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'Star Tours' rides 3D wave


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June 11, 2011

Disney's Soundsational Summer campaign kicks off with the opening of two new theme park rides -- a revamped "Star Tours" at both Orlando's Walt Disney World and Anaheim's Disneyland, and the addition of a new "The Little Mermaid" ride at California Adventure, along with a new Mickey Mouse-themed parade through Disneyland.

Star Tours -- The Adventures Continue

Disney and Lucasfilm's "Star Tours" may have been one of the company's most popular theme park attractions, but after 25 years, the ride was showing its age.

Now, after shutting it down for a year, Disney has relaunched "Star Tours" with new 3D footage and refreshed animatronics. It's not a complete overhaul (the main cruiser that houses the motion simulator and design of the wait line that snakes past C3PO and other "Star Wars"-related props is still pretty much the same).

But the attraction gets a clever update by incorporating the newer installments of the "Star Wars" saga, worlds and characters, giving the entire franchise a new platform through which it can continue reaching auds. In fact, with the new additions, the ride now features 54 story scenarios that ensures riders won't go on the same journey twice -- enticing them to want to get back in line.

While audiences may be starting to steer away from 3D at the megaplex, the technology in the five-minute ride is put to impressive use. Produced by Walt Disney Imagineering and Industrial Light & Magic, the ride's visuals are crisp and lifelike, and it carefully holds back on throwing anything at the audience until it pays off with a punch. The result is nothing less than thrilling, and should provide filmmakers with a case study of how to utilize 3D with great effect.

The "Star Wars" faithful would have been happy with the old ride, but the revamp ensures that "Star Tours" will keep flying for years to come.

The Little Mermaid

Guests visiting California Adventure have wanted to see more of Disney integrated into the park and rides designed for families and children.

As part of Disney's $1 billion overhaul of California Adventure, "The Little Mermaid's" Ariel is the latest animated character to get an attraction.

And "Ariel's Undersea Adventure" should easily meet the requests of parkgoers and satisfy younger Disney fans. Ride is the kid-friendly version of "Haunted Mansion," whisking away tykes and their parents under the sea in colorful clam shells through the mermaid's world.

Animatronics bring 200 characters and scenes from the pic to life; Alan Menken's music and songs play through the journey.

The ride is clearly designed for younger eyes, though, with objects designed to be large and bright and easy to take in. As a result, older auds may be underwhelmed, especially if they expect more high-tech razzle-dazzle, and parents will just have to go with the flow and "Enjoy your swim," as castmembers tell riders before climbing into their shells.

Still, with "Toy Story Mania," the "World of Color Show" and next year's opening of "Cars Land," California Adventure is starting to give guests more of a reason to park hop.


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