Welcome to Disney Extinct Attractions. My name is Cole Geryak, and I’ll be your alien translator on today’s interplanetary journey.
First, I want to quickly apologize for having no new post last week. I was staying with my grandpa who has no WiFi (horrifying, I know), plus there was a snowstorm, so I couldn’t even get to a Starbucks. But I’m back this week and ready for action!
Here at Laughing Place, we celebrate March Madness (the college basketball tournament) with a little tournament of our own called Mouse Madness. Very similarly to its namesake, Mouse Madness pits Disney favorites against each other in a battle for Disney fandom glory. Previous incarnations have included Sherman Brothers songs and Disney Princesses showdowns, but this year the powers that be decided to have a competition amongst extinct Disney attractions.
Needless to say, I was super excited and honored that they chose to have this year’s competition relate to my blog, so be sure to check on it when you can and vote for all of your favorite extinct attractions, many of which have been discussed on this blog before.
But now let’s get down to business, to defeat…the alien.
Michael Eisner joined the Disney company as CEO in 1984 and immediately began to look for ways to revitalize the parks. One thing he did that changed the landscape of the parks was adding attractions from outside of the Disney library. The first of these major E-Ticket attractions was Star Tours, based off of the hit film franchise Star Wars. (Though, in a funny note, Disney now owns the franchise, changing it from not quite belonging to synergy at its finest.)
With the success of Star Tours, Disney began to look at adapting another popular space film, Alien.
Directed by Ridley Scott, this film spawned a franchise that will release its sixth film this summer. In 1986, the second film, entitled Aliens, was released. Aliens was a dramatic change in pace from the original as it was an action film as opposed to the horror film formula that the original followed.
With Disney now reaching out to outside franchises and Eisner telling Imagineers to spread their creativity, some Imagineers decided to take a crack at Alien. The first idea proposed by the Imagineers would have actually been the first Buzz Lightyear-type ride, where guests would’ve had guns in front of them and defended themselves from the titular aliens, also known as Xenomorphs. However, a group of older Imagineers went to Eisner and convinced him that the property and idea were simply too scary for an attraction in a Disney park, and Eisner put a stop to the idea.
Luckily (for Aliens fans like me at least), the Xenomorph did end up making its way into the parks through the Great Movie Ride in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Disney already had the rights to the film, so they figured they might as well include it in the attraction to add a little more suspense to the experience.
Now that the franchise had a foothold in the parks, a new group of Imagineers thought that they might be able to pull off a full attraction. They came up with a replacement for the attraction Mission to Mars that would utilize the same theater in the round experience. Guests would sit in the theater and a Xenomorph would be teleported in, somehow getting loose and terrorizing the audience. But again, older Imagineers stepped in and convinced Eisner that since the film was rated “R”, Disney couldn’t make a full attraction based off of it.
However, Eisner still liked the idea of this type of thrilling attraction, so he commissioned the Imagineers to create the attraction, but with a completely original story. Some Imagineers still thought it was too frightening, so they asked George Lucas to come in and help with the story. Lucas helped shape a story around a benevolent alien that helped the guests escape from the clutches of the evil corporation that put the guests in danger.
However, Eisner still liked the original idea of having a malevolent alien, so that was how it remained when the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter finally soft opened on December 16th, 1994 in the Magic Kingdom.
But Eisner was not pleased by the test runs, so he decided to close the attraction down for another six months to make it even scarier. After that time, the attraction officially opened to the public on June 20th, 1995. Immediately, Eisner’s goals were achieved as Alien Encounter became known as the scariest Disney attraction to ever exist.
Before I get more into the details, I want to give you the chance to avoid spoilers in case you wanted to see it yourself. The video below features both of the preshows and the actual attraction, though it’s hard to see what is happening in the attraction because it was pitch black, but it’s still worth checking out if you are interested.
To start from the beginning, the first preshow did a great job introducing guests to X-S Tech, the alien company that guests would be learning more about during their time at the facilities. While guests waited outside, they would watch an introductory video starring some aliens from X-S Tech, including a company spokesman (played by Tyra Banks) and the chairman (portrayed by Jeffrey Jones). The short film did a great job of welcoming guests to the company, while also having a slightly menacing undertone to put guests on edge.
After the first preshow was over, guests moved on to the next preshow, where they got to meet SIR and Skippy, a robot and an alien respectively. SIR, voiced by Tim Curry, gave a demonstration of the company’s newest technology, teleportation. SIR used Skippy, the alien, as an example to demonstrate the power of teleportation, transporting him across the room between two teleportation tubes.
SIR had an awesome air of confidence about him that really helped him stand out from a lot of the animatronic characters. Plus, his movements looked great, and he really was on the cutting edge of Audio-Animatronics, even by today’s standards.
After the demonstration went a little awry with Skippy getting slightly fried, X-S Tech decided to move guests on to the teleportation chamber, where one lucky guest would be teleported across the galaxy.
Once everyone was seated, screens came to life at the top of the theater, and two X-S Tech employees (portrayed by Kathy Najimy and Kevin Pollack) began their search for the lucky guest who would get teleported. But before anyone could be chosen, the chairman showed up again and decided that he would be the one getting teleported, so that he could answer any questions from the guests.
Along the way, the chairman’s signal got confused with another signal, and a ferocious alien appeared in the chamber instead. The room immediately plunged into darkness and the alien “crawled” around the room terrorizing guests. Eventually, X-S Tech managed to bring the alien back into the teleportation tube and neutralize it, saving all of the guests, but not from any nightmares they might have.
Overall, I thought that Alien Encounter was actually an awesome fit for Tomorrowland. It brought a lot of great sci-fi elements to Tomorrowland and fit really well into the futuristic image of the area. It really seemed like a future that could be possible and fit in better than a lot of the attractions that make up Tomorrowland today. (Here’s looking at you, Tomorrowland Speedway.)
The ride system was also really impressive because Disney managed to create so much suspense simply by pumping audio into your ears and shooting you with some water. Guests of all ages were scared out of their minds, so the system really served its purpose well.
I really loved everything about the attraction. It added a lot of backstory to a very simple overall attraction and was unlike anything ever created by Disney before. Sure, Alien Encounter may not have been the best fit for Disney parks, but I still think it was important that it was there for a time. It showed that Disney was willing to take risks and helped prove that true thrilling attractions can exist in the parks.
I really wish that I could’ve experienced this attraction myself because I love scary things, and I think I would’ve had a blast. Unfortunately, we’ll most likely never see anything like it again, at least not to that level of fear.
Originally, the plan was to bring the Alien Encounter to Disneyland, too, but the failure of Disneyland Paris led to cost-cutting across the company, and Disneyland’s Tomorrowland did not get the major Tomorrowland 2055 update that it was planned, instead getting a simplified version that didn’t lead to much change.
Unfortunately, Alien Encounter was too scary for most people and not super popular because of it, so the attraction closed for good on October 12th, 2003 to make way for a similar attraction called Stitch’s Great Escape. The new attraction actually did a great job paying tribute to Alien Encounter because it was very similar in scope, utilizing the same technology but with Stitch instead of the scary alien. (The tone became much sillier and ultimately did not really work, but that’s a story for another day… probably sooner rather than later with Stitch’s demise looking eminent.)
The preshow to Stitch’s Great Escape still features our friend Skippy in much of the same role, as well as some references to X-S Tech scattered throughout, so the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter still lives on in some small ways. The attraction has an intense cult following, so the spirit of it will never truly die.
And that brings this week’s journey to a close, so let’s take a look at what’s coming next week.
- These attractions only appeared in one Disney park.
- These attractions involved a waterway and boats.
- At one point, one of the attractions was based on Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears.
I hope you guys enjoyed this post because this is definitely one of the attractions that I miss the most, even though I never got to experience it. And don’t forget to vote for your favorite extinct attractions in Mouse Madness!
And with that picture of me from last week, thanks for reading and have a magical day!
Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.