DCA, Monsters and Tron, oh my! Ruminations on the Disney park rumors

In his recent MiceAge article, Al Lutz staked down a few recent rumors about new rides and land overhauls suspected to be in the works for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in an attempt to clarify the buzz from the b.s. concerning the Anaheim resort’s park stats. I recommend reading what Al had to say first then my proposals on the subject will make more sense in context of the rumored park plans.

Radiator Springs Racers attraction has made DCA outdraw guests over Disneyland for the first time. What changes will this inspire for both parks? Photo c. Disney. All rights reserved.

The first data that stands out is how DCA is now outselling Disneyland in ticket sales, thanks largely to the overwhelming popularity of Cars Land now that Radiator Springs Racers has taken the fast track to theme park success. This isn’t surprising given that the Disney/Pixar CARS franchise is aimed directly at kids via feature films, media spinoffs and popular toy  merchandise both cute and vehicular to attract boys and girls from a character perspective. While two of the three Cars Land rides are tame and youngster-friendly, Radiator Springs Racers easily (and overwhelmingly) attracts thrill-seekers and speed demons of all ages. It is this appeal to the broadest Disney demographic that helped launch DCA’s 12-acre addition into the Fast Pass stratosphere and record attendance numbers (not to mention very long queue lines when FPs sell out in the morning).

Now that the ticket sales script has flipped at the Anaheim resort, Disney’s Imagineers and park-running executives have an unprecedented quandary on their four-fingered mouse hands: how do they expand ride capacity in both parks to keep ticket buyers and tourists happy without sacrificing capacity during builds in both halves of the resort? DCA needs at least one new E-Ticket level attraction to ease congestion caused by those flocking to the big hit in Cars Land, while Disneyland faces the unprecedented task of handling DCA’s crowd overflow during peak attendance seasons and really needs some new ‘weenies’ of its own to draw in those throngs seeking the newest and best Disney has to offer. Boy, have times changed in Anaheim when DCA is leading the charge for tickets sales — and undoubtedly higher ticket prices. I nearly had an aneurism when I saw the latest price for an Annual Pass, but we’ll let that go for now.

In his article, Lutz laid out his projected course for WDI’s masterful planners today and it all seems reasonable, though I can’t help but ask about some new Disney-brand stars that don’t appear as potential fits for the proposed future of Anaheim parks. I’ll tackle these issues one by one with my own speculation as an alternative view to the shape of things to come at the Disneyland Resort:

Mike, Sully and Boo take a wild ride through an endless warehouse of closet doors in MONSTERS INC. Might this scene inspire a Door Coaster ride in DCA? Photo: c. Disney/Pixar. All rights reserved.The first rumor reported, a new MONSTERS INC. attraction and area re-theming, appears to be the most likely to proceed and who can argue with the franchise’s success with the sequel MONSTERS UNIVERSITY lurking ahead this summer? The Door Coaster ride concept, originally designed for and shoved back into the closet by Walt Disney World park execs, is quite a natural fit to transplant into the outdated Muppet Vision show in DCA’s quirky corner pocket, Hollywood Land. The Door Coaster attraction could neatly drop into Muppet Vision’s park footprint and become the new neighbor to the Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sully to the Rescue dark ride as co-anchors of a new Monstropolis district of Hollywood Land, if not a mini-land of its own. This plan surely packs a one-two punch of youth and all-age attractions just as Cars Land offers, and Disneyphiles might agree in large numbers than a unified Monstropolis theme would help spiff up the otherwise hodgepodge theme design and park-feel of the Hollywood Land cul-de-sac. Beyond the imposing edifice of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in this area, the number of crowd-drawing thrills drops just as quickly as that ghostly elevator ride. I’m calling this concept proposal a no-brainer in that half of the needed design work is done for the Door Coaster, and a fully rendered redesign of that area into Monstropolis (including tearing off that cheap, flat facade disguising the Mike & Sully show building) would offer much needed visual unity in the area.

MiceAge next addressed Disneyland’s perennial sticking point of themed incongruity and conflicting franchise brands, Tomorrowland, and a rumor that (at last) WDI might download some TRON ride programming into Walt’s original park. The rumored addition: a TRON LightCycle ride utilizing the abandoned tracks for the mechanically-bedeviled Rocket Rods which were altered from the land’s venerable PeopleMover ride system above Tomorrowland.

TRON LEGACY concept art showing the next-gen LightCycle designs for the feature film. Could a similar racing vehicle ride rez up in Tomorrowland soon?  Photo c. Disney. All rights reserved.While a TRON theme fits Tomorrowland like one of Daft Punk‘s gleaming gloves, Disney has rather missed the optimal window of opportunity to exploit its 2010 high-profile franchise reboot TRON LEGACY. Three years ago, Disney park execs were more concerned with filling DCA’s lagging ticket sales quotas, so they devised ElecTRONica to fill then-named Hollywood Pictures Backlot (further proof of this land’s ongoing identity crisis) with music, dance and laser-illuminated entertainment mostly for adults seeking a club-style experience with touches of TRON futurism. It was kind of cool but never built to last, and true TRON devotees would likely have preferred to see Flynn’s Arcade replace Tomorrowland’s Starcade video game venue as a permanent tribute to Disney’s digital story rather than it be game over in DCA permanently. I’ve always felt that DCA got what Disneyland needed in a TRON attraction back when movie audiences were re-geeked about the franchise, and yet the concept was never fully or seriously exploited — despite the fact that ElecTRONica lived a full year beyond its intended lifespan at DCA due to its popularity as a unique night event.  The experience drew crowds but there was no true attraction to exploit that popularity on a continuing basis.

Tomorrowland has always seemed the rightful home to anything TRON-inspired, but is it too late to retheme all of Tomorrowland in its digital glowing guise even if a TRON LEGACY sequel is already in the works? In practical attraction terms, can Imagineers actually turn those dusty, dismal Rocket Rods tracks into a consistently operating ride delivering anything resembling LightCycle thrills that is worth such long queue wait times?  Disney built Rocket Rods on the cheap and failed to redesign banking curves on the old PeopleMover tracks to facilitate high-speed turns, resulting in a frustrating series of rocket car sprints that slowed to a crawl on the flat corners. Worse, the ride was terribly short even at those reduced speeds, a dismal contrast to the huge lines guests endured to even get on the ride when it was working correctly. There is no mystery why Rocket Rods flamed out after a short two years in Tomorrowland, and that notable failure still looms over the land as a literal road to nowhere, a daily reminder to park fans of what could and should have been built instead. Not exactly a message for tomorrow that Disney Imagineers wanted to project, I’m sure.

So, even with a massive overhaul of the entire track system using Shanghai park ride technology, its installation would hamper several other attractions in the land during construction which could only lower Tomorrowland capacity during the refit. Could a TRON racing ride offer anything beyond more headaches in the short term? That’s assuming these entirely new ride mechanics could finally turn those forlorn lanes in the sky into a true thrill attraction every single TRON fan expects upon hearing about the concept! It’s no small order at all.

TRON LEGACY concept art for the LightRunner, a car-style passenger vehicle with off-grid racing ability. Might this higher-capacity vehicle design facilitate a TRON ride in Tomorrowland? Photo c. Disney. All rights reserved.Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a true LightCycle racing ride in, above and through Tomorrowland in the slickest style possible. How freaking cool would it be to see glowing LightCycles buzzing around Tomorrowland at night?  But getting past the demands of ride capacity requirements would almost certainly eliminate the single-rider aspect of the LightCycle design, and a higher-capacity LightRunner car type of vehicle traveling at high speed only complicates the refit of elevated track system running down the middle of the land’s walkway. Can Imagineers solve these all problems and deliver a stunning new TRON-based attraction?  I have no doubt they could. Will Disneyland park execs have the will to see this done at considerable cost and potentially significant downtime for Tomorrowland attractions to make it happen?  I’m much less sure about that, especially when pressure already exists for Disneyland to take on some of DCA’s guest overflow at peak attendance times.

Making matters worse, Disneyland is already looking ahead to its 60th anniversary celebration in 2015 which is precisely the worst time to go tearing up an entire land unless merchandisers plan to sell a commemorative set of “Under Construction” collectible pins.  This unavoidable deadline means construction of any such TRON-based addition to Tomorrowland would likely have to wait until 2016 at the earliest, then add at least two years more before it opens for riders, which puts it off until 2018!  An opening date like that once again misses the promotional boat for a TRON 3 film, as of now tentatively set for a 2014 theatrical release.  Granted, at least Imagineers would have an entire TRON trilogy to draw from by 2016, but the timing from feature film to park presence would still be off by more than a few processor cycles to say the least.

Ay, but here’s the real rub: Disney now owns Marvel, and the sheer mass of superheroic hits generated in the exploding film franchises (plural!) can’t sit on the shelf forever before fans want to see Iron Man and the Avengers in a Disney park near them. One could easily argue that there’s enough material in the Marvel universe to tap for an entirely new theme park of its own, but is that where Disney intends to start exploiting Marvel’s superstars or will they want to introduce them into their existing parks first? Again, Disneyland’s Tomorrowland seems the perfect home base for Marvel to land both in thematic design and franchise storytelling terms. T-land already suffers from being a disjointed collection of licensed brands from TOY STORY to FINDING NEMO to STAR WARS and that can’t be resolved without massive changes, so why not throw in some Marvel heroes too?  Oh, by the way, Disney now owns STAR WARS as well! Star Tours being a natural launching pad for a STAR WARS-themed Tomorrowland is an idea I’ve been proposing for years now, but we’ll leave that Jedi mind trick for later discussion.

Marvel's IRON MAN 3. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Ph: Film Frame. © 2012 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2012 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.Could Imagineers repurpose ye olde and miserable Rocket Rods for some Iron Man-themed attraction that ‘suits up’ park guests in some Stark Industries’ repulsor-powered technology that has them roaring around and above Tomorrowland in a way Walt could never have envisioned when America’s collective imagination was focused on the Space Race?  IRON MAN 2 already drew the direct parallel between Tony’s father Howard Stark and Walt Disney as a pair of genius innovators, so let’s complete the connection in Tomorrowland where both men would have seen eye to eye in the past! Why not transform Innoventions into Stark Industries West, fill it with Tony’s Iron Man Hall of Armor and other real world scientific tie-ins to truly inspire young minds about technology through the Marvel universe?

Stark’s metallic alter ego is a perfect gateway introduction to advanced robotics, engineering, transportation and communications all bundled up with a storyline that inspires imaginative thrills and fantasy action that have already earned a few billions dollars in box office receipts. Let’s feed some of that cash flow through Disneyland’s front gate and use some superhero power to show park guests that billionaire playboys aren’t the only people who can have some high-tech fun — especially in the real world where today’s students are staying away from math and sciences in droves (when their school curriculum isn’t being slashed to the bone by budget cuts).

Disney rides have inspired children around the world to imagine being pirates, explorers, archeologists and space pilots, so why not add Tony Stark-style industrialist and aerospace engineer to that list of aspirations, launched from the heart of Walt’s own magical kingdom?  Having purchased Marvel in 2009, Disney already has the attention of millions of kids thanks to this unprecedented collection of exciting characters. Now it’s time to apply that advantage to inspire those malleable minds in a positive way that benefits both guests and our troubled Tomorrowland beyond just E-Ticket thrills and spills. Let’s make Tomorrowland about tomorrow again in a way that uses hit movies as a springboard to loftier dreams guests might experience outside the park.

One sheet poster for THE AVENGERS. © 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.Then again, Disney is now faced with the same ticking clock on Marvel-based film franchises that it encounters struggling to incorporate TRON into its parks. While Disney is relatively new to the Marvel movie business in terms of outright ownership, Marvel Studios has been cranking out megahit films since IRON MAN in 2008, though films based on their other characters date back to 1998’s BLADE and 2002’s SPIDER-MAN in theaters. Sticking to characters Disney can currently access from the Marvel stable, five more superhero films have burst into theaters since 2008 plus IRON MAN 3 and THOR: THE DARK WORLD set to arrive in 2013, and then four more films in the pipeline for the next two years. That makes a total of 15 feature films out in theaters and perhaps all on home entertainment discs before Disney Imagineers can even begin to design and build attractions based on those titles!  Quite the backlog of movie material in Disney’s pockets and not one ride or attraction to show for it yet. It’s a safe bet that Robert Downey Jr. won’t keep suiting up as IRON MAN forever and other stars may soon fulfill their AVENGERS-franchise contracts too. The clock is indeed counting down on Disney to put these icons into their parks before Marvel’s film phases one and two are both completed. Will Marvel/Disney keep making these films?  Of course! But Disney dares not risk waiting too long to install Iron Man, Captain America or Thor into park rides and shows lest they become too timeworn and familiar to audiences who want that film-to-ride transition struck while Mjolnir is still hot.

Certainly devising a new park or parks to fully exploit the Marvel universe is the least troublesome way for Disney to go since design and construction won’t interfere with existing park operations. Indeed even small additions like those discussed for DCA and Disneyland above create logistical problems for the two SoCal parks which need both more capacity and more rides to devour their crowds simultaneously — a devilish development paradox for Imagineers and park runners. Even so, such a new Marvel-based park (just like a new STAR WARS park) would only draw ticket-buying guests away from DCA and Disneyland, assuming the Mouse could even buy more land in Southern California to base them here. Unless Bob Iger and team have secret plans to snatch up crowded acres in Anaheim (at insane cost) to forge some larger Disneyland Resort a la Walt Disney World, such a new Marvel park would have to exist separately which would only divide Disney park goers instead of collecting them all in the one-resort master plan. Such a plan couldn’t even be realized within a decade anyway, so the only feasible and relatively timely way to add Marvel magic to Disney’s kingdoms in California has to be installing rides and attractions piecemeal into DCA and Disneyland before the entire Marvel parade passes the parks by completely.

Marvel's IRON MAN 3.Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Ph: Film Frame. © 2012 MVLFFLLC.  TM & © 2012 Marvel.  All Rights Reserved.Disneyland faces tougher land area issues for expansion than does DCA, which implies any new rides will have to be swapped out of Disneyland in a one-for-one trade. A TRON racing ride forcing significant re-engineering of the Rocket Rods ruins would likely be the only way to earn a net gain in Tomorrowland attractions since it would fill an existing dead space. Such additions might be small in scale compared to a new Marvel-based park, but a couple Marvel attractions could provide a big boost to Disneyland’s attendance and draw crowds away from peak-season packed DCA to alleviate its own guest congestion. Marvel rides would certainly prove a bigger crowd attractor than a TRON racing ride, even if TRON is a homegrown Disney concept.  Certainly none will complain if an Iron Man attraction bursts onto Tomorrowland’s scene since audiences have proven their insatiable appetite for all things AVENGERS by now, and Stark Industries providing some truly futuristic visions in the land speaks back to Walt’s original intentions for Tomorrowland as much it looks ahead to Disney’s own future as a media titan. As much as I like and enjoy the TRON universe, it just can’t compete in global pop consciousness compared to what Marvel properties have already achieved, and Marvel’s future impact on Disney park attractions (specifically in Disneyland) could only be measured on the Richter scale.

The proposed MONSTERS INC rides and retrofits in DCA seem quite logical and mostly free of logistical problems, so I’ll consider them a slam dunk if green lit. Disneyland and its impending 60th anniversary celebrations are quite another matter, likely restricting any large scale ride construction until after summer of 2016. But that doesn’t mean Imagineers should put any new TRON or Marvel-based rides on the back burner since DCA’s capacity issues cannot wait to be addressed. Smaller scale additions to Disneyland like anniversary shows or parades might meet the crowd-drawing goals in the short term, but eventually the executives will have to green light some major attraction builds to reverse the tide of guests flowing out of Disneyland into DCA for the sake of both parks.

I see an opportunity for replacements at Innoventions and the defunct Rocket Rods as the TRON/Marvel double bonus that Tomorrowland so desperately needs to reverse those poor guest ratings and reclaim the area as a home for cutting edge entertainment of the future. Disney sure gave itself a lucky break when buying Lucasfilm and reviving the STAR WARS franchise with a new trilogy: it backs up their reinvestment in Star Tours quite powerfully, keeping that recently spiffed up attraction relevant in Disneyland for another decade at least with new trilogy destinations ready to pop into the ride’s touring menu. Thank the Maker, a smart move that enhances Disney’s prowess in both theaters and theme parks simultaneously. Now let’s see those smarts applied to utilizing TRON or Marvel with such Jedi-like wisdom, and refresh Disneyland’s power supply with some hybrid technology from those franchises-in-waiting!

Sure Universal has befriended Harry Potter, but Disney has a Hulk. Hulk SMASH!

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5 thoughts on “DCA, Monsters and Tron, oh my! Ruminations on the Disney park rumors

  1. Pingback: Full slate of STAR WARS through 2019: plenty of theme park fodder, this offers | Scott Weitz Show Creations

  2. Pingback: Full slate of STAR WARS through 2019: a powerful force in theme park futures | Scott Weitz Show Creations

  3. How is the theme of Monsters fit in with Hollywoodland – outside the fact that it is now two movies. No sir, Monsters do not belong in DCA – Place them between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland where they would better fit!

  4. Brian, MONSTERS INC. fits in with Hollywoodland because Disney put it there in by installing the Mike & Sulley To the Rescue dark ride in 2006. It was their idea, not mine — and few seem to have complained about it belonging since then. The door coaster ride would fit in neatly next to the existing Monsters attraction thematically, but more importantly if it takes over the Muppets*3D show space, Disney can repurpose that real estate without crowding out anything else in either park. That might be a hard bargain for Disney to pass up AND gain a new thrill attraction at DCA to occupy the overflow from Cars Land too.

    • I think Mike & Sully was a quick fix to an attraction that was REALLY bad, Superstar Limo – but That doesn’t mean Monsters belongs thematically in Hollywoodland. At least The Muppets are “actors” that are always putting on a show, I can see how they can fit into Hollywoodland.

      What would be even better would be a Pirates / Mansion / Manor type attraction not based on any particular movie, but on the theme of 1930’s/40’s Hollywood – and NOT a replica of The Great Movie Ride.

      …and why is the Great Movie Ride called a “ride”? – I thought Disney made “attractions”. Oh well…

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