Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Too Many Character Rides at Walt Disney World?

Magic Kingdom August 2008

Since “The Disney Decade” (circa 1989 – 1999) there has been a lack of originality and creativity when it comes to attractions at Walt Disney World (WDW). Most, if not all, new attractions (and/or their refurbishments) have relied on characters from movies and television shows as the main force behind the story.

            Of course Walt himself did this; and many opening day attractions at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World were based on cartoons and TV shows within the Disney company. WDW’s character based opening day attractions were: Swiss Family Robinson Tree House, Dumbo Flying Elephants, Snow White’s Scary Adventure, Peter Pan’s Flight, Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel, and [of course] Cinderella’s Castle (all opening in ’71). Walt was alive during most of the planning stages of WDW, and only planned something like a third of the attractions (nee rides) to be character themed. A list of current (and planned) attractions at WDW that are character based would be extensive and read like a park map (especially at Disney’s Hollywood Studios).

            Let’s take a look at the last non-character attraction to open at each of the parks.

            First stop, the newest park: Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK). DAK opened in 1998 with very few character related attractions (save the Camp Mickey/Minnie Meet and Greet Land). DAK still remains mostly character free, with its newest non-character edition also being its last major edition: Expedition Everest. Opening in 2006, this thrill ride took the Disney tradition of hiding roller coasters in mountains and added a twist of a GIANT audio-animatronic (AA) housed within the tracks.
            Over at Disney’s [MGM] Hollywood Studios (MGM), (with its theme of the “Hollywood that Never Was”) one expects a different type of philosophy about attractions based on movies and TV. When MGM opened it only had two attractions: the Studio Backlot Tour (’89) and The Great Movie Ride (’89) (both TV and movie based attractions). As the park grew, it foreseeable added more and more character based attractions. Its most recent, non-character attraction was Lights, Motor, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, which opened in 2005. This behind the scene’s look at an action movie’s chase scene being made is movie based, but not based on any movie in particular.
            Looking only at ride based attractions Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith (’99) was the last new attraction to open at MGM that was non-character based. Another indoor roller coaster, RnR Coaster puts riders into a stretch limo with Aerosmith on their way to some event.

            EPCOT Center/Epcot consists of two separate themes: Future World and World Showcase. World Showcase has seen little updating and extension since the openings of Morocco (‘84) and Norway (’88). One of the movies has changed: Reflections of China (’03), but focusing only on rides; Maelstrom (’88) in Norway was the last non-character ride. Maelstrom is a log flume type ride that takes the riders through a history of Norway, including some folk tales (and a not-so-scary troll). World Showcase remains very character free (save the Gran Fiesta Tour starring The Three Caballeros (’07) in Mexico and character meet-and-greets spread throughout).
            Future World has begun it’s transition to character attractions (The Living Seas Pavilion(’86) is now called The Seas with Nemo and Friends(’03)). The last non-character attraction (outside of the rotating attractions at Innoventions) to open was Soarin’ (’05); however this being a clone from Disney’s California Adventure, let us consider Mission Space (’03) as the last NEW, non-character ride. Mission Space offers riders two modes of space travel simulators (mild or intense).

            At Magic Kingdom, one has to look deep in its past to find a new ride that wasn’t related to characters. 1980 brought Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to Frontierland, a runaway train through a southwestern desert mountain.

            Walt Disney Imagineers have been working hard on the Fantasyland Forest expansion (leaving just one ride non-character based – it’s a small world (’71) (although rumors suggest that once the expansion is over, WDW’s version will match Disneyland’s newest rehab to include characters). Imagineers have also been working on updating cues to be interactive and NextGen. But where are the new non-character attractions? Tomorrowland is becoming PIXAR-land. Adventureland has The Magic Carpets of Aladdin (’01) cluttering up its courtyard.

            Many great attractions were non-character based when they were created and remain so today (Jungle Cruise (’71), Haunted Mansion (’71), Space Mountain (’74), Spaceship Earth (’82), Journey Into Imagination with Figment (’02), Kilimanjaro Safaris (’98) and Kali River Rapids (’99) just to name a few).  Imagineers need the freedom to create new attractions based on nothing but their imagination (like Soarin’ (’05)). 

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