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Fans of the MCU and fans of Walt Disney World were equally excited when it was announced that Epcot would be receiving a brand new Guardians of the Galaxy themed roller coaster in time for the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World. However, this morning, Bob Chapek, The Walt Disney Company's Chairman of Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products revealed that the new attraction will be a first of its kind experience, what Disney Parks is calling a "storytelling coaster." According to Chapek...
On most coasters, the vehicles point straight ahead throughout the ride, but on this attraction, each individual cab will be programmed to direct your eye to the story happening around you. That means instead of whizzing by the action, you'll be fully immersed in the story from the minute you launch.
Some test footage of the new attraction, which Bob Chopek showed at the IAAPA Attractions Expo (via Attractions Magazine), showed a chain of traditional rollercoaster vehicles, where one was moving left and right as it got pulled forward at high speed. While the test footage didn't give any indication of what will be surrounding the ride vehicles on the actual Guardians of the Galaxy attraction, one assumes the car will be pointing at screens or animatronics that will tell the story that the ride has created.
Roller coaster cars that move aren't entirely new, many coasters give riders the ability to spin around in some way independent of the forward motion, but this may be the first coaster that will move you around in a programmed way specifically to show you something.
Storytelling and immersion have always been a major part of what Disney tries to do in order to elevate the attractions beyond simple rides. Many of Disney's competitors have followed suit over the years. We're used to getting interesting and involved stories on exciting thrill rides like Star Tours or the Indiana Jones Adventure, but those rides don't move at the speed of a rollercoaster.
Conversely, many roller coasters do have stories that are part of them, but traditionally all the storytelling is done in pre-show rooms and ride cues and the story part of the ride itself is negligible at best. Disney's Hollywood Studios' Rock N' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith or the newly skinned Incredicoaster would be examples of that. They might have elements of the story or theme around you as your car goes flying by, but it's little more than set dressing.
Of course, the reason that we don't get a lot of deeply engaging stories on roller coasters is that it's just difficult to explain a lot while traveling at 45 miles per hour for two minutes at a time. How do you get across the information that you want to get across when the guest can only see what you want to show them for a brief moment?
Clearly, the ride vehicles ability to direct the guests attention to where the information is happening is part of the way this will work, but it's probably only part of the story. The rest of the answer may be found in the fact that the show building is one of the largest constructions of its kind that Walt Disney World has ever created. Bob Chopek revealed that the concrete foundation was the largest pour Walt Disney World had ever made. To explain the size of the show building itself, he revealed that four Spaceship Earths, the massive Epcot geodesic dome, could fit inside it.
This massive size could help the ride in a couple of different ways. First, if there's a significant amount of distance between the track and the wall of the building, then projections being displayed there can be large, and take up the guests field of view in a broader way, meaning that there will simply be more time to look at whatever it is the ride wants to show you.
Secondly, the massive building could house a significant track length. If the ride is longer than your average roller coaster, then it will have more time to tell you its story. Either of these things, or some combination of the two, could be the way this will all work.
This is already done to some degree at Space Mountain at Disneyland. When the park wants to put an extra emphasis on Star Wars, the ride gets a reskin and a name change to Hyperspace Mountain. The ride vehicle becomes a fighter in an X-wing squadron that gets involved in a battle with a Star Destroyer. Projections of other ships are shown on the walls, lighting effects are added to create the appearance of laser blasts, and radio chatter is heard over the ride vehicle speakers. It's pretty remarkable how immersive it is considering it's just a reskin over an older ride. These new ride vehicles could take all that to another level.
What story the new ride will tell, and even its official name, are still under wraps. We don't even have a real window for when the ride is expected to be completed, beyond the fact that it will be completed in time for Walt Disney World's big 50th birthday party in 2021.
Some of these questions are actually kind of important because the state of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise itself is a big question mark right now. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was expected to be in theaters in 2020 but after Disney made the decision to fire James Gunn the movie is on indefinite hold. While the ride was expected to come after the third film, it now is very likely to arrive first. This could potentially require a change in the ride's story.
Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout at Disney California Adventure uses the actors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and while the ride's story isn't officially MCU canon, assuming the new ride was going to do the same, there may be a hiccup if the ride was going to use a character that the films had not yet introduced. There's also the problem that the word on the street was that filming the segments for the ride was rumored to be happening alongside filming of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and if that can't happen, it will be significantly more expensive and time consuming to complete this attraction.
Everything about the Guardians of the Galaxy attraction sounds pretty cool so far. I'll certainly be looking forward to checking it out sometime in 2021.