45 years ago today, one of the most iconic attractions in the history of Disneyland Resort opened: Space Mountain. It wasn’t the first Space Mountain roller coaster, as the ride had first opened at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 1975, but the Disneyland version that came two years later was more than simply a carbon copy; it’s a significantly different ride than the Florida version. It’s also, I think, the best of the five that exist.
Space Mountain exists in one form or another at several Disney Parks around the world. In addition to Magic Kingdom, it can also be found at Tokyo Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. While the Disneyland edition is nearly a half century old, it’s still an incredibly popular attraction, and for good reason. Here are five reasons that Disneyland’s Space Mountain isn’t just good, but the best version of the attraction in the world.
Disney World’s Space Mountain Is Really Just The Matterhorn
The first Disney roller coaster was the Matterhorn, built at Disneyland in 1959. When it came time to put a thrill ride in the new Magic Kingdom park at Walt Disney World, they ultimately used the same technology to build Space Mountain. The ride vehicles were largely the same before the Matterhorn’s refurbishment back in 2015. Disney World’s Space Mountain is basically the Matterhorn in the dark. While the Matterhorn is a classic and iconic attraction in its own right, it’s not exactly the smoothest ride if you know what I’m saying. It’s a pretty painful experience for some.
Since Disneyland already had the Matterhorn, its Space Mountain needed to be something a little different. It used a new patented steel track system which is a great improvement over the Matterhorn. It’s just a smoother and more exciting ride.
Michael Giacchino’s Soundtrack
However, the thing that truly sets Disneyland’s Space Mountain apart from Walt Disney World's came in the mid-1990s, when the ride added an onboard soundtrack. The ride vehicle contains speakers that play music synchronized with the ride. The first music came from rock guitarist Dick Dale, but Space Mountain became even better when Dale’s music was replaced by a new piece by Michael Giacchino.
Giacchino’s Space Mountain music is absolutely perfect. It’s a piece of music worthy of a Grammy, even if John Williams became the first composer to win a Grammy for theme park music. It starts out with this ethereal quality as you begin to ascend the lift hill before transitioning to something more powerful and fast paced as you hit speed. The music alone adds an element of adventure to the experience. Riding any Space Mountain without the music now feels like something’s missing.
Temporary Rethemes Keep Things Fresh
In most cases, retheming an attraction, even for a limited period of time (like how the Haunted Mansion Holiday gains a Nightmare Before Christmas theme between Halloween and Christmas), takes a lot of work and time. However, things are a bit simpler for Space Mountain. Since the ride is in the dark, some new music and new projections on the wall can really change the ride.
While other versions of Space Mountain could get these temporary rethemes, they generally don’t. Space Mountain at Disneyland has seen the Halloween-themed Ghost Galaxy as well as the Star Wars-focused Hyperspace Mountain. While not everybody loves these changes, they do add something new to the ride, and it also makes fans that much more excited when the standard version returns, so nobody ever takes it for granted.
Tokyo Disneyland’s Space Mountain Is Going Away
Saying that Disneyland’s version of Space Mountain is better than all the others is something of a difficult argument when you consider that the version of Space Mountain at Tokyo Disney Resort is literally the exact same ride. Like many elements of Tokyo Disneyland, the attraction there is simply a carbon copy of the California version of the attraction. The Oriental Land Company simply wanted Disneyland in Japan, and it largely got just that.
But that will be changing sooner than you think. It’s been announced that in 2014, Tokyo Disneyland's Space Mountain will close and will be replaced by something new. It will likely still be called Space Mountain, but will be a very different ride. Considering that money is basically no object for the Oriental Land Company, it’s quite possible that when this new version of the ride opens, it will become the best Space Mountain in the world. Until then, Disneyland’s version still edges it out, especially once it becomes the only one of its kind.
Disneyland Paris’ Space Mountain Just Isn’t The Same Anymore
If there’s one version of Space Mountain that might be seen as superior to one at Disneyland, it’s the one at Disneyland Paris. This is one Space Mountain that is not found inside Tomorrowland, but inside the Disneyland Paris version of that, Discoveryland, a Jules Verne-inspired vision of the future as seen in a bygone era.
The original version of Paris’ Space Mountain was called From the Earth to the Moon. It’s the tallest and fastest version of the attraction, and the only one with inversions. With its unique Jules Verne-inspired story, it was something quite special that stood apart from the other Space Mountains. However, the attraction has undergone a pair of significant updates since 1995, and with each one, Space Mountain has become less special. It is now a Star Wars-themed Hyperspace Mountain coaster, and while it is still incredible from a technical sense, its theming makes it feel more generic.
It may be 45 years old, but somehow Space Mountain is still an incredible roller coaster. It’s not the most exciting thrill ride and its technology is simple compared to what you’ll find at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but it’s still one of the most popular attractions to be found at Disneyland. That says a lot. So happy birthday to Space Mountain!
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CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.