Remembering the Magic: Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spinby Jonathan Heigl, contributing writer
This month's article is on the history of Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin in Tomorrowland. In this article, we look at a current attraction's building that has housed many different attractions in the past (where the current attraction is not the same general attraction with a few modifications). Let's go through the history of the building, essentially, with all of the attractions that were previously there, and give a brief history of them.
If You Had Wings (June 5, 1972 – June 1, 1987)
If You Had Wings was a four-and-a-half-minute dark ride that utilized the two-person Omnimover (a ride system that continually moves as one unit—all ride vehicles stop or move together, such as Spaceship Earth, Haunted Mansion, and Peter Pan's Flight). The ride was sponsored by Eastern Airlines (to the tune of a $10 million initial investment), and showcased popular travel destinations serviced by Eastern Airlines, such as the Bahamas, Bermuda, Jamaica, Mexico, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad. When the ride ticket system was in use, If You Had Wings was free to ride.
The attraction began by simulating a take-off (the track ascended up a "hill"), during which projections of planes and birds moved by to help with the ascension effect. As riders proceeded through, there were sets with screens (38 16mm projectors) that would show scenes from the different cities being showcased, with the ride vehicles swiveling from side to side to give riders the best view of each screen as it was passing through. In addition, riders on the WEDWay PeopleMover could also see the Mexico, Jamaica, and Trinidad scenes through windows.
After these scenes, riders entered what was called the "speed room," where a 70mm projector displayed first-person clips of an airplane take-off, a train, water skiing, motorcycles, and a few others onto a screen that was shaped so that it would encompass the rider's peripheral vision. The ride vehicle would tilt back and a fast breeze provided the effect of fast motion.
After this room was the "mirror room," in which two 70mm projectors displayed pictures of snow-covered mountains. The images were reflected by the floor to ceiling mirrors. After passing this room, the riders "descended" and exited the ride at the unloading station, after which the traffic flowed into an area with an Easter Airlines reservation desk, where agents were ready to assist guests with travel arrangements.
Eastern Airlines ended its sponsorship of If You Had Wings in 1987, prompting the attraction to close on June 1 to make way for…
If You Could Fly (June 6, 1987 – January 4, 1989)
If You Could Fly replaced If You Had Wings after a quick, few-day closure. There were no significant changes to the ride, other than the removal of Eastern Airlines signage, a change to the theme music, and the replacement of opening scene with footage of flying birds (since the original opening scene referenced Eastern Airlines).
If You Could Fly remained open until January 4, 1989, when it closed permanently.
Delta Dreamflight / Dreamflight / Take Flight (June 23, 1989 – January 5, 1998)
Soon after the closing of If You Could Fly, Delta Airlines took over sponsorship of the attraction. However, they wanted to redo the attraction completely (other than the ride system and layout, which remained the same). Dreamflight focused on the history of aviation.
Once in the building, guests would enter the queue, designed to look like an airport terminal. The queue featured the nose and cockpit of an actual Delta 767 plane (identified as "The Spirit of Delta") set to the left of the queue. As the riders moved through the queue, they would walk through a "jetway" with bright multi-colored neon lights, and then through the nose/cockpit of the plane, appearing as if they were boarding a plane, which served as the boarding area. Riders would board the ride vehicles similar to most Omnimover rides, with the walkway moving at the same speed as the ride vehicles so riders could easily board and the ride vehicles could keep moving.
Dreamflight began with a spinning scene that showed hot air balloons. The second room was themed to make it seem as if you were flying through a crop field in the Midwest in the 1920s. Barnstormers, stunt planes, and other old-style planes circled above. The pilot of a plane appeared to have crashed through the barn and was stuck in the rafters. Riders moved through this barn into the third room, which was a screen showing a film clip of an aerial stuntman standing on an old-style plane as it was flying and doing various stunts.
The propeller plane segment followed. This was the era when commercial airlines started flying passengers all over the world. As you passed through this area, on the left side was an upscale plane's body (fuselage) that was the dining area of seemingly a private jet. Immediately after that scene, still on the left, was a man in a suit in a Japanese garden being greeted by the locals. On the right were rooftops of Paris, France. This was to simulate the riders flying over Paris. Moving further, a sign, "Jet Age" spun around as riders were told to…
"Please prepare for supersonic take-off. Ladies and gentlemen, your Dreamflight will depart immediately for the future. Please prepare for a supersonic take-off."
On the left was a painting of a plane taking off. The next room had a spinning light, fog, fans, and sounds of a jet engine that made it look and sound like a spinning jet engine. Moving forward, the effects made it seem as if you were entering the inside of a jet engine. Riders entered a giant room where a film was projected. The film showed a plane taking off and flying through the clouds from the view of the nose. The next room had a screen on the right showing computer-generated animation of flying above Earth, flying above water through a canyon, and then through a futuristic city. The final room was a pop-up book-style room showing different destinations with projections of a Delta jet flying by in the sky above the destinations. The unloading area showed the Delta logo painted on the wall, as well as more posters of destinations around the world that Delta served.
An interesting note was that the three windows that the riders of the PeopleMover could look into had changed. The first window was replaced with backlit panels that showed the ride's barnstormer scene. The second overlooked the scene that showed flying over Paris. The third was covered up because riders of the PeopleMover would have looked into a bright light.
Delta decided to end its sponsorship at the end of 1995, effective January 1, 1996. From this point until June 4, 1996, the ride operated as "Dreamflight". On June 5, 1996, it was renamed "Take Flight," which included a few minor changes; all references to Delta were removed and the theme songs were re-recorded to remove the Delta references.
Take Flight closed on January 5, 1998, ending the era of an attraction based on aviation in this building. Less than a year later, the building was transformed to house the new attraction…
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (November 3, 1998 – Present)
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin opened to the public on November 3, 1998. The ride uses the same track (layout) and system as the original If You Had Wings attraction. The ride is a dark shooting gallery-type ride, where riders board a vehicle on an Omnimover system and shoot various targets throughout the ride to accumulate points. These targets are the "Z" symbols found on practically everything inside the ride.
The plot of the ride is that the riders are Junior Space Rangers, who must attempt to stop the evil Emperor Zurg from stealing all of the batteries to power a weapon of ultimate destruction. Buzz Lightyear is tasked by Star Command to stop him, but Buzz needs the help of the Junior Space Rangers (riders). Riders are able to spin their XP-37 Space Cruisers in any direction, while aiming for the various targets within the ride to accumulate points.
Guests start out by reporting to Star Command. This is the lobby area where the queue begins. As riders make their way through the queue, they get to an area where there is an audio-animatronic Buzz Lightyear that tells them he needs their help and to move along to fight the evil Emperor Zurg.
Riders make their way to the loading area where they board their XP-37 Space Cruisers and prepare for battle. The Space Cruisers can fit two people. As the riders enter the ride, there are various space-themed toys, and the rooms are lit by black light to have a glow-in-the-dark effect with the various black light-responsive colors. Riders are taken through the launch bay area through to the robot attack. This is where riders begin to shoot the targets and accumulate points. This area shows various robots "attacking" the area, and includes various sound effects.
Planet Z is the next scene. There are many creatures that are wreaking havoc on the surrounding area, which has plenty of targets for the riders to shoot to accumulate points. It has a bit of a prehistoric world look to it.
The following scene is Zurg's Ship. Riders enter an area themed like a spaceship, where either side has plenty of targets to shoot. As with the rest of the ride, the targets are mostly moving, with some stationary. Immediately to the left and right as the riders enter Zurg's ship is the robot factory. Immediately after is Zurg's Secret Weapon, and then the riders exit the emergency escape hatch of the ship and move though the Hyperspace Tunnel (a dark tunnel) with alien creature and stars/planets projections over the ceiling, ending up in the Space Battle scene.
Riders mainly shoot the targets on or near Zurg and his spacecraft. The final scene is Star Command with another audio-animatronic Buzz Lightyear telling riders the mission was accomplished and that they can check their scores. The riders then disembark from the ride vehicles onto a moving platform in the unloading area, and exit the attraction into the gift shop and photo purchase area.
The windows that riders of the PeopleMover could look into to see the inside of the attraction were once again changed. The first window shows a diorama of an alien hair salon, matching the Buzz Lightyear character/scenery theme. The second allows the riders of the PeopleMover to over look the Planet Z scene in Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. The third remains covered.
Jonathan's verdict: Revert, update, leave alone, or re-imagine?
I am not a big fan of Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. It is just not the type of ride that appeals to me (which I'm sure will probably change when I have children to ride it with and play against).
My vote would be to revert the attraction. But since there are a few different versions that were housed in this building, what would I like to see it reverted to? I would prefer it to be reverted to the Delta Dreamflight version. I like the song that plays throughout the ride, I like the idea of the history of aviation, and I like the theme and queue of the attraction a lot better.
I would not be opposed to a re-imagine either. Perhaps they could turn it back into a history of aviation-type attraction, but make it different than the pop-up storybook theme of Delta Dreamflight… perhaps something similar to what World of Motion was (or similar to Spaceship Earth, where there are realistic audio animatronics and props/scenes).
As always, I am not an engineer or anything so I don't know if enough space would be available for something like this. I also understand that the Magic Kingdom park is really meant to be and really still is a park where children of all ages can enjoy most of the attractions, and making it into a more mature, historical attraction may bore the younger children, but it is just personally what I would like to see! How about you? Feel free to leave some comments and ideas!
Another discussion point I would like some feedback on is whether or not you as the reader like the series taking a land or section of a park and going through each ride before moving on to another land or section, or another park completely. Would you prefer that I change it up and park hop and grab a random attraction to write about, or do you prefer the more linear, pick-a-land-and-write-about-each-attraction way that I've been progressing with these articles? Please let me know in the comments or feel free to email me! I look forward to reading everyone's comments!
Thanks for reading. Next up: Another Tomorrowland attraction, but based on the responses I get from the readers, the one after next may be from another land or park!