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Disney+ Review: Behind the Attraction (First Five Episodes)

July 21, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The latest Disney+ show, Behind the Attraction, is a very good ten-part docuseries that sheds light on some of the famous attractions at Disney Parks and Resorts around the world.

Five of the ten episodes in the series, which features Dwayne Johnson as one of its executive producers and ties into his upcoming Disney movie Jungle Cruise, are dropping today in Canada, with the other five set to premiere later this year.

I really enjoyed watching through these five episodes. They do a good job of exploring the history and engineering behind these rides in an entertaining and informative way, and are populated by a wealth of archival images and first-hand accounts from many famous Imagineers.

Paget Brewster provides inquisitive if at times obstructive narration that gives the series an upbeat, easily accessible tone, and the show is simply filled with enjoyable anecdotes and fun tidbits for Disney fans. Below is a rundown of all five episodes being released today, along with some brief thoughts on each of them.

Jungle Cruise: This episode most closely ties into the new film, with Johnson appearing onscreen to reflect on what the ride means to him. It looks at the unique challenges that the Imagineers faced in order to realize Walt Disney’s grand vision of building a river in the middle of the Southern California desert, and how they designed animatronic animals, with real ones not being a feasible option.

The episode also highlights how the skippers are an integral part of the experience, including their many corny but iconic jokes (“the backside of water”) that guests go to hear. We find out that Jungle Cruise was initially a more serious ride, before the addition of these “dad jokes” made it even more of a hit with families.

Haunted Mansion: This was one of my most anticipated episodes due to always having a soft spot for the Haunted Mansion, and it did not disappoint. The episode offers a good history of the attraction, and the impressive special effects within, which was inspired by Disney’s own assertion that “children like to be scared.” We see how the Imagineers went about finding the right mix of scary and fun, a balance that is represented in how the ride transitions from its spooky first half to the amusing singing busts that appear later on.

The episode also features a nice history of the Hatbox Ghost, an animatronic figure that Walt had removed from the ride shortly after it opened due to it not working properly, who was finally fixed and reintroduced in 2015. Furthermore, we are also given an intriguing glimpse at how the attraction has been reimagined for other parks, including as Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris and Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland. It will put “Grim Grinning Ghosts” in your head in the best way.

Star Tours: Long before Disney bought the rights to Star Wars, the studio created Star Tours, a ride based around the iconic film franchise that was inspired by flight simulators to give audiences the feel of being in one of the movies. The episode offers a good history of the ride, from the logistics of creating the hydraulics, to coming up with a storyline guided along by a nervous robot named RX-24 voiced by Paul Reubens. It also explores how the ride changed with the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999, and how it gave way to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, an entire new land devoted to the franchise. We also get anecdotes about how a young George Lucas was at Disneyland on opening day with his family in 1955.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: This episode takes us behind the scenes of the groundbreaking drop ride, which was inspired by the facade of an old hotel and the popularity of Rod Serling’s TV series The Twilight Zone. It looks at the unique challenges of consulting with actual elevator engineers to develop a system that would allow the ride to safely free drop and go side to side, as well as digitally recreating Rod Serling to serve as host.

The Imagineers also had to strategically build the setting for the ride, the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel, to be 199 feet, to get around air traffic requirements that buildings above 200 feet need to have a flashing light on top. Lastly, the episode also explores how the original ride in Anaheim, California was reimagined as Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! in 2017, to capitalize on the success of the Marvel movie and tie in with the new Avengers Campus.

Space Mountain: The fifth episode focuses on the iconic Space Mountain, a ride that was born out of Walt’s desire to simulate the experience of space travel, and designed by the late John Hench. Working from a building concept that had its roots at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, an event that comes up quite a bit throughout the series, the Imagineers had their work cut out for them in figuring out how to get thousands of feet of track for the ride to stretch around an enclosed space.

The episode does a good job of showing us how ingenious this design really is from an engineering perspective, giving us newfound appreciation for the ride. The last part focuses on how the design of Space Mountain provided the inspiration for the TRON Lightcycle Power Run ride at Shanghai Disney Resort, which quite frankly looks awesome.

All in all, these five episodes will leave you eagerly anticipating the next five (The Castles, Disneyland Hotel, “it’s a small world”, Trains, Trams and Monorails and Hall of Presidents) later this year.

The first five episodes of Behind the Attraction are now available to stream on Disney+ in Canada.

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