Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ride Review - Dinosaur

Disney's Animal Kingdom celebrates it's 9th birthday today. Let's join in the celebration with a review of one of the rides that's been there from the beginning.

Intro: Opened with the park in 1998, then known as “Countdown to Extinction,” “Dinosaur” was re-branded after the release of the Disney movie of the same name in 2000. In the grand tradition of opening a ride based on a film before the film itself, the movie was a major flop.

"Dinosaur" is located in the back of "Dinoland USA," probably the most maligned section of any park at Walt Disney World.

Queue: We make our way through the Dino Institute, a once secret research facility that seems to have created time travel technology. We will be guests on a peaceful tour of the Cretaceous period. We’ve got the old “peaceful tour” cliché but thankfully we’re not supposed to be the “first guests ever” to do this tour, otherwise we’d REALLY be in trouble.

Preshow: Some clown named Dr. Marsh gets us ready for the tour but her message is hacked into by an even bigger clown named Dr. Seeker. I totally don’t believe this dude is a doctor of any kind. You know what the name Dr. Seeker reminds me of? That Muppet scientist Beaker. And he is even more of a doctor than this goof. Anyway, Seeker lets us know that he plans on sending us to the very moment before the meteor that killed the dinosaurs hits so that we can rescue an Iguanodon who he says was the last dinosaur left alive. I could point out the many reasons that plan is absurd (the meteor didn’t kill them all instantly, he has no way of knowing which exact animal was the last one alive, etc.) but I’ll spare you.

Dr. Marsh cuts back in to discard Seeker’s notion as poppycock but Seeker (I refuse to call him DOCTOR Seeker) has other ideas. He’s got the time travel thingamajig all ready to do his thing. We make our way down some very industrial stairs and into the “Vehicle Dispatch” center and board our time traveling jeeps.

Ride: Seeker comes on our radio to let us know that we need to get the Iguanodon before the asteroid hits. Then we head through some big metal doors into what I can only assume is the magic lighted hallway of time travel.

We land in the Jurassic jungle at night, of course, and first lock eyes with a Styracosaurus which is a Triceratops looking think with a lot more horns. It munches on some shrubs as we continue along. Next up is a Tyrannosaurus looking guy that’s totally eating another dinosaur. Well, at least he’s not hungry. Almost immediately we find a “Hadrosaur” which you might remember as the dino with the pompadour from Jurassic Park 2. If only Disney had the rights to that movie this ride might be good.

Then we come across a raptor which, once again, if this were a Jurassic Park ride would be far more menacing. It just kind of stands there and sneers. Seeker optimistically tells us to “hold on” as we tear through the jungle getting bounced around in the dark. He notes a “big” dino in front of us and thinks it’s the one we’re looking for. When we get closer we discover that it’s actually a Carnotaurus that would enjoy making us its dinner. “Definitely not our dino!” Thanks, Seeker.

We continue along, bouncing and jerking in the dark, and come up on another big one. This is one of those guys with the long necks and it leaves us alone. “At least this one’s a vegetarian.” Way to keep cracking jokes from the 21st century while we’re here in the buffet line, Seeker. A pterodactyl swoops over us as a computer warning tells us that the asteroid will hit in 60 seconds. How helpful. Good thing they installed that feature on the jeeps.

Our tires start to spin as we come up on another big meat eating guy but we thankfully gain traction before he makes us into hors d'oeuvres. Seeker yells at the jeep to us “evasive maneuvers” and when we finally escape he quips “that was close.” Not for you! The meteor falls from the sky as we meet another Carnotaurus head on. Seeker finally decides that enough is enough and we should abort the mission. He tells us to brace ourselves for impact as we drive right past an Iguanadon and finally see the flashing lights of time travel, signaling that we’ve made it home.

We pull back into the station as Seeker tells us that the Iguanadon made it back with us. How, exactly, did it do that? Once again, I could ponder these things but obviously Disney would prefer it if I didn’t.

Thoughts: This ride uses the same ride system and track layout as the apparently far superior Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland. Unfortunately it doesn’t use the same story, instead opting for the illogical and clichéd “things go terribly wrong” avenue. I’m not pointing that out because I think it’s a bad idea for a ride, because it’s not and really it’s the basis for almost every great ride at the park. I only note it because Animal Kingdom has four headlining attractions and three of them use this same story.

What I can say about this ride’s merits is that the first time I rode it, I remember being incredibly scared probably more so than any ride at Disney World with the exception of the old ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter and with good reason. This ride is nothing but loud noises in the dark with giant growling creatures popping out at you from all directions. It’s like the warped lovechild of Space Mountain and Star Tours with some dinosaurs thrown in for fun. It’s rough, thrilling, and yes it will scare the daylights out of you the first time you ride it. Beyond that though (and this is what puts it behind Space Mountain and Star Tours and many of Disney’s other thrill rides) is that I really don’t find it to be all that fun. It’s a good ride, it’s just not a great ride.

Overall Rating: *** 1/4

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