Weekly Top 10: Attractions That Don't Live Up to Their IPs
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
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 Even before it was outdated (or should we say OUTATIME?), the hurky-jerky "Back to the Future" motion simulator was somewhat disappointing.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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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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.
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.
Et and back to the future are two all time greats
I love the Pinocchio ride but it deserves a rboot. Good things all of Fantastyland's dark rides are getting an Alice type referbishment!??
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.
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.
Wait a cotton pickin minute...
" I do find it interesting that the Disneyland submarine ride was not included since seeing Nemo in the caverns is a worse experience."
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
"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."
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.
Is this really a serious list? You really think that Winnie the Pooh and ET are really asking to be taken down a peg?
You forgot Imagination at Epcot. I realize that they lost sponsorship but the ride is just a shell of what it once was.
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.
Guys, thanks for all your comments. I enjoy reading the debate and seeing where our experiences and opinions differ (or where they match up).
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 :-).
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.
Nicely written, thanks.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
This was me...
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