Let’s Talk: Re-Themes

Every once in a while, theme parks take the decision to re-theme, renovate or upgrade one or more of their older attractions in order to freshen and broaden its appeal. You can see the sense in this – a re-theme is by and large cheaper than a whole new attraction and yet still allows parks to advertise the upgraded atttraction as new. But it does raise the question as to whether some older attractions are fine as they are, and whether re-themes are always warranted.

There are a couple of pretty major re-themes happening now and over the next few months that I intend to talk about here, and those are the Bubbleworks at Chessington and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure.

Let’s talk about the Bubbleworks first. This classic John Wardley attraction first opened in 1990 and was first re-themed in the mid-2000s in conjunction with a sponsorship by Imperial Leather. This caused mass outrage amongst fans of the original ride, who stated that most of the original humour and charm of the ride had been lost when it was turned into what many described as riding through an Imperial Leather advert. It was one of the most blatant examples of commercialism I’ve ever seen in a theme park, and although the Imperial Leather branding was dropped in later years, the ride remained in its re-themed form, and all of the references to the original Professor Burp’s Bubbleworks were either lost or decayed over time.

This year will be the final main operating season of the Bubbleworks before it is closed and a new attraction based on the story of the Gruffalo opens. Personally, I can see this making a lot of sense. The Gruffalo is a hugely popular story, particularly with Chessington’s target audience of young children and families, and will probably fit much better into the Transylvania area than Bubbleworks ever did. What I’m curious about is whether they’ll re-use the boat ride system from Bubbleworks a third time or incorporate something completely new. Either way, I think it’s a shame that Bubbleworks is going as it was still quite a nice ride, and I always liked the ‘bathtime’ finale. I think the attraction had reached the end of its lifespan though, and it was probably time for a refreshing of its image.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Tower of Terror. To this day this is still one of my favourite Disney attractions, and the originality and delivery of it I have always found spectacular. Now, we learn, the version in California is being re-themed to a Guardians of the Galaxy themed attraction. The ride system will stay the same, but the building is being completely remodelled and a new storyline will be added, and the ride should open in time for the release of the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie, which I know we’re all madly excited about. Personally, I’m very apprehensive about this re-theme, and there are several reasons for this.

First and foremost, the Guardians of the Galaxy theme doesn’t fit with the area that the Tower of Terror is set in. This makes me worry that the whole area will probably get a Marvel re-theme at some point in the future, and one thing that does bug me about Disney is them constantly shoving Marvel and Star Wars at us like they don’t have any original characters or movies of their own. Where’s the Big Hero 6 attraction, or the Zootopia attraction, or even a Tangled attraction guys??? I don’t see why they couldn’t have used something like this instead of picking an obscure Marvel movie and character set that no one outside of the really devoted Marvel fanbase had even heard of till a couple of years ago. And the other thing is that they can’t even stick the Marvel brand on there because they have a contract with Universal Studios who owned the Marvel characters first! Barmy or what?!

I digress. I love the Tower of Terror, and I just hope that its originality isn’t lost with this re-theme. For all I know it could be really good and I could be campaigning to see all the other Towers of Terror re-themed too…though I doubt it. In particular I hope the Florida one stays the way it is as this is the original and still the best in my opinion, and is perfectly fine as it is. There are several re-themes I could say this about, too, sadly; X at Thorpe Park, for example, lost all of its uniqueness and originality when it was re-themed in 2013. It’s a dangerous game trying to juggle the demands of an audience who want to be entertained in ever changing and more advanced and unique ways, with the wishes of the people who like things the way they are and don’t feel they warrant changing.

I’m not saying that all re-themes are bad, I just think that theme parks need to take a second to consider what exactly it is that they’re changing, and whether or not it really needs it. It would be a shame if, in 20 or 30 years time, all of the attractions we know and love at parks around the world today are gone because all we want is something incredibly technological. Can you imagine the death of the Ferris wheel, or the carousel, or the dodgems? I guess only time will tell whether we live to see that day or not, and what new and (some would say) exciting changes parks have planned for us over the next decade or so.

See you around =] x x

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