O.s have been shifting from places to “Ride the Movies” aboard Modern Marvels: Star Tours, Indiana Jones Adventure, and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to today’s immersive lands where you can “Live the Movies” by stepping into Hogsmeade, Pandora, Springfield, Radiator Springs, Batuu, or Avengers Campus. 

Both Disney and Universal tend to be pretty picky about the films that are afforded permanent, expensive attractions inside their parks… No one wants a ride themed to a box office bomb, after all… However, just because you pick a good, revered, classic, or award-winning movie, you’re not guaranteed a good, revered, classic, or award-winning ride will come out the other end. Here’s our short collection of eight really good movies that somehow got lost in translation, turning into rides that just don’t live up to the film’s legacy.

1. Skull Island: Reign of Kong

Based on: King Kong (2005)

THE GOOD MOVIE: In Hollywood’s catalogue, there’s no shortage of King Kong films, from the beloved black-and-white 1933 pre-code original to the 1976 color classic starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. Both, in their ways, inspired Kong attractions at Universal Parks, as we traced in our in-depth Lost Legends: Kongfrontation feature. 

In 2005, Peter Jackson (director of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy) crafted his own, epic, three hour adaptation of King Kong, earning three Academy Awards. Jackson’s gritty and stylized take on the character painted his Skull Island home as a hideous world of giant, grisly insects, hostile natives, prehistoric beasts, and an ever-present shroud of fog and darkness. Kong’s next major appearance was 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, which advanced the story’s timeline to the tail end of the Vietnam War. The ‘70s-set film was more of a comic book “fantasy-adventure” than Jackson’s “horror-adventure,” painting a supersaturated Skull Island of vibrant colors and fantastical creatures.

THE DEPRESSING RIDE: When Universal Orlando announced the return of the King in an entirely new attraction set on Skull Island, it was anyone’s guess which interpretation they’d go with. Ultimately, the Islands of Adventure ride (wedged into a small bit Jurassic Park’s expansion pad) opted to adapt Jackson’s take on the tale, focusing not on the inherent fun and comic book style action of King Kong, but on the darkness and horror of Skull Island.

The resulting Skull Island: Reign of Kong isn’t a horrible ride, but it’s not a great one, either. It’s too dark, too grimy, and too gray to feel like a fun romp through the jungle. It doesn’t help that the ride is the umpteenth ride at the resort to read as a permutation of the Modern Marvel: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, or that’s a lumbering-and-largely-screen-based simulator rather than an exciting, high-energy, off-roading adventure. It’s a shame. A well-done Kong ride through a Skull Island that’s pulpy, astounding, and fun could’ve been Universal’s answer to Disney’s Indiana Jones Adventure. Moreover, Skull Island has left many wishing Universal had just used that plot of land for a Jurassic Park Jeep Adventure as was originally intended.

2. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow

THE GOOD MOVIE: Originally opened in 1967, Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean is often called Walt Disney’s magnum opus; it’s the pinnacle of his time; the best ride of the 1960s; the iconic combination of all the technologies and ride systems Walt and his team had developed to that point. As it happens, it was also Disney’s first substantial hit (between a lot of misses) in translating their theme park rides into movies. Pirates of the Caribbean – today, five films deep – is “the one to beat,” with Disney famously positioning a handful of its recent, franchisable family films as “the next Pirates” to no avail. 

Most Disney Parks fans know that the Pirates ride inspired the Pirates films, which in turn saw Captain Jack Sparrow retro-fitted into the rides themselves. But did you know that the Pirates films also inspired a standalone attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? If you’ve never heard of or experienced “The Legend of Jack Sparrow,” count yourself lucky. 

THE POINTLESS RIDE: Located in the park’s Soundstage 4 (where a previous walkthrough, “Journey into Narnia” had been), this “interactive” experience loaded guests into a cavernous shipwrecked scene brought to life through projection mapping. In an experience “guided” by the ride’s famous talking skull, gathered guests engaged in such “interactive” moments as roaring back at the Kraken to scare it away, stomping your feet to drown out mermaids’ singing, and call-and-response singing with a Musion-projected Jack Sparrow. 

Clearly meant as a showcase of then-emerging texture-mapped projection technologies (which would go on to become “plusses” in many classic rides and anchor nighttime spectaculars), “The Legend of Jack Sparrow” just had no real reason to exist. It was odd that a show with dark and scary moments based on a PG-13 film franchise had to use cringey, Dora-the-Explorer-esque interaction just to have something to do other than watch, but frankly, just a normal ole show would’ve been better than the forced interactivity. This “style” of experience arguably lives on in Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy across the park, but it’s a much more appropriate IP for the experience.

3. Stitch’s Great Escape

THE GOOD MOVIE: When Lilo & Stitch landed in 2002, the animated sci-fi family comedy was something Disney wasn’t used to in that decade: a hit. To this day, Lilo & Stitch remains one of the few genuine, timeless, blockbuster hits Disney had between 2000 and 2010, when Atlantis, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Treasure Planet, Chicken Little, and Meet the Robinsons saw Disney fall behind new competitors like DreamWorks and Pixar. It tells the story of a mischievous alien who crash lands in Hawaii and disguises himself as a dog, learning the meaning of ‘ohana from six-year-old Lilo.

In August 2003 – just thirteen months after Lilo & Stitch debuted in theaters! – Stitch: The Movie hit video store shelves. A month after that, Lilo & Stitch: The Series premiered on both Disney Channel and ABC Kids. Two years later, Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch went direct-to-video, and less than a year after that, Disney churned out Leroy & Stitch – yet another direct-to-video sequel made of cobbled together episodes of the TV series. For those keeping track, that’s four movies in three years! 

THE “WORST” RIDE: Stitch was hot and in 2004, he got his own attraction… Yep, our in-depth Declassified Disaster: Stitch’s Great Escape feature is worth a read for any Disney World fan. Suffice it to say, the attraction is often regarded as the “worst attraction at Walt Disney World.” Stitch’s Great Escape was just pretty much a miss from beginning to end. Far too scary for kids and far too juvenile for teens, it was a bad overlay that picked just the wrong aspect of Stitch to highlight, and just as his meteoric rise turned to a catastrophic collapse in interest. It’s a shame that a generation of Disney World guests probably know Stitch from his failed Tomorrowland invasion rather than the genuinely-sweet movie he came from.

4. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure

THE GOOD MOVIE: 2007’s Ratatouille was another entry in Pixar’s (almost) unending list of films to receive universal critical acclaim (and to this day remains the highest-rated Pixar film on many professional critics’ lists). It tells the story of a would-be chef named Remy… who just happens to be a rat – largely, unwelcome in the unscale eateries of his Parisian home. Luckily, Remy teams up with wannabe sous chef Linguini to create masterful dishes that become the talk of the town. Fitting perfectly into Pixar’s largely unbroken stream of films that defy traditional plots or narratives, Ratatouille was adored.

More telling, though, is the movie’s reception in France, where it was glowingly reviewed for its adoration and appreciation of French cuisine. Unlike the highly-franchised Toy Story, Cars, Incredibles, or Monsters Inc., however, Ratatouille  didn’t spawn a film series or much merchandising. Instead, the masterpiece took its place alongside Inside Out, Wall-eCocoUp, and A Bug’s Life as “one-and-done” settled stories in the Pixar canon…

THE “MEH” RIDE: Which is why it might’ve seemed odd that – as part of the ongoing evolution of Epcot to be “more relevant, more timeless, more family-friendly and more Disney” – it was announced that a whole new (and very large) attraction themed to the film would open at EPCOT in 2020… thirteen years after the film! While the opening of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure was moved to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, make no mistake: the new attraction probably won’t make any “Best Of” lists…

We know, we know: “Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it.” Well… we’ve tried it. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is an exact duplicate of the Modern Marvel: Ratatouille – L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy that’s sent guests scurrying around Walt Disney Studios Paris since 2014. Frankly, that’s a small part of the problem. In the seven years since the ride first opened in Paris, a lot has changed, including the arrival of trackless ride technology in two actually-new Walt Disney World headliners (Rise of the Resistance and Runaway Railway). Not to mention, both Disney and Universal have figured out that guests are tired of screens.

The Ratatouille ride is a fun aside, but it’s not a headliner… and it’s also not a ride that’ll win guests back after COVID. Look, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure probably is the right addition in Disney’s quest to make Epcot “more relevant, more family-friendly, and more Disney,” but if you’re “hyped” for it, maybe lower your expectations a bit. There’s a reason Disney’s promotion for it only shows the pantry scene of oversized foods… because the rest of the ride is basically made of very large screens that will show showing early-2010s CGI animation. Consider Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure to be Disney’s now-outmoded take on Universal’s Spider-Man, but without the motion and with screens acting less like windows and more like windshields. Just trust us: once the newness of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure has worn off, you may find yourself kinda-sorta wishing Disney had gone a different direction in honoring this really-really-good movie.

Ironically, that’s true of another French-inspired Disney attraction… Read on…

5. The Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast

THE GOOD MOVIE: Ah, the Disney Renaissance… That period from 1989 to 1999 when Disney could do no wrong. Beginning with The Little Mermaid, Disney’s return to fairytale adaptations had created not just a rebirth in the company, but a reinvigoration of animation as an artform. Mermaid was followed in quick succession by Beauty and the Beast, a film that was almost-unbelievably nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (not Best Animated Picture… Best Picture). 

Beauty and the Beast is remembered today as one of the greatest films of all time, and the movie that definitively secured the return of Walt Disney Feature Animation. Aside from sequels, spin-offs, merchandising, and a live-action remake that earned over a billion dollars alone, Belle was one of the driving forces behind the multi-billion dollar Disney Princess franchise! In other words, a whole lot was riding on Beauty and the Beast… yet it didn’t have a ride… 

THE UNUSUAL RIDE: That is, until Tokyo Disneyland debuted The Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast. It’s a trackless dark ride through the songs of the film… but it’s not what most Disney Parks fans expected. In fact, the ride downplays or outright eliminates the story of Beauty and the Beast, instead featuring just three scenes, each playing nearly an entire, full-length song as guests’ tea cup vehicles dance around relatively static scenes. Here at Theme Park Tourist, we dedicated a whole article to exploring Tokyo’s odd Beauty and the Beast ride and why it just doesn’t seem to gel… In short, it’s probably telling that this is the first Tokyo-based ride that Disney fans haven’t been begging to have cloned back home. 

And it’s not the only Disney Renaissance film to have a lackluster attraction as its most permanent embodiment in the Parks…

6. The Magic Carpets of Aladdin

THE GOOD MOVIE: For all the pomp and circumstance afforded to The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast in hindsight, 1992’s Aladdin earned about as much at the box office as both of its predecessors combined. Aladdin wouldn’t remain the highest-earning film of the Renaissance (that would be The Lion King) but it would rise into the upper echelon of Disney films, inspiring sequels, spin-offs, video games, merchandising, a Broadway musical, and a billion-dollar-earning remake of its own… which makes it all the more strange that Aladdin – like so many films of the Disney Renaissance – had very little permanent presence in Disney Parks until decades after its debut.

THE “BARELY COUNTS” RIDE: At least Mermaid and Beauty have been afforded long overdue dark rides… Despite the obviousness of a magic carpet ride through the saturated scenes of Aladdin (perhaps in Disneyland Paris’ Adventureland, DisneySea’s Arabian Coast, or – don’t shoot the messenger – Epcot’s Morocco), none exists. Instead, Aladdin is relegated to three Dumbo-style spinner rides at Disney Parks around the globe. Ranging from elegantly decorated in Tokyo to backlot-style in Paris, the spinners aren’t anything to write home about. That’s why we suggested that if one ride were to simply “blip” out of existence at Magic Kingdom, we’d cross our fingers that the Magic Carpets of Aladdin would be the one… after all, it’s one of four – FOUR – spinner rides at the park. 

7. It’s Tough to be a Bug

THE GOOD MOVIE: Debuting seven months before the film it’s based on – 1998’s A Bug’s Life – “It’s Tough to be a Bug” was reportedly the brainchild of then-CEO Michael Eisner, who wanted the theater inside the brand new Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life to promote the new Pixar film. Speaking of which, “It’s Tough to be a Bug” was technically the very first Pixar attraction in Disney Parks, predating Disney’s purchase of the studio by eight years. 

A Bug’s Life ended up earning about as much as Pixar’s sleeper hit Toy Story had three years earlier, but it didn’t spawn the kind of franchise that cements a film as a go-to in Disney’s Imagineering portfolio. Instead, “It’s Tough to be a Bug” (and in 2002, Disney California Adventure’s accessory “a bug’s land”) remained its only major installations. That’s a shame, because A Bug’s Life is a great movie that (like almost every Pixar film) earned critical acclaim and introduced some very likable and memorable characters.

THE TERRIFYING RIDE: “It’s Tough to be a Bug”? Not so much. Granted, the 3D film is smartly done. It’s staged as a showcase of bugs’ survival skills meant to impress upon us, as humans, how we may not always like bugs, but “if all bugs were wiped off the face of the planet, there’d soon be no humans around here to man it!” Each bug’s respective demonstration makes clever use of “4D” effects like air blasts, water sprays, and smells. 

But halfway through, the nefarious villain Hopper arrives (via a legitimately horrific Audio Animatronic) demanding that we humans face the truth. In one of the more impressive physical effects in Disney Parks, Hopper has a 3D can of insect spray release an absolutely unbelievable amount of fog into the theater. As flashing lights and hissing fog cover everything, black widow spider animatronics rappel from the ceiling, gnashing inches above guests’ heads; hornet stingers jab guests between the shoulders. It’s absolutely nightmarish, often spending families scurrying for emergency exit doors as traumatized toddlers wail. 

Everything comes together in time for a happy singalong finale, but “It’s Tough to be a Bug” is just downright mean. In fact, it’s the only attraction at Animal Kingdom to bear the “May be frightening for children” warning that even the Modern Marvel: DINOSAUR doesn’t! So maybe “It’s Tough to be a Bug” isn’t a bad ride… but it’s sure an odd fit for the movie.

8. Fast & Furious Supercharged

THE GOOD MOVIE: Though it’s easy to discount the Fast & Furious series as brainless action flicks appealing solely to the “male 18 – 39” demographic, that’s not really telling the whole story. After all, Fast & Furious is also a series that deals in serious topics like family, loyalty, and loss. Of course, more to Universal’s interest, it’s also the tenth highest-grossing film series of all time (which, after nine entries, still maintains a higher per-film average than the DC Extended Universe, Transformers, or Mission: Impossible) and, by the numbers, it’s Universal’s biggest franchise, period. Unlike Universal Parks’ golden goose, Harry Potter, the Fast & Furious franchise is a perpetual engine machine, with ninth, tenth, and eleventh films ranging from ready-for-release to pre-production and no signs of slowing.

THE HORRIBLE RIDE: So when Universal Orlando announced that it would close the tongue-in-cheek “Disaster!” ride (itself an update of the park’s opening day Earthquake) in favor of a Fast & Furious attraction, imaginations ran wild. Would Universal use a version of Disney’s Test Track technology to bring the high-adrenaline film to life? Would they create an indoor coaster like their own Modern Marvel: Revenge of the Mummy, with guests launching through high-speed car chases? Fast & Furious was the perfect IP for a thrill ride; one that even those who hadn’t seen the films could enjoy! 

Nope. Instead, Universal merely followed an M.O. that had always worked in the past: lifting single scenes from their Hollywood Studio Tour and expanded them into standalone rides in Florida. Trouble is, the projection-tunnel based Fast & Furious: Supercharged that had opened in Hollywood in 2015 was (pardon the pun) universally panned. No matter. It was copied to Florida anyway.

The West Coast tram was reimagined as slow-moving “party buses” that would rumble through the same two “pre-shows” Hollywood offered, then into its projection-tunnel finale that looks like a playable game on a PS2. It’s unclear why Universal Creative thought bringing the laughably-bad experience to Florida, barely expanding it, and making it a standalone ride people had to wait in line for would be a good idea, but Fast & Furious: Supercharged opened in 2018 to dismal reviews… Supercharged is so unpopular, Universal temporarily closed it – their newest “main” ride! – to offset capacity loss during the Covid-19 pandemic. Yikes! We definitely don’t expect it to survive this decade… And maybe that’s for the best.