This Just In: The Future of California’s Tower of Terror
I know you’ve all heard it by now. The months of rumors were confirmed amidst boos at the SDCC: Disney is replacing the DCA version of the Tower of Terror with a Guardians of the Galaxy overlay. They plan to have the changes done by the summer of 2017. I’m going to state upfront, that I’m am glad that Disney is finally going to use Marvel more, but I also have to say this: I am not impressed with the how at all. I know, I seem to be against a lot of Disney’s big change announcements, but there is a trend in the US based parks that is more than a bit alarming.
Disneyland isn’t a random assortment of fast passed rides and thrills. It’s a finely choreographed choose your own adventure type story laid out for the guests to explore as they wish. And in a park where story is the focus, the theming used to tell the story is vital. Not important, vital. When you undermine the theme you start to degrade the story. Once you damage the story, you bring the Disney parks down to the level of, well, all the other parks that came after it. And many of the recent changes are doing just that.
I’ll start my examples with the announcement that Norway was getting Frozen. I wrote about why I though this was a bad idea two years ago, mostly in regards to theming and respecting both the story of Epcot and the story of Frozen and the fact that while Arendale is based off of Norway, it is a fictional nation set in a fairy tale land. Fictional lands don’t fit with the rest of the real world countries of the World Showcase. But the ride was build anyway.
Skip ahead to the part where Disney announces that they are tearing down a section of Walt’s Frontierland to put up Star Wars. Why was that one bad? Because and tearing out a portion of a land definitely breaks the theme. Please don’t misunderstand me, I think adding Star Wars to Disneyland is fantastic, but thematically it makes more sense to add it in closer to Tomorrowland. I’ll give Disney the benefit of the doubt on this one though, since most of their open space bordered Frontierland and the only way to link the new land to Tomorrowland would be to cut out Toon Town or cut into Fantasyland. None of those decisions were ideal so they really just chose the lesser evil by cutting apart Frontierland.
Now we come to the most recent announcement about DCA.
Disney’s California Adventure is a celebration of the state where Hollywood found its home and where Disneyland was born. The theme is reflected in the old Hollywood Tower Hotel representing the by gone golden days of Hollywoodland. It carries over to the classic pier and Grizzly Peak. And while there have been big changes made over the past few years, for the most part each change still fit into that overall theme of the park. Radiator Springs is located along the historic Route 66, which ends in: California. The Muppets once dreamed of heading to Hollywood; in California. The stage shows in the park take place in the Hyperion Theater, in California. Even the Toy Story rides fit since they played off of the old Midways of California’s coastline. For the most part, each new ride in the park made sense thematically. But this year logic seems to have been thrown out the window.
The first recent thematic slip up was changing Soarin’ over California to Soarin’ over the World. Now as a Walt Disney Worlder I can understand changing Epcot’s version of the ride to an internationally themed flight experience, after all half of the park is comprised of the World Showcase. I was sad to see it go, but the California version was better off in California, until it was replaced there as well. Why? I have no idea. The new version ride no longer makes any sense in its space, which breaks the DCA theme. And Walt was so adamant about not breaking the illusions set up by the theming of his park that he build a berm around the property and forbid his own cast members from leaving their designated areas while in costume. You don’t mess with the theme.
Sticking the Collectors museum in the Middle of the Hollywood portion of the California Adventure Park is messing with the theme.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that Disney is planning on creating a Marvel themed land for the California Adventure Park. Disney should leverage the Marvel IP into Disneyland somehow. In fact, they should have begun adding experiences to the parks as soon as they bought the franchises. Part of this is because Universal owns the rights to theme park representation east of the Mississippi in a contract that predated Disney’s Sale. However, there is a caveat that most people don’t know about: Disney can use any part of the Marvel Franchise that Universal didn’t already have in development before the sale. And I’m pretty sure that Universal wasn’t interested in the Guardians prior to 2010. Why? Because very few people other than the most diehard of Marvel fans even knew they existed. So Disney has had more than enough time to plan their expansion, they had more than enough time to start working on things before they even bought Star Wars. They’ve taken so much time to make sure they had something that fans would like that they now find themselves having to play catch up with the popularity of their own films. Which explains the time window for the new ride.
The Guardians of the Galaxy was a fun stroll through the stars with a cast of characters who went from relatively unknown even among Marvel fans to becoming an integral part of the MCU practically overnight. And with a new movie coming in 2017 it makes sense for Disney to try to being Star Lord and his gang of misfits into the park. But this overlay will take a grand total of 3 months. Considering how many problems Soaring over the World and Epcot’s Frozen creation have encountered after even longer planning and installation periods, this time window doesn’t bode well for the Guardians. So while Disney needs to start using what they have, that doesn’t mean that they should be lazy about it. Overlays rarely give the Story and characters added the respect they deserve.
Whenever Disney announces an overlay it usually means that they realize that a ride no longer works. It also means that they don’t want to waste the time and effort they put into the ride mechanics in the first place. As thrifty as that sounds the end results are usually forced and awkward or downright awful. Case in point: when Disney finally realized that Alien Encounter was a bad fit for the Magic Kingdom they decided to replace the ride with the closest fit they could: Stitch. So rather than give Stitch a ride that would put the character in his best light, they changed his story to fit the parameters of Alien resulting in a ride that is in many peoples opinion the worst ride in the Magic Kingdom and quite possibly the worst ride in all of Walt Disney World. In this case it’s not that the ride they have isn’t working, but rather than they need something thrilling to start off the Marvel experience and the Tower of Terror is convenient. As I’ve had it pointed out to me, Disney doesn’t own the Twilight Zone so this would cover two issues with one overlay. But taking a shortcut to save a buck (or make a quicker one) was never the Disney way when Walt was around. If it was Disneyland wouldn’t have been built in the first place. I’d rather Disney waited until they were ready to start on the Marvel Expansion to give us a Guardians of the Galaxy ride instead of rushing to catch the cash wave off of the next movie.
And they definitely shouldn’t add Marvel in at the expense of an extremely popular, and thematically important ride. I’ve heard the arguments on this end as well: The Californian version of Tower of Terror isn’t as good as Florida’s so it doesn’t really matter if they change it’. Well, WDW’s version of Small World, Peter Pan and Pirates aren’t as good as Disneyland’s, but that doesn’t mean they should be replaced. There’s also the fact that the Tower of Terror is the thematic counterpoint of the California Adventure much like Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is to Disneyland or Spaceship Earth is to Epcot. Instead of adding outer space to California, the Marvel expansion could be thematically tied to the park by building Tony Stark’s Malibu mansion at the entrance of the land. The imagineers could use Iron Man’s position in the Marvel Universe and his unique grasp on science to explanation how you could go to, say, outer space to see the Guardians. That would give the future Marvel expansion some legitimacy while maintaining the integrity of Park itself. Marvel is older than Star Wars, and while the modern Marvel brand was founded in 1961, the company was born in 1939, making it older than Disneyland. I think that kind of history deserves a little more respect than an overlay of an existing ride in a place that’s a bad fit.
And then there’s the fact that this announcement has already sparked outrage across the social media sphere. The petition that was started 3 months ago when the rumors broke has gained thousands of signatures in a matter of hours. Tower of Terror is trending and I’ve seen two positive tweets the whole night. Pass holders are threatening to stop going to the parks. (You can find that reaction in the comments section of the petition!). So don’t be fooled by the positive response on the Disney Blogs, they are notorious for scrubbing out anything less than neutral responses at best. So once again fans of Disney find themselves facing a corporate decision that they do not like. And once again fans find themselves wondering what they can do about it.
From a financial standpoint this whole overlay business seems sound: using the Guardians wouldn’t put a Disney ride in direct competition with a Universal counterpart. And making an overlay is cost effective. And, as I’ve had it pointed out to me, Disney doesn’t own the Twilight Zone. But taking a shortcut to save a buck is was never the Disney way when Walt was around. If it was Disneyland wouldn’t have been built in the first place. Oh, and remember what I said about the Universal – Marvel contract only covering characters they already were planning to use? Sorry to say it, but if Disney goes ahead and changes the Tower in DCA, they could make a legal case for doing the same in Hollywood Studios. And isn’t that a terrifying thought for everyone who said ‘Well at least it isn’t my Tower’. Just wait. It could be.
I think I’ll end this theme park update with the Worlds of Walt Disney himself: “To all who come to this happy place; welcome. Disneyland is your land.”
That should count for something, don’t you think?
Petition for the Tower of Terror: https://www.change.org/p/the-walt-disney-company-save-the-tower-of-terror