Friday, June 24, 2022

How Can Dinoland USA Be Fixed?

Most lands inside Disney theme parks are exquisitely themed, making you feel like you are part of the story being told.  There are often jaw-dropping attractions, great restaurants and colorful characters.  Some of these are classics, like Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom.  Some are more recent inventions, showcasing the best of Imagineering, like Star Wars Galaxy's Edge.

And then there's Dinoland USA.  This section of Animal Kingdom has never been the best as far as attractions go, the theming and backstory have left a lot to be desired (and are often ridiculed by Disney fans) and most recently, attractions have been cut without any replacements.  It largely sticks out from the lands around it, most notably the beautiful Pandora: The World of Avatar on the other side of the park.

Can anything be done to fix this area?  Surely, like most obsolete areas in parks past, Disney can invest some time and money into this and make it anything they want it to be.  As of now, this doesn't appear to be on the radar, but things can be happening behind the scenes that we're not privy to and it wouldn't shock me if an announcement were to suddenly appear.  Remember, even Pandora used to be Camp Minnie-Mickey, and I'd say most people would call this an upgrade.

If we want to talk about fixing Dinoland, we should start by talking about what's actually there now.  There is currently the theater where Kite Tails is shown (and where the short lived nighttime show, Rivers of Light, used to reside).  The is also the Boneyard (a dig area for kids), Fossil Fun Games (midway style carnival attractions), and some quick service restaurants and booths, highlighted (I suppose) by Restaurantosaurus.  There are currently no character meet and greets here, though Safari Donald is due to make a return soon.

Of course, when most people talk about an area in a park, they're thinking of rides and attractions.  Right now, Dinoland is home to two attractions - DINOSAUR (which is how it's stylized, though I'll just stick with calling it Dinosaur from here on), where you board a vehicle that bumps and rattles its way through a prehistoric adventure, and TriceraTop Spin, a basic spinning ride mostly for kids.  Primeval Whirl, a "wild mouse coaster" that has been closed since the pandemic (and often before that) and is now permanently closed.

When looking over what's there now, well, there really isn't all that much.  I don't mean to minimize these, truly.  I actually really like Dinosaur, though it is a pretty old and very rough ride (for context, Expedition Everest is considered one of the most "intense" Disney coasters; the last time I rode Dinosaur, the guy behind me said at the end, "Everest was nothing compared to this").  But except for potential nostalgia, is there anything else worth salvaging in this area, or at least anything that couldn't be made better?

What can be done to fix it?  There has long been a rumor (as of yet unfounded) that Dinosaur could be replaced by the Indiana Jones Adventure attraction from Disneyland.  I think this rumor gained credibility because the ride vehicles are largely similar, so it wouldn't take much to retrofit what is there already for a different attraction.

The biggest problem with this is that Indiana Jones doesn't fit the Dinoland theme (yet!  Who knows what Indiana Jones 5 will bring?) or the Animal Kingdom theme on the whole. So attempting to bring in a quick fix doesn't really do anything to solve the bigger problem here.  And really, Dinosaur is the only thing in the land that would really be worth keeping in a larger overhaul, assuming the dino theme remains.

So let's think outside the box a little here.  If Dinoland went the way of the Iguanodon, what could possibly take its place?  My personal feeling is related to a land that is in the works at Shanghai Disneyland - Zootopia Land.  These animals may be anthropomorphic, but they are animals, so that box is checked.  Plus if a land is already in development, it wouldn't cost as much to clone the attractions to bring them stateside.  

There isn't a whole lot of detail about what Zootopia Land is going to look like in its finished state.  The project was announced in 2019, but Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on these plans, especially as Shanghai Disneyland has repeatedly halted operations during increases in cases.  As of now, it's on track to open in 2023, but I'm skeptical as we don't even know what type of attractions there will be.

Even without that knowledge, though, we can speculate on what might go in a theoretical Dinoland replacement.  Most new lands have two or three rides nowadays - one "headliner" type ride and one secondary one.  They might be able to repurpose TriceraTop Spin as a third kid-friendly ride, but two others (to replace Dinosaur and Primeval Whirl) would be necessary.  This would help to take some of the crowds from the Pandora rides, which are still to this day, five years after opening, the highest wait times in the park.

I personally would like a headliner attraction that puts you in Nick and Judy's shoes as they attempt to solve the problem of animals suddenly going feral.  A screen based attraction or some kind of hybrid would work well here (think Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway or Remy's Ratatouille Adventure). The secondary ride could be a little more lighthearted, perhaps involving Clawhauser or Mr. Big.  I'm not married to any of this, but it's fun to speculate.

Restaurants could fall into place easily (for some reason, I picture Flash and the DMV as the main eatery), and there are a ton of characters that would fit in as meet and greets (with Nick and Judy being the obvious ones).  Pawpsicles could be sold at the ice cream stands.  The theater should remain intact, even if it isn't Zootopia-specific, in case they decide to bring back some kind of nighttime show (and I hope they do - that park is beautiful at night, but almost no one stays).

Really, I have no insider information or knowledge here.  I was just thinking about how to make Dinoland more of a destination in Animal Kingdom, instead of a ghost town with not a lot going for it.  I'm sure Disney sees the problem here - I just hope they have a solution in mind.

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