Theme Park Insider

Weekly Top 10: Attractions That Don't Live Up to Their IPs

March 16, 2015, 12:01 PM · Last time, we ticked down a list of theme park attractions that managed to surpass often lackluster IPs (again, that's short for intellectual property – movies, books, television shows, etc.). This week, we're turning that equation around with a look at rides that can't quite match their estimable source material.

Before we start ragging on these coulda-shoulda attractions, we should emphasize how difficult it is to create an attraction worthy of a hit film, much less a beloved entertainment franchise. Disney's early Fantasyland dark rides were basic retellings of those stories that delivered the extra excitement of being immersed in them (flying above London, racing through the scary forest). 

As theme park technology improved and designers got more creative, attractions served as new stories that built upon the characters, settings and plot contained in the original IP. Some rides provide alternate adventures, such as how you get to be inside Jurassic Park when everything goes horribly wrong or you get to zoom along with Harry and pals in the midst of the Potter saga. Others turn into mini sequels: explore a new, booby-trapped temple with Indiana Jones or hang out in a Monstropolis comedy club after the monsters have discovered laughter is the best power source.

While movie studio executives will be quick to say that sequels and prequels are easy money, writers and directors will tell you that it's not so simple creating a new installment that lives up to everyone's astronomic expectations. The same goes for recreating an inhabitable, theme park version of celebrated IPs and matching it with a worthwhile ride experience.

With that in mind, let's play armchair Imagineer with a list of attractions that don't quite recapture the magic.

10. Back to the Future: The Ride
Universal Studios Japan

Back to the Future: The Ride

There's only one park in the world where you can still travel from present day to the futuristic world of... a few months later! Even before it was outdated (or should we say OUTATIME?), the hurky-jerky "Back to the Future" motion simulator was somewhat disappointing. On a screen that large, the miniature sets looked pretty fake. And although it delivered Doc Brown, Biff and even Huey Lewis tunes, you can't go Back to the Future without Marty McFly.

9. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Disneyland

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Owl-eyed readers might notice that Pooh is the only IP to make both lists. This Disneyland-based trip through the Hundred Acre Wood is the least of the Disney parks' four Pooh attractions for one reason: space. Because these adventures were crammed into the old Country Bears theater, the scenes from the vastly superior WDW version became shorter and mixed-up, while the vehicles couldn't offer the same range of motion. If you can't bounce along with Tigger, you're missing out on a wonderful thing.

8. Tuck and Roll's Drive 'Em Buggies
Disney's California Adventure

Tuck and Roll's Drive 'Em Buggies

DCA's A Bug's Land has spectacular theming – something you'll notice as you quickly walk past all of its attractions while going between Cars Land and the Tower of Terror. The worst offender of the "A Bug's Life"-themed kiddie rides is this super slow version of bumper cars. It's more like nudge-er cars. The glacial pace of this ride makes even less sense given the positively hyperactive nature of the acrobatic pill bugs in the film.

7. Slinky Dog (Zigzag) Spin
Hong Kong Disneyland, Walt Disney Studios Paris

Slinky Dog (Zigzag) Spin

Another impeccably designed land without any truly remarkable ride experiences is Disney's Toy Story Land, found in Hong Kong and Paris. The bottom of the barrel (of monkeys) is this relatively rote Himalaya, which places visitors in a roundabout Slinky Dog. Woody's loyal pal might not be Andy's most exciting toy, but ol' Slink deserves better than this.

6. Storm Force Accelatron
Universal's Islands of Adventure

Storm Force Accelatron

Hulk gets an incredible coaster, Spidey gets an amazing motion base ride and the X-Men get... teacups. Every attraction can't be an E-ticket, but you'd think that this legion of legendary superheroes could be better served than with an unremarkable (flashing lights! chintzy soundtrack!) rendition of a spinning ride, themed, sorta, to X-Woman Storm.

5. E.T. Adventure
Universal Studios Florida

E.T. Adventure

Has anyone ever watched the majestic "E.T." then said, "This would have been better if Spielberg had shown us E.T.'s home planet?" If so, those people got their wish with this Universal Studios attraction, which functions as a sequel to the 1982 movie. It recreates the iconic flying-bikes-against-the-moon scene, then takes a long, strange trip through E.T.'s psychedelic garden planet, Botanicus – a name that's right up there with Unobtanium. There's a reason these bicycles no longer fly in Hollywood or Japan.

4. Pinocchio's Daring Journey
Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris

Pinocchio's Daring Journey

Of all the animated gems that the Disney studios has produced, "Pinocchio" is the grandest, darkest and most exciting... and it might just be the best. We can argue that point forever, but we're likely to find common ground that it deserves a better attraction that this slight, 1980s addition to Fantasyland. Plywood characters and simple animatronics can deliver Mr. Toad's cheap thrills, but Stromboli, Pleasure Island and Monstro beg for a more fully realized ride experience.

3. The Seas with Nemo & Friends
Epcot

The Seas with Nemo & Friends

If the epic settings of "Pinocchio" deserve better, so does the big, blue world of "Finding Nemo." The deeply stirring Pixar hit is given a rote re-telling at the Living Seas Epcot pavilion, which sees its share of empty clam shells, because the ride just isn't that interesting. The situation stands in stark contrast to the lengthy lines that build at the low capacity (but much more absorbing) Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage at Disneyland.

2. Stitch's Great Escape!
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

Stitch's Great Escape

What a waste – of space (where fan favorite Extra TERRORestrial Alien Encounter once stood), of technology (an impressively advanced audio animatronic), and of IP (the much-loved Stitch reduces tiny tots to a mess of wails and tears). Those are just three reasons why Stitch's Great Escape is the most reviled Disney Parks attraction. "Experiment 626" is better served in non-U.S. parks, either by the interactive Stitch Encounter (in Hong Kong and Paris, and coming soon to Tokyo and Shanghai) or the Stitched-up version of Tokyo Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room.

1. The Dark Knight Coaster
Six Flags Great America, Six Flags Great Adventure, Six Flags Mexico

The Dark Knight Coaster

There's no worse fate for a bat than turning him into a mouse, even a wild one. Timed to the release of the greatest comic book movie ever (that's right, Marvel fans), The Dark Knight Coaster promises great ideas – a Gotham rail station for a queue, a pre-show press conference with Harvey Dent and the experience of being chased by The Joker. But the actual ride is a disaster, from the flimsy sets to a thrill-less coaster. Why so serious? Because none of the tension, intrigue, or excitement of "The Dark Knight" can be found in its namesake attraction.

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Replies (32)

March 16, 2015 at 12:12 PM · Excellent list, although I like numbers 3-5. However, I agree that none of them live up to the greatness of the original IPs. As for Stitch, excellent AAs are the only reason for experiencing this "attraction". It's still a disgrace that Disney not only replaced Alien Encounter with this crap, but still stubbornly refuses to replace the replacement.
March 16, 2015 at 12:13 PM · Can't agree with Back to the Future or ET. Back to the Future was my favorite theme park attraction before it closed, and it still has numerous fans that wish it would be brought back. ET is one of our favorite Universal attractions. It's always the first attraction we ride when we vacation at Universal and the last attraction we ride when leaving from our vacation. Like Splash Mountain, ET always puts a big smile on my face.
March 16, 2015 at 12:24 PM · Et and back to the future are two all time greats
March 16, 2015 at 12:26 PM · I love the Pinocchio ride but it deserves a rboot. Good things all of Fantastyland's dark rides are getting an Alice type referbishment!??
March 16, 2015 at 12:32 PM · Having never experienced the Dark Knight Coaster, I cannot fully argue with its place as number one. But number two gets me riled up every time I think about it. Going back in time to the year 2000, I had never been to Orlando. Most of my experiences with theme parks were Six Flags. I went to Disney. Got in line for Alien Encounter. After the attraction I was totally dumbfounded with how incredibly entertained I was, and that attraction gave me a life-long infatuation with all things theme park. When I returned and experienced Stitch, I was actually depressed. Sure, Alien was intense and possibly too much for small children, but that is an easy fix without changing the show. I also point to Stitch in possibly a turning point for the Disney Parks. I am not sure that I can name one new attraction after the Stitch that has truly blown me away at a Disney park, but I certainly can at other parks. Hopefully that will change, but even if they announced something today, that would be five years or more before completion. So post Stitch what have they done? Mine Train is nice but not mind blowing. They made the Little Mermaid that is atrocious. The Yeti still does not work. Dinosaur is much less intense. I say it is time for a turning point, and bringing back Alien Encounter could be the thing. Magic Kingdom does need something for the teen crowd, and that would be perfect. With our kids getting older, they want to spend all their time in Orlando at Universal, and getting more attractions and fixing the awful FP+ needs to happen.
March 16, 2015 at 12:58 PM · These rides are mainly filler. Some rides have their intended audiences. The Disney spinners and buggies are nothing to get upset about. The Winnie The Pooh ride is pretty good for kids. I do find it interesting that the Disneyland submarine ride was not included since seeing Nemo in the caverns is a worse experience. The Epcot Nemo ride is a reinvention of the Living Seas pavilion that I find to be more enjoyable than the previous version. It has a more polished presentation and more engaging.

None of the Batman coasters are any good. They are all waste of IPs so perhaps they do deserve their number 1 ranking.

March 16, 2015 at 1:10 PM · Wait a cotton pickin minute...

ET is a classic and needs to be removed from this list...

Don't make me call you a - cotton picking ninny muggings..

March 16, 2015 at 1:24 PM · " I do find it interesting that the Disneyland submarine ride was not included since seeing Nemo in the caverns is a worse experience."

At least the subs are running. I fear that if it weren't for Nemo, the lagoon would have been filled with concrete like MK's version.

I think Star Wars deserves a spot on this list. It's one of the most beloved film franchises of all time and is about to explode again on the world at the end of the year, yet despite now owning the IP, Disney has nothing to show for it besides an old simulator with a new movie. Don't get me wrong, the new movie and multiple endings are awesome, but the simulator technology is over 2 decades old, and nothing to the facades have changed since the attractions opened in the 90's. Add to the fact that Disney has yet to make any concrete announcements on expanding this HUGE IP since acquiring it nearly 3 years ago, and it's rather disappointing. Star Wars is by no means number 1 on this list, but should be here in terms of IPs that are far below how they should be represented in parks. A movie that is so repulsive that Disney won't even let it out of the vault has a more popular attraction than one of the greatest film franchises of all time. There's something seriously wrong with that.

March 16, 2015 at 1:28 PM · The Seas with Nemo & Friends was never meant to be that. As much as I like Finding Nemo, the attraction should have never been changed from being the Living Seas. It doesn't stop me from wanting to see the attraction, but it was better before the change.
March 16, 2015 at 2:02 PM · I like Back to the Future and I still like ET even after all these years. Stitch's Great Escape was something I experienced once and that was more than enough.
March 16, 2015 at 2:15 PM · E.T. is a great, great family attraction, and it's the closest thing Universal has to a Disney-esque classic dark ride (and, frankly, it puts Peter Pan's Flight - with its similar ride system - to shame). BTTF was also great, and I can't imagine a better usage of the IP could have been implemented with 1990-era technology.

I agree with much of the rest of the list, though.

March 16, 2015 at 2:29 PM · I actually liked the Pinocchio ride. I thought it was one of the more charming Fantasyland attractions. Can we add Muppetvision 3D in its place? I don't think it's a bad show (in fact, it's one of the best 3D flicks still out), but the Muppets are prime material for an animatronic dark ride. Shame we got this instead of the planned Great Muppet Movie Ride (of course, in an ideal world, we'd have both).
March 16, 2015 at 3:01 PM · ALL of Bugs' Land is abysmal. Along with the debilitatingly slow bumper cars you reference come the Ladybug teacups that DON'T SPIN and the "chew train" that does little more than ride around in a circle.

For an organization that built the single best "little kids" amusement park in the world, California Adventure has almost NOTHING for little kids.

March 16, 2015 at 3:23 PM · "I think Star Wars deserves a spot on this list. It's one of the most beloved film franchises of all time and is about to explode again on the world at the end of the year, yet despite now owning the IP, Disney has nothing to show for it besides an old simulator with a new movie."
Star Wars only became Disney Property recently. They are planning bigger and better things for it but planning for such takes a bit of time so I wouldn't put that on the list as far as it goes the theming for Star Tours at WDW is phenomenal and draws me more than the actual ride although it is good too.
I have never found a six flags ride that was themed appropriately. Partly because I believe Six Flags is a low budget operation and can not afford to theme their rides. What they use is mostly off the shelf prepackaged rides. Disney is the ultimate in themed ride with Universal finally catching up. They really kicked it up with Harry Potter but yet most of their parks still lack a true since of theming. Painting a roller coaster green and putting the Incredible Hulks name on it does not make it themed.I digress.
Back to this article. I would have put Finding Nemo at Epcot as number one. I rode it when it first opened expecting something that would blow me out of the water. Not only did it disappoint me I have ridden it once more since then and that was because my youngest daughter's first visit. Part of the excitement of the Living Seas is the actually marine life in the tank and looking at that.
While I like the Mad Hatter Tea Cups at WDW it is also lacking in theming. There is a lot more that could have been done. But this was put in during the early years and was basically an off the shelf ride converted with some Disney theming on the outside of the ride.I have not been to the New Fantasyland yet but what I have seen Disney has done a good job. The big thing to remember is tat Disney was all about detail down to the minutest parts, Thus the reason that we are all so critical of what Disney does with their attractions. Enough from my soap box.
March 16, 2015 at 3:38 PM · I'm gonna pile on with the other folks crying foul about ET and BTTF. Both are/were classics and very enjoyable in their own way. And I have to agree with Thomas about Nemo at Epcot. Putting aside completely my own personal belief that Finding Nemo was the most over-rated Pixar movie EVER, the attraction was never meant to host an IP. It was designed as a pavilion to educate us about the seas and ocean exploration and should have stayed that way. I won't even go in the building now -- it just makes me sad.

I have to give a small shout-out to Storm Force -- yeah, it's a Tea Cups clone and probably not the best representation of a superhero, but my husband and I have had lots of fun on that ride :-).

March 16, 2015 at 3:55 PM · Is this really a serious list? You really think that Winnie the Pooh and ET are really asking to be taken down a peg?

Also, you picked three attractions that are the secondary attractions in a land. The IP is strong and good in those lands and you picked the rides you ride while waiting for the main rides?

Nemo has taken a mostly empty pavillion and and made it one of the most well attended locations in all of Disney World. You think Nemo deserves better? There is a show at DAK.

While agree with Stitch and the Dark Knight, this list was pretty weak.

March 16, 2015 at 5:26 PM · You forgot Imagination at Epcot. I realize that they lost sponsorship but the ride is just a shell of what it once was.

I remember it had lines (around the building) that would make Soaring look like child's play!

Our family would spend hours in the pavilion; riding the ride a least three times each visit!

March 16, 2015 at 6:04 PM · Remember, this is about the gap between an attraction and its IP. You might have a good attraction on here because it just isn't nearly *as* good as its amazing IP. And a crappy attraction might not make the list (or be down on this list) simply because its IP ain't that great, either.

Also, let's face it, the top (bottom?) two on this list really deserve to be in their own category. Everything else pales.

March 16, 2015 at 6:16 PM · Guys, thanks for all your comments. I enjoy reading the debate and seeing where our experiences and opinions differ (or where they match up).

In response to the BTTF defenders (and if that's one of your favorites, by all means, defend it!), my opinion of that ride might have been downgraded by riding it relatively recently in Japan. Experiencing BTTF after having been on the (far superior) Simpsons Ride replacement, I found it supremely disappointing. The ride loomed larger in my memories of it than it did in actuality. Those dearly departed attractions tend to have that effect.

In regards to E.T., I think we'll have to agree to disagree, but allow me one more point to defend my lack of enthusiasm for it. In the film, Spielberg is masterful at balancing the sci-fi wonder of the story with the potentially too-cutesy landmine of the character of E.T. But he walks that tightrope perfectly, which is why many people don't feel the way about E.T. the way they do about Ewoks. I think the ride's trip to Botanicus tips the scales and is an unwelcome addition to the wonderment of the film's best moments.

Last, in response to Anthony Murphy: yes, I was serious when I wrote this. I'm not saying these are bad attractions; merely that the source material deserves better. And why can't secondary attractions be expected to live up to their IPs? Just because Toy Story Land and A Bug's Land look fantastic doesn't mean all of their "meh" rides should get a pass.

March 16, 2015 at 6:27 PM · Heh, Bryan, I totally get your response to E.T. You're right -- the ride when viewed by itself is a bit weird. But to those of us who read William Kotzwinkle's follow-up novel "E. T. & the Book of the Green Planet", the ride is a perfect follow-up that brings all our imaginations to life. Not necessarily a great reason for a theme park ride, but infinitely more satisfying than anything Disney's done with Nemo or Stitch :-).
March 16, 2015 at 7:50 PM · Winnie the Pooh at Disneyland - the problem isn't space, it's the Paul Pressler era budget. it may never live up to the Japan version, but it could be improved greatly with a bigger budget, better animatronics, better special effects and better vehicles. I'm surprised, with so many things being refurbed, from Alice to Peter Pan to Condor Flats - that Pooh never gets any upgrades.
March 17, 2015 at 12:30 AM · Nicely written, thanks.
I disagree about Pinocchio. It's one of my favorite Disney films, and I like how the ride tells the story so succinctly and completely, yet lucidly. The end with the trip through Gepetto's Village with "Wish Upon A Star" playing always tugs at my heartstrings, along with the follow-up Pepper's Ghost effect of the Blue Fairy. The cuckoo clocks at the end are further nostalgic icing on the cake. Pinocchio is served well by the ride, and will perhaps be even better after its digital/next-gen refurbishment.
Agree about Toy Story Land which is wonderfully themed but has uninspired and boring rides. For Disney not to include Midway Mania is just unforgivable.
March 17, 2015 at 1:54 AM · "None of the Batman coasters are any good." REALLY? the original1992 Batman the Ride in Chicago was nothing short of revolutionary. It was the first version of Bolliger & Mabillard's no-floor inverted coaster, spawned ten copies, catapulted the firm into unprecedented success and raised the quality bar for roller coasters forever. B&M now has nearly 100 roller coasters running around the world. Yes, the thematics may have been chintzy compared to Disney and Universal, but the thrill ride surely lived up to the property, that cannot be denied, and it was the first attempt by a chain "iron park" to mix themes and thrills at that level. On the other hand, it may have been a mistake for SF to re-use the Batman property on lesser rides, sometimes in the same park, which adds to popular confusion, and it's probably what inspired the poster of this comment.
March 17, 2015 at 3:05 AM · I also agree about Toy Story Land. You walk in to the land, and think "Wow! This is so cool!!!", and the next thing you know, you're in Mystic Point, wondering what the heck just happened? I would have loved to see Toy Story Midway Mania included in Toy Story Land, but at least when it comes to the Hong Kong park, a lot of money was poured into Mystic Manor and Big Grizzly Mountain that to include Midway Mania would have been far too expensive.

I haven't been to Paris (yet), but I am fairly certain the same can be said about its Toy Story Land. Quite a disappointment.

Also, I completely agree about Stitch at Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom. I won't say it's a terrible attraction, because I do think it's kind of cute. But compared to Lilo & Stitch the movie, it doesn't begin to do it justice. I'm not sure what would be a good replacement, but perhaps if DLR's Tomorrowland is completely overhauled, MK can get the same treatment, including eliminating the Great Escape.

March 17, 2015 at 3:07 AM · Thanks, Brian, there is good food for thought here. I am also in the "don't diss ET" camp, but for a different reason. I think a ride that got ET to his ship, where he promptly leaves, would match the movie but make for a weaker ride. We need to feel some sense of resolution in a theme park attraction and that would feel highly unresolved. Personally, I think the plot to the ride is absurd, but I like very much the classic (and trippy!) dark-ride stagecraft, reminiscent of the old journey into imagination, as well as it's a small world (without the annoying song). And it does have a satisfying ending! On a broader note, although you go after the batman rides at six flags, how about the numerous other DC comics bastardizations in the six flags parks? Perhaps that seemed to be too easy, but I think six flags deserves to get slammed in a list like this, as worst stewards of IP in the corporate theme park community.
March 17, 2015 at 6:25 AM · The "Acid Trip" portion of ET is my favorite part of the ride also. But, of course, everything is secondary to what is one of theme park's best queues and amazing scents. I skip my Express Pass so I can loiter in the queue.
March 17, 2015 at 8:40 AM · I have to say that Mr. Sirota's comments are well taken. Six Flags is definitely the worst steward of IP in the theme park industry. I have been to a Six Flags park for over 25 years in a row, and, while fun, their customer service is fairly horrendous, and their IP rides are name only. We will see this summer with their new additions if they continue. I also see both points of the E.T. controversy, and I have always thought we would see it on Universal's chopping block. Here is why I think it is not that bad: it is really good for little kids, and Universal does need attractions for the little ones. It has possibly remained due to its real estate space, but I am not sure about that. It could easily be improved and is weird as hell. To change the subject, after the comments above, I have thought of another reason Stitch is the worst. They took what was a completely amazing attraction, and just slapped a kiddie ride on it (that nobody likes). My kids, even when they were young, said that it was "lame." Their words, not mine. I have yet to meet a little kid to have a negative reaction to E.T.
March 17, 2015 at 12:13 PM · Back to the Future is my favorite ride still after all these years. I had to make a trip to Hollywood the day it closed just to be there, so I was stunned to see it on this list (and those movies are my favorites). Anyway its an awesome ride and Osaka, Japan is on my places to visit in this world because of it.

Nevertheless this is a very interesting topic to talk about, makes you wonder why it didn't come up earlier. I wonder where the old Fast and Furious experience on the USH studio tour would end up?

March 17, 2015 at 1:13 PM · While I like most of these attractions (save for two) I agree that none of them live up to their IPs. That being said...I have a confession...I know people are going to
hate me but....I LIKE STITCH'S GREAT ESCAPE AND IT'S ONE OF MY FAVORITE DISNEY ATTRACTIONS!!! No, it's not as good as Alien Encounter, and I can't judge it against the other Stitch attractions since I haven't seen them yet. But it has great special effects, it perfectly captures the characters that carried over from the movie, and the story and humor are well-written (though admittedly having Stitch burp in your face was kinda immature). In fact, even though Alien Encounter was scarier, of I had to fight either that alien or Stitch, I'm taking my chances with the alien.
Think about it. The other alien was just a wild animal taken out of its natural habitat, who just so happened to have an appetite for humans. Stitch, on the other hand, has super strength, can climb walls and ceilings like he's freakin' Spider-Man, he's virtually indestructible, can screw up any electronic device/ system he gets his hands on, and can think faster than a super computer. Sure, he may look cute and cuddly, but big things come in small packages! Long story short, Great Escape is an awesome attraction and I think it's undeserving of all it's hate. However...they're's still one attraction at the MK that I think doesn't deserve to be there...Country Bear Jamboree.
P.S. I'm sorry Bryan, but as a Marvel fan I couldn't help myself, Avengers all the way! ;)
March 17, 2015 at 6:59 PM · The worst ride based off an ip from personal experience has to be snoopy planet at Great America. They could have done some grest new rides, but instead they redressed up nick central into something boring and bland.
March 18, 2015 at 10:10 PM · After reading the article and comments a couple of times, I have to agree that Star Tours has to be on the list, maybe No. 3. Star Wars came out 39 years ago, Disney has had Star Tours 20 years (It doesn't matter when they got ownership, Six Flags does not own DC Comics). The gap in quality/impressiveness between the attraction and the IP is so gigantic that believing it is that large is hard to comprehend.
March 19, 2015 at 12:30 PM · This was me...

After reading the article and comments a couple of times, I have to agree that Star Tours has to be on the list, maybe No. 3. Star Wars came out 39 years ago, Disney has had Star Tours 20 years (It doesn't matter when they got ownership, Six Flags does not own DC Comics). The gap in quality/impressiveness between the attraction and the IP is so gigantic that believing it is that large is hard to comprehend.

Didn't realize I was logged off.

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