Seize The Future with X-S! Part two of our Disney Groundbreakers Series.

Seize The Future with X-S! Part two of our Disney Groundbreakers Series.

George Lucas, Star Wars creator, started getting involved with Disney after Michael Eisner took the company’s helms in 1984.  The first collaboration was Captain EO, which premiered in 1986.  This was quickly followed by Star Tours (one of the first motion simulator attraction, based on the Star Wars universe) in 1987.  1989 saw Lucasfilm (George Lucas company) properties take center place at the Disney-MGM Studios, with Indiana Jones featured in both the Great Movie Ride and a stunt show that showed how action sequences in movies were filmed. 

Michael Eisner still wanted to bring some type of Alien ride, so George Lucas collaborated with Walt Disney Imagineering to design a new one.  Stories and designs were discussed, some of which were too dark for a theme park.  One known example of a proposed story had an evil corporation using the audience as a test subject to demonstrate a dangerous alien’s capabilities.  The creature was sentient and instead helped the crowd escape, with the show ending with the sounds of the alien devouring the company staff.  Even for an R-rated Halloween event, this was too much, so WDI continued with their proposed ideas.   They finally kept the concept of an evil company but went in a different direction.

Tomorrowland 2055 at Disneyland was pushed back due to Disneyland Paris financial issues (coming soon in an upcoming article series), leading to New Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom first.  A complete reimagining of the land, with new attractions replacing outdated ones, a new palette of colors, and a more timeless approach.  The unique setting took inspiration from Disneyland Paris incredible Discoveryland, and pre-Star Wars science-fiction movies and serials. A busy galactic city with businesses and landmarks was the result, with the following changes that happened between 1993 and 1995:

  • Giant rocks similar to the ones at the entrance of Discoveryland added to the side of Tomorrowland facing the hub. 
  • Avenue of the Planet, full of neon lights and metallic colors, is the new name of the main path leading from the hub toward Rocket Tower plaza.
  • Circlevision theater upgraded to the Timekeeper, a revised version of the Visionarium at Disneyland Paris.  Timekeeper here was voiced by Robin Williams and removed the references to Renault and the Reina Stella, the French car company sponsor, and its space car featured in the French attraction. 
  • Changed the Rocket Jets to Astro Orbiter, featuring new ride vehicles and a planetoid assembly of planets as a centerpiece.
  • Small theming elements appeared throughout the land, like metallic palm trees, a robotic newspaper distributor, and Cool Ship. 
  • Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café replaced Tomorrowland Terrace.
  • Mission to Mars replaced by the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter.
  • Addition of the Merchant of Venus gift shop at the exit of the right Alien Encounter theater and Aunty Gravity’s Galactic Goodies ice cream shop next door.

The most considerable changes were to the left show building, where many rocks were added to separate it from the hub.  A large module was added to the Avenue of the Planet side, looking like claws and adding much height to the building, breaking the original clean lines of the building and the path.  It was repainted in metallic colors, dark blue and purple.  Many neon lights gave a stunning appearance to the land, making the land very special at night.

Attraction-wise, the building was extended, adding a pre-show room where guests used to enter the waiting room of Mission to Mars.  A sizeable metallic tower at the far corner of the building was constructed to house the attraction sign and reference the building’s new role: Tomorrowland Convention Center.  A large sign advertised and explained that X-S Tech showed a new product inside. A sizeable antenna-like device completed the tower.  The queue started near the entrance sign but soon headed to the left, toward the large rocks.  An extended queue in a garden was used on busy days before guests returned to the marquee tower. A custom BGM (Background Music) loop was composed for the attraction; the only surviving 5 minutes segment can be listened to here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p048eUlx8IU .  It is futuristic and adds to the general ambiance of the attraction.  One small clever detail was that the tower power cable went under the tower and into an open sewer utility hole, showing subtly that corners were cut here.

The first pre-show room had an interesting video loop, with plenty of clever references to Mission to Mars, Flight to the Moon, and a fictional Lunar Disneyland, giving a realistic and lived-in experience to the land.  Eventually, a grand fanfare introduces an alien presenter with a unique appearance.  Played by Tyra Banks, her lines were dubbed over as she introduces X-S Tech to us, Earth residents.  The premise is that market research probes from X-S Tech discovered Earth, leading them to set up this new product demonstration.  She lists the following disciplines that XS-Tech specializes in as the largest consumer-oriented product company in the universe: Electro Robotics,  cryo cybernetics, techno surveillance, planetary restructuring, genetic engineering, and hyperspatial transport. 

The presenter mentions that the company goal is to help others “Seize the Future” and introduce the current chairman, L.C. Clench.  L.C. Clench (played by Jeffrey Jones) says the following: “we were, of course, extremely enthused when our market research probes discovered the Earth.  A world with so many eager customers is always worth our greatest effort.” The last part is said in a sinister tone, setting up the tone for what will follow and give the impression that perhaps, not all is good and dandy at X-S Tech…

The presenter shows the machine demonstrated under construction, mentioning that thousands of skilled X-S engineers have worked around the clock. She hopes that our hard work is well worth your while.  It then cuts back to Clench, who recites the company motto: if something can’t be done with X-S, it should not be done at all.  He then addresses critics about how X-S Tech is only in for profit, but his answer to that is patronizing, saying that he has an obligation to help less fortunate planets and that profit is something they’ve learned to live with. He then ends with him asking us to help him, “Seize the future with X-S!”

The attraction’s main theme takes us to the demonstration area, which serves as the second pre-show.  This is where the first of many changes between the 1994 preview attraction and definitive 1995 attraction occurred.  Originally, T.O.M. 2000 (Technorobotic Oratorical Mechanism serie 2000), Phil Hartman voiced the demonstration’s bumbling and friendly robotic host.  He was chatty and friendly to everyone, happy to see so many humanoids at once.  The demonstration consisted of a new teleportation machine, where beings were teleported from one tube to the other room after getting broken down into atoms and then reconstructed.  Skippy, a cute little six-legged white alien, was the guinea pig, and we saw him in the left tube. 

The teleportation worked, but the arrival of Skippy in the other tube was flawed, as he was now all burned and singed.  T.O.M. 2000 panicked and expressed regret at what he had done.  We were then ushered out toward the Testing Chamber.

Like Mission to Mars, two Testing labs were installed, with the right one (that fed directly into Merchant of Venus) in default use when one theater was in operation. The main show was relatively slow, with a lot of action featuring Dr. Femus (played by Kathy Najimi) and Spinlock (played by Kevin Pollak).  The first part illustrated that the teleportation machine is flawed, and corners are cut during its design and construction.  The air cushion under us were removed, and the seats were now equipped with sliding shoulder bars.  Near our head, groundbreaking binaural audio speakers are installed so that audio engineers can program sound, so it feels like it’s lifelike and comes from a specific direction.

Spinlock was your stereotypical greedy executive, and things immediately went wrong, with the “analysis modules” (shoulder restraints) malfunctioning and taking a long time before lowering on the guests.  Dr. Femus then search for a volunteer, finding one, but he or she “needs a lot of IQ boosting.”

Clench then enters the room, calling off the volunteer teleportation.  He then decides he wants to come to Earth to meet us.  The teleportation happens, with the tube filling up with smoke and with spectacular lighting effects and sparks. Spinlock was so impatient he didn’t allow Dr. Femus the chance to lock the trajectory, causing him to land on an unknown planet. Spinlock assumed Clench was with us, but the tube was empty.  Dr. Femus detect a lifeform on the planet and believes it is Clench, boosting power and sending him to us.  

Alas, we did not get Clench, but it’s an Alien!  The Alien here was a winged insect-like carnivorous creature who was seemingly happy at finding fresh meals.  The design was quite startling: picture a 6-7 feet tall multi-legged creature with large transparent wings and a large mouth with sharp teeth.  A praying mantis was the oblivious inspiration. The wings help rationalize why this ravenous monster moves around the room so quickly.

The Alien proceeds to beat on the tube, eventually breaking it and escaping before Dr. Femus can send him back where he came from.  A maintenance worker then comes on the catwalk above us, where even after Dr. Femus warns him about an Alien, he gets attacked. 

This is where the main show struggled, as the following long segment was in the dark, only relying on its binaural audio.  When the lights came on, the Alien was back in the tube, and the protective tube slid down to cover it.  The attraction ended with Clench back on X-S home planet, trapped in the tube.