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Halloween version of California Adventure's "Guardians of the Galaxy" ride really challenged Disney's Imagineers

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Halloween version of California Adventure's "Guardians of the Galaxy" ride really challenged Disney's Imagineers

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When "Star Tours" originally opened at Disneyland Park back in January of 1987, one of the things that most excited theme park fans about this motion-based simulator is that its ride film could supposedly easily be changed out. Which meant that - once the cabin of the StarSpeeder 3000 had been reprogrammed to move in concert with a new ride film - Guests could then experience a brand-new Star Wars-inspired adventure.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

In fact, according to Mark Eades (i.e., one of the Imagineers who worked closely with Lucasfilm on the original development of this Tomorrowland attraction), the original plan for "Star Tours" was that WED was going to create a new ride film for this motion-based simulator every three years. With the idea being that - by the time 1997 rolled around - all four cabins that were operating at the Disneyland version of this attraction would then be programmed for different destinations within the Star Wars universe. Which means that Lucasfilm fans would have then be able to choose between traveling to Endor, Dagobah, Hoth, and Tatooine.

That was the original plan, anyway. But given that Guest demand for the original version of "Star Tours" stayed strong for the next two decades, WDI didn't actually get serious about developing a new ride film for this motion-based simulator 'til the late 2000s. Which is why "Star Tours - The Adventures Continue" -- with all of its multi-branching, seemingly random array of "Star Wars" -related experiences - didn't open at Disneyland Park 'til May of 2011.  Which was nearly a quarter-of-a-century after the original iteration of this Tomorrowland attraction first opened to the public. .

When "Soarin' " first opened at Disney California Adventure back in January of 2001, the Imagineers made similar sorts of claims about how easy it would be to reprogram this flight motion simulator. Create a brand-new ride film that would then allow Guests to experience what it would be like to soar above an entirely different assortment of terrain. But again - due to the popularity of the original "Soarin' "ride film - it wasn't 'til June of 2016 (i.e., more than 15 years after the first version of this attraction debuted) that "Soarin' Around the World" first began entertaining Guests at Disney theme parks all over the globe.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

I bring up "Star Tours" & "Soarin' " and the long-delayed replacements of their ride films because what the Imagineers just experienced with "Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!" was so fundamentally different than what WDI had previously gone through with those two simulator attractions.

As Stef Harbuck - the producer of this ambitious reimagining of DCA's "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" -- explained during a recent phone interview: "It was February of this year. We were still in the process of getting 'Guardians' ready for its grand opening in May when we heard from our partners at the Parks that they wanted to do something different at DCA for Halloween. To be specific, they were wondering if it might be possible to create a special seasonal version of the 'Mission: BREAKOUT!' ride film that would then only be presented at this theme park in the weeks leading up to October 31st."

Now please keep in mind that Harbuck and her team hadn't finished installing the original version of this thrill ride when the Disneyland Resort's request for a seasonal variant came in. Obviously the only sensible thing to do in a situation like this would have been to politely say "No." But Stef & associates didn't do that. So even as they were still tweaking the six different drop profiles that needed to be ready for "Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!" 's opening on May 27th, Harbuck's team began exploring what a Halloween-themed variation on this attraction might be like.


Notice the bite & claw marks on this “Monsters After
Dark” sign that’s placed outside of DCA’s
“Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission:
BREAKOUT!” each night as the
Halloween version of this
attraction comes online.
Photo by Alice Hill

"Which was tough because they don't actually celebrate Halloween on Knowhere. So then you have to ask yourself 'What are the aspects of the Guardians world that would fit Halloween thematically?' ," Stef stated. "Well, when you look closely at Halloween and start narrowing this holiday down to its core elements, Halloween is really all about monsters and places that are dark & scary. And as 'Mission: BREAKOUT!' is coming to a close, we've just turned off the power in the control room and opened up all of the cages in the Collector's Fortress. Which means that now all of those creatures are running loose inside that show building. Which sounds like a pretty exciting space to stage a Halloween attraction in."

Which brings us to "Monsters After Dark," that sequel to "Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission: BREAKOUT!" which debuted at Disney California Adventure back on September 15th and has been wowing the crowds at that theme park ever since.

Now what's really unique about "Monsters After Dark" is that - unlike with Haunted Mansion Holiday or it's a small world holiday (where those Disneyland Park favorites close for weeks at a time so that they can then receive their annual seasonal overlays) - "Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission: BREAKOUT!" had to be able to transform into its Halloween configuration every night at 5 p.m.


Lower light levels and red accent lights make the interior queue of “Monsters After
Dark” seem like a far more sinister space. 
Photo by Alice Hill

"That was one of our main requirements going into this project. That the Cast Members working at 'Guardians of the Galaxy' would be able to make the changeover from 'Mission: BREAKOUT!' to 'Monsters After Dark' each day as quickly and as efficiently as possible. With the idea being that the Guests who are experiencing 'Mission: BREAKOUT!' would still get to finish that show before the building then got switched over 'Monsters After Dark,' " Harbuck continued. "And when I say 'switched over,' it really is more or less a button push for those Cast Members. They basically set 'Mission: BREAKOUT!' to 'Monsters After Dark' mode and then this show building is pretty much ready for Guests."

Which isn't to say that this attraction's nighttime changeover isn't dramatic. From the blood-smeared emergency vests that Cast Members don as 'Mission: BREAKOUT!' transforms from 'Monsters After Dark' to the queue's new interior lighting package to the edgier video elements, everything that the Guests see hints at the now-just-barely controlled chaos that they'll experience once they return to ride that gantry.

What's especially impressive about "Monsters After Dark" is because "Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!" was already open when Harbuck and her team begin installing this seasonal variation ... Well, that then meant that all of this work had to be done after-hours.


The blood smears on this Cast Member’s emergency vest suggest that things have
taken a dark turn inside of the Collector’s Fortress. 
Photo by Alice Hill

"Because we had to wait 'til DCA's Maintenance team finished all of its nightly duties on 'Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!' before we could then get started working on 'Monsters After Dark,' a lot of the work that had to be done on this seasonal attraction had to be done on Third Shift," Stef recalled. "The final stretch -- from the middle of August 'til September 15th - was especially brutal for the team from WDI."

But the upside was "Monsters After Dark" proved to be so popular with Disneyland Resort Guests that - as a special Halloween treat - this seasonal variation of "Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!" was presented all day long on October 31st. And after that ... ?

"There are no plans to do a Christmas version of 'Mission: BREAKOUT!' I don't know what that version would look like. Would we decorate Groot?," Harbuck laughed. "We did have a joke among the team at WDI that - if we were going to do another 'Guardians' ride film that was tied to a holiday - it really should be for Arbor Day."


Copyright Disney Lucasfilm. All rights reserved

And speaking of ride films that WDI will soon be updating ... On November 17th, "Star Tours - The Adventures Continue" will begin taking visitors to Disneyland Park & Disney's Hollywood Studios to the planet of Crait. Which will be the setting for an epic battle in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" (i.e., Episode VIII of the Star Wars saga. Which opens in theaters on December 15th).

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, October 31, 2017

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