The idea for a Little Mermaid dark ride has been in the so-called blue-sky stages of creative brainstorming at Walt Disney Imagineering since the movie premiered in 1989 — from rough artist sketches to scale-model mock-ups to fully realized concepts.After 22 years in the making, Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure will officially open Friday at Disney California Adventure.
“The attraction has been worked on quite a bit since the film came out,” said Lisa Girolami, Imagineering’s senior show producer for the new ride. “We just needed to wait until the technology was able to catch up and really deliver the ride we wanted.”Photos: Concept art for the Little Mermaid dark ride
Over the years, the ride went through several iterations, including a version shown in the 2006 DVD release of the movie that featured an overhead ride system similar to Peter Pan’s Flight at Disneyland. (Ultimately, Imagineering went with a Haunted Mansion “Doom Buggy”-style ride vehicle.)
At each stage of development, Imagineers cut songs (“Les Poissons”), characters (Ariel’s mermaid sisters) and story lines (the father-daughter relationship of Triton and Ariel) to focus the 5 1/2-minute ride on Ariel’s journey.
“In the end, seven of the 11 scenes were restaged, including the last two scenes, which were changed the most,” said Larry Nikolai, Imagineering’s show designer and creative director for the ride. “The last scene we added was Ursula’s defeat.”
Related: Scene-by-scene preview of the Little Mermaid dark ride
From the very beginning, Imagineers knew the movie’s Oscar-winning soundtrack would play a central role in the ride.
“What we did was stay true to the songs in the film because we knew those would immediately resonate with the guests,” said John Dennis, who served as music director for the ride. “The orchestral score is inspired by the film using the same musical vernacular. Those themes still bring goose bumps when I hear them played.”
The challenge was relying on the music to tell the familiar story, with Scuttle the seagull providing only a brief prologue and epilogue.
“We had to distill each song down to the moment that delivered best on storytelling,” said Dennis, who often had to snip musical loops down to 20 seconds. “A lot of times we had just enough time to deliver a verse and the chorus.”
Where the music forced Imagineers to compress time, the ride’s audio-animatronics presented a similar challenge in the form of limited space. To make Ariel’s fingers and hands move, technicians had to run animatronic wiring through her waif-like wrist.
“She’s probably the most complicated audio-animatronic character we’ve ever done,” said Girolami, who started with Imagineering in the mid-1980s. “She’s this tiny little thing. You don’t have a lot of room with her.”
At 9 inches tall with a head the size of a golf ball, Sebastian the singing crab proved even more daunting. Imagineers installed tiny rear-projection systems in his eyes to make the animatronic character seem more lifelike.
“The eyes are the most important thing on a character. That’s what people are always drawn to,” said Nikolai, who worked on Splash Mountain at Disneyland and the Monsters Inc. dark ride at California Adventure. “His eyes can do anything we want him to do. They can blink, change expression and look all around.”
But the restrictions of time and space are what drive Imagineers, Disney’s creative arm. Even if it takes 22 years.
“We never say never,” said Girolami, who has worked in the movie industry and as a novelist. “That’s what’s exciting about working at Imagineering. We’re always saying, ‘That’s never been done before, but we’re going to do it.'”
An identical version of the ride, called Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, is expected to open in 2013 at the Magic Kingdom in Florida.
The new Star Tours attraction that will soon debut at Disneyland adds several layers of 3-D realism to the 1980s-era simulator ride, making the experience less like watching a movie and more like being in the middle of the action.
I took a few preview rides Friday at Disneyland on the updated attraction, which offers 54 possible storylines, and I found myself wanting to jump back in line after each galactic journey.
Photos: Concept art of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Dubbed Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, the “Star Wars” -inspired ride officially debuts June 3 at Disneyland in California and opened Friday at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida.
With lifelike digital imagery and high-definition, 3-D characters that slam into the Starspeeder 1000 windshield, Star Tours 2.0 is light-years better than the 1987 original. I found myself repeatedly grasping for a handhold as our motion simulator fell down chasms, dodged laser fire and raced across the stars.
Spoiler alert: Star Tours 2.0 ride details below
The queue area features the same layout as the old ride with new layers of details and plenty of sight gags (including a few hidden Mickeys). C3PO, the accidental pilot of our Starspeeder, sets up the storyline of the Empire’s search for a Rebel spy during the pre-show.
My favorite new character in the queue area is the thermal-scanner droid who doubles as an interstellar stand-up comic: “What did the droid say to the human? One zero one one zero one zero zero zero one one. What, you don’t speak binary?”
The Starspeeder motion simulators, which to the untrained eye look almost identical to the 1987 originals, remain largely unchanged on the inside with some of the armrests still showing telltale signs of decades-old grime.
But that’s where the similarities between the old and new rides end.
The new journey takes riders on a sightseeing tour of the “Star Wars” galaxy, with possible stops at Hoth, Kashyyyk, Tatooine, Coruscant, Naboo or the Death Star, depending on which of the random storylines your flight crew draws.
So far I’ve been to five of the six possible destinations. My favorite was Naboo, where the Starspeeder dives underwater and encounters a slobbery sea creature that shakes the vehicle with a big 3-D finale that’s startling even when you know it’s coming.
If I could request my favorite storyline, I’d choose the storm-trooper launch sequence with the Tatooine pod race (the inspiration for the Star Tours reboot), the Yoda emergency transmission and the Naboo finale.
But then again, I still haven’t seen the Death Star sequence or watched the Princess Leia transmission. My preferences could change. I guess I’ll just have to ride again.
I found only two faults with the new ride:
The mid-ride transmissions from Leia, Yoda or Ackbar literally bring the voyage to a halt, interrupting an otherwise thrilling ride.
And if you’re prone to dizziness, the 3-D imagery may mess with your equilibrium.
But those are minor quibbles with an otherwise fantastic update to a venerable classic.
Disney raises theme park prices for summer
June 13, 2011, LATimes, Hugo Martin
As the summer tourist season begins, the Walt Disney Co. announced an increase in ticket prices at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando and Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.
As of Sunday, one-day passes for the Disney theme parks in Anaheim increased 5.3%, from $76 to $80. A three-day pass to visit Disneyland and nearby Disney California Adventure Park jumped 8.7%, from $206 to $224. Annual passes for Southern California residents, among the most popular ticket option, increased 8.1%, from $184 to $199.
A Disney spokeswoman said the price increases were the result of a regular evaluation of rates and were not in response to the opening of new attractions this summer.
This summer, visitors to the Disney theme parks in Anaheim can ride the new Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure attraction, which opened this month at Disney California Adventure Park. At Disneyland, visitors can try the newly refurbished Star Tours attraction, which also launched this month.
The higher prices are unlikely to discourage ardent Disney fans from visiting the parks, said Robert Niles, author of Theme Park Insider, an online guide to the nation’s most popular theme parks.
“If you’re an out-of-town guest, four extra bucks is not going to make a difference in determining if you are taking a vacation in Anaheim,” he said.
Niles said the new attractions are already drawing huge crowds, particularly Star Tours, for which guest have waited up to two hours in line to ride.
One possible reason for the long lines: Star Tours, based on the “Star Wars” movies, offers 54 different experiences, randomly chosen for each guest. So it likely most fans are going to try the attraction more than once.