Recently, Disney has purchased the rights to many different intellectual properties (IPs), most notably Star Wars and Marvel. This means that wherever you go at the Disney parks, you’re likely to find Disney-themed attractions. But over the years, the Disney Parks have also hosted attractions based on non-Disney-owned intellectual properties. Today, we’ll take a dive into past and present attractions at the Disney parks that have used non-Disney IPs.
The Great Movie Ride and the Wizard of Oz
When Hollywood Studios first opened as MGM Studios in 1989, the Chinese Theatre and its Great Movie Ride stood as the central attraction. Taking guests through scenes of different old movies, it highlighted the park’s focus on Hollywood’s glory days. More than that, it threw guests right into the action inside the films. For instance, you could be caught in a Chicago gangster shootout (based on films like Public Enemy), or you could get hijacked by a robber in a Wild West town (also featuring John Wayne and Clint Eastwood animatronics). Other movies included Singin’ in the Rain, Casablanca, and Tarzan and His Mate (a 1934 live-action film).
The Great Movie Ride climaxed with the beloved 1939 classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, featuring multiple scenes such as the arrival in Oz and the first view of the Emerald City. The tour guide would even interact with the cast. To make this finale more amazing than ever, Imagineers implemented new technology. The infamous Wicked Witch of the West used the new A-100 animatronic model. With more flexible and diverse movement options, such that it could move individual fingers, the new design let the Wicked Witch seem especially real, setting new potential for animatronics.
The Tower of Terror’s chills-and-thrills elevator ride – and drop through a spooky, haunted hotel — took inspiration from the Twilight Zone television series. The show’s often standalone episodes posed strange and ominous scenarios for the audience, from time travel gone wrong to deals with devils. The dark and surprising twists at the ends of episodes were particularly startling and often delved into larger themes about humanity.
With the series’ chilling stories and heyday in the early 60s – coinciding well with Hollywood Studios’ initial set-up celebrating Hollywood’s golden age – the Twilight Zone served as the perfect theme for the Tower of Terror. When entering the Tower of Terror’s ramshackle hotel lobby, guests watch as Twilight Zone’s host Rod Serling first gives his usual introduction to the “Twilight Zone” and then describes the fateful doom in store at this hotel. It’s a brilliant tribute to the show while also setting the tone for the chills and thrills to come.
Other parks, however, have since moved away from the original Twilight Zone theming. Tokyo DisneySea maintains the haunted hotel set-up but avoids mentioning Twilight Zone; also, the hotel is now in-story located on the East Coast to match its placement in the American Waterfront section. California Adventure went even further away by not only removing Twilight Zone’s theming but replacing it with a Disney IP Marvel ride: Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!
Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris, France, however, has gone the opposite way. Not only does their ride continue to celebrate the TV series, the new Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – A New Dimension of Chills builds on the theming by creating extra storylines and scenarios harkening back to the series’ dark and twisted plots. In this way, the non-Disney Twilight Zone IP continues to leave its mark in the parks – and in the memories of countless, terrified tourists.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
While Hollywood Studios has tried to evoke the setting of classic Hollywood, it also once had backdrops themed to New York City, offering the perfect setting for New York’s turtle defenders to shine. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were very popular in the 1990s due to their ongoing comic book and TV series at the time. So made sense that they got their own show at the park despite not being a Disney-owned IP.
Arriving on the scene in their Turtle Party Wagon, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would wow fans with a fun-filled tribute to their show. They’d show off their karate moves, sign autographs, and make people laugh when Michelangelo showed up late due to ordering pizza. And all the while, they’d sing and dance with the TV show’s music. Even other characters like April O’Neill would show up. All-in-all, it was a terrific and lively celebration of the Turtles franchise. However, the Turtles stopped showing up around 1994, when they were replaced by the then-Disney-owned Power Rangers; the show ended after the IP reverted to Haim Saiban.
The alien world of Pandora, brought to life in James Cameron’s sci-fi film Avatar, is incredible in diversity and wonder, with all sorts of amazing alien and animals living in harmony. This vivid, wild world meshes beautifully with Animal Kingdom’s nature-themed set-up. Imagineers created bizarre yet realistic fauna that help immerse you in the alien landscape. Things get even better at night, when the artificial plants come to life in a rainbow of brilliant colors.
Pandora’s two rides, Na’vi River Journey and Flight of Passage, are even more breathtaking. Na’vi River Journey takes you on a slow boat ride through Pandora’s nighttime, complete with encounters with a wide range of local creatures. But the true must-see is Flight of Passage, taking you on a thrilling simulation flight through the skies of Pandora. From splashing through the ocean waters to getting caught up in an intense chase to enjoying a spectacular sunset finale, riders will love every moment of the adventure.
While Disney currently has rights to the Muppets franchise, they did not gain the rights until 2004, and by then they already had Muppet-based attractions at the parks. In 1990, just a year after Hollywood Studios opened, the park featured the Here Come the Muppets show. A live show with both puppet and walk-around Muppets, it was a fun-filled extravaganza highlighting the Muppets’ affinity for comedic chaos. Though it closed in 1991, it was replaced by a new Muppet show: Muppets on Location. This audience-interactive experience had the Muppets try to put on a movie, with humorous results. It performed regularly until 1994.
Though a couple Muppet attractions have closed, one gem remains: Muppet Vision 3D. With hilarious antics from the wide range of Muppet characters, you’re bound to get tons of laughs with every visit to the theater. Be sure to check out the full introduction in the pre-show; that whole segment, with awesome gags and even more Muppets, is just as terrific as the main show. And don’t forget to also look at the many gag decorations prominent from the very moment you enter the building, as every bit of the experience is artfully designed to make you break out in laughter.
Indiana Jones is another example of a currently Disney-owned IP that wasn’t Disney’s when themed attractions started showing up in the parks (Disney gained the rights with Lucasfilm in 2012). Disney’s first Indiana Jones attraction was the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, opening at Hollywood Studios in 1989. Performers reenact key scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark and demonstrate the stunt work and special effects that make movies possible. In addition, the Great Movie Ride featured Indiana Jones with the Ark of the Covenant in one scene.
That was just the beginning, though, as Disney then created an exciting ride featuring Indiana Jones. In the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, adventurers explored a lost temple with countless wonders, only to be cursed by the deity Mara. It’s a thrilling adventure with many dangerous traps and surprises in store. Originally opening in Anaheim’s Disneyland, the ride has since traveled to Tokyo DisneySea as well, under the name Temple of the Crystal Skull. Both versions of the ride share the common title of Indiana Jones Adventure before the temple name).
The exciting horror-sci-fi Alien movie series has both appeared directly at Disney World and inspired one of its past attractions. The Great Movie Ride explored many different popular films of the 20th century, with both merry moment and terrifying dangers. One part of the ride included a chilling journey through Alien’s spaceship the Nostromo as the horrific alien xenomorph stalks you from the shadows. While that was the only Disney ride actually featuring the Alien franchise, the series also inspired a different, original attraction.
The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter attraction had strong parallels with the Alien franchise – both with the monstrous, predatory alien and with the unscrupulous greed of interplanetary corporations. In fact, the attraction was originally meant to be an actual Alien-themed ride before being revised. The attraction featured a teleporter demonstration gone wrong that brought a creature similar to the xenomorph from Alien into the showroom, trapping guests in the dark with the monster. Officially opening in 1995, ExtraTERRORestrial was startling, chilling, and nothing like any of Disney’s other horror-style attractions. In 2004, however, it was replaced with Stitch’s Great Escape, a Lilo & Stitch-themed version that took a more comical approach.
The previous attractions mentioned have all been based on various movies and shows, but the fast and exhilarating Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster draws on a different sort of IP: music from Aerosmith. Founded in 1970, the rock band Aerosmith has inspired many musicians and continues to play awesome rock concerts. The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster ride has you speeding alongside the band to make it to their big concert. Of course, it’s no simple joy ride, as the rollercoaster sends you hurtling upside-down through loops and corkscrews at up to 57 mph. And all the while, you’ll be treated to some of Aerosmith’s groovy songs like “Walking This Way” and “Sweet Emotion”.
While most of the attractions at Disney parks these days are Disney-related IPs, there are and have been plenty of non-Disney intellectual properties present as well. The wide mix of attractions, with not only Disney sights but other things entirely, is part of what makes exploring the parks so much fun.
Which of these non-Disney IPs is your favorite addition to the parks? Let us know in the comments!