Located at Disney California Adventure, this dark ride drop tower is a retheme of what was once The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a ride still found at Disneyland Paris. The original attraction was designed for the Paris Studios park but happened to open in California first due to some French financial issues. This one then closed in January 2017 to undergo an overhaul and amazingly re-opened just 5 months later.
Of course the new theme for the ride was now based on the film franchise Guardians of the Galaxy, part of the wider Marvel cinematic universe and it was the first attraction in the USA to take advantage of the media acquisition. While I enjoy plenty of Disney’s own film releases, none of them have truly been represented that well for me across their theme parks yet and I have to admit that this one was much closer to my own heart.
In the past I have often been sceptical about rethemes of rides as they are often used as a cheaper alternative to breathe some fresh life into an attraction or even craftily advertise it as ‘brand new’. While this makes perfect business sense a lot of the time, obviously I come from a world where counting new things is part of the fun and this doesn’t really fit the bill. Beyond that though, they can often come across as forced or generally just have an air of less attention to detail and care than an original attraction design.
A perfect example of this was even reinforced to me earlier in the same park when riding Incredicoaster – a ride that previously wasn’t branded with a Disney intellectual property but is now, albeit loosely, themed to the animated films of The Incredibles. A review for another time no doubt, but the changes to the original design felt a little flat to me.
So it was with this mindset that I entered the queue for GoTG – M:B! (bit of a mouthful isn’t it). Did they have a solid plan going into this retheme? Does it have a decent and relevant reason to exist as an attraction in it’s own right? Have they gone above and beyond just assigning it with a more recognisable brand in order to interest a wider audience? The answer to all of these is: yes!
This stunning piece of architecture is home to the Tivan Collection, an extensive assortment of artifacts kept by The Collector, a side character first seen in the film Thor: The Dark World, most prominently in Guardians of the Galaxy of course and then again in Avengers: Infinity War. Somehow he has managed to capture the now famed Guardians themselves and has included them as part of the display. Where do the guests fit into this narrative? We’re here to view the collection as tourists of course.
The first indoor queue area contains a few display items and a video greeting from The Collector himself welcoming patrons to the facility, alluding to how he managed to trick the Guardians and introducing us to the tour, including an important piece of guest interaction that will get us into the first preshow room – we need to raise our hands to be scanned.
Once in this room, The Collector’s office, the next video is interrupted by escapee Rocket the Raccoon who needs our assistance in breaking out the rest of the team. Now that our hand scan gives us access to places, we’re a part of the plan. It’s such a simple idea but I do love it when guests have a reason to be part of an attraction’s narrative, it just adds an extra element beyond being casual observer or forced into an unlikely ride situation with no purpose.
The best part of this preshow is the introduction of the Rocket animatronic (not pictured sadly, that’s just the exit shop). This truly is a mindblowing spectacle, the look, movement and behaviour of the raccoon far exceeds any other piece of Disney magic I’ve come across, it’s closer to witchcraft. Beyond that, this room is just packed with interesting artifacts from the larger cinematic universe, important for a collection of course, but the attention to detail is just so overwhelming and really helps reride(view?)ability, even at the introductory stage. The perfect finish to this sequence is the subtle automated rodent hand grab of Quill’s Walkman from one of the display cases as guests make their way out.
One of a select few jaw-dropping scenery transitions within a queueline happens for me next as we head out into the main lift area. The scale and look of the place is stunning and gets the buzz going for the actual ride part that comes next. Guests are batched into lifts as per the usual process for these attractions and, once seated and strapped in (with nothing but a belt), all manner of amazing things happen.
Once again The Collector is interrupted by Rocket who hooks up the Walkman to the sound system and the signature good time musical vibe of the franchise comes to life for the first time. While he wrestles with the controls for the elevator itself, guests get launched up and down with the signature good time physical vibe of Disney’s drop tower rides. Some on screen action occurs at each pause interval of the elevator system and the combination of these three things results in simply one of the most unanimously joyous attractions I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
Having not ridden the (life changing) Paris version for several years and, in the interim, trying out the now obviously weaker Tokyo edition I had been left worried that all my recent ride experience had diminished the effects of this type of hardware. Fortunately the powerful, gut punching airtime was back as fresh as ever, as the lift either transitions from upwards to freefall or lurches downwards after a standstill. It’s far beyond any other Disney attraction in terms of physical power, as well as the majority of traditional drop towers, almost unbelievably so. Dark rides can be great for their storytelling and visuals alone but throwing this raw thrill into the mix just puts this type of attraction on another level for me.
I left the buliding absolutely brimming with excitement, a spark I had sorely missed from Disney parks for a good couple of years and proceeded directly to the fastpass machine outside to guarantee another go. Yet another way in which they aid the rerideability of attractions like these is that there are six different audio, visual and physical sequences for the ride. It truly can be different every time and well worth several attempts, but even if there was only the one version I doubt that it would stop me. I could ride this thing all day, if only the resort didn’t have so many other things to offer. Damn you Disney and your well rounded park lineups. Now, if only they had a good rollercoaster along these lines…