Okay, so if people are so gung-ho to imagine Walt Disney World closing one of its theme park attractions, let's play along. If you had to shut down one Disney World ride or show, which one would it be?
I am not trying to start a rumor here, but I think this question could spark an informative discussion on how parks (should) make decisions about when it is time to retire or replace attractions. But let's ground this discussion with a specific (and entirely made-up) proposal. We already know that Disney is in the process of removing Innoventions at Epcot, and that history shows us that the resort closes and replaces an attraction every few years. So I submit that the next ride or show that Disney should close in Florida is... Tomorrowland Speedway.
Many of us thought the Speedway was a goner when we first heard word that Disney was considering cloning Shanghai Disneyland's hit Tron Lightcycle Power Run in the Magic Kingdom. Building the new Tron coaster atop the Speedway's expansive footprint seemed an obvious decision for efficient use of space within the park. But Disney chose to keep the Speedway and build the Tron coaster behind it, instead.
I'd actually like to defend that choice.
You can't judge the value of a theme park attraction without considering its target audience. As a thrill ride, the Tron coaster appeals to an older audience than the little kids who often end up behind the wheel at the Speedway. Replacing the Speedway for the Tron, therefore, would not provide a straight exchange that better serves a common demographic but would instead slightly shift the overall point of audience focus for the park.
Maybe Disney would like to do that. But I am happy that it did not. Great theme parks are not a collection of attractions that each appeal to everyone, because that's impossible. Instead, they offer attractions that each appeal to a segment of the population so that the whole collection ends up offering plenty for everyone to enjoy.
While Walt Disney World enjoys a popular reputation as a family-oriented destination focused on children's entertainment, I would argue that Disney actually needs to strengthen its attractions aimed at elementary-aged kids. It's not enough to offer IP with a wide range of appeal. The experiences behind that IP must connect with their target audiences, as well.
Children between their toddler and teenage years crave aspirational experiences. And the two things to which young, small kids most aspire are height and control. That's why children love rides like Dumbo and bounce towers. They allow young visitors to see up above their parents' legs and around the rest of the world that they miss being stuck down in the crowd.
The Speedway runs on the ground, but it delivers at least a taste of control, allowing children to pretend that they are an adult, steering and driving a car. But Disney's driving rides — Tomorrowland Speedway and Disneyland's Autopia — have fallen too far behind the competition to retain their valuable space in Disney's market-leading parks.
For many children who have ridden both, Legoland's Driving School annihilates Disney's driving rides as an attraction. At Legoland, you have full control of your vehicle. There's no center rail confining your path. You may turn, pass other cars and navigate as you wish. But it's not a free-for-all (or, at least, it should not be). Legoland instructs its young drivers to follow the rules of the road (this is called Driving "School" after all), which only serves to enhance the credibility of this as an aspirational, "grown up" experience.
So Tomorrowland Speedway fails not because it is misguided, ill-targeted or a poor concept. It fails because it no longer represents a passable execution of its concept. And that's before we consider the argument that fossil fuel-burning vehicles do not appear to be any part of an idealistic Tomorrow, as these lands once were themed to portray.
Still, Disney needs rides that allow kids to feel like they have control of something that only adults get to control in real life outside the park. Tomorrowland's PeopleMover provides on of the best examples of a family-friendly "up in the air" ride, so it well covers the aspiration for height. That leaves something to replace the Speedway that gives Disney's young fans their desired sense of control.
But as much as we might wish that it still did, the Tomorrowland Speedway no longer provides that in a compelling and market-leading way. So it's time for it to go.
Which Walt Disney World attraction would you target for removal, and why?Tweet
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