In my Orange County Register column this week, I look back at 10 of Disney's attraction rethemes over the years, ranking them from 1 to 10 and grouping them into three categories of success or failure.
Anyone want to take a guess as to which one I thought worked best? Because I think that anyone who's been around here for a while probably could guess the one I picked as the worst. (Stops to pour one out for Dreamfinder.)
I listed only Disney rethemes in my Register column. What about Universal? While Universal has swapped a lot of shows over the years and certainly torn down its share of attractions to build new ones, I could think only of five instances where Universal rethemed an attraction while pretty much keeping its underlying ride. Here they are, but instead of ranking them from best to worst (IMHO), I've listed them from most controversial to least.
Back to the Future to The Simpsons Ride: So you knew this had to be first, right? Many fans still refuse to forgive Universal for dumping Doc Brown in 2008 in favor of Homer and his family. But 2015 was approaching quickly and Universal needed to change the ride film in order to keep this trip to the future from becoming an anachronistic trip to the past. And The Simpsons probably has a lot more fans out there than BTTF does these days, thanks to its incessant reruns. So Universal probably made the right move here with the switch. As for the ride? Well, as they say on "The Simpsons," it's not just good... it's good enough.
Dueling Dragons to Dragon Challenge: The Harry Potter retheme didn't bother fans nearly as much as Universal's earlier decision to stop running the two coasters in dueling mode. Robbed of its biggest thrill — the visuals of multiple near misses with the other train — fan focus instead turned to wondering why these enormous coaster tracks were looming over the otherwise spot-on depiction of the village of Hogsmeade. So last year, Universal torn 'em down to make way for a new Potter ride.
Earthquake to Disaster!: This wasn't so much as re-theme as a de-theme. Universal removed the references to its 1974 film, Earthquake, and instead recast the production as a pretend film directed by the fictional Frank Kincaid. Then it tore the whole thing down to make room for next year's Fast & Furious: Supercharged ride.
The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera to Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast: When the 70s kids grew up, the 90s kids got a new show starring cartoon characters they'd actually heard of. And when the 90s kids grew up, Universal gutted the building and created a Despicable Me ride for the 2010s kids. So what happens in another 15 years?
The Flying Unicorn to Flight of the Hippogriff: Perhaps the least rethemed-retheme in theme park history, Universal threw on some extra decorations when transforming this lively Vekoma junior coaster when it became part of the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Nothing on the ride itself changed.
What's your favorite theme park retheme — from Disney, Universal, or any other theme park company?
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I never liked any version of the Imagination rides...the Dreamfinder screams pedo to me (gonna get a lot of flack for that one, but my god it was sooo weird) and the rides that came after it are about as "meh" as an attraction can be.
I do really like the Nemo overlays on the Living Seas and Submarine Voyage rides. While the originals were neat, the newer versions just seem a lot more relevant and were nicely executed. There are a lot of purists out there who think nothing should ever get IP overlay (heck it seems there are a lot of people out there who thinks nothing should ever get touched) but I saw kids so bored all the time on those attractions and now they love them.
Star Tours, Test Track, and Soarin' were all long overdue major improvements to me. I love that Star Tours has changed as new movies have come out as well, keeps things fresh.
I give a thumbs up to the Maelstrom-Frozen retheme as well. Not everything has to be a big land or e-ticket attraction, I thought that one was nicely done. Between that and Ratatouille I think it makes the showcase a lot more multi-generational without ruining the showcase (they are hidden in buildings and don't really affect anything other than bringing bigger crowds).
I liked Alien Encounter but to be honest it was for all the wrong reasons haha. It was by far my favorite part of the Tomorrowland re-theme and really encapsulated what they were going for. Unfortunately the GP vision of the Magic Kingdom didn't really agree with what Eisner had envisioned for that attraction - a lot of people don't know this but Alien Encounter closed just a few months after it opened and was re-done because Eisner didn't think it was scary enough. The result was the Alien Encounter we all know. I think Tomorrowland definitely needs another complete retheme now that those anchor attractions are gone.
While still not a great ride, Superstar Limo changing to Monsters Inc. Mike and Sully to the Rescue was a huge improvement.
For me, the Soarin' Around the World update is not that great, and hope that one day Disney will bring back the original California film at DCA again.
Depending how far you want to go to consider a re-theme versus a completely new attraction, Mission: Space for me was the pinnacle of Disney Imagineering (before Flight of Passage blew it out of the water). It was a completely new ride system in a virtually new building where Horizons once stood. The new experience was completely different from the original, and I know a lot of people wish Horizons was still around, but Mission: Space is amazing.
Similarly, World of Motion going to Test Track to Test Track 2.0 has been quite a journey. The original omni-mover attraction was nothing more than a cross between a trip to the Henry Ford and a GM dealership. The shift to Test Track brought a new purpose to the attraction that unfortunately has been lost in the 2.0 retheme. Yes, the Tron-like lights and fun of designing your own car is a cool hook for millennials,
but the original Test Track had so much more purpose as an attraction in a non-fiction park.
Outside of Disney/Universal, Busch Gardens has had mixed results from reworking their motion simulator attraction. Beginning as Questor, the ride was very popular, but when the park hopped on the 3-D fad with King Arthur's Challenge, the result was a mess. The park then converted the attraction to Corkscrew Hill when the surrounding land was themed to Ireland, but then went back down again with the Soarin' rip-off Europe in the Air. They're back at it again with Battle of Eyre, and if the trend of bad to good to bad to good holds, it should be successful.
Paramount operated a number of motion theaters across the country that occasionally changed themes with varying levels of success. The original Days of Thunder attraction was pretty popular, but the succeeding James Bond film License to Thrill was a complete flop. None of the replacement films since has been able to capture the popularity of the original NASCAR-themed movie.
Oh the_man....OUCH!!! Just plain OUCH!! With a thought like that, it is clear you didn't understand the spirit of that attraction. Dreamfinder and Figment are the soul reason I am a theme park fan today. From 1994 to 2012, I ran the net's largest Figment and JII fan site so perhaps I am a bit biased. The art...the message...the music...the meaning....uuuuugh!
...picks herself up off the floor and takes a cool sip of water. OK. I'm good now! ;)
Journey into Imagination with Figment would have to be second worst.
If the latest Test Track counts as a makeover then this is my favourite by a distance.
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Also, yeah, still liked the classic Living Seas over Nemo and let's not get started on Malestrom turning into Frozen.
However, do think the Three Caballeros remake at the Mexico pavilion a step up from the rather stale Rio De Tiempo ride so enjoyed that a lot.