This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things We Lost From the Theme Park World in 2017. As theme park fans, we’ve had a lot to be thankful for this year. However, as much as we all loved seeing projection mapping in The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle and Disney’s Happily Ever After, it wasn’t all good news. This year we had to say goodbye to several dear old friends. Today we pay our respects to some of those that we lost in the past year, starting with….
# 6 – Terminator 2: 3-D
Hasta la vista, baby.
Much like the Lord Almighty, James Cameron giveth, and James Cameron taketh away in 2017. While we theme park guests were blessed with the wonders of Pandora: The World of Avatar opening up in Animal Kingdom, we lost T2: 3-D – Battle Across Time at Universal Studios Florida. A stage show like no other, T2: 3=D was a breathtaking mix of a one-of-a-kind 3-D movie and a thrilling live action stunt show.
The overall attraction – including the preshow – tied directly into the Terminator Universe following the events of T2, making itself an unofficial sequel to the popular franchise. Unlike traditional theme park 3-D movies where the audience all looks at one screen, the massive theater had three connecting screens. Every guest in the audience had a great seat as a special effects bonanza took place in front of their eyes including a spectacular how did they do that?! moment of a motorcycle going through the screen. James Cameron is well known to be one of the hardest men to work for in Hollywood, but he gets the best out of everyone, and T2: 3-D has the high level quality you’re used to in a Cameron production. It featured all the main Terminator 2 stars, had an insane budget-per-minute-of-film that made the legendary Captain EO look fiscally responsible, and a Shaquille O’Neal joke that was still funny 10 years past it had any right to be.
On October 8th, the attraction went through its own time portal to the great attraction beyond. Goodbye T2: 3D, there may never be another one like you again.
# 5 – DisneyQuest
Heaven needed a rarely updated arcade.
There are not many things at Walt Disney World that had more promise than DisneyQuest. It billed itself as FIVE FLOORS OF FUN but the “fun” should have been in quotation marks. I personally believe DisneyQuest could have been one of the most special places in all of WDW, one that would have been spoken in reverence by fans like the Adventurer’s Club or Horizons. Instead it became the “and more” part of a “water parks and more” upcharge ticket add-on. There were some neat things at DisneyQuest that showed you the potential of what it could have been. The Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold game allowed several people to play at once using gameplay not unlike what would later be used in Toy Story Midway Mania. Animation Academy taught guests to draw Disney characters on a screen with a stylus rather than pen and paper. CyberSpace Mountain had guests design their own roller coaster and then “virtually” ride it. When the movie Wreck It Ralph came out, several of the actual Ralph themed arcade games made their way to DisneyQuest. There were many other attractions in the giant building, but the technology used in many of them became outdated fast and almost nothing was done to update them. DisneyQuest could have been the place to use Virtual Reality to let fans relive their favorite extinct attractions. DisneyQuest could have used 3-D printing to have guests design their own vehicle (like in Test Track) but actually take home a model. DisneyQuest could have been the place we got to see Disney IPs from Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars in new games and experiences (in fact DisneyQuest even used a great promotion that had posters showing a mash-up of Toy Story and Donkey Kong along with Star Wars and Galaga, but alas it was just for advertising.) Unfortunately it had none of that. By the end DisneyQuest was just a place people went to when it was raining.
On July 2nd, DisneyQuest was put out of its misery.
# 4 – Cinematic Spectacular
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” – Jaws
Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular will always hold a special place in Your Humble Author’s heart because it was the one time I was Johnny-on-the-spot to break news. Many moons ago I was taking several members of my family on a trip to Universal, when I heard over the park’s PA system about a nighttime show that would make it’s debut that night. For some backstory, at the time there had been rumors of Universal soft opening a new show for a while, and bloggers kept showing up at the park only to find out there was no show that night. Eventually, it became a “we’ll believe it when we see it” situation. After I heard the announcement inside the park, I actually went to Guest Services to verify I was not losing my mind. After confirming that night indeed would have the first ever showing of Cinematic Spectacular, I sent out a Red Alert to the local bloggers, several of whom still didn’t believe me.
That night I was able to see the first showing, and as a fan of movies, I loved it. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the show was a highlight package of “100 Years of Universal” movies including Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, Despicable Me, Fast & the Furious, and the Universal classic monster films. As much as I couldn’t believe my eyes in seeing Bruce Campbell’s Army of Darkness used in a major theme park nighttime spectacular, I also couldn’t believe Universal using several key moments of the show spotlighting the Liam Neeson movie Battleship (which at the time was hoped to be a huge summer blockbuster. SPOILER ALERT: it wasn’t.)
To continue in the Battleship-like tradition, Cinematic Spectacular never got a huge send off. Fans of the show never even got a chance to say their goodbyes. Universal, in a way only Universal can, quietly slipped in the closure of Cinematic Spectacular on the Universal Orlando Annual Passholders Facebook Group in an October 10th announcement for a yet-untitled replacement show.
# 3 – Universe of Energy
“Stupid Judy. Stupid Energy.” – Ellen DeGeneres
Over the years Disney has been trying to tell us Epcot Center fanboys that the park we grew up with is dead. The theme park that was unlike any park that has been built, or ever will be built, is soon going to be just another theme park. They put Frozen in Norway, but that’s okay because Mexico already had the Three Caballeros. There’s maybe 3 days a year a festival isn’t going on, but that’s okay because the Festival of the Arts was so dang awesome. They replaced Captain EO – a creation of George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Jackson – with a Pixar DVD, and that’s okay because…actually that’s not okay at all. Despite all of that, we Epcot fanboys held on to “the dream.” The Imagineers finally stuck a wood stake through the heart of Epcot Center with the announcement that the Universe of Energy – an opening day attraction featuring a slow moving dark ride that lasts over 30 minutes – would be converted into roller coaster featuring Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
Yes, there had been some changes over the years. The aforementioned Ellen was added to the show for some humor. No longer were we being sold the propaganda of the fossil fuel industry. But throughout all the changes we guests got to get up close and personal with some amazing dinosaur audio animatronics. Let’s face it, dinosaurs make everything better (except Chester and Hester’s Dino-rama, but maybe we’ll be able to write about that in next year’s In Memoriam. Knock on wood.)
On August 13th, Ellen’s Energy Adventure became extinct.
# 2 – Wishes
“You see, its just like I told ya—wishes can come true, if you believe in them with all your heart. And the best part is, you’ll never run out of wishes. They’re shining deep down inside of you. ‘Cause that, my friends, is where the magic lives.” – Jiminy Cricket
There is no better testament to how great a show Happily Ever After is than the fact the we guests didn’t riot once Wishes was gone. A nighttime spectacular that put a lump in your throat, a tear in your eye, and had you picking your jaw up off the ground, Wishes was true Disney magic. No one, and we mean no one, does fireworks like Disney, and Wishes had a thundering display of lights across the sky while Jiminy Cricket narrated a story filled with our favorite Disney songs and iconic film moments. Disney took a standard fireworks show and turned it into a story, one that guests remembered for years afterward. Whether it was explosions in the air synchronized to music, the heart pulling Disney moments, or Tinker Bell “flying” to end the show, everyone had their favorite part of Wishes.
On May 11th, Wishes said goodnight to all.
# 1 – The Great Movie Ride
“That’s a wrap, C.B.”
As hard as it was to lose the Universe of Energy in Epcot, The Great Movie Ride was the heart and soul of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Over the years there has been a whole bunch of changes to DHS, to the point now where Disney has to spend several years and hundreds of millions of dollars to fix the park. An opening day attraction back in 1989, The Great Movie Ride took guests through an audio animatronic filled history of film, including Raiders of the Lost Arc, Casablanca, and The Wizard of Oz. Because Disney used movies from outside its own library, the ride felt authentic in a way many others don’t. Having Ridley Scott’s Alien, for example, instead of a Disney film like Flubber, took the attraction to a whole new level. The Great Movie Ride was also one of the rare attractions, especially for its time, to offer different ride experiences. While it became rare to get the “Western” scene compared to the “Gangster” scene, the fact that the ride had multiple experiences is definitely a plus. Another plus was that The Great Movie Ride had in-ride spielers, a theme park “art” that is slowly but surely being removed from the parks. Say what you will about “consistency,” but I’ll take a Cast Member any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios, formerly Disney-MGM Studios (and how many of us still call it “MGM?”), was built on the foundation of giving guests “the Hollywood that never was, and always will be.” Over the years, the behind-the-scenes look at movie making has been chipped away, but we always had The Great Movie Ride. Not only was the 20 minute ride a true E-Ticket attraction filled with glorious AAs, but it was the centerpiece of the entire park. It was to DHS what Spaceship Earth was to Epcot, complete with an incredible facade designed to resemble the historic Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Now The Great Movie Ride is gone forever, soon to be replaced inside the movie theater facade by a 3-4 minute “runaway railway” experience that has absolutely nothing to do with movies and could have been placed literally anywhere else in the park. The times they are a changin’….
On August 13th, the silver screen of The Great Movie Ride went black.
So there you have it: In Memoriam – Six Things We Lost From the Theme Park World in 2017. See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan)
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Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, hot shot Michael Carelli, Long suffering Jets fan @Drubov, the FourSquare mayor of Guest Services Tim Grassey, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie along with Meg’s work with the Central Florida Slug Club.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2018 Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? That’s right, a NEW one, even NEWER than the SATURDAY SIX that was in the 2016 AND the 2017 edition! Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now!