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The TRON attractions that Disneyland almost got

The TRON attractions that Disneyland almost got

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Now that the official trailer for “TRON Legacy” has popped up on the Web and Disney XD has revealed that it has a TRON animated series in the works, theme parks fans are now wondering what the Imagineers will be doing to help support what-the-Company-hopes-will-be its next big franchise.

Well, before the guys at WDI spend too much blue sky-ing about the best possible way to bring this Joseph Kosinski film into the Parks, might I suggest that they check their archives? Because back in 1982, months prior to the original “TRON” ‘s release to theaters, WED was already hard at work. Trying to come with ways that they could bring the characters & settings from that Steven Lisberger movie to life inside of the Happiest Place on Earth.

Don’t believe me? Then allow me to share some information that I recently gleaned from the February 27, 1982 version of Disneyland’s Masterplan. An internal document that Anaheim execs created so that they could then map out a 5 / 10 / 15 year expansion plan for the Company’s original theme park.

There’s lots of fascinating what-might-have-beens hidden away in this report. Like WED’s proposed redo of Main Street USA. Which was to have replaced “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” with a new show that was based on / inspired by Epcot’s “American Adventure” attraction.

“And why would WED replace ‘Great Moments’ with ‘American Adventure’ ?,” you ask. Quoting directing from this 28-year-old document now, because the patriotic show that was then being presented in the Main Street Opera House had “ … been overshadowed by current guest expectations and new technology.”

TRON Legacy lightcycle
Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

This “Current Disneyland Masterplan” circa February 1982 is surprisingly frank. It talks about how a new Carousel show must be created because (again, I’m quoting the document directly here ) the “ … Existing America Sings Show does not fit the theme of Tomorrowland.”

Mind you, some of the stuff that’s proposed in this version of the Disneyland Masterplan did eventually make it into the Park. Take – for example – the Rivers of America Entertainment Spectacular. Which was proposed for Disneyland because the executives who were in charge of this theme park back then wanted “ … to create additional show atmosphere with a production that is independent of name talent (such as an electrical water pageant).”

Of course, these execs envisioned that Disneyland’s nighttime water pageant would be up and running by May of 1984. More importantly, that it would only cost $100,000 to construct. As it turns out, it wouldn’t be ‘til May of 1992 that “Fantasmic!” first began entertaining Guests who’d gathered along the edges of the Rivers of America. And as for that estimated $100,000 construction budget from 1982 … Not even close. From what I hear, the Company eventually spent $30 million on the development & construction of Disneyland’s Rivers of America Entertainment Spectacular. But given that “Fantasmic!” has wowed tens of millions of Guests over the past 18 years, I’d have to say that that sizable investment was ultimately worth it.

Anyway … Getting back to Disneyland’s TRON attraction plans now: Back in February of 1982, WED actually wanted to theme two Tomorrowland attractions around this yet-to-be-released film: A TRON ride-thru attraction (which was to have replaced this theme park’s then-tired old “Mission to Mars” attraction) as well as a TRON-themed  Arcade (which was to have been built in an unfinished area on the second the floor of Tomorrowland’s Starcade).

As for details about these two proposed TRON-based attractions … To be honest, the “Current Disneyland Masterplan” is kind of light on details. The ride-thru attraction that was supposed to have replaced “Mission to Mars” was to have used “ … various visual and audio technologies” to give 2,250 guests an hour the experience of moving through “ … the computer generated world of TRON.”

TRON Legacy
Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

As for the TRON Arcade … What the Imagineers wanted to do here was not slavishly copy the film per se. But – rather – incorporate the style of TRON. Creating a new space within Tomorrowland that would then allow Disneyland visitors to “ … experience and participate in games of the future.”

“What sort of games?,” you ask. Well, according to the Masterplan, the second floor of the Starcade was to have been reconfigured so that it could then feature:

  • An Audio Adventure Maze (Audio Exploration)
  • An Electronic Playground (Physical Participation with Electronic Games)
  • Mind Games (A Showcase of Computer Intelligence)
  • 3-D TRON Adventure Game (Visual Exploration)
  • Laser Hologram Game (Laser Light Exploration)

If some of these proposed TRON Arcade experiences sound familiar (especially to all you Future World fans out there) … Well, there’s a reason for that. Much of what was proposed for this new Tomorrowland attraction were actually just rethemed versions of the hands-on exhibits that the Imagineers had originally designed for the ImageWorks section of Epcot’s “Journey into Imagination” pavilion.

Indeed, that’s a common theme that runs through this February 1982 version of Disneyland’s expansion plans. WED constantly looking for ways to take advantage of all of the development work that had been done for EPCOT Center. So that some of these technological innovations could then be used in Anaheim.

Disney's TRON sequel
Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Take – for example – the proposed upgrade of Tomorrowland’s CircleVision Show. The Imagineers didn’t just want to replace Disneyland’s “America the Beautiful” because the “ … existing film … is outdated.” No, WED also wanted to go forward with “ … production of a new film based on EPCOT Canadian Film” because they’d then be able to replace the technology that was used to present Tomorrowland’s CircleVision 360 film. Replacing that show’s old projection system with the  “ … new loop cabinets” that had been created specifically for World Showcase’s “O Canada!” show. Which would (in theory, anyway) allow Disneyland to alternate the films that were presented daily inside of this Tomorrowland Theater.

As I understand it, of all the changes that were proposed by WED for the updated version of Tomorrowland back in February of 1982, only the CircleVision upgrade project went forward. Which is why – starting in July of 1984 -- this theater was then able to alternate its daily presentations. Easily switching back-and-forth from Epcot’s “Wonders of China” film to Disneyland’s new CircleVision 360 production, “American Journeys.”

But as for all those TRON-related changes that were proposed for the Happiest Place on Earth … Given that Steven Lisberger’s groundbreaking film didn’t exactly meet Disney’s box office expectations when it was released to theaters in July of 1982, the Imagineers eventually backed away from the idea of building that TRON ride-thru attraction as well as turning the unused portion of the Starcade’s second floor into a TRON-themed Arcade.

Though – that said – it wasn’t like Disneyland didn’t ever have a TRON-inspired attraction. As you may recall, the Imagineers did repurpose the PeopleMover’s SuperSpeed Tunnel section so that it then became The World of TRON. Where guests could then be surrounded by super-sized versions of the CG sequences from this Steven Lisberger film.

But that was pretty much it as far as “TRON” goes when it comes to the Disney theme parks. But now comes 2010 with WDW's monorails being reskinned so that they then resemble the light cycles from "TRON Legacy." So maybe this film really will have a legacy of its own. At least when it comes to Disney Parks & Resorts.

Disney's TRON Legacy title card
Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

So what do you folks think? Should WED have actually gone ahead with its February 1982 masterplan for Disneyland and then added those two TRON-themed attractions to Tomorrowland? Or is it better that the Imagineers waited ‘til now before they finally got serious about folding Disney’s newest film franchise into the theme parks?

Your thoughts?

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  • As much as I love the original movie, I will also be the first to say that it can be kinda slow and boring.   Maybe I loved the visuals and the idea better than the final product?  TRON Legacy looks to be much better in many ways, at least much more exciting.  I want to have extremely high hopes for Legacy.

    The World of Tron would be great to bring back (at least to WDW) as a very cheap, simple, and effective way of bringing promotions in a ride.  Hopefully we will see them do this at least.

    Any of the arcades, as well, could be a very simple overlay as Flynn's Arcade.  Ok, maybe not the one at Crockett's Tavern (which is the first place I ever remember playing the original discs of TRON game).

    The Who Wants to Be a Millionaire locations would have been great to turn into a small colosseum  for some live TRON games, especially a disc competition...  but, well, I know that can't happen now.

    Plenty for them to do in the short term that will be good for promotion.

  • The arcade in Tomorrowland needs to be rethemed as it so out of date. Get better games, etc in there.

  • I think it would have been a good idea.

    Tron had (and has) a HUGE cult following. Disney never really captilized on that. They should have. Hopefully they will this time.

  • They should make a Tron theme Ride where Rocket Rods use to be and have the vehicles shaped like the Tron bikes, that area is just a waste of space right now, they need to spice up Tomorrowland.

  • Looks like TRON made it into Disney after all... The new Test Track, when it opens in November, will look like something out of TRON! See concept art: www.motorauthority.com/.../1075756_disney-renders-refurbished-test-track-feature-at-epcot

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