In Tomorrowland, everyone can hear you scream

Tomorrowland was a particularly odd experience for me, considering how long the MK version had been getting "our" upgrades and new attractions originally planned for Anaheim. But Disneyland's T-land having finished its own rehab a few months prior to my trip, it seemed that MK's Tomorrowland was now the dated vision in its design. The newer attractions did give their T-land bragging rights to its futurist title though.

The MK innovation responsible for these new rides was Tomorrowland's last overall rehab, namely the concept development of the League of Planets: the backstory goes that Tomorrowland was detected by monitoring alien societies as the most advanced site on Earth, and therefore it was chosen as our planet's headquarters for the League. Tomorrowland quickly became a sort of exhibition center for intergalactic trading, commerce and cultural interaction with alien beings.

The first corporation to visit Earth was the commercially motivated X-S Tech, which hastily installed their transportation device to show Tomorrowland guests the benefits of instant intergalactic travel. As one might guess from the company's motto -- Seize the future through X-S! -- this contraption soon proves to be a technological terror, and a terrific attraction.

The ExtraTerrorestrial Alien Encounter is a thrilling mix of 'theater of the mind' radio drama with cutting edge special effects. I enjoyed AE's capacity for good natured scares, made possible by the excellent 3D sound environment and convincing synchronization with the creature effects of the alien bumping and breathing on guests in their chairs.

The transport room is themed quite well, supported by the video segments both in the queue area and in the show room itself . . . though ironically the circular show design dates back to Disneyland's old Mission to Mars attraction (originally Flight to the Moon in the late 50s) which used the circle theater configuration. AE was designed to replace the long dormant M to M venue in the early 90s, but the show went to Orlando instead. The MK gained a ride, and our T-land gained . . . unseen office space!

Seize the future through X-S!

 

 

 

 

While a technically advanced attraction, AE's success is due to its simplicity: it exists solely to scare the hell out of audiences and never deviates from this intent. In fact, after the attraction opened and audiences began screaming, Imagineers decided to rework the timing of the show effects -- guests screamed so much they missed key elements of the show! The show's pace was slowled to create some 'calm' moments between the thrills and chills. I can only imagine how intense the attraction was before these changes! Seize the future... and an extra pair of shorts before you go on Alien Encounter.

 

The latest addition to Tomorrowland is Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, a whimsical spin off of the Toy Story hero's adventures battling the Evil Emperor Zurg. Visiting Space Rangers hop aboard their spinning Star Cruisers and blast off to fend off Zurg's battery-stealing robots. Each ship is armed with two laser cannons and a steering joystick, so guests have full 360° motion and counters track each gunner's score hitting the many robot target points.

Kids and adults will enjoy the interactive element of this ride as well as the callbacks to familiar Toy Story characters, such as the green squeaky toys still yearning to be 'chosen'. That aside, the attraction is a next-level advancement of the classic Disney dark ride, upgraded for a generation that demands interactivity and personalization of a ride experience.

Clearly these two attractions ride the trend toward ever-increasing interactivity in both technology and design in the future of theme park entertainment: how to make a group experience an individual experience at the same time. Both are effective, though AE succeeds more readily because it's designed to be such an intense (yet enjoyable) show, which puts you on the defensive rather than giving you "the wheel" to create your own ride.

Unfortunately the remainder of Tomorrowland doesn't reflect this truly futuristic cutting edge of entertainment. As a writer in the attraction biz, I was disappointed at the incomplete application of the League of Planets concept, which really does not extend beyond Alien Encounter.

While I enjoyed the dual-track layout of MK's Space Mountain, I missed the in-seat speakers that our Anaheim version boasts (the soundtrack is a zippy 'space surfer' riff by famed guitarist Dick Dale) that makes for a much more fun ride in the stars.  Unlike our Matterhorn ride, I have no clear preference of which side is the best ride -- I'd be curious to hear if generally there's a 'favorite' among fans of MK's Space Mountain.

And I was so thrilled that I would get to see our 'long lost' Carousel of Progress, of which I hold very fond childhood memories from its origins at Disneyland. Nostalgia quickly led to disappointment when I learned the entire show had been re-recorded and its finale "updated" in an attempt to lure back guests -- sacrilege! True what they say, you can't go home again. Sadly, the show is truly an anachronism now, but I will miss the charm and quaint idealism it once possessed when it closes.

I hope WDI works the AE concept through the rest of Tomorrowland as it replaces and upgrades these other attractions, which would realize the multimedia and interactive potential today's Tomorrowland should embody. And if WDI needs any help in this regard, they know where to find me.

And now, on to the next land ahead . . . or is that behind?

Photos with * are generously provided courtesy of Allen Huffman at www.DisneyFans.com.

© 2000-2002 scott weitz