Recently, rumors claimed that Disney World’s beloved “Tower of Terror” might soon undergo a complete transformation into a different ride. Coming only a few years after the remodel of Disneyland’s “Tower of Terror” into a “Guardians of the Galaxy” ride, this rumor about the original “Terror” attraction was believable yet saddening to some Disney Park fans. However, while many Disneyland fans were sad to see that version of the ride leave in 2017, the replacement ride was met with positive reviews.
During a time when the Disney theme parks are continuing to expand while replacing some of their classic and most iconic rides, the stories and legacies of the theme park attractions are becoming more important than the rides themselves.
Past and Future Memories
The rides you grew up enjoying may not be the childhood rides of future Disney Park visitors. While this concept may sound absurd to some, it’s a positive indication of the ever-changing nature of Disney as a whole.
For many people who have visited a Disney park, the experience likely holds a special place in their hearts. The moments of hopping on fairy-tale rides and witnessing one’s favorite characters in real life are shared fond memories for those who had a magical day in the parks during their youth. Visiting one of the parks can be fun as an adult as well, even when the realities of paying and planning for the trip become more apparent.
If you’ve ever fondly looked back on a theme park experience, you have likely reminisced about your favorite location or attraction and hoped that others could find a similar joy when given the chance. While this cannot always be the case for every visitor, Disney is now actively trying to bring this experience to more people.
Attractions such as “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “It’s a Small World” and “Jungle Cruise” are rides most visitors can enjoy, featuring a full experience with no outside knowledge of the storyline needed to absorb the fun. Similarly, rides like “Peter Pan’s Flight” and “Dumbo the Flying Elephant” also tell a sort of story throughout, though they are perhaps more entertaining to those familiar with the corresponding animated films.
The aforementioned rides have also been part of the Disney Parks for decades and are unlikely to go away anytime soon. Despite updates and changes to some of these rides over the years, such as the recent decision to redo a section of “Jungle Cruise” due to its inclusion of harmful stereotypes, these rides are widely recognized as Disney Park classics.
What happens to classic yet outdated rides? Should they be removed, even if some older fans believe they deserve to stay for the sake of nostalgia?
The Changing Industry
Ever since Disneyland’s opening in 1955, the Disney parks have been constantly changing and expanding. Every year, it seems, new rides open up in every Disney Park location. However, not every new ride is welcomed with open minds. Though the replacement of Disneyland’s “Tower of Terror” with “Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!” was not well received before the ride’s 2017 opening, it has since become a massive hit with guests of the California park.
Was it ever a big deal to replace “Tower of Terror,” or was it just a passing feeling of anger? Based on the ride’s history, perhaps the audiences overreacted.
Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, originally called Disney-MGM Studios, opened in 1989 as a theme park inspired by show business but was not expected to gain the amount of popularity it has since amassed. As the park expanded over the next five years, the “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” ride was added in 1994 and quickly became one of the park’s most iconic attractions. The ride was inspired by Rod Sterling’s “The Twilight Zone (1959)” and is an accelerated drop ride set in the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel.
Though a second “Tower of Terror” was introduced to Disneyland in 2004, the ride failed in comparison due to its lack of “most of the elements which made the attraction in Florida an instant classic,” according to Disney reporter Tom Corless. “In my opinion, it was a disgrace to the original that lacked any of the effort and ingenuity employed in [the 1994 ride]. It was a cheap knock-off intended to be a temporary band-aid,” he said. Though the Disneyland “Tower of Terror” has been gone for several years and is likely still missed by some frequent visitors, the Disney World equivalent remains the better of the two, and should remain one of the most iconic rides for a long time.
Most iconic Disney Park rides are successful because of their timeless qualities. Both “Tower of Terror” and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” for example, endure because they did not deal with contemporary themes to begin with. The two iconic rides also take the visitors on an isolated journey through the world of the attraction — a journey that does not need the context of a particular film to stay enjoyable. Instead, they use general fantasy locations — an old haunted hotel and a boat dock leading to pirate quarters respectively — to maintain a make-believe setting suitable for visitors with a wide variety of interests, rather than isolating the rides’ focuses to a single movie or princess.
Many iconic rides clearly have the power to remain in the hearts of Disney Park enthusiasts for a long time to come, though perhaps this is not always the case.
New Investments and New Magic
While “timeless” rides seem like long-term investments that can be enjoyed by current and future visitors, sometimes changes to such rides can be good.
When Disneyland’s “Tower of Terror” was transformed into the “Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!” ride in 2017, it seemed to have everything missing from the previous ride. It now includes fast drops, cool music and stunning visual elements, all of which caught the attention of Disneyland guests and brought the ride instant success. Compared to the popularity of its predecessor, “Mission: Breakout!” seems to be one of the best Disney Park replacement rides in recent years.
Notably, Disney announced their decision to re-theme their “Splash Mountain” ride in 2020, and in theory, it’s set to be a thematically better attraction. “Splash Mountain” is currently a log ride in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and is based on the 1946 film “Song of the South.” Due to the film’s inclusion of stereotypical and racist tropes from the Jim Crow era, Disney made the decision to get rid of the long-standing ride.
Instead, the ride will be completely re-themed into a “Princess and the Frog” attraction, something many fans have petitioned for in recent years. Though some older Disney Park enthusiasts are upset about the re-theme of one of their childhood rides, there are plenty of other iconic rides for future generations to enjoy.
Additionally, the news of the “Princess and the Frog” ride might usher in a new era of magic for Disney Park guests. “Tiana is a modern, courageous, and empowered woman, who pursues her dreams and never loses sight of what’s really important,” said Michael Ramirez, Disney’s Public Relations Director, on the Disney Parks Blog when explaining the re-theme decision. The ride is set to take place after Tiana’s wedding and after the film’s last scene. Ideally, the inclusion of this strong-minded character in a ride will inspire a new generation of Disney-lovers with the film’s themes of patience and integrity, in contrast to the ride’s predecessor.
Ramirez also highlighted the importance of re-theming the ride, along with the amount of thought going into the process. “[How] can we build upon the experience and tell a fresh, relevant story? It’s a continuous process that Imagineers are deeply passionate about. And with this longstanding history of adding new magic, the re-theming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today. The new concept is inclusive — one that all of our guests can connect with and be inspired by, and it speaks to the diversity of the millions of people who visit our parks each year.”
Though the re-theming of old and classic rides may not seem like a magical idea to some, it will be magical for future guests who may find more joy in these new attractions than they ever could have in the nostalgic past. Rather than attaching themselves to the legacy of a ride with a harmful background, future guests will now have the opportunity to experience something more special and potentially more relatable than any other Disney ride.
Hopefully the stories behind the newly re-themed rides will inspire a new wave of insightful changes in Disney’s attraction-making process. More importantly, future additions such as the new “Princess and the Frog” ride are sure to create new magic for young Disney Park guests, whether or not they grew up with the film, and bring a whole new world of possibilities to the future of childhood theme park memories.