Imagineering Factoid: Mission: Space

The Lunar Rover on display in the queue area is the real deal. It is on loan from the Smithsonian. It has not been on the moon, however. The rover used on the moon is still there.


Imagineering Factoid: Test Track

Test Track is 5,246 feet long. One mile is 5,280 feet. Test Track is just a hair under 1.6 kilometers.

Mission: Space– Hit

Mission: Space has welcomed guests at Epcot since 2003. The attraction sits on the site that used to house Horizons, a beloved ride showing optimistic visions of “the future.” When Disney announced the closure of Horizons, fans felt a collective pang. (Horizons had been relegated to being open only during the busiest of times before it closed for good.) When Horizons began to be torn down, it seemed as though many Epcot visitors had lost a dear friend. The fact that the building was to be demolished made it especially hard for some, but WDI determined it would not try to retrofit a building like it did with World of Motion. Lessons were learned and applied.

With so many loyal enthusiasts upset at the demise of Horizons, WDI was under pressure to create a fitting replacement. No “C ticket” attraction would do. This was going to require a full-bore E ticket experience.

Outer space has long captured the imagination of people, and Disney has capitalized on that over the years. From the Moonliner during Disneyland’s earliest days, to Mission to Mars and Space Mountain, Disney theme park guests could get a taste of what they could only dream about.

Well, not really. None of these attractions really came close to simulated space flight. Indeed, only the infamous “Vomit Comet” jet used to create zero-G could come close–and there is no way that experience would find its way into a Disney theme park. The cost of fuel on a daily basis would require admission prices out of this world.

With Mission: Space, though, Disney Imagineers have given guests a sampling of one experience known to every astronaut: G forces. Using a large centrifuge, WDI allows us to feel the weight as we are “placed” on our backs for lift off. We feel the large G forces during liftoff and encounters with the Moon and Mars. And, some even claim to feel a bit of weightlessness at times during the ride.

For some, the attraction is just another thrill ride. On the other hand, WDI has brought its trademark storytelling to this show. As an astronaut trainee, you play a specific role in the mission, depending on which seat you end up in. No more passive I’m-just-an-audience-member experiences, WDI’s Imagineers are going to make you work. Okay, so your work is managing to reach up and press a button at the right time, but this still brings the kind of active engagement that we typically don’t see in attraction design. (In some instances, such as the new Spaceship Earth, it is better left out.)

Epcot’s original purpose, to inspire ideas about the future, was probably better represented by Horizons. Nevertheless, this hit from WDI is exciting enough to inspire kids of all ages to look more into space exploration.

Frontierland Shootin’ Gallery—behind the scenes

Imagineering Disney has a great look behind the scenes at the Frontierland Shootin’ Gallery. These sorts of articles are always worth reading, and Imagineering Disney is a great source of them.

Imagineering depth

Walt Disney Imagineering enjoys a reputation as some of the most creative, cleverest people around. While much of WDI’s greatest works take the form of entire theme parks, there are plenty of instances that showcase WDI’s magic.

Take, for example, the smallest little effect you can observe at Disneyland. If you’re at the Disneyland Rail Road New Orleans Square station, and it’s a bit quiet, you can hear the sounds of a gathering going on. The sounds come from a window on an “apartment” in New Orleans Square. You can find a similar instance of this “sound imagineering” on Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland. Halfway toward the hub, on the right, is a short extension off of the street. Go all the way to the end and you’ll hear the sounds of a hotel guest or two.

These effects are not hard to do, and they don’t blow your mind. They do, however, add a certain depth to the theme park, a little hint of magic. You’d never really miss them if they were never there, but when they are there, your mind quietly takes notice. And that’s what makes these effects so cool.

Miss: Tarzan’s Treehouse

Before being revised and renamed as Tarzan’s Treehouse, this Disneyland attraction was known for decades as the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. Why do I call this attraction a miss? In a nutshell, it is based on a forgettable Disney animated film. I know, I know–people don’t remember Swiss Family Robinson, either. But the original attraction perhaps inspired guests to look into some classic Disney history and learn a bit more about the film. With “Tarzan’s Treehouse,” well, most people will remember that it was a film from the late 1990s. It’s doubtful the attraction will inspire anyone to go look up more about the film.

It’s unfortunate Disney took the easy way out and used its animated film to inspire the revision to the attraction. If Disney felt that Swiss Family Robinson was no longer relevant, why not create something completely new? Come up with an original story and draw guests in. If you have to use a film, pick one of the beloved ones, not the latest “hit” that will be a second-tier film in Disney animation history.

Anyone want to defend Tarzan’s Treehouse and persuade me that I’m wrong? 🙂

Imagineering: a definition

I•mag•i•neer’•ing (i-maj’e-nir’ing) n. 1a. a blend of creative imagination and technical know-how. 1b. Such combination utilized in creation, usually of Disney theme parks & attractions. See Disneyland (CA), Walt Disney World Resort (FL), Tokyo Disneyland (Japan), or Euro Disneyland (France). [ME imaginer < OFr. Imagineor < Lat Imaginaritor < Imagenium, design skill.]

Although this definition that once appeared on WDI merchandise is now outdated with the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland, it’s still one of my favorite definitions.