In just five days, I have visited Disney World’s new Pandora: The World of Avatar, experienced Universal Orlando’s third theme park Volcano Bay, and the grand opening of Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! at Disneyland Resort’s Disney California Adventure. I’ll have more on Volcano Bay and AvatarLand next week, but today, I wanted to give you my quick reaction to Mission Breakout. How does Marvel’s first step into North American Disney Parks compare to the former and beloved attraction it replaced, The Twilight Zones Tower of Terror?
If you’re reading this, you may already know that Disney is developing a Marvel-themed land for the Disney California Adventure theme park and their transformation of Tower of Terror into a Guardians of the Galaxy-themed attraction is the first step towards that plan. The Hollywood Tower Hotel has been re-themed into Taneleer Tivan’s (aka The Collector, once again played by Benicio del Toro) fortress-like museum, showing off his immense collection. His newest and most prized acquisition is the Guardians of the Galaxy. Most of them.
The Outside of the Tivan Collection
The outside of the building is quite striking, and maybe even a bit ugly looking. Perhaps the gaudy intergalactic fortress just looks out of place in Hollywood Land with an old school Red Car Trolly traveling by the front entrance. I think that once Disney begins to transform the surrounding land into a Marvel-themed land, it may work a bit better. I will say this: the building looks a hell of a lot cooler at night with its special lightning than it does in the hot California daylight.
The exterior of the building is full of so many cool details. For example, the sign for the attraction is composed by Rocket Racoon, who has apparently found some red paint and rearranged some of the letters. On the side of the building, we see Rocket’s red footprints leading up to a hole in the side of the fortress, which the armed and dangerous space raccoon has used to infiltrate the collection to save his team. We also see a wanted poster for Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, the newest member of the Guardians team, who has eluded Tivan and may play a part in helping the team escape.
The Ride Queue
The interior queue of the attraction is fantastic – a Marvel fan’s dream come true. The old lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel has been transformed into a museum gallery showing off the Collector’s acquisitions from across the galaxy. Included are props familiar to fans of the films, television shows and comics, including an animatronic recreation of Cosmo the space dog. There are supposedly 2,200 different pieces on display in the collection, although only a couple dozen can be seen in this room. There are also a bunch of sly easter eggs, which we plan to cover in detail next week. On the wall is a screen featuring the Collector introducing you to his latest acquisition: the Guardians of the Galaxy. There are more than enough fun things to look at in this room to keep fans entertained while they wait. While I loved the old Hollywood Tower Hotel lobby, this is a pretty cool replacement.
While this room may be the centerpiece of the queue, the next room is even cooler. Replacing the study from the old hotel is Tivan’s office, which is filled with artifacts he has collected over the years. They are jam-packed into office shelves, and I’m assuming that a good 1,000 plus of those supposed 2,200 objects are on display in this room. You have to look fast, as you won’t have much time to explore the many items on display on these shelves.
A recorded message on screen from Tivan is quickly interrupted by a walking, talking audio animatronic of Rocket Racoon, who explains his plans to break out the Guardians of the Galaxy. But he needs your help to get access to the gantry, which goes up to the top of the tower where the team is being held in protective cages. Watching Rocket come to life in this room is a real joy. At the end of his spiel, he steals Starlord’s walkman from one of the display cases so that he can play music during the escape.
You might be wondering how Starlord’s old Sony Walkman exists in a universe where Mantis is already a part of the Guardians of the Galaxy team, or why grown-up Groot from the first Guardians of the Galaxy appears as a costumed character outside the attraction while the same character appears in his Baby Groot form in the ride itself. The answer is, unfortunately, that this ride takes place outside of the MCU in a parallel universe. Guardians series director James Gunnhas explained that “there are different universes of the Marvel universe”:
“There’s the 616 universe in the comics, there is the MCU, which is the universe that I have played in, and now there is the theme park universe which is very closely related to the MCU, but it’s a separate universe. And what you see happen in this ride is not the same thing as the MCU.”
Although the connections to the MCU might surprise you. Tivan is the brother to Jeff Goldblum‘s character the Grandmaster, who will be seen in Thor: Ragnarok. And if you look closely, you’ll see a painting of the two brothers together in the main exhibition gallery. Imagineers have promised that Tivan’s collection will also be rotated in the future, which would probably allow them to add new artifacts from upcoming MCU movies, which is pretty cool.
The most disappointing part of the queue is the old boiler room set from Tower of Terror. While so much work was put into the previous two rooms, this one has been given a bit of the shaft. They have mostly repainted the room and added a few props and signs. It’s not as big of a renovation as the previous rooms. Fans who want to spend the time can translate the alien language on the signs and walls of the attraction. I haven’t put that much effort in at this point, so I’m not sure what kind of fun jokes may be hidden in those messages.
But what you’re probably most curious about is the ride itself. How does it differ from the original Tower of Terror drop? This time there are six different experiences, each with its own soundtrack and show scenes. Unfortunately, none of the songs from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies are used on the ride, I’m not sure if it was a licensing issue or what, but the Imagineers claim they picked rock songs that better fit what they were able to choreograph with the ride movement. I’m not sure I buy that, as I can think of a handful of songs from the soundtracks that would probably work just as well.
The ride features a bunch of new effects. As the gantry lift pushes back from the doors, we see a shadow projection of Rocket putting his plan into motion. The ride vehicle rockets up really fast and the doors open to reveal a practical scene featuring the power core of the building, which Rocket needs to shut down in order to break the Guardians out. But when that happens, power to the whole building goes out and the gantry plummets. It ascends again and the gantry doors open to reveal a first show scene (which was directed by James Gunn), which is displayed on a screen. We go up and down to the music and are then treated to another show scene directed by Gunn, before rising to the top of the tower, where we are given a view of the outside world (Disney California Adventure and Disneyland). This part of the ride barely makes any sense in the construct of the story, but I guess the Imagineers didn’t want to get rid of that WOWmoment. The ride plummets again, and we get a final show scene, which is the same in all of the configurations, featuring Mantis rescuing the gang. The ride goes up for one final drop.
I was only able to ride one of the six experiences during the press day, which was set to the song “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” But I rode that experience three separate times, and each time it was a lot of fun. I would expect the randomness of the six different experiences would add to the re-rideability of this attraction.
So, what did I think? Is it better than Tower of Terror? Honestly, it’s no better or worse than Tower of Terror – it’s a very different experience. It’s not as scary. The tension of the original attraction is cut by the fun of the music and show scenes. The show scenes themselves are funny, and I heard many people laughing out loud and the ride feels longer, with more ascensions and descensions than the original attraction. It might also be worth mentioning that the ride may be more tolerable for those who suffer from motion sickness. My girlfriend, who usually had trouble on Tower of Terror, said that the breaks provided by the show scenes made it a much more tolerable experience for her.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Part of the storyline is that Rocket needed to cut power to the building to break out his friends. As you leave the ride, you hear many of the other creatures and beings who were trapped in the Tivan collection also escaping. The attraction exit leads to the gift shop, which features the Collector’s helpers selling off the remaining bits from his collection. In theory, this is cool, but it’s mostly a shop filled with generic Guardians of the Galaxy merchandise. Some of the cooler items include Howard the Duck and Cosmo the Space Dog plushes, which come encased in their own Collector cases, and some “Terran artifacts” from Starlord’s childhood. I wish this gift shop would embrace this kind of thing more and not just become a generic outlet for Marvel merchandise.
Fans of the Marvel films will have a blast exploring Tivan’s collection, unearthing Easter eggs and decoding hidden alien messages. The Rocket Raccoon audio-animatronic figure is worth the wait alone. The fact that the collection will change, update, and evolve over the years will give regulars a reason to return to the ride for years to come. The Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! ride is a lot of fun, and surprisingly funny. While it’s not as tense or scary as the original Tower of Terror ride, it provides more drops than the initial attraction.
I wish they had chosen some better songs from the movies, but not having ridden all of the available experiences, it’s hard for me to judge the music selection yet. I also wish they had done more work to the boiler room space, and while I’m still not loving the look of the exterior building, it looks cool at night. I’m sure it will be a better fit once they evolve the surrounding area into Marvel Land.
Banner Photo Credit: Dominick Tabon