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The Tower of Terror As an Agent of Change

It’s been a rumor for quite some time, but it was finally made official this past weekend at Comic-Con: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure will close this winter and be re-themed as a ride based on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.  The ride will close in January and then re-open next summer, in time to capitalize on the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in May.  Because Marvel signed a licensing deal with Universal Orlando prior to being purchased by Disney in 2009, Disney can’t use the Marvel characters in its east coast theme parks; however, Disney (who paid $4 billion for them) has been working to prominently feature the Marvel characters in the west coast theme parks, and the rebranding of the Tower of Terror is the first step in adding more rides and attractions in California that are based on Marvel's House of Ideas.

Predictably, fandom lost its mind.

Let me preface this by saying I’m a bit of a theme park nerd.  I currently have annual passes to both the Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood, and in the past I’ve had annual passes to Magic Mountain and Knott’s Berry Farm.  Magic Mountain is a really cool park for intense thrill rides, and Universal Hollywood has really been upping its game in the past few years.  But there’s something magical (Yes, I said “magical.”) about Disneyland.  It melts my cynicism.  I love how immersive it is and some of my best days visiting the park have been when there isn’t a mad dash to get on as many rides as possible, and I just enjoy the incredible details of the park.  I didn’t realize this until recently, but Disneyland has a wall built around it so you can’t see the outside world once you enter the park.  Disneyland is intended to immerse you.  Similarly, the new Star Wars Land currently under construction will feature rock formations that surround the area, so that when you are in Star Wars Land, you won’t be able to see the rest of the park.  You will be fully immersed in Star Wars.  Conversely, the rest of the park won’t be able to see into Star Wars Land from outside.  This is the kind of attention to detail is how Disney Imagineers excel. 

The Tower of Terror is my favorite Disney ride, and it would appear I am the only person excited about the Guardians changes that are coming to it.  The ride is going to be transformed into the Collector’s fortress from the movie, and the ride’s story will feature Rocket saving the Guardians from the Collector.  The current ride queue area, which is the dilapidated lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, will be transformed into a museum of the Collector’s artifacts and weird alien creatures. The ride system will more or less remain the same, but it will be randomized like the new version of Star Tours.  Plus, the new version of the ride will feature all the great '70s AM radio pop songs from the films.  I mean, James Gunn is even involved, directing all the live-action filmic portions of the ride, as is the cast from the movies, including the great Benicio Del Toro.  Come on, people, Benicio Del Toro in a Disney ride? It sounds like a complete blast to me.

But the fans collectively loathe the idea of changes to the ride, and from reading countless comments on message boards, their biggest complaint seems to be they don’t want things to be different.  They love the old Twilight Zone theme and the way it’s incorporated into the ride.  They want it to never change.  It’s odd to me for several reasons.  First of all, Disney Imagineering knows what they are doing, and the ride will likely wind up being really cool.  Walt Disney’s mandate was that Disneyland would never be finished and would always be changing.  Additionally, the Towers of Terror that exist outside the continental United States are not Twilight Zone themed, and attendees still enjoy them anyway.  Finally, the Tower of Terror in Orlando will not be changed at all.  It will stay exactly as is, and its fans can visit there any time they’d like.  It’s like people getting upset when changes are made to a line of comics they enjoy while another line featuring the same characters won’t be changed at all.  Just read the old one!

This is my biggest complaint about fandom of any kind, the need for everything to always remain as it always was, childhood nostalgia forever frozen in carbonite.  Nothing new is ever a good idea.  And that attitude extends way beyond just geek culture.  People complain at live music shows because the artist played a bunch of new songs and didn’t just crank out all the old familiar hits.  I once heard a TV personality say he didn’t like live concerts, because the songs never sound the same live as they do on the record.  That’s the point of live shows!  Don’t we want our favorite bands to grow as artists?

NFL fans complain about new rules that are intended to improve player safety and help prevent catastrophic brain injuries.  Let me repeat those last four words: “prevent catastrophic brain injuries.”  It disturbs me that so many football fans don’t seem to care about these players suffering from CTE after their playing careers are over. No, to them the game must be the same as it ever was, and making it safer is an affront to their inherent manliness.  Guys who’ve never worn a helmet are complaining that the new players are “soft.”

Movie fans become critical when roles get recast, when women play roles that had previously gone to men, or when minority actors are cast in roles that had previously been played by white actors.  Disney is ramping up production on a new Indiana Jones adventure, which will be released in 2019 and feature a nearly 80-year-old Harrison Ford.  That’s fairly ridiculous to me, but fandom (including Senor Spielbergo himself) goes nuts whenever talk of re-casting Indy comes up.  It’s odd that the same fans are perfectly fine with James Bond getting a new face every few years.  It’s to be expected and is the source of much speculation.  (For the record, my idea would be to give Indy the BBC Sherlock treatment and recast the role with a much younger actor while simultaneously updating the setting to present day.  I’d also cast Harrison Ford as Marcus Brody.  You’re welcome.)

I hear a lot of Disneyland complaints that start with the phrase “Walt would never…”

Okay, let me stop your right there.  Walt Disney has been dead since 1966.  There’s no way to know what he would or would not have approved of.  We do know that in the ten years that both he and Disneyland co-existed, Walt based many theme park attractions on existing Disney intellectual properties.  Right now, Star Wars and Marvel are existing Disney intellectual properties.  What makes people think Walt wouldn’t want to use them in the parks?  He obviously did in the past.  (Many Disneyland geeks are furious about Star Wars Land.)  He also built a park expansion with New Orleans Square that had absolutely nothing to do with the park’s other themed areas.  New Orleans Square makes no sense on paper, but it now houses two of Disneyland’s most iconic attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion.  You should also visit New Orleans Square to enjoy the Mickey-shaped beignets they sell there.  That’s a change that seems to have worked out just fine.

I often feel like the odd man out, because I don’t have any slavish need to keep things the same.  I am okay with remakes when they are done well and not just cheap, craven cash-ins.  I’m intrigued by what a different actor might bring to an old role.  (Daniel Craig is, by far, my favorite Bond.)  I’m all for changing games to protect the athletes from debilitating injuries.  I desperately want to hear the country album Bruce Springsteen is said to have recorded but never released.

I’ve been watching some of the political conventions the past couple of weeks, and they make me think a lot about Gary Ross’ great film, Pleasantville.  I think that movie gets more and more powerful over time.  If you haven’t seen it in a while, you should watch it again.  It puts our pop culture nostalgia under a microscope and asks us to reconsider things we admire about the past, specifically the 1950s.  Our view of the '50s is warped through pop culture artifacts that were never truthful to begin with.  Married couples didn’t really sleep in separate little twin beds, yet people want desperately to return to that time.  People watch reruns of Leave It to Beaver on MeTV as if that show was a documentary.  Also, isn’t it interesting that the name of the television network charged with preserving Boomer nostalgia emphasizes the word “me?”  Millennials will surely get a morose laugh out of that.

Disneyland opened in 1956, the same timeframe as Pleasantville, but Disneyland was built on a mandate that it be constantly evolving forward.  Walt Disney himself was so obsessed with the future that there’s even a section of the park called Tomorrowland.

It’s odd that its fans can be so rooted in the past.

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