The Twilight Zone And Thematic Integrity Check Out at Disney California Adventure

Guests have taken their last plunge on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure.  The Tower of Terror opened in 2004 and while it was never as beloved as its counterpart at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, it remained one of the busiest attractions at California Adventure.  While at first denying the rumors, Disney later confirmed that The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror would be closing in early 2017.

However the ride is not being torn down.  Instead it is being re-themed to the popular Guardian’s of the Galaxy film.  Guardian’s of the Galaxy: Mission BREAKOUT! is expected to open around the same time Guardian’s of the Galaxy Volume 2 film opens in May.  Rumors suggest that this is the first step in creating a new land at California Adventure based around various Marvel properties.   

While at first it seems natural to remove the Twilight Zone Intellectual Property and replace it with a more relevant one like Guardian’s of the Galaxy, it does pose thematic inconsistencies for the park as a whole.  A comic and film based on a fantasy space environment has no place in a park themed about California.  Even the Hollywood film machine argument carries little weight considering that Marvel Comics are New York based. 

California Adventure opened in 2001, to very mixed reviews and suffered from poor attendance.  After several half hearted attempts to boost attendance (including building Tower of Terror), Disney went back to the drawing board and completely overhauled the park.  Work began on the massive undertaking before the park was even a decade old and included new attractions, new lands, and a new entrance to the park.  The new entrance called Buena Vista Street, payed homage to old Los Angeles and tied in directly with the Golden Age of Hollywood themed Hollywood Tower Hotel. The re-imagined California Adventure debuted in 2012, and while Carsland proved to be the big driver of attendance, it was Buena Vista Street that was seen by many as the crown jewel of the park.      

A few short years after that rousing success, Disney has turned a 180 and decided to leave thematic integrity behind and instead focus on adding intellectual properties that bring in merchandising dollars.  Under CEO Bob Iger, Disney has gone on a shopping spree of purchasing several companies which added to their already impressive line up of franchises.  The high profile purchases have included Pixar, Marvel, and LucasFilm which includes Star Wars and Indiana Jones. 

As those companies have come into the fold, the Disney marketing machine went to work to leverage them in as many ways as possible.  This included placing those properties into Disney Parks.  Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Pixar were already in the parks under licensing agreements.  Adding Marvel was more problematic because it’s East Coast and Japan rights had already been licensed out to competitor Universal Studios.  However, California was still in play which made the Disneyland Resort a natural fit to exploit the exploding Marvel brand. 

The problem is that from a thematic perspective, many of these new properties do not have a natural fit within the current Disney Parks lineup.  While Universal Studios have incorporated a studios park design with one off rides and attractions, Disney Parks have historically been more meticulously designed.  They consist of themed lands with an overall arching theme that ties the entire park together.  Attractions and shows were designed to fit within the constraints of the theme.

While exceptions have occurred over the years (including at California Adventure itself), by and large the thematic integrity remained intact.  This design concept has come into serious jeopardy as executive management’s desire to get a return on investment has come into conflict with how they want to integrate the properties into the theme parks.  The result has been a rather dramatic shift in thinking and left several Disney Parks suffering an identity crisis.    

Star Wars Land Construction with the former Tower of Terror in the distance

Eager to cash in on the incredibly successful film Frozen, Disney forced a Frozen themed ride into Epcot.  The fairy tale inspired film and it’s fictional locale of Arendelle took over the non fiction Norway pavilion.  Back in California, a new massive Star Wars themed land is being built in the back corner of Disneyland.  While it is no brainer to build an expansive Star Wars land, the concept and design clash with the original design of the 60 plus year old park.     

Bringing us back to California Adventure, the Tower of Terror is the anchor attraction in a land devoted to Hollywood.  It sits on Sunset Blvd., and is called the Hollywood Tower Hotel.  After the conversion it will have no tie in to anything California.  The tower looms not only over the land, but as the tallest attraction at the Disneyland resort as well as the city of Anaheim, over the entire resort. 

The Tower of Terror has a large presence over many areas of the Disneyland Resort

Soon we will have a large dramatic structure that can be seen throughout the park that bears no thematic tie in to the park it sits in.  This goes against the traditions the highly successful and beloved Disney theme parks were built on.  Disney is famous for its world building and does so like no other theme park operator.  That is in jeopardy as this new idea of pushing IP into the parks to the detriment of theme. 

If the trend continues you will see juxtapositions of the old style of design next to the new throughout the many Disney Parks.  Historically, Disney has excelled in creating new experiences that fit in and look like they have always belonged next to older areas of the park.  In 1955 Disney created the modern idea of a theme park and if they aren’t careful they will soon destroy it.       

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