When we first heard about a Guardians of the Galaxy overlay for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, most thought the idea to be contrived. How does that even make sense? Honestly, I was in that group, but then the announcement came out and Disney did a pretty good job creating a concept that might actually make more sense than the Tower of Terror at California Adventure ever did. Now, before you starting throwing rotten fruit at your computer screen, let me explain…
When California Adventure opened to the public in 2001, it was a complete failure. Attendance projections were missed by 5 digit numbers, restaurants were closed, attractions made “seasonally operational” and the Electrical Parade rushed back to try to save the first summer of the park’s existence. Leading up to the massive 50th anniversary celebration of the Disneyland Resort, Disney made a budget-conscious decision to save the park with just one attraction – The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. It saved the Disney-MGM Studios, right? Wrong.
Disney-MGM Studios was developed as a half-day experience consisting primarily of a tour and a handful of shows and other attractions, but it burst through the gates in May 1989 and broke all expected attendance projections at the time. More attractions were developed to meet the demand being placed on the park, and Tower of Terror was the culmination of a 5-year expansion plan. In a very short amount of time after opening in 1994, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror became one-of, if not THE headlining attraction in Orlando. With this reputation, it seemed like a clone could easily save California Adventure. It didn’t.
While attendance did rise when the Tower of Terror opened in California, it again was not near any projections made internally by the Walt Disney Company. It didn’t do the trick, and so Bob Iger approved a massive overhaul of the park in the years that followed, which finally did fix the park. Historically, it would be hard to attribute the park’s later success to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. While it certainly wasn’t a bad idea, the execution was not near the level of the original and the level of care from most guests showed it. No self-respecting Disney fan clamored for Tower of Terror at DCA, but it did well enough in Southern California with a steady diet of thrill-seeking everyday guests.
Disney claimed they didn’t have the space to build the Florida version of the ride in California (meanwhile, the land around the Tower will now become a MARVEL themed area in the years to come). The architectural design in California is less menacing and the queue was significantly shorter outside, leaving none of the build-up to the interior queue that guests enjoy at Hollywood Studios. Inside, a boiler room multiple stories tall somehow made for a new load area, even though it made little sense that a boiler room would be so tall and clearly go so high up into the main hotel building. Besides that, when the elevator does arrive, the doors don’t even open to the elevator, they open to a strange in-between hallway that surely does not exist for any real elevator. Only once passing through elevator doors into this hallway can guests then board the actual elevator, which begins the ride by going backwards, not up and down like the real thing. Rather than an ominous build-up to the elevator lunging forward through the 5th dimension, this version of the ride simply tried to take guests into the main portion of the ride as cheaply as possible, cutting away the 5th dimension scene and a separate unload area for elevators. While the California attraction did have a unique mirror effect to showcase, it otherwise lacked randomized drop sequences and most of the elements which made the attraction in Florida an instant classic. It also features an exit hallway which is pretty much the least-themed portion of any Disney theme park attraction ever conceived. In my opinion, it was a disgrace to the original that lacked any of the effort and ingenuity employed in 1994 to make something the likes of which the theme park world has never experienced before. It was a cheap knock-off intended to be a temporary band-aid.
Clearly, there is no way to add the missing elements from Walt Disney World after the fact, so why not keep what works and reinvent the rest? Why not put a powerhouse franchise in to anchor all of the MARVEL additions on the way?
Joe Rohde is the Imagineer in charge of all of the MARVEL projects for the Disney Parks and he is man with a resume few can ever aspire to assemble. With Joe at the helm, I have great faith that Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout will be a huge success (despite its rather lackluster name). The elevators that begin their journey by going backwards are far better suited for a life as a containment unit for the valuable assets of The Collector, and the concept art showcased thus far appears to be as enthralling as the Twilight Zone material ever was.
Guardians of the Galaxy do not belong in Epcot and they sure as hell should never replace the original Tower of Terror, but this Disneyland Resort overlay is likely the right move to fix the inferior Tower and to begin the MARVEL themed land at California Adventure. Hollywood Land is a disaster of an area, doing little to further the grandeur and ingenious design of the nearby Buena Vista Street, but this new direction could finally be the answer to the problematic former Hollywood Pictures Backlot area which has struggled to keep up withe the rest of the park in its expansion era. Those who claim that the Guardians attraction will ruin the area should probably evaluate what it looks like today. Most of the facades are hollow, the animation building does little to evoke 1930’s Hollywood, and underneath a nighttime party setup lies a cobbled together collection of items that still just don’t work together in harmony. It’s the one section of the park that is a unmitigated disaster.
Let the hate mail flow, but I refuse to live in a world where the California Adventure of Tower of Terror is spoken of in the same breath as the Hollywood Studios original, or even Ellen’s Energy Adventure for that matter. It isn’t good, it never was good, but it can be good. If you want to see the Tower of Terror, just come to Orlando. We here in central Florida have to travel cross-country for the Indiana Jones Adventure and Cars Land, you can certainly hop on a plane to visit the Twilight Zone in our neck of the woods if you wish. Please, drop in anytime.