In the wake of recent refurbishments such as the Matterhorn Bobsleds and Storybook Land, we’ve largely grown accustomed to detailed information on adjustments being made to attractions long before they reopen. But one of Disneyland’s signature E-Tickets has been under wraps for a quarter of a year, and we have little solid evidence of what’s been going on inside in advance of its imminent return.
The Indiana Jones Adventure has been one of the most popular and critically-praised thrills at Disneyland Park since its debut in 1995. But even its most die-hard fans will admit that it has almost always been in need of major repairs. I rank it among my top 5 favorite attractions anywhere, but I’ve never experienced it with every effect working as intended.
Since the ride was shuttered for refurbishment on September 4, Disney has been reticent to delve into what changes will be revealed when the Temple of the Forbidden Eye reopens this Saturday, December 8, outside of this vaguely worded interview in the Orange County Register. Online speculation has centered on the likely addition of OSHA-approved safety features, such as railing on the central bridge, much like Casey Jr.’s Circus Train recently received. Also probable is behind-the-scenes infrastructure upgrades that would hopefully make the breakdown-prone ride more reliable.
But as of the last time I rode, there were dozens of effects both large and small throughout the attraction in dire need of TLC. Without straying into the absurd (no, they aren’t adding a loop) here is my wish list of 5 elements I most want to see improved — or at least operating — the next time I go searching for Dr. Jones:
5. The Spike Chamber
Long before you board Indy’s troop transports, guests get to experience one of the most detailed queue lines Disney’s ever designed. Borne of the necessity to move patrons beyond the park’s berm to a show building built in an ex-parking lot, Indy’s simulated archeological excavation is almost intricate enough to be a walk-through attraction in of itself.
One of the queue’s highlights is a chamber with a suspicious pole standing from floor to ceiling. When guests disregard the warnings and touch the wobbly support, spikes emerge from overhead as the roof begins to descend; thankfully, it retracts before anyone is skewered. Anyone who has seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom will recognize this trap room’s inspiration (though thankfully there are no giant centipedes around here).
It’s a wonderful gag that delights first-time viewers, but has been inoperable more often than not for many years. Maybe a more sturdy mechanism could be installed, to insure future adventurers may continue to enjoy this ingenious example of “last gen” interactivity.
4. Decoder Cards
When Indy originally opened in 1995, the iPhone-less crowds waiting multiple hours in line were given decoder cards to help amuse them. Sponsored by AT&T, the cards provided a translation key to the cuneiform-style runes found through the temple. The secret messages don’t contain the mysteries of the universe (closer to A Christmas Story’s “drink your ovaltine”) but they made for a pleasant distraction.
The cards vanished, along with AT&T’s sponsorship, by the turn of the millennium. It would be great to see them return, updated for the 21st century. How about an iOS & Android apps that lets guests translate glyphs with the help of their smartphone camera? There could be a social game component with achievements for documenting different inscriptions. Free Fastpasses for completists! (I wish…)
3. Rat Attack
One of the dangers that you face in Mara’s deadly lair is a pack of rats, as featured in The Last Crusade. Your troop transport drives under vines, across which the rodents are crawling, and some of the vermin tumble into your lap.
At least, that’s what’s supposed to be happening. But this moment has always featured one of the ride’s least successful effects. The rats are a video projected onto a smoke screen, but the atmosphere never seems sufficiently thick to make the image legible. Many first-time riders are left confused but this segment, and some never recognize the rats at all.
As a solution, Disney could start by replacing the current fog screen with a newer mist model (like in Pirates of the Caribbean) and upgrading the projector to HD. Better still, leg ticklers could be installed under the vehicles’ seats (see Universal Studios Hollywood’s Mummy coaster) to viscerally convey the close encounter. And while they’re at it, It’s Tough to Be a Bug-style underseat rollers would plus the lackluster insect area.
2. Harrison Ford
It’s interesting to note that, while Disneyland’s Indiana Jones attraction was created with George Lucas’ authorization and input, series star Harrison Ford was not involved. As a result, a sound-alike voices the three Indy animatronics found inside the ride, which originally bore only a vague facial resemblance to the iconic actor.
In the last few years, however, two of the ride’s animatronics were replaced with new models that much more accurately recreate Ford’s visage, albeit closer to the way he appears in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull than in the vintage films. (The third animatronic is dangling from the ceiling, and his face is virtually invisible.)
That unheralded upgrade gave rise to rumors that perhaps Ford would finally be recruited to record dialogue for Disney, finally adding the missing element of authenticity. Here’s hoping the next time I survive the giant rolling ball, it will be Harrison’s unmistakable voice growling, “Tourists. Why’d it have to be tourists?”
1. Crumbling Ceiling
Speaking of the rolling ball, that finale effect was only the most crucial of many moments that were malfunctioning before Indy’s rehab. Other must-fixes range from the stuck shifting doors at the start to the dodgy air dart corridor. I’ll give Imagineering the benefit of the doubt and assume all those essential effects will be back to working 100%… at least for a few weeks.
But there is one effect that has been disabled so long, it would be nothing short of a holiday miracle if it returned. The illusion I speak of is Indy’s equivalent of Haunted Mansion’s hatbox ghost; something so elusive most fans have only heard of it in whispered legends.
Originally, as your vehicle first approached the large central chamber, the massive Mara skull on the opposite side of the chasm fired a laser beam towards you from its all-seeing eye. The blast impacted the roof above the lava pit, causing a chunk of rock to fall from the ceiling.
This startling effect was achieved with a high-capacity ice machine positioned above. The frozen chunks it churned out were colored with dye, and their fall was accompanied by dramatic sound effects that sold the illusion. Unfortunately, the mechanism proved too difficult to maintain, and has been disabled for over a decade.
Rumor holds that the ice-maker is in an inaccessible location for replacement, so I have zero expectations that this request will be fulfilled. But an Indy fan can dream, can’t he?
Whatever ultimately emerges from the Adventureland jungle this weekend, my fervent plea is that they don’t screw it up while trying to improve it. This is (or rather was until recently) a George “Greedo shot first” Lucas product we’re discussing. So here is my anti-wish list of things nobody wants to see added to the Indiana Jones Adventure:
5. Shia LaBeouf.
4. CGI monkeys.
3. Karen Allen, grinning beatifically like she’s had a head injury.
2. Shia LaBeouf. Seriously.
1. A nuked fridge.