Coming July 21, 2021, Disney+ will launch a brand new 10-episode mini-series, Behind the Attraction. This series takes a look at ten of the most iconic attractions and locations between all the Disney parks, from beloved rides like It’s a Small World to the trains, trams, and monorails that get us to and from the parks. With the first five episodes dropping this week, we want you to be prepared for what’s ahead!
About the Series
First of all, with the massive success of The Imagineering Story series, it’s no surprise that Disney is bringing us another behind the scenes series. Executive producers Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, and Brian Volk-Weiss lend their thoughts and creative touches, as well as bringing in the experts to talk about their experiences with these attractions. A combination of modern and historical footage helps viewers to see the journey of each attraction, as well as bringing us a bit of Walt here and there.
It is also interesting to notice that this series isn’t just about rides – the term attraction for Disney includes almost anything a guest can experience. With that definition, you can bring in other parts of the Disney parks and properties that we know and love. We believe those might be some of the most beloved episodes of the series!
Episode 1: Jungle Cruise
One of the original, opening-day attractions at Disneyland, Jungle Cruise has long been loved by Disney-goers. From the incredible animatronics to the deliciously corny puns, Jungle Cruise makes us laugh while imagining a journey through the deepest jungles of our world. The origins of Jungle Cruise started with the documentary work of the Walt Disney Studios, inspiring Walt to make it a key component of Adventureland in Disneyland. This ride became so beloved that there is a version of it in each of the Disney parks around the world.
Since opening, Jungle Cruise has undergone several changes, including the most recent refit to all the Jungle Cruise rides in all the Disney parks. The original ride didn’t have any of the goofy skipper humor that we love, and the animatronics have been updated with the newest technologies over the years. With the last update, Imagineers reworked the story to fit a modern climate while still maintaining the joy and fun of the original ride.
With the film based on the ride coming soon, it will be fun to hear Dwanye Johnson’s take on this iconic attraction!
Episode 2: Star Tours
Long before the existence of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, we had Star Tours. First opened in 1987 at the Disneyland park, Star Tours was the first major Disney attraction to be based on non-Disney content. It was also the first modern simulator ride of its kind, bringing to life new technologies never seen before in a theme park (or anywhere else!). The original story took passengers on a trip to Endor, the forest moon from Return of the Jedi (the third of the Star Wars films at the time). However, mishaps occur with Captain Rex, who accidentally crashes the ship through an icy asteroid field and ends up in the middle of a battle. However, the tour ultimately made it through, safe and sound. A popular ride, Star Tours also found its way to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Tokyo Disneyland.
The original ride went unchanged for several years, even into the early 2000s. Guests also experienced the same story every time, so there wasn’t a difference from ride to ride. While that works well for a rollercoaster, in a story-based attraction it can get a little old. The waning popularity of the ride reflected that, with wait times dipping in favor of other attractions.
After Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, however, that opened the possibilities for major updates to the attraction. Star Tours went through a massive overhaul, bringing in new scenes from all the other films, most recently the crashed Death Star seen in The Rise of Skywalker. Still, the actual simulator is much the same, which is something we’re looking forward to learning more about in the episode!
Episode 3: Haunted Mansion
Opened in 1969 at the Disneyland park, the Haunted Mansion has continued to be one of the most loved attractions in both California and Florida. The original mansion sits in New Orleans Square in Disneyland, modeled after a sketch of the Shipley-Lydecker House in Baltimore, Maryland. While the Shipley-Lydecker House is gone, the original Haunted Mansion lives, er, haunts on in Disneyland.
While there are several different backstories for the Haunted Mansion, coming from the minds of the Imagineers who worked on the project, one of the basic storylines includes Master Gracey, the owner of the mansion. He was engaged to his love, Emily, but Madame Leota, a sorcerous, was in love with Gracey too. Madame Leota killed Emily and hid her in the attic, hoping to win Master Gracey, but he was so distraught that he hung himself. Madame Leota left Gracey to haunt the mansion, but returned to join him in death.
Even though all of this is a bit morbid for a Disney park, the Haunted Mansion definitely is more silly and spooky than horrifying and scary. On top of the story, the attraction uses some of the most sophisticated technology of the time, which we suspect will be the main focus of the episode.
Episode 4: Trains, Trams, & Monorails
It might seem strange that a series about attractions would include transportation, but you have to remember that Walt Disney had a long and deep love affair with trains. Walt’s father and uncle both worked with trains, and Walt himself sold candy and papers at a local train station when he was a boy. The idea for Mickey Mouse even came to Walt while he was riding a train.
No surprise then that when Walt Disney built Disneyland, he wanted to include a working steam locomotive for the guests. When he began work for Disney World, Walt wanted to have trains there too. However, while the trains for Disneyland had been built specifically for the park, for Disney World Walt wanted to have real trains that formerly ran on real railways. Walt’s friend and train guy Roger Broggie found him just what the park needed, and those still trains run to this day.
Even though we love the trains, what we’re really excited to learn more about are the monorails. Created by Imagineer Bob Gurr, the Disney monorails were the first train system of their kind, used from the 1970s all the way until now. Yes, Mickey is Walt’s legacy – but so are trains.
Episode 5: Tower of Terror
Now the official icon of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror has been one of the most well-known structures of the park since its opening in 1994. Bringing guests inside the world of the series, The Twilight Zone, you find yourself in a brand-new episode starring…you. The idea behind the ride wasn’t to mimic just one episode in particular, but to give you the feeling of the series in an all-new experience. Similar to the show, in which each episode has its own plot, the ride takes place within a new story. Imagineers did take inspiration from the series, bringing elements like the Fifth Dimension and other episode Easter Eggs throughout the ride.
The backstory of Tower of Terror takes place on October 31, 1939, when five elevator passengers end up travelling to the Twilight Zone (Fifth Dimension) when the elevator is struck by lightning. Now, the hotel is reopened, and you (the new guests) encounter their ghosts. During this encounter, you also find yourself in…the Twilight Zone.
Choosing the 1930s was deliberate on behalf of the Imagineers – they wanted to have the art deco feel of the late 1930s and old Hollywood. Since the ride was designed for the old MGM park, this fit perfectly. Behind the Attraction will also cover taking this ride to other Disney park locations around the world, and the changes it made during these moves.
Episode 6: The Hall of Presidents
One of the opening-day attractions at Walt Disney World in 1971, The Hall of Presidents brings together a love of American history with insane Imagineer technology. Like several of the attractions at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, Walt Disney’s involvement in the 1964-65 World’s Fair would help to bring about the technology needed to make The Hall of Presidents work. Instead of stiff wax figures, the Presidents could now realistically move, speak, and even (in the case of President Lincoln) stand up to address the guests. Coupling this with a 180 degree story presentation makes The Hall of Presidents into so much more than just a stage show.
In 1993, Imagineers and the Disney company made the move to update The Hall of Presidents by giving the current President a more prominent role. Since then, each President has been given their own animatron and delivered a short speech as part of the attraction. Currently, the attraction is still closed as we await the addition of the newest President, Joe Biden. Disney Parks Blog just released that The Hall of Presidents should reopen some time in August with President Biden featured as a new animatron.
Episode 7: Space Mountain
Space Mountain first opened in 1975 at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World, but the original concept came from Walt’s fabulous brain (shocker, right?). In the late 1960s, Walt wanted to reimagine Tomorrowland in Disneyland, bringing in a “Space Port” and other out-of-this-world elements. Sadly, Walt passed before the project could move forward, and it was tabled. However, a few years later, Imagineers wanted to bring more thrill rides to the Magic Kingdom and Space Mountain was back on.
Largely inspired by the Matterhorn bobsleds and tracks, Space Mountain features a single-file rocket ship and two interweaving tracks. In the original ride conception, you could see the tracks from the queue, swirling and clicking above you in the dark. In 2009, the ride went through a major refurbishment, updating the tracks and closing them in to make the ride darker and more intense.
There are two other versions of Space Mountain – one in Disneyland and another, more extreme take in Disneyland Paris. This episode dives into the creation of the original, and tells us about the changes made to bring the ride to more guests around the globe.
Episode 8: “it’s a small world”
One of four attractions created for the 1964 World’s Fair, It’s a Small World spent two years on display at the fair before finding a permanent home in Disneyland. The popular ride now has versions in all the global Disney resorts except Shanghai, one of the few rides to translate on an international scale. As the ride was made to spread awareness about the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its global efforts, this is hardly surprising.
While it may be the song that doesn’t quit, the idea of playing different songs (such as each country’s national anthem) throughout the ride was just not practical. Instead, the team that came up with many of the iconic songs for Mary Poppins created the emblematic tune now synonymous with the famous boat ride. Since the ride’s creation, there have been a few touch-ups and changes, some of which have caused controversy (of the Disney fan variety). As we watch this episode, we’re looking forward to an in-depth look at this beloved attraction!
Episode 9: Disneyland Hotel
Wait a minute, a hotel? An attraction?
Remember – anything that a guest can experience could be considered an attraction. If you’ve been to any Disney resort, you know that they are definitely an experience! The Imagineering team works tirelessly to get every aspect of a resort right, conforming to the set theme and ensuring guest comfort.
In terms of the Disneyland Hotel, it almost didn’t exist. Between no one wanting to take a chance on it and the fact that Walt Disney didn’t have any money left to spend, it seemed doomed from the beginning. However, Walt convinced Jack Wrather, a Texas oil man, to invest in the project, starting a relationship that continued until Disney purchased back the hotel in 1988.
The Disneyland Hotel was the first major resort to cater specifically to families – rooms large enough to accommodate four people, a children’s menu at the restaurants, and even baby food provided with notice. This meant that people could travel as a family, rather than a husband leaving behind his wife and children for a conference or other business. In the 1950s-60s, that was huge. As Disneyland became more popular, the hotel grew with it, becoming the largest hotel in the area by a long shot.
Since 1955, the Disneyland Hotel has gone through updates, refits, and changes, including a major retheming in the early 2000s. All of this and more will come into the episode, and we can’t wait to see what behind the magic information we get!
Episode 10: The Castles
What would the theme parks be without their beautiful icons? Even as adults, we still get a bit emotional seeing Sleeping Beauty’s or Cinderella’s castle as we walk down Main Street, U.S.A. (depending on your home park of course!). The castles also help to draw us into the park – something that Walt considered when he asked for one in the first place.
There are six castles among the international Disney resorts:
- Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland
- Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World
- Cinderella Castle in Tokyo Disneyland
- Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant in Disneyland Paris (which roughly translates to Sleeping Beauty Castle)
- Castle of Magical Dreams in Hong Kong Disneyland
- Enchanted Storybook Castle in Shanghai Disneyland
Obviously, the oldest of these beautiful structures is Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland, which was something Walt specifically asked for from his Imagineers. He wanted it to serve as the symbol of the park, bring guests into the fairytale world, and be large enough to help orient guests as they moved around Disneyland. The original sketches, done by artist Herb Ryman, drew inspiration from Neuschwanstein castle in Germany, which also inspired Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World. While the design changed over time to be what it is today, it is the only castle that Walt got to see from start to finish, giving it that special touch only he had.
As Disney went international, they began to consider the changes they would need to make to the aesthetics and designs of their castles. This presented a new challenge to the Imagineers, one that they met with gusto. As we watch this episode, it will be amazing to see the cultural influences of the global parks, and how the changes to our beloved icons are what make them all the more special to those parks.
Don’t forget to tune in to Behind the Attraction on Wednesday, July 21, streaming exclusively on Disney+! You can bet we’ll be there! After you have seen the shows, you’ll want to experience it in the parks yourself! Give us a call to get started 877-EZDIS-EZ (877-393-4739)