Are Completely Original Rides Becoming a Thing of the Past at Disney Parks?

It’s not unusual to hear people complain about Disney Parks — the constant climbing of ticket prices and the long lines that feel like every vacation day is a three-hour “Leg Day” workout.

Crowds at the Magic Kingdom

What seems a little stranger is hearing complaints about the attractions themselves.

But the newest crops of Disney rides — most rides at many other theme parks, in fact — are following a pattern that’s starting to get predictable. Most of the rides currently in development, including the next seven rides for Walt Disney World, are based on some kind of already existing “intellectual property,” or IP. And they’re not all original Disney ideas.

Last year, Walt Disney World opened Toy Story Land, with many of its features borrowed from other Disney Parks that already have Toy Story-themed areas. Disneyland just opened a brand new park area dedicated entirely to “Star Wars” with Walt Disney World’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opening soon. Walt Disney World will also soon have a new “Guardians of the Galaxy” ride at Epcot, and a TRON coaster in the Magic Kingdom. It’s also importing a Ratatouille-themed attraction from Disneyland Paris, while Disneyland will be replicating Florida’s  Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

Guardians of the Galaxy Attraction Coming to Epcot

These lands and rides aren’t bad in and of themselves. And there’s a really good chance that the ones currently under construction will also become some of the best theme park rides in the industry. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway alone has some impressive technology in store that will put riders in a living, breathing Disney cartoon and probably force the rest of the industry to step up its game.

But now that Disney owns just about all of the most popular movie, television and cartoon franchises in modern pop culture (thanks to its purchase of hot commodities like Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox), I’m afraid they might try to make at least one ride for every single one of them. I hope that’s not true, because no one wants a “Deadpool’s Fluffy Happy Nina Adventure” ride! And I dread the day when we see any attraction based on the awful 2015 “Fantastic Four” reboot. Something like that should come with blindfolds and headphones that crank out ear-splitting speed metal so none of your senses can experience such torture.

Now that The Simpsons are part of the Disney family, will there be a Simpson ride in our future? ©Disney

It’s true that when the domestic parks first opened in 1955 (Disneyland) and 1971 (Walt Disney World), a good number of the opening-day rides were based on some kind of classic Disney movie or cartoon that also became classics like Peter Pan’s Flight, the Mad Tea Party tea cups and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

This opening-day attraction, based on a scene in “Alice in Wonderland,” spins Disneyland guests in giant teacups. ©Disney

However, the most popular, enduring and eye-catching attractions were created from the drawing board, like Space Mountain, Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and The Enchanted Tiki Room. They weren’t out to help promote a franchise that’s already received as much marketing and advertising as any other popular commodity. These were “attractions”, not just amusement park rides, and they created an original experience guests couldn’t find anywhere else. They told compelling stories making the guest a central figure rather than just an observer.

For better or worse, these original rides have also spawned their own film franchises over the years, like the long-running “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies (mostly for better), “The Haunted Mansion” (for much, much worse) and the upcoming “Jungle Cruise” movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt (remains to be seen).


Scene from Jungle Cruise


The true innovation and beauty of the Disney ride concept is the way it creates a story by building the attraction around the rider and casts them as a central player in the story. The rides based on movies and other IP Disney now owns that didn’t start in a theme park can also sometimes achieve this, but the charm and surprises seem to wear off quicker when they mirror the films they are based on, like the Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue at Disney California Adventure.

A perfect example of this totally backfiring lies in a now-dormant space in Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland. The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter  that replaced the long-running “Mission to Mars” in 1995 may have been too intense for the typical family, but it took a bold step to create something original and exciting. A sensory-driven attraction that messed with the very core of human psychology, it felt like some kind of futuristic entertainment and the shocks and feelings were bigger, genuine and more intense because there wasn’t a direct movie tie-in to spoil the ride’s story. It took risks, offering an edgier experience that kept you guessing around every turn.

Stitch’s Great Escape

Unfortunately, many felt it didn’t fit in with the family-friendly Magic Kingdom, and Disney closed it up in 2003. They reopened a new attraction in its place a year later called Stitch’s Great Escape, based on the successful and adorable “Lilo & Stitch” movie. The attraction became one of the most despised rides in the park’s long history. “Stitch” followed the same core mechanics of the “Alien Encounter” experience, but all the genuine feelings it created were sucked out of it. The “Stitch” attraction took a groundbreaking and fresh theme park ride idea and turned it into something that felt like an hour-long wait for an interactive commercial.

If it wasn’t for the creativity and guts of the first Imagineers who built and designed both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, we wouldn’t have classic rides that are still some of the most popular attractions in the world. The Disney Parks need people with that same mindset,  and needs to set them loose on a drafting table to see what kind of magic they can bring to life.


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9 Replies to “Are Completely Original Rides Becoming a Thing of the Past at Disney Parks?”

  1. the idea that Disney rides and attractions are based largely on Disney stories seems an odd thing to complain about. why would you expect something different?

    People don’t come to Disney parks for mass produced attractions. they come for the Disney stories

    what I find more problematic is a non- Disney park crammed with nothing but thrill rides. same ride, different packaging

  2. as long as there is chapek’s mandate for everything to incorporate IP, there won’t be anything else original, which stinks. Everest is likely the last, unless there is new upper management. same goes for all of these live-action remakes they are churning out. one here or there was ok, but it’s like they are desperate to keep the characters fresh and relevant when they should be timeless. it’s not for the better.

  3. If the imagineers dont do a better job coming up with rides like they did in the beginning. I see Disney becoming just another amusement park like the rest of them. The last good ride they created was soaring in my opinion.

  4. I don’t see any of these points as issues. I want to see Disney rides at the parks and I don’t see the problem of them bringing over rides that are successful in other countries. Many of us are not going to be able to get to the other parks anyway. As far as rebranding rides that exist elsewhere, I’m OK with that too. I don’t think that most Disney fans are necessarily huge thrill ride devotees. I visit the Disney parks for the overall experience and theme, not just the rides. I’m not that interested in most other amusement parks. I probably won’t know the difference if a ride exists somewhere else and I won’t care anyway. I do agree with Jason that I hope they don’t start shifting to motion simulators. I can see how that experience could get old quickly.

    The area that I would like to see them improve upon is maintenance. Things like animatronics that don’t work, backgrounds that are dirty and falling apart, etc. make more of a difference to my overall experience.

    1. Well, the maintenance thing I see as a business strategy issue. Even if imagineering comes up with something good, once it’s open it’s handed off to maintenance and I’m sure they’re given nowhere near the proper budget to keep things as they were when open. Clearly the idea is that if we get the headline to draw people in, they’ll ignore any problems later on and keep coming anyway. It’s all down to overall experience.

  5. Some of the complaint in the article seems to be how Disney is suddenly copying rides from other Disney parks, like Tron or Ratatouille. In reality this has been a winning formula for many many years. Space Mountain, POTC, Small World, Haunted Mansion all have their various iterations around the globe and I’m actually fine with that. I’m also fine with bringing Tron and Ratatouille to WDW because I would not otherwise get to ride them.

    I think a better argument would be to say that the rides are not unique in style or design. I recently visited Universal Orlando and got very tired of so many motion simulators there. I even got to the point that I refused to ride anymore because I needed more variety. I hope Disney does not turn into that type of experience.

  6. The problem to me is they don’t care about the mix between movies and attractions based on them and creating new, original ideas to wow the guests. Even worse is when they essentially buy an existing coaster or something then change it slightly or put a little theming around it. We can find that sort of thing anywhere. Everywhere else used to look to Disney as the premier creator of attractions. Now, they kind of make something to wow people, but they don’t keep it up (Yeti, Na’vi animatronic etc.)

    1. Never understood the whole yeti thing at expedition Everest. It’s just a mediocre roller coaster and they thought by adding an animatronic yeti that moves around for a second at one point of the ride was going to make it great. I rode it when the yeti was working and it was not that big of a deal. The ride is essentially the same without it. Mediocre.

  7. I don’t think rides based on existing Disney properties are a problem. In fact, it is what people want and expect, a place where “Disney” exists in a reality they can visit. Sure, Walt’s Disneyland had more than just the animated canon of Fantasyland, but Walt himself had expanded what Disney meant as part of that through the live-action movies and the TV show, such that really only Haunted Mansion was a wholly unique element. The two (Disney through TV, and the Disneyland idea) grew together.

    Today, the Disney genre has grown faster than the parks can keep up. If anything, I think it was more a problem when Lucas and Cameron properties were being licensed for the parks instead of looking through Disney’s own canon…but Iger solved both of those and it is all in-house now. Go fig.

    It isn’t the same “loss of ideas” that one would see in, say, the live-action remakes of the animated properties. The two aren’t comparable at all.

    Now, for the issue that some of the thrill rides are just rethemed existing rides from European parks? (Tron coaster and Rockin’Rollercoaster both originated in parks in the Netherlands, just sans theming), that’s something different…but i can see that as a cost-savings measure because all the expense of analyzing the g-force safety effects has already been done and they’re compliant with US regulations in this regard, saving a lot of time and money that other parks have to spend in their ever-increasing thrill race.