Five 'Cloned' Disney Attractions That Are Better Than the Originals

May 14, 2015, 2:08 PM · [Editor's note: With Universal bringing its King Kong encounter from Hollywood to Orlando in dramatically expanded form, now is a great time to talk about other examples of parks improving upon an initial installation of a concept, theme, or ride system with a second attempt at that attraction. Let's welcome Bryan Schreier to Theme Park Insider with his look at five such examples.]

The term 'clone' is familiar in the theme park world. But it has a variety of meanings. A full-fledged, 100% clone is pretty rare. Rides are often changed in their second (and possibly third) iteration as new technology emerges, space constraints limit size and location can dictate changes in language, theme, etc. For the purposes of this article, we aren't talking about 'identical' ride clones (such as Toy Story Midway Mania) which remain largely unchanged from park to park. Instead let's narrow the focus to: clone of ride system/layout, clone of theme, idea, characters, brand… or any combination of those.

So why do parks clone their attractions? It's pretty simple.

Clones attractions are, normally, cheaper to construct than an original idea. Millions upon millions of dollars are pumped into research, design and technology to develop state-of-the-art, never before seen effects, theming and ride mechanics. Taking an existing idea, that has already been through all of the R&D and simply making it again is usually cheaper and will (ideally) allow for a better return on investment than the first.

Secondly, most of the major bugs should have been worked out. New attractions aren't perfect, far from it, most go through extensive test and adjust phases, and many are ultimately altered because effects or set-pieces either do not work as planned (I'm looking at you, original Hatbox Ghost) or degrade over time (ahem, Expedition Everest's Yeti).

Finally, let's not forget, the reason attractions are cloned is because people like them. Popularity and keeping with the brand are usually major driving forces behind clones. Tower of Terror is incredibly popular, so it gets clones. Haunted Mansion is a Disney staple, and part of the brand, so it gets clones.

But can a clone ever be better than the original? Here are five that fared far better the second time around…

Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars
Cloning Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars

Arguably the best family coaster across most Disney properties, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has been a hit since premiering in Disneyland in 1979. But what to do in Hong Kong? Struggling since it opened due to a lack of attractions, in 2012 Disney decided to give Big Thunder a plussing in more ways than one. Adding dueling tracks, linear induction motor launches, backwards segments and some explosive new effects make this clone the best of the bunch by far and (along with Mystic Manor) breathed new life into the park, which is now reporting year-over-year record attendance levels.

Splash Mountain (Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom)
Cloning Splash Mountain (Disneyland)

Splash Mountain

Here is an example of a great attraction that managed to get greater. On paper it all seemed a little boring: an indoor log flume ride — cue the skeptics and naysayers. But Disney Imagineers were given nearly carte-blanche to blue sky what would become one of the most expensive Disney attractions ever built (at that time) and it paid off in spades. An instant classic since day one, Splash's tour through Chick-a-Pin Hill is full of fun and a surprising amount of thrills.

Walt Disney World's second version benefits from more show scenes (making the ride longer and the story to be more developed), much better lighting and audio, and an extra hill and drop into the Laughing Place. Ultimately, more ride and queue space, a better overall flume system, and double-rider log capacity give the WDW version the edge.

Expedition Everest
Cloning Matterhorn Bobsleds

Expedition Everest

Ok, let's call a spade a spade. They are both roller coasters, set in mountains, with Yetis. Yes, they carry totally different storylines and theme, but they are clearly cut from the same chunk of ice, rock and imagination. Just like Hong Kong Disneyland, Disney's Animal Kingdom opened without enough major attractions (although you would never guess it by attendance numbers). Enter Expedition Everest in 2006, featuring incredible theming and a thrilling backwards portion. Everest was a hit. Even a strobe-lit, frozen in-place, defunct abominable snowman animatronic can't keep the turnstiles from clicking all day, every day.

Radiator Springs Racers
Cloning Test Track

Radiator Springs Racers

Here is an example of a ride system and layout cloned basically turn-for-turn but with entirely different theming. Test Track opened to great fanfare following almost two years' worth of opening delays. Disney had done it, finally. But those problems that caused those delays didn't exactly go away after opening. But even a recent refresh making it more interactive doesn't hold a candle to its sister attraction on the west coast. Radiator Springs Racers took the Test Track systems and technology and wrapped them up with a big Pixar bow (and a healthy dose of theming thanks to faux-rock wunderkind Zsolt Hormay). What results is a ride that feels smoother (load/unload is drastically improved over TT), improves capacity (thanks to dueling tracks) and encounters much less downtime. Shiny, candy colored racers feel like they're being run by pure magic and not 10,000 computer servers — it's that cool.

Grizzly River Run
Cloning Kali River Rapids

Grizzly River Run

To round out the list, we turn to a ride system that Disney still hasn't got 100% right. The idea of a white-water rafting ride is nothing new, but Disney decided to give it an enviro-conscios story and some heavy theming, culminating in a final soaking plunge.

The ride is pretty enough, (the amount of theming, effects and story have been significantly cutback or removed over time) but it offers little to no thrills. It's also really short. Things get interesting (and wet) at the plunge, but by that time the ride is over anyway.

Hop on over to California Adventure and we see a very similar ride system and layout, but this one works much better. You may not know this, but it does hold the record for being the longest, tallest and fastest river rapids ride in the world. Combine that with better overall theming, rafts that spin as they descend not one but two chutes, and rougher, choppier rapids and the clear winner emerges. Sure the queue sucks, and we won't discuss the far superior Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges over at Universal, but props to Disney for learning from the first one and upping the bar for their second spin around the rapids.

Replies (24)

May 14, 2015 at 2:12 PM · Definitely gotta throw in Pooh's Hunny Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland. If only that ride could appear in the states somehow, someway.
May 14, 2015 at 2:23 PM · Glad you mentioned BBRB @ Universal-Florida. I've always said they need to do something to KRR @ WDW because it doesn't compare to Bluto's. There seems to be enough room in Animal Kingdom to expand KRR and with all the other changes forthcoming there, it would be a great time to make KRR longer and more "soakable"!
May 14, 2015 at 2:38 PM · What about Phamtom/Mystic Manor as Haunted Mansion "spinoffs"?
May 14, 2015 at 2:45 PM · Good first write up Bryan. Those previously mentioned could have been on the list too but I like what you said. I like the Grizzly river run but I don't quite remember the Florida counterpart. Maybe it is forgettable. I haven't ridden the one at universal. I have to agree with the rest as well especially RSR.
May 14, 2015 at 3:28 PM · I agree with most of these. However, I think Test Track is a better ride than Radiator.
May 14, 2015 at 3:32 PM · I can't say I agree on the Test Track / Radiator Springs Racers comparison. If you don't mind failing every test except speed and spend your time trying to get as close to 100 speed as possible, the ride is WAY more enjoyable. We did that last time we went, and damn, that thing got fast.
May 14, 2015 at 4:01 PM · What about Tower of Terror Tokyo? It's by far the best Tower of Terror.
May 14, 2015 at 4:44 PM · Loved your picks, but you left out the best of all. Space Mountain in Disney Paris. It's a Jules Vern take with being shot out of a gun into the moons eye with a loop, corkscrew, and the FIRST Disney rollercoaster with a synchronized sounds track in the "train".
May 14, 2015 at 4:52 PM · Great, great list. But who knows? Depending on how the Yetti animatronic in Matterhorn turns out, we might wanna start leaning more towards the West.
May 14, 2015 at 7:08 PM · Other than Splash Mountain, I'm not sure I'd call these cloned attractions. Perhaps remade or reimagineered or re-something would be a better term. For me, a clone attraction would be like different versions of Pirates of the Caribbean or the various Space Mountains. Anyway, this is a good list and, while I haven't visited enough Disney properties yet to make these comparisons, it will be interesting to see how many I agree with once I have.
May 14, 2015 at 10:08 PM · Have you been on Grizzly Mountain Railway Cars at HKDL? It does not have dueling tracks and it only has a few animatronics. Big Thunder's mountain is much more impressive. Grizzly is a nice ride, but Big Thunder is still much better.
May 15, 2015 at 2:20 AM · I've been on Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, and I think it's much better than Big Thunder Mountain. Forwards, backwards, and a launch mid-way through? It's definitely better.....IMO.

But opinions vary, so it's cool.

May 15, 2015 at 4:31 AM · Fun, thoughtful list. Great examples of how similar technology or themes are plussed and refined over time.

Yet I'm bothered by the complete misuse of the word clone. A clone by definition is "an identical copy." Only Splash Mountain comes close to that. There are plenty of attractions that better fit the clone description, such as Fantasyland dark rides, Sleeping Beauty Castle (DL/HKDL), Wonder Wheel/Fun Wheel, etc. These simply aren't clones, but I get it: "who used [tech/theme] better?" doesn't make for a great clickable headline.

May 15, 2015 at 5:13 AM · Big Thunder Mountain at DLP? Pirates at DLP? Space mountain at DLP? All mind blowing versions of the originals - so there is really no need to have the mediocre Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars in this list...
May 15, 2015 at 10:09 AM · I take serious exception to calling Matterhorn and Expedition Everest "clones". The two were built in completely different coaster building eras by totally different manufacturers. Yes, they are both set in mountains and have animatronic Yeti but the comparison ends there. Matterhorn uses first generation Arrow bobsled cars (like on MK's Space Mountain), while Everest uses Vekoma locomotive style trains like on BTMRR. If a caparison between Everest and another ride were made, then it would be more appropriate to use BTMRR, because Matterhorn is about as far from Everest in terms of a roller coaster as it gets. It's almost akin to saying Flight of Fear is a clone of Space Mountain (MK), because they're both themed around extraterrestrial encounters. Sorry, it doesn't work for me. At the very least, clones should have similar ride systems with nearly identical features (like Indy and Dinosaur, or the ToTs), and while some others on this list would qualify, the Everest/Matterhorn example is the farthest from being termed cloning.
May 15, 2015 at 7:50 AM · I also agree with the unfair Everest and Matterhorn comparison. Both are so far apart in technology and construction that it really is impossible to compare them other than the fact one has actual working animatronics.

It's better to compare Matterhorn to Magic Kingdoms Space Mountain. Both follow a very closely designed track system and were built in roughly the same manner.

May 15, 2015 at 9:20 AM · So the lesson is: when a new design comes out, wait for 2.0?
May 15, 2015 at 9:41 AM · I'm sorry: Grizzly Rapids may have the superlatives, but it's a hopelessly boring ride. There are dozens of those sorts of rapids rides at lesser amusements parks, and all of them are more turbulent and exciting. We expect Disney rides to be calmer and more family friendly, but the trade off is their excellent scene building, and animatronic work. Grizzy Rapids teases you that you're going to see a grizzly, but there's no a single bear (or anything else) to look at while you slowly move through a boring river.

It's a bad ride.

May 15, 2015 at 3:50 PM · Having ridden grizzley river and kali river, my opinion is that grizzly river is the better ride. However bilge rat barges completly eclipses both of them! Disney take note
May 15, 2015 at 8:47 PM · I have expect reading the Headline that you talk about OTHER parks that "clone" Rides from OTHER Parks, but all Rides you discribe are Disney Rides! Lets talk about the other Clones like Mouse de Chocolat at Phantasialand what is a "clone" of Toy Story Mania. Also other Parks have clone that Shooter Ride..
May 16, 2015 at 12:22 PM · Re: Court E

So you're telling me that a mountain-themed roller coaster where you get chased by a Yetti is more comparable to an indoor wild mouse coaster themed to space than another mountain-themed roller coaster where you get chased by a Yetti?

That's like comparing Captain EO to Shrek 4D! Yes they use similar technology, but they're as different as different can be. The clones that Robert talks about are clones that use the same concept, which Everest and Matterhorn do.

May 16, 2015 at 2:44 PM · Sorry, not Robert, Bryan
May 16, 2015 at 6:28 PM · I'm flabbergasted that anyone thinks TT is better than RSR. Enjoy your minority of two, guys.
May 18, 2015 at 7:11 AM · Neither Matterhorn or Space Mountain are wild mouse coasters. Space Mountain at WDW is a nearly identical clone of Matterhorns track layout. The endings and load and unload areas had to be re-designed, but Space Mountain is the true clone of Matterhorn.

Everest is more inspired by and improving upon Matterhorn, but it's not a clone. The ride technology is so radically different between the two. You're focusing too much on the scenery and not the construction.

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