October 3, 2014

New Tomorrowland's Alien Encounter: Showcasing a Terrorizing Future

In the not-so-distant past, Disney suits gave us groundbreaking attractions in Florida. Such is the case with the Tomorrowland redo of 1994. They were experiences for the whole family that did not always rely on roller coaster thrills. Yet, Tomorrowland looked like something straight out of Meet the Robinsons.

It was time to redo the land. There had to be another focus as technology was surpassing what had been built for the 1971 opening of the Magic Kingdom park. What was imagined for the next version was a future fantasy that would not go out of style, something akin to a space port of the future, a world where robots, aliens, and humans all coexisted in a sometimes uncomfortable world.

From the excellent but now defunct Webcot site.
There would be a mix of science fantasy and retro focused attractions. There had to be: Carousel of Progress would still be there, but there would also be a new CircleVision show starring Robin Williams, The Timekeeper, the American version of Paris' Le Visionarium. When you tossed in the continued presence of the Tomorrowland Raceway, the odd mix of attractions had to include this elaborate backstory.

The official Disney photo looks great!

There would be found one unexpected adventure in the plans. ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. Depending on your point of view, this was either one great Walt Disney World attraction or one that never belonged in a Disney park. Count me among the former. Happily. What could the Imagineers do to successfully revamp the old Mission to the Moon / Mission to Mars building? Apparently, something incredible!

My first and only experience with the attraction came at the end of the 20th Century. Arriving at the Magic Kingdom park one early evening, I could not wait to get to the New Tomorrowland. I was not disappointed. The visuals were staggeringly beautiful, especially after dark when the neon lighting appeared. Here was the one stateside Tomorowland I could get excited about after watching the original in California deteriorate before my eyes.

We had just been to Paris the year before, and we absolutely loved every part of the beautiful Disneyland Paris resort. Discoveryland and its Jules Verne retro style was a treat. 

I was curious to see the American version of Le Visionarium. Very glad to have it on our turf. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority was present and accounted for- in my book a staple of great Tomorrowland design. The glowing Space Mountain loomed in the near distance, and our entire family had our eyes on another great journey to outer space. Yet it was this small theater show that I was most looking forward to experiencing.

We approached Alien Encounter with an excitement we didn't expect. It's not too often we get to try out a Disney attraction for the first time. Even rarer to do so for a scary one! I'd heard many stories of families with young children who had left traumatized. Not knowing what to expect, I was still compelled to discover the horrifying truth for myself. My family, including youngest son, was game for it, too. We just couldn't resist!

X-S Tech invited us to "Seize the Future". What a wonderful opportunity to visit this company due to their generosity of hosting an open house. Or was there something more? Wandering inside the building, the more serious, some would say ominous, tone of the attraction was quite a surprise. The upcoming theater experience was only intensified by the eerie music coming from the speakers.

My wife and I gave our kids the big pep talk, particularly preparing our nine years old for a thrill on par with the Haunted Mansion- but a little more "up close and personal". We seated him between both of us and held his hands while his teenage siblings sat on both sides of us. The lights dimmed- and the thrills began.

Sitting in the soon darkened theater, every move of the alien brought shrieks- shrieks of laughter that is. Even our youngest found it great fun. I am not a horror movie fan, especially when it came to slasher flicks, but who ever thought (implied) blood and gore could be so much fun?!? 

As we exited the show, we couldn't stop talking about it. We spent the rest of our evening in a fairly empty Magic Kingdom, hitting the Florida mountain range and a quick trip with the Pirates of the Caribbean. It was a great night under the stars, full of the magic Disney promises.

Expecting Alien Encounter to be around for a long time, we never took another ride. Wish we had as it closed a mere eight years after its premier. Yes, it was a shock for us. Disney, especially in Florida, left its attractions up for years with replacement or rehabilitation. But it was gone, now only to be enjoyed on You Tube.

Wouldn't you know it, the suits at Disney had to revamp it with the now mandatory toon tie in. Above, Stitch, as he ruins a once original and spectacular attraction.

This wonderfully frightful attraction almost came to Disneyland in California as well. Unfortunately, it never arrived.

So, here it is at Walt Disney World via YouTube- scary yourself silly! ExtraTerrorestrial Alien Encounter

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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