Remembering the Magic: Stitch's Great Escape!by Jonathan Heigl, contributing writer
This month's article is on Stitch's Great Escape in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom park in Florida. We'll take a ride through the attraction's history, then I will give my verdict on whether to revert it, update it, leave it alone, or re-imagine it.
Flight to the Moon (December 24, 1971 – April 15, 1975)
The first version of this attraction was called Flight to the Moon. Disney was a little bit late to the party with this attraction, as we had already landed on the moon a few years before, and NASA's moon missions were slowly winding down. Nevertheless, the attraction was opened on December 24, 1971.
The attraction began with a waiting area where cast member prepped riders by saying the attraction takes place sometime in the future. Then, it is off to the pre-show area, where we were first introduced to the much-loved Mr. Tom Morrow. A cast member would interact with the audio-animatronic Tom Morrow during this pre-show by asking questions about the mission. Tom Morrow would explain Mission Control, the room where all of the NASA engineers watched all of the monitors and such for the mission. On the monitors, you'd see various space ships, rockets, and so on.
Mr. Tom Morrow proceeds to show, on the main monitor, a spacecraft on a launch pad to Mars. After being told by another character that another spacecraft is about to launch, Tom Morrow asks if we can all watch it, and the video is shown on the main screen. This time, however, it is a rocket with a small satellite going to orbit Earth. Another controller in the room warns us that another spacecraft is about to re-enter the atmosphere, and we see this on the main screen. Suddenly, the screens get snowy as warning alarms start to sound. Another controller in the room warns us that there is an unauthorized approach on one of the runways. One by one, each monitor shows an albatross coming in for a landing. After some more talking and explaining how things work, we are told our flight is ready for boarding. The cast member then tells riders to proceed to the boarding area and then into the main showroom.
The main showroom was set up like it is today, with a circular room with seats going around the center and outwards. Once everyone was seated and secured, the cast member told riders that they were ready for departure, and gave some basic flight attendant-type information (cabin will be air conditioned, no smoking, and so on). The captain would then come in over the speakers and welcome everyone aboard. Tom Morrow would begin the final countdown, with the lower screen showing the lift-off and the seats sinking to simulate the G-forces. The captain would then, at the appropriate time, explain that they are traveling at 1,000 feet per second and are still under traffic control because there are a lot of objects in orbit. The upper screen shows weather satellites moving past.
The captain explains that it is one of the weather satellites that sends back hundreds of pictures of the atmosphere everyday. He then asks riders to look at the lower screen, which showed a space commuter bus that brought the supplies back and forth to Earth and other space stations for the people in space. Once again, at the appropriate time, riders are prompted to look at the middle screens, which display a "live telecast" of the surface of the moon, upon which there are a group of astronauts. An astronaut would welcome the riders to the moon and explain what they were doing. The riders would eventually follow him to the moon base, where he explains that it is the traveling laboratory where they can refill their air and supplies.
The captain came back on and said that the moon would now appear on the lower screen and remain there during the passage. After some more discussions and pictures of the moon, the riders go past the dark side of the moon and into the sunlight again, where Earth is visible on the upper screen, and the sun in the middle screens. Some information is given about the sun, such as the temperature, what would happen to Earth if the sun was gone, and so on. Suddenly, warning sirens start going off and the images on the screens go all awry. The captain informs the riders that they have just passed through a meteor shower and that the ship has taken some hits. They will be fine, but they have to return to Earth. Sounds of re-entering come through and the surface is shown on the lower screen. The captain then explains that they have arrived back and says his parting lines, prompting the cast member to give exit instructions.
Mission to Mars (June 7, 1975 – October 4, 1993)
With the public's fascination with moon exploration waning, Disney updated the ride. In order to do that efficiently, yet still provide some intrigue, Mars was the next destination.
Disney developed Mission to Mars in cooperation with NASA. The preshow area still had a similar setup, with Mr. Johnson replacing Mr. Tom Morrow (same animatronic, different name). Inside of the ride theater, the screens still showed images of the outside of the ship. The ship would enter hyperspace mode (to get to Mars quicker) and launch probes to show the Mars landscape. Again, a meteor shower would damage the ship and would have to take an emergency landing back on Earth. Of course some of the script and images would need to be changed to reference Mars, but these were really the only major changes, until the ride closed on October 4, 1993, as the New Tomorrowland was being planned and worked on.
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter (June 20, 1995 – October 12, 2003)
Disney decided that Tomorrowland needed some updating and a bit of change. They had decided to go a little bit more mature for this attraction, and had even posted warning signs that it might be scary for children under the age of 12.
In the beginning the attraction, guests were brought in to the first waiting area, the "Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center," where they were shown a demonstration of technology from X-S Tech, an alien corporation. The monitors would then proceed to show other events taking place at the Convention Center. After this was done, guests went into the second preshow area (where Mission Control was previously). Here, they were introduced to a robot from X-S named S.I.R (Simulated Intelligence Robotics), which would demonstrate the teleportation technology using a little animatronic alien named Skippy. The alien is transported across the room, but appears a little burnt and disoriented... suggesting that maybe the technology isn't quite yet working properly. S.I.R. would then transport Skippy back across the room, but pauses the process, showing how objects can be suspended indefinitely in teleportation.
After guests are directed into the main room and seated/restrained, the chairman of X-S, L. C. Clench, and two X-S employees, Spinlok and Dr. Femus, communicate from across the galaxy on the video screens. The plan was to transport one guest from the chamber to meet with Clench. However, Clench is inspired and decides that the better option is to have himself transported into the chamber to meet the group instead of a single person. The teleportation signal gets diverted to another planet and results in a huge alien being sent into the tube. The technicians are confused and begin to panic. The alien escapes, and flashes of light reveal that the transportation tube is shattered.
The power goes out as the guests sit in total darkness, helplessly locked into their seats. A maintenance worker for X-S tries to restore the power, but is killed as the alien noises sound throughout the chamber. A fluid sprays onto the guests faces, most likely signifying blood splatter. Guests begin to feel their seats rumble as the alien moves quickly through the chamber. The guests also feel the breath of the alien on their necks and the drool dripping from its mouth. This is not all happening at the same exact time for everyone, giving the effect that the alien is moving around the room and going from person to person, and since the seats have stereo sound, you hear things from certain directions, thus enhancing the effect.
Finally, the power comes back on and those two X-S technicians are able to get the alien back into the teleportation device. However, they overpower the tube and the alien explodes before the tube can close. After this, the guest restraints are lifted and the technicians say goodbye.
This attraction came under a lot of scrutiny from people because they did not feel it was a Disney-type ride. However, it also had a lot of fans because it added that different kind of thriller to Tomorrowland, and there really was no other ride like it.
Stitch's Great Escape! (November 16, 2004 – Present)
There are a couple thoughts on why Disney decided to replace ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. one of those being that the ride was just too scary. Since Walt Disney World is a family destination, it just didn't fit within the vision. Another was that since the attraction wasn't tied to a movie or character, they could draw more people to it by changing it to be about a Disney character. I'm not going to speculate why it was changed, but what I will do is begin by detailing the change.
Stitch's Great Escape is set up pretty much exactly like ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was. In fact, the building hasn't changed much since it first opened with Flight to the Moon (in terms of layout). Guests enter the initial waiting area, where they are "recruited" and taught basic procedures of guard duty at the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleportation Center and classifications of prisoner levels via the TV monitors in the room. They then proceed to the preshow area, where Captain Gantu (a robot) demonstrates prisoner teleportation (again, with Skippy the alien from the previous incarnation of the ride).
During this time, an alert comes over the PA system that a Level 3 prisoner is being sent to the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleportation Center, and since it is the highest level, they will need to throw all of these new recruits (guests) into action right away. Guests are told to move to the teleportation chamber immediately (this is the main show area).
Guests proceed to the main show area, which looks very similar to how it did with ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. Some of the differences include "laser cannons," now installed in the room, and of course, the animatronic was changed to be Stitch. There are not many more changes.
Once the guests are seated and restraints fastened, the show proceeds. After some dark time and hearing some characters talking in the background, the prisoner is beamed to the teleportation chamber. Once the smoke clears the tube, Stitch is revealed. Gantu and his associates begin to banter in puzzled amazement thinking that this cannot possibly be a Level 3 prisoner. Stitch uses a flaw in the laser cannons and disables the power to escape the tube. Now it is completely dark in the chamber.
Stitch then plays all kinds of tricks on the audience, as the shoulder restraints start hopping on the recruits' shoulders, making it seem as if Stitch is jumping on them. He also "tickles" their heads and spits water at them at times. Stitch also eats a chili dog, and then burps, sending out a foul smell into the faces of the riders. He destroys a ringing cell phone and reminds riders that there is no eating or drinking or use of electronic devices in the theater, in a bit of Stitch humor.
The power begins to come back on, and the laser cannons, which lock on to any bio material, begin again to try to get Stitch. Stitch, who again is controlling them by their flaws, fires the cannons into the riders. He uses this as a diversion to escape the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleportation Center to Walt Disney World, and the screens capture him on Cinderella Castle. Stitch knocks on Cinderella's door, saying he is Prince Charming, so she lets him in. Cameras still showing the outside of the castle, riders hear audio of Cinderella telling him that he is not Prince Charming and kicks him out. Guests are then allowed to exit.
Jonathan's verdict – revert, update, leave alone, or re-imagine?
My verdict for this attraction would be to re-imagine. I wouldn't even mind seeing the space completely renovated so that an entirely new type of ride and design can be utilized. I just do not think that any of the attractions they have had in this space have been big hits. I think ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter has been the biggest hit, and I did enjoy it when it was around, but I tend to agree with the thought that it just was not a Disney-type ride, and really didn't belong in Magic Kingdom. Flight to the Moon and Mission to Mars are no longer relevant to the idea of the future in my opinion, so we cannot revert to those.
I couldn't even begin to propose any type of attraction to go in that space, but I'm sure they could do a lot better than Stitch's Great Escape!... perhaps even making it stroller parking and another gift shop would be a plus over the current attraction..I just do not think it is a very good ride, and I'm not just thinking about thrill when saying that. I believe young kids get a kick out of this ride and find it quite funny, which I guess is really all this ride is meant to do, but I believe they could have done much better, and can do much better in the future.
What do you think? Leave your comments below.
We are finally done with Tomorrowland. Next month we will hop to a different park. Stay tuned to see where we go. Thanks for reading!