The constant addition of new attractions, rides, hotels and “immersive experiences” means that the great Disney Park experiment will never end. The further development of the technology for theme parks helps haunting experiences like Flight of Passage and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance to melt the boundary between reality and the fantastic. Disney is and will continue to top its own game.
That’s all fine and good, but when it comes to absolutely terrifying rides, Disney should just put an end to it. With its 1998 attraction, Dinosaurs, the park team has already had the scariest experience ever. The first time I rode dinosaurs in the early 2000s was a meltdown. During a recent trip earlier this month, I drove it again and can confirm: it’s still the scariest ride in all of Walt Disney World.
There is a big chance that even if you go to the park regularly, you have been around for a while with dinosaurs living in the shadow of attractions like Galaxy´s Edge and Pandora: World of Avatar. The dark voyage that opened during Animal Kingdom’s launch in 98 was originally titled Countdown to Extinction. Aside from a small update in 2000 that changed the attraction’s name to Dinosaurs and included a short clip of Al the Iguanodon from Disney’s dinosaur movie (including dinosaurs, believe it or not), the ride has remained relatively unchanged.
But terror does not come from state-of-the-art technical or immersive experiences. This journey goes deeper.
The most popular Disney character of all: Al the iguanodon. Picture: Walt Disney Pictures
Part of it is under construction. An entertaining video from the 1990s takes guests to the fictional Dino Institute and Dr. Marsh (Phylicia Rashād from The Cosby Show), giving a speech about “Time Rovers” and an upcoming journey into the past. She sends the audience to the eccentric Dr. for a safety briefing. Seeker (Wallace Langham from Weird Science). However, the scientist commits some serious ethical violations and tells the crowd that he intends to send them all back in time to retrieve an Iguanodon before mass extinction. He does this while behind Dr. Marsh’s back goes and assures the group that they will be fine.
After getting into the Time Rover, the ride pulls the drivers through the dark. Dinosaurs are faster than most Disney dark rides, which alone makes them scary. The sinking in pitch black darkness on a bumpy Time Rover becomes even worse when a fearsome dinosaur appears in the next bend, which looks over you and is illuminated by a sharp red light. As a kid, it’s terrifying because these dinosaurs could definitely eat me up. It’s terrifying as an adult too, because although I know reasonably well that these dinosaurs can’t eat me, I think what if they did?
The fact that the dinosaurs are meant to scare you and that reversing an angle could mean that you are facing a man-eating Carnotaurus distinguishes dinosaurs from Disney’s typical “scary” rides. Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror (and probably the first moments of Pirates of the Caribbean) use creepy elements to create an atmosphere, but don’t use them as part of the fun. Haunted Mansion is a leisurely tour of a patchy space, while Tower of Terror is excited about free fall. The only other ride that uses fear tactics is the Everest Expedition and its terrifying yeti animatronics, but the ride takes place mostly in the open air, unlike the claustrophobic space of dinosaurs.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPDl_33ku1k (/ embed)
Not only is it dark and cramped with man-eating dinosaurs on every corner, but halfway down a meteor crashes and the Time Rover jerks around. Loud sirens howl while a voice counts to the point of extinction. It is dark, it is loud and you cannot go! The genuinely unethical scientist tells us to go ahead and refuse to save the time traveler, even in the face of certain death. There is no way out! I can’t say no to this guy who chose to abuse his position of power to send volunteers into a dangerous experiment, undermine his superiors and basically violate every ethical rule in the book.
Finally, when we face the dinosaur we were sent to, Dr. Seeker that this is too dangerous and pulls the time traveler back into the present.
(Don’t worry, the Iguanodon somehow finds its way back to the present.)
Dinosaurs shook me, an adult, during my last trip. I started with the certainty that, like other rides that scared me as a child – for example Space Mountain – I grew into this experience and was no longer afraid of dark drops and high speeds. But oh no, dinosaurs still shook me the same way, creating the childish fear I had buried from my long-time ancestors.
Disney theme parks will continue to expand, open new rides, and redesign old ones. But for every Jack Sparrow innovation, for every Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opening, there’s an old ride that’s untouched by Walt Disney Imagineers. This will make you as exciting as any new attraction with a two hour wait.