Welcome back to another monthly installment of LRM’s Retro-Specs! The December column is written by LRM’s Tim Nardelli on the former Disney ride: Alien Encounter! Also, if you have not had the chance to check out his amazing talents, you can find the exclusive The Art of Comic Books by clicking on the link! Don’t miss out!
Good day everyone! I hope quarantine life is treating you and your families well and that you are all safe during these unsettling times. Ever since quarantine became official back in March, it’s been a great deal of time since anyone has been at a Disney Park. Prior to the park closing, Disney had recently opened “Star Wars: Galaxy Edge” back on May 31, 2019, and with it a whole new era of Star Wars themed attractions. Any Disney buff will tell you that Disney has had MANY attractions come and go over the years. Today’s Retro-Specs entry will revisit an old ride featured at Walt Disney World Parks, Florida at The Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland called: Alien Encounter.
Background On The Ride
The attraction officially opened back on June 20, 1995. What is particularly unique with this ride is back in its early days of development it was a collaboration. Walt Disney Imagineering and Lucasfilm put its visitors in the heart of a “situation gone wrong scenario”. Prior to the ride’s there was a time when the attraction itself was going to feature The Xenomorph from the Alien film franchise. The Xenomorph would terrorize visitors on the attraction. In addition to the iconic film creature, the ride was also going to also include The Weyland Yutani Corp. Fans will know that the corporation featured in the Alien film series as well.
There are certainly production value towards Disney having a high-profile franchise within the attraction. However, this particular concept never fully accumulated. George Lucas was in fact involved with the development of the attraction. But, he was opposed to having The Xenomorphs present at a Disney Park. As a result, the idea was scrapped entirely. The reasoning behind Lucas’ decision was because he had allegedly thought the acid spitting had no place on a Disney ride.
It’s understandable that Lucas would have opposition towards having an R-Rated franchise being present at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. However, such position towards the matter are still a bit contradictory. Case in point, in the years prior to Alien Encounter officially opening, the Xenomorph was present at one of the Disney themes parks within The Great Movie Ride which opened back in 1989.
The decision was to ultimately remove The Xenomorph from the attraction completely, despite such unacknowledged contradictions. The initial concept in which to create a sci-fi horror themed ride for Disney World remained.
Best Parts/Memories From The Ride
The initial concept, and story, to the attraction slightly modified. The only thing that would change in Disney and Lucas’ joint venture features a new, fictitious, tech company. It also would have an original alien creature.
With any new Disney attraction there is always the question as to where the new ride would best be featured. In short time it was decided to place the attraction in Disney’s Tomorrowland. It was then given the title: Alien Encounter. The attraction was initially successful. This was because of the fact Tomorrowland was Walt Disney’s vision of the future. With the narrative of the ride touching on similar themes, such as technology and innovations, it makes it the perfect fit.
There are other qualities in addition to proper placement, and benefits, in which to feature Alien Encounter. The ride uses newly innovated sound technology. This makes visitors feel they are truly locked in a room with a hostel alien organism! You could hear it moving around within the darkness. The alien literally breathes on the back of your neck!
Original Attraction Ad
I remember the first time I went on the ride. (I know I am going to date myself here). Back in 1995 what made this ride so scary was the notion that as the mist cleared within the tube you saw this terrifying alien creature. The Xenomorph is within the pod and upon escaping from within the tube, the lights go pitch black. It really makes you feel like you are trapped within the room with something hostile. The attraction did an incredible job establishing the narrative of XS-Tech coming to Earth to demonstrate the advancement of their technology. It also displays what the company has to offer for the people of Earth. However, the demonstration goes horribly wrong in the process. This results in the company inadvertently transporting a hostile alien organism to Earth among the audience!
While the ride made a great impact in its early years of being active, sadly though, Alien Encounter’s days would be numbered. It is eventually shutdown as a result to the consistent complaints the attraction was receiving despite its technical breakthrough.
When And Why They Took It Away
The ride was officially shut down back on October 12, 2003. This came due to complaints regarding the ride being “too scary” for a Disney ride. Of course this may be true having been on the ride multiple times during its years of activity. Still, the attraction had found itself in yet another predicament that would suggest otherwise. Shutting down Alien Encounter as a result of some visitors deeming the ride as “too scary” is yet another hypocritical statement. Another Disney attraction, “The Haunted Mansion”, resides within the same park exhibiting the same level of fright. In fact, it was not long ago when the ride underwent modifications. This was done to reduce the level of hostility and fear in which the ride evoked.
It’s odd that a hostile alien organism in a Disney ride is too scary, but a murderous ghost present a Disney ride is considered acceptable. Am I the only one not seeing the logic here? While the shut down to the ride was inevitable, I do in feel there are other “undisclosed” circumstances that contributed to the decision.
Why They Should Bring The Ride Back
For starters, there’s the fact Alien Encounter was absolutely AWSOME! I feel the ride still has a place at Disney World. Despite the critics deeming the ride as being too scary, it’s possible Alien Encounter was simply in the wrong Disney park. The presence of The Haunted Mansion would say otherwise however. The Magic Kingdom is recognizable as a more family-friendly environment in contrast to some of the other Disney parks, such as Disney Studios.
Perhaps if the ride were originally located in Epcot, instead of Magic Kingdom, it’s possible Alien Encounter would have received less negative reaction from visitors. Plus, Epcot is in fact Walt Disney’s vision of the future. Even the term “Epcot” is an acronym for “Experimental, Prototype, Community, of Tomorrow”. Considering Alien Encounter touches on similar themes towards future innovation maybe the attraction could be better within Epcot’s vision of tomorrow setting.
Regrettably, Disney is not known for brining back old attractions from retirement. But this is a ride I love deeply. I wish for its return to one of the Disney Parks. As of now, the parks do have a significant quantity of kid-friendly attractions. It doesn’t hurt to have a few adult-themed rides within the parks. What do you think? Do your remember Alien Encounter? Should Disney bring Alien Encounter back from retirement? Should it reopen in another park?