Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter (Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom)
Disney ditched warm-and-fuzzy in favor of snarky-and-scary with this early 1990s makeover of the old Mission to Mars space in the Magic Kingdom. The circular room remained, but became a darkened exhibit of binaural and multisensory effects designed to entertain by creeping you out... well, just a bit. Some fans loved it, but others complained, and Disney watered down the thrills over the years, before finally replacing the show with much-loathed Stitch's Great Escape.
Captain EO (Epcot and Disneyland)
At the height of 1980s Michael Jackson mania, Disneyland and Epcot debuted this Francis Ford Coppola-directed 3-D musical film starring the "King of Pop." (And... Angelica Huston?) Captain EO (Jackson) and his ragtag crew have to deliver a "special gift" to Huston's "Supreme Leader" on a dark and cheerless world. Singing, dancing, peace and harmony ensue. That is, until everyone had seen the show a gajillion times, Jackson, um, fell out of social favor and Disney figured people would rather enjoy the sensation of having mice crawl all over them instead.
Kongfrontation (Universal Studios Florida)
Universal took three popular elements of its signature Hollywood backlot tour and built stand-alone attractions for Kongfrontation, Earthquake and Jaws when it opened Universal Studios Florida. Kongfrontation put riders in New York City aerial trams for a tour of the Great Ape-devastated city, culminating with a face-to-face encounter with ol' banana breath himself. (You really could smell the bananas.) A burst of flame, a quick drop and you were soon safely walking back through the immense unload area, with its loads of Kong merchandise. Today, Kong's lair is the home of Revenge of the Mummy.
Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies (Universal Studios Florida)
Hitch was a three-part attraction, opening with a 3-D highlight film of classic moments from Hitchcock films. Then, it was into another theater, for a live-action demonstration of how the famous shower scene from Psycho was filmed (with a twist!) Finally, visitors exited into a exhibit hall, a play area for grown-ups, really, where they could walk through and around set pieces inspired by Hitchcock films. Universal chopped down the attraction over the years, eventually replacing it with Shrek 4-D.
World of Motion (Epcot)
General Motors sponsored this whimsical look back at the history of transportation, from rafts and chariots up to the automobile. Visitors rode Disney's Ominmover vehicles through this animatronic dark ride, ending up in the Trans Center where GM displayed its current model cars, as well as a few prototypes. GM's interest in paying for the attraction waned over the years, and eventually it was gutted to make way for the cars-only ride Test Track.
People Mover (Disneyland)
Hop aboard for a ride above and around Disneyland's Tomorrowland. Unlike its sibling at Walt Disney World in Florida, the People Mover seemed pretty low-tech, rumbling above Tomorrowland on somewhat noisy tires. But the highlight for many readers was the "Tron Room," which made use of the shuttered America Sings building with an early computer-animated projection scene that made this slow little ride feel like a high-tech coaster, if only for a moment or two. Disney scrapped the ride for the much higher-tech, to-be-sponsored-by-General Motors Rocket Rods, but... delays in getting Test Track up at Epcot soured the relationship, leading to critical budget cuts for Rocket Rods. As a result, that attraction opened late, and closed quickly.
Once a common site at theme and amusement parks, Disneyland's Skyway shuttled riders through the air from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland (or the other way around.) The highlight, though, was a trip *through* Matterhorn Mountain, a bonus that no other park's sky ride could match. Low capacity, accessibility issues and liability concerns doomed the ride, though. And today, the holes in the Matterhorn are plugged.
America Sings (Disneyland)
When Disney shipped the Carousel of Progress back east to open Walt Disney World, the circular theater in Disneyland's Tomorrowland became home to America Sings, a show that celebrated folk, children's and pop music from throughout America's history. (What this had to do with Tomorrowland remains anyone's guess.) Eventually, Disney closed the show, reusing many of the animatronics for the showboat finale of Splash Mountain. The theater remained dark, save for being used as the Tron Room for the People Mover, until it reopened as Innovations in the late 1990s.
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