I’ve become obsessed with the idea of going to Disneyland lately. I went when I was 16, but all I can really remember is being in line for the Indiana Jones ride for about an hour, buying a lot of fudge and feeling like I wanted to vomit on Main Street.
In one of my late night internet sojourns this week, I wound up reading all about the Walt Disney Imagineering unit of the Disneynasty (I made that word up, it’s a portmanteau of ‘Disney’ and ‘dynasty’ – do not Google this word if your safe search is not on). Disney’s Imagineers were responsible for Disney’s theme parks and attractions, and they were all about the show. They strived to create a movie-like experience for the patrons, which is something I particularly dig.
That’s probably what I love so much about the whole world of Disneyland – it’s the idea that an amazing amount of work has gone into creating a visually compelling and amazingly cinematic environment that captures you so profoundly that you are willing to spend $10 on a hot dog and buy not one but TWO hats with your name embroidered on them (speaking from personal experience here).
So it was only a matter of time until the rides that weren’t already based on Disney films were turned into movies. The most successful example of this is of course the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise that has so far earned $3 billion at the box office. That’s a lot of hot dogs! (I’m trying to make this my new catchphrase when I see a large amount of money. I think it’ll catch on.) All I remember about the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is that I was sitting next to a guy who I think was Norwegian, and at one point in the ride my leg brushed against his and his leg was practically hairless and noticeably smoother than mine. Such magical memories.
Unfortunately, such an adaptation probably wouldn’t fly in NZ given our lack of decent theme park attractions. No one wants to see a feature film based on the log flume at Rainbow’s End. Or perhaps a retelling of the biblical tale of Cain and Abel starring Rai and Bow, the two depressing mascots who are always hanging out at the arcade. Actually that’s a pretty good idea.
Okay, I’ll stop now. Here’s some of my favourite movie/ride crossovers.
Through my extensive Wikipedia research (my 7th form History would be so so proud) I was surprised to find that the Haunted Mansion had quite a lengthy back story. It turns out the idea for the ride was conceived well before Disneyland opened in 1955, but through a number of redevelopments the ride didn’t become a permanent feature until 1971.
The mansion was somewhat inspired by Walt Disney’s visit to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose built by the grieving widow of a rifle magnate from 1884 to her death in 1922. After her husband and infant daughter died, she visited a medium who told her that she had to build a house, and keep building it for the rest of her life or else heaps of ghosts would come and live with her. So this is where Sarah Winchester went from slightly crazy to batshit crazy – she built her house for 38 years, working in a number of design features that would confuse ghosts e.g. doors that led to nowhere, windows inside the house, trick staircases. You know, all those things ghosts get confused by. Because apparently that’s a thing. This is exactly the sort of weird story that Tim Burton is bound to make a movie about in the next couple of years (Helena Bonham Carter will play Sarah Winchester and Johnny Depp will play the house). There’s a really weird 1960s documentary narrated by Lillian Gish that you can watch about it here.
Anyway, back to the Haunted Mansion. A lot of the Imagineers had a go at developing the attraction, only to be bummed out by Walt because it wasn’t exactly right. After Walt died in 1966, the project finally got its groove back, and was changed from a regular walkthrough attraction to a kick ass ride. Its use of spectral effects like Pepper’s Ghost (google it), two way mirrors and trademark Disney Audio-Animatronics result in a genuinely spooky experience. I must admit, having developed a slight case of claustrophobia from being locked in closets by older brothers when I was young meant I did sort of freaked out when you’re initially ushered into a room WITH NO DOORS.
Like Pirates of The Caribbean, this is another ride-to-movie adaptation. I’ve only seen about half of the 2003 film The Haunted Mansion starring Eddie Murphy, but it looked pretty bad. Then again, I did watch half of it, so it mustn’t have been awful. It’s basically Beverly Hills Cop 4 where Axel Foley becomes a real estate agent. 2 stars.
BACK TO THE FUTURE: THE RIDE
Now, Disney aren’t the only ones who make a mean theme park attraction/movie crossover. Much like my trip to Disneyland, I can’t remember much about the day I visited Universal Studios – except for making a scene in a gift shop because apparently they don’t sell ANY Bates Motel merchandise anymore, all the while my friend pretended to look at ‘I Love Lucy’ memorabilia trying to look like she didn’t know me.
For me, the coolest sounding ride at Universal Studios was ‘Back to the Future: The Ride’. The concept of the ride came about after George Lucas showed his buddy Steven Spielberg the Disney ‘Star Tours’ ride (which by the way, kind of sucks shit). Lucas apparently claimed “Universal could never create rides as good Disney can” to which Spielberg replied “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!” and did a karate kick. (Okay, that second part isn’t true, but that’s how I like to play the scene out in my mind.)
The ride opened in 1991, and enjoyed success as one of the most popular attractions at Universal Studios. However as time went on, the ride presumably became outdated and it eventually closed in 2007, with Christopher Lloyd and Bob Gale beginning the countdown to the last ride (which by the way, seems like the most bleak occasion ever).
I managed to miss this ride by one year, but by all accounts it was the business. The ride was a motion simulator with a 70 ft Imax dome screen – basically an insanely good version of the Rainbow’s End Eta Ripples Motion Master. But instead of a seat you have a DELOREAN. And there are dinosaurs! Woooooooaaah!!!
The bare bones of the ride were transformed into the new Simpsons ride, which is still awesome, but not as cool. I wish Universal would keep some classic rides, instead of constantly reinventing them as really shit attractions. Like, why would you replace The E.T. Adventure with a rollercoaster about The Mummy? We all stopped watching that franchise after the second movie! Brendan Fraser probably didn’t even watch the third one, and he was in it! I am inappropriately angry about this!
THE TWILIGHT ZONE TOWER OF TERROR
Okay. So. This ride looks… so awesome.
The attraction was first opened in Florida at the Disney Hollywood Studios in 1994 (it seems like the 1990s were a really great time for theme parks) and it seems like your standard theme park ride. You’re strapped in, and dropped from a tall tower. Sounds pretty straightforward. Except what makes this ride seem so awesome is the amount of effort that has gone into making it feel like you’re actually in an episode of The Twilight Zone.
As far as I can tell, the premise of the ride is that you are directed into the lobby of an old ’30s-style hotel that looks like it’s been abandoned for years. There are suitcases left at the front desk, old newspapers, unfinished games of Scrabble in front of the fire and tea trolleys with uneaten biscuits or whatever they ate in the ’30s. Oh man, I just love little bits of ‘business’ like that; it’s probably why I love MOTAT ten times more than the average person.
You’re then ushered into the library, where an old TV tells you the spooky tale of how after a bolt of lightning hit the hotel in 1939, a whole wing of the hotel disappeared. Cue The Twilight Zone theme music. It seems that the Disney Imagineers have gone to great lengths to include small details and references to the original show that will please the most die hard Twilight Zone fans (cough, Dominic Corry, cough).
So tell me, what are your favourite movie-themed rides/ride-themed movies? What movie-themed rides are you desperate to see? What rides do you think could have the potential to be the next Pirates of the Caribbean? Do any wealthy Disney/Universal executives reading this want to pay for me to go test out their rides? FOR SCIENCE?!