Welcome to Disney Extinct Attractions. My name is Cole, and today I'll be your guide on a journey to the very recent past.
This past Monday, the official trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released. (The previously seen footage counts only as a teaser.) Undoubtedly the most anticipated film of 2017, the eighth episode of the Star Wars franchise is as sure of a hit as one could possibly find. Even with other Lucasfilm ventures hitting snags, The Last Jedi is the little film that could, seemingly going on without a hitch. (In fact, the film is already 100% complete making the wait that much harder.) Personally, I absolutely cannot wait until December 14th, with the release of the movie making a hard finals week way more bearable.
Star Wars mania has taken hold of every part of the Disney company with Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge on its way to Disneyland and Disney World park-wise and countless books, TV shows, and comics in other media. One of the biggest questions regarding the opening of Galaxy's Edge in Disneyland is what will happen to Star Tours. Will it remain open in Tomorrowland or move its way over to Galaxy's Edge eventually? Only time will tell.
Luckily, Walt Disney World does not have this problem because its Star Tours is located right near where Galaxy's Edge will ultimately open in Hollywood Studios. Its Tomorrowland is devoid of any Star Wars, with the franchise rightfully being kept to Hollywood Studios. But there are a few other franchises in Tomorrowland like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Lilo & Stitch.
From 1994 to 2003, Walt Disney World's Tomorrowland was home to what is known as the scariest Disney attraction ever created, the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. This attraction placed guests in the middle of a theater in the round while a terrifying alien escaped and horrified guests. I thought it was such an amazing attraction, but for obvious reasons it did not quite fit the bill of what the park was looking for attraction-wise, so when a little 2002 movie came out and was a bigger success than expected, it seemed like the perfect fit to replace this attraction.
Ending 2002 as the second highest grossing animated film of the year, Lilo and Stitch marked a high point in a rough time for Disney animation. While Pixar films were continuing to be huge successes year after year, Disney was in the middle of a rut that included maligned films such as Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Dinosaur, and Home on the Range. Disney had seemingly lost its touch, but out of the dark came Lilo & Stitch. The film immediately struck a cord with audiences everywhere and spawned a slew of TV movies and even a TV show. Plus, Stitch merchandise was off the charts and continues to be until this day. So naturally, Disney began to look for ways to bring Stitch into the theme parks and replacing Alien Encounter seemed like a logical first step.
Opening on November 18th, 2004, Stitch's Great Escape was the first attraction to bring the characters of the film to life. While the continuity of this attraction doesn't really fit in with the film, the story still provided a justifiable reason for Stitch to be in your presence. But before giving away too much, you can click below to experience this attraction yourself.
You start the attraction as a recruit in an intergalactic prison. Your training begins with a demonstration from a robot named 90210, who just transported one alien into the area and is about to show you how to transport in another.
(For those familiar with Alien Encounter, you may recognize the robot as SIR and the alien as Skippy.) 90210 complains to his coworker that he is only transporting Level 1 criminals, but he's looking forward to the real challenge that comes with the Level 2, high-risk prisoners. As soon as he's done that, you are informed that there is a Level 3 prisoner coming in, so as you move to the next room, you know things are going to get a little bit crazy.
As you enter the next room, things start to feel a little ominous as you sit down and a harness is placed over your shoulders, keeping you firmly in place. Once everyone is seated, lights start to flash, and smoke fills the center tube. Captain Gantu appears on overhead monitors to announce that the prisoner is coming.
And then with much aplomb, Stitch emerged from the smoke in full Experiment 626 form. He walks around for a few minutes before spitting into the audience to try and stop some lasers from tracking him. Just as in the movie, his ploy worked, and he was off to the races, stopping to turn off the lights and plunge the entire audience into darkness. He would then hop around and "terrify" audience members by spitting on them, jumping on their shoulders, and burping out chili dogs that he had stolen from a guest.
After having his fun, Stitch decided to hop back into the teleportation machine and go directly to Florida and the Magic Kingdom. He climbed around on the castle for a little while looking for Cinderella before the camera cut away, and you were excused from this training session.
Now I don't know about you, but I actually really liked the story for Stitch's Great Escape. Even though it didn't adhere to the canon of Lilo & Stitch, I appreciated that it didn't try to take the easy route and stick with Stitch's characterization from the end of the film. Instead, they attempted to channel Stitch from the beginning of the film, adding a little more backstory to the character. However, attempted is the key word, as Stitch in the show wasn't the success they were hoping for.
The major issue with Stitch's Great Escape is exemplified perfectly in this picture: the problem being that these kids are smiling.
The beauty of the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was that the Imagineers were genuinely trying to scare people when they rode the attraction. But Disney ran into a lot of issues with the fact that people simply don't want to be scared in a Disney park. So when they opened Stitch's Great Escape, they decided to tone down the scariness in favor of a more fun atmosphere. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but in doing so, they completely butchered the character of Stitch.
In the show, Stitch is a cross between the fun-loving alien that we know from Lilo & Stitch and the wild alien that we saw at the beginning of the film. It leaves you unsure whether you should be scared or laughing and overall just did not work. It's hard to describe without seeing it, but something was just very off about how he was portrayed. For this reason, Stitch's Great Escape quickly became known as the worst attraction in the Magic Kingdom and one of the worst Disney attractions of all time. It was missing so much of the spark that makes Disney so amazing.
That being said, the animatronic Stitch was pretty incredible. It was truly a showcase of Disney's technology and still stands out today. In fact, there was not enough of Stitch in it, and I found myself constantly wanting to just see the animatronic again.
Overall, I do think that Stitch's Great Escape ranks as one of the worst Magic Kingdom attractions, but I still enjoyed it. I merely have it so low on my list because there are so many awesome attractions in the Magic Kingdom. But it couldn't escape its reputation and eventually moved to seasonal operation on September 21st, 2016. It was a long time coming, and franky, it's amazing it had even lasted that long.
Two weeks ago, the signage at Stitch's Great Escape changed to Stitch's Alien Encounter Character Greeting! While Disney has not yet confirmed the attraction's closing, I'm taking this sign to mean that Stitch's Great Escape is finally no more. I think this meet and greet will be interesting, but I'm excited to see what else Disney has in store for the area.
And that brings our time here to a close, but first let's take a look at what is coming next.
- This land never existed.
- Evidence of the land can be still be seen in the park it was planned for.
- This land dealt with some very unique (mythical) animals.
I hope you enjoyed this look back at everyone's favorite Magic Kingdom attraction because I know I sure loved reliving it. (Actually, I did though.)
Thanks for reading and have a magical day!