If you've ever been to a Disney theme park, then you certainly have your favorite ride. Maybe it's changed over the years, or maybe you have a sentimental favorite that has been special to you since you were a kid. For many a favorite theme park attraction means as much as a favorite movie, and that's no different for Brian Volk-Weiss, one of the producers behind the new Disney+ documentary series Behind the Attraction. Unfortunately, his favorite ride isn't profiled in the new series, in fact it doesn't even exist anymore.
During a press conference for Disney+'s new Behind the Attraction, producer Brian Volk-Weiss revealed that his personal favorite attraction at Disneyland was Mission to Mars. Volk-Weiss explained that, as much as he loved the ride, which traces its origins back to the first days of Disneyland, it couldn't be included in Behind the Attraction because one of the stipulations that Disney made was that the focus of the show should be on current attractions, not old ones that people can't experience anymore. I asked Brian Volk-Weiss later why Mission to Mars was his favorite, and as one might expect, it all traces back to his first trip to the park. The producer explained...
You asked me a question and I’m going to give you an answer but it’s as cheesy and typical and cliched as it gets. My grandfather brought me there for the first time, I was probably five or eight-years-old. I’m a huge space junkie my entire life. I remember sitting in there, watching the earth get smaller and smaller on the lower screen and Mars get closer and closer on the upper screen. I thought we went to Mars. I was really kinda shocked when it was over that we weren’t on Mars. That’s why, it’s a purely emotional connection to my childhood.
Mission to Mars began life with the opening of Disneyland as Flight to the Moon, then Rocket to the Moon. Of course, when man actually walked on the moon in the late 1960s, a trip to the moon was a bit less fantastical, and so the attraction saw an update in the early 1970s that pushed the journey further out in space, all the way to Mars. The ride was a sort of precursor to Star Tours that used a pair of screens to make you feel like you flying away from earth and toward Mars. The theater was "in the round" and simple effects in the chairs gave you feeling that pressure was changing and you were achieving simple weightlessness.
The ride would be cloned at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, but in the mid-1990s that version would be replaced by the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. The new attraction was originally planned to replace Mission to Mars at Disneyland as well, but when the new ride was seen as too scary for Disney by many guests, those plans were scuttled. Eventually, Mission to Mars simply became the Pizza Port restaurant. Not a significant upgrade.
I had the chance to ride Mission to Mars on my early trips to Disneyland and while the attraction was certainly showing its age even then, it had a charm all its own. It made a young Brian Volk-Weiss feel like he might actually be on Mars, a feeling that would be replicated decades later when my own daughter would become convinced we'd been captured by the First Order while on Rise of the Resistance.
While it's understandable why Disney would want to focus on existing attractions for the new Behind the Attraction series, if the show gets more episodes, one hopes that eventually it will be able to dive into some of the now closed rides and shows, as there is still a lot of theme park history that people would probably appreciate. Then again, they'll have to make a show better than Defunctland, and that's becoming a tall order.