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The Escape of Experiment 626
The show Stich's Great Escape--based on the title alien from the movie Lilo & Stitch--is housed in a building with two round theaters inside of it. These theaters have hosted four different space themed shows since the Magic Kingdom opened. On opening day, October 1, 1971, the theaters were home to the attraction Flight to the Moon. Flight to the Moon was a vamped up version of Disneyland's original Moon attraction, Rocket to the Moon. Both shows took place in a round theater, with three concentric rows of stadium style seats, a large round screen on the floor of the theater and a large round screen on the ceiling of the theater. The screens acted as windows--one showing where you'd been, the other where you were going. The show included a rocket launch, a flight around the dark side of the moon, a landing, and during the flight guests learned about the moon and planets. Rocket to the Moon was sponsored by the airline TWA and setting outside the theater entrance was a large Moonliner rocket with the TWA logo. To go along with the 1967 New Tomorrowland, in Disneyland, a new larger theater building was constructed for the show, a pre-show featuring Mission Control (think NASA) was added, the show's seats moved/rumbled, and the attraction had a new sponsor, McDonnell Douglas. The show then became known as Flight to the Moon.
So we have the original--Rocket to the Moon. Which is vamped up in 1967 and becomes Flight to the Moon. And then Flight to the Moon is placed in Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland in 1971. However, by 1972 man had actually landed on the moon 6 times. Thus the show was updated, in both parks, in 1975 (to coincide with Magic Kingdom's New Tomorrowland and the addition of Space Mountain, People Mover and Carousel of Progress). The new show: Mission to Mars.
Mission to Mars was very similar to its predecessors, but now the destination was the Red Planet. The attraction pre-show was still themed to Mission Control, with a Control room filled with about ten Audio-Animatronic "technicians" whose backs were to the audience. The pre-show host Audio-Animatronic was the flight director, Mr. Johnson (a nod to Johnson space center which is named after Pres. Johnson--the sitting president during the Apollo mission to the moon). He would talk and show film clips to explain how humans had made numerous advances in space travel and manufacturing in microgravity, and also had learned how to deal with the effects of space. The lecture was interrupted by an intruder alarm caused by a large bird crash-landing near the spacecraft launch pad.
After the pre-show, guests would move on and finally board their spacecraft. In addition to the screens on the floor and ceiling there were also side screens that showed film clips or graphics. "Third Officer Collins" was the tour guide, and discussed the mission as the spacecraft explored space and Mars. Eventually, the ship was damaged, possibly by a volcanic eruption, and the ship had to quickly head back to Earth. The seats in the attraction would simulate the vibrations and G-forces from "Hyper-space" during take-offs and landings by filling up with compressed air. Finally, the spacecraft landed safely back on Earth and Officer Collins would then urge guests to return and visit again. As he explained, "there's a lot more to see on Mars". (The EPCOT attracction Mission: Space, which opened in 2003, provides a similar experience where guests blast-off from Earth and land on Mars.)
Disneyland's Mission to Mars closed in November 1992, with Magic Kingdom's following suit in October 1993. The theater building re-opened as the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter as part of another Magic Kingdom Tomorrowland redo on June 20, 1995 (along with new Circle-Vision film The Timekeeper). While the floor and ceiling screens were replaced by a teleportation cylinder in the middle of each theater some Mission to Mars show elements were repurposed for this new show: rumbling seats, rear-projection screens, and the pre-show Audio-Animatronics from Mr. Johnson became the robot S.I.R. The very basic storyline of ExtraTERRORestrial is that guests have come to the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center (as referenced in the PeopleMover narration) to see a demonstration of Alien teleportation. The show took place almost entirely in the dark and used the other four senses to create a scary experience (there was a warning outside of the ride stating that the show was not intended for young children). Most of the effects came from individual units mounted on the shoulder restraints behind audience members' heads. The most common effects were binaural cues which came from the highly separated speakers arranged next to each ear. These speakers bolstered many of the other effects with foley, creating unique effects like positional audio from the monster, and created general atmospherics to keep the audience tense, including the murmuring and screams of other audience members, pink noise, and heartbeats. The theater's circular design allowed these positional audio effects to be particularly effective, as it prevented individual guests from perceiving that their experiences were not unique. Binaural sound effects and moving shoulder restraints suggest that the alien is moving through the chamber above the audience. When the alien was meant to be traveling on the far side of the room, "several banks of 1,800-watt-per-channel servo-driven subwoofers" repurposed from the previous attraction, Mission to Mars and transducers mounted in the seats made pounding vibrations meant to simulate the footsteps of a powerful monster. During lighted segments, the show used lasers, rear-projected screens repurposed from the previous attraction, Mission to Mars, and audio animatronics for the show's alien, S.I.R. the robot in charge of the demonstration, and Skippy the small alien creature used in the pre-show's teleportation demonstration (Skippy is still part of the Stitch pre-show--he's the little donut eating alien).
Stitch's Great Escape is to some degree a retooling of the ExtraTERRORestrial attraction. Stitch still deals with teleportation but in a more slap-stick comedy way as the cartoon alien Stitch does his best to escape his captors. The 39-inch Audio-Animatronic Stitch figure built by Imagineering reportedly is one of the most complex creations of its size. Stitch is also the first audio-animatronic to spit water. The attraction utilizes much of the technology and sets of its predecessor, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter--remember Mr. Johnson, I mean the robot S.I.R., now this pre-show Audio-Animatronic is known as Sarge.
Pics: Disneyland Moonliner (left), ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter signage (upper right), Stitch pre-show Audio-Animatronic as Sarge, its third character.
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