Written by Joe Lane
Published: November 7, 2004 at 8:07 PM
SPOILER ALERT: Possible spoilers lie within this review. If you plan on experiencing this attraction for yourself and want to be surprised, do not continue reading.
It's a wonder why the management at WDW decide The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was ready to shut down. The attraction was one of the few E-Tickets intended for mature audiences at the Magic Kingdom, a park better known for attractions aimed at a younger audience. While it did receive a fair number of complaints for its scare factor, many teens and adults enjoyed the experience, and it was good to see an original concept in Disney that wasn't based on a movie.
Perhaps management thought it out of place--something that would have been more at home in Epcot or the Disney Studios--but whatever the case may have been, the alien terrorized its last audience on October 11th, 2003. In its place, Disney decided it was high time to introduce guests to an alien encounter of the cute and fluffy kind.
Stitch's Great Escape officially opens November 16th. WDW Passholders had an opportunity the first weekend of November to experience the attraction for themselves. Reviews and feelings are mixed. This might be another example of how Disney's efforts to offer new, fresh attractions on diminished budgets are affecting overall quality.
The story behind the attraction takes place before the events in the movie "Lilo & Stitch", so the attraction fits in well with the Tomorrowland theme. Guests enter the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleport Center, automatically becoming new recruits in a volunteer PTC guard program. After an explanation and demonstration, we're taken to a high security chamber to guard a new arrival--Experiment 626. Naturally, the security systems aren't enough to keep the creature contained and chaos ensues.
Disney faced a challenge in creating an attraction that offered the thrills of Alien Encounter while at the same time catering to a younger audience. The result is a complex compromise: the animatronics are amazing, the themeing is sparse. The animation and sound is fun, the special effects are boring. One gets the impression of teaching a new dog old tricks (or in this case, a new alien).
Although Alien Encounter may be gone and forgotten, there are some nods to the attraction (especially in the third chamber--the teleportation tube has hardly changed, save for a new coat of paint). In the corridor leading up to the show chambers, there are some faux computer equipment built into the walls that still bear the X-S Tech logo (suggesting that the teleportation equipment in use by the Galactic Federation was sold--er, that is, generously donated, by the alien corporation).
AE fans will also be delighted to know that Skippy is present and accounted for, although the former demonstration droid S.I.R. (formerly voiced in a delightfully menacing manner by Tim Curry) has been transformed into a silly, overweight desk sergeant robot.
The third chamber is the main show room where the Stitch encounter takes place. Not surprisingly, it's all very similar to the design and set-up of Alien Encounter--water, light effects and sound from speakers in the equipment above and behind your head. A new show program, audio and video and voilá, you've got the basis for a new attraction. There's also an edition of a scent device, added for a nice, nasty Stitch burp (how quaint).
That's right, folks, they spare no expense.
The Stitch audioanimatronic is the most advanced figure created by Disney Imagineering--and it shows. The Stitch AA actually makes this attraction worthwhile. He walks around on the elevated platform (that is, his figure is designed to appear to step around). His arms move, his ears and spine spikes twitch. He blinks, he laughs, he growls, he turns 360 degrees.
And then he spits.
This brings us to the tracking cannons, the other two additions to the main show chambers. The two guns, inspired by the tracking cannons in the "Lilo & Stitch" film, follow Stitch's DNA signature, their barrels twirling back and forth like that of a camera zooming in and out. They fire on whatever DNA may be outside of the transporter perimeter--including Stitch snot. The pair of cannons are very flexible, with multiple joints, and twist in many different directions--and do so quickly. They almost exude personality as they try to track down the escapee inside the room, firing aimlessly.
While the technology used in making Stitch appear so lifelike is totally spectacular, the sparse themeing seems to be a disappointment. New paint, new logos and a whole lot of the weird Federation Language do not an attraction make. While the sign outside says Prisoner Teleport Center, there's really nothing to suggest that the building has high security as a Galactic Federation structure probably should. Some additional funding for more dynamic props would have shown a greater effort. It's possible Imagineering had some great ideas, but may have been forced to trim them down to meet budget. A faux scanner or detection system at the front door--maybe a high security lock--a small addition can make a world of difference. Often, it's the smaller details that people don't always notice, but do contribute to the overall experience.
There are fresh animated sequences to accompany the attraction, featuring the voice talents Kevin Michael Richardson, Zoe Caldwell and Kevin McDonald. It lends a nice level of freshness that the attraction wouldn't have if recycled movie scenes were used.
There are only one or two minor issues in regards to story continuity. While the scanners do identify him as Experiment 626, but Stitch does refer to himself as 'Stitch', even though he doesn't receive this name until Lilo names him in the movie. Clearly, this is done for the audience's benefit, and is a trivial detail. Stitch's escape from the PTC seems so anti-climactic compared to his arrival. There's also a troubling inconsistency in that Stitch escapes by teleporting to Tomorrowland--suggesting that we are somewhere else OTHER than Tomorrowland, and yet, when you exit, you walk down a very nondescript hall into a Tomorrowland store. A minor detail not many will get or even care about, but it is confusing for those who do notice it.
While Stitch's Great Escape is certainly less terrifying that Alien Encounter, it still has some moments that kids might be upset with. There are two extended periods of darkness, accompanied by loud noises and stereo sounds of Stitch behind you. Disney seems to try so hard to strike the balance between thrilling and funny, but darkness is a factor that even a raucous Stitch can't remove the fear from.
On a TPI scale of 0-10, Stitch finds himself with a 6-Fair. While the animatronics are simply amazing, the entire attraction is under whelming and leaves a slightly bad taste in the mouth, not to mention slightly damp clothes. Stitch fans may disagree, rating the attraction higher. Kids will likely enjoy the attraction if they enjoyed the movie, unless they fear the dark.
Now it's your turn to weigh in on Stitch. Post your comments and questions below. Until next time, keep on ridin'!