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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Alien Encounter at Walt Disney World

Tomorrowland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Florida was the home of a dark, sci-fi experience called "Alien Encounter," which opened in late 1994 and closed in late 2003.  I never got to experience this attraction.  The concept artwork, which was on display as part of a "Coming Attractions" exhibit on Main Street at the park in 1992, managed to capture my imagination, though.


Alien Encounter (also called "ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter") had been one of the attractions announced as part of the "Disney Decade" in the early 1990s.  I had been looking forward to the new extraterrestrials Walt Disney Imagineering was dreaming up for Alien Encounter and another new show called "Plectu's Fantastic Galactic Revue."


The only projects that were realized from the announcement shown here (from a 1992 Mickey Mouse Magazine) were Splash Mountain, Alien Encounter, Disney's Dixie Landings Resort (later absorbed into Disney's Port Orleans Resort), Disney's Boardwalk Resort, and "the fourth theme park"---Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Alien Encounter's premise was this:  "The X-S Tech, the galaxy's leader in innovative technology, attempts to test their new interplanetary transportation system...the corporation with the motto "seize the future---with X-S" accidentally transports a fearsome alien beast into the auditorium of the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center.  The guests soon find themselves in the middle of a terrifying "alien encounter."

In the pre-show, a robot (originally voiced by the late Phil Hartman, then later by Tim Curry) named S.I.R. (Simulated Intelligence Robotics) demonstrates the teleportation procedure using a cute alien creature named Skippy.  The hapless creature gets fried in the process.
Plush toys and smaller bean bag versions of Skippy were available for sale.  I can remember seeing concept art for the teleportation demonstration, and I thought the animal that was originally going to be used for this segment was a kangaroo-like creature (maybe that's where the name "Skippy" came from?).
Here's Skippy as an action figure!  There were two sets of action figures, sold in plastic tubes.
One set featured S.I.R. the robot, Skippy, and "Fried" Skippy.
The container for these figures is about 7 and a half inches tall.  The Skippy figures are about 4 inches in height, and the robot is 6 inches tall.
The scary alien was available in a "blind" container that is about 10 inches tall.
There's a small section of the package that allows you to get a peek of the alien.  It's a shame, because I'd love to see all of the alien, but I want to keep this as a collector's item.

Oh well, here's the back of the container!




Of course, there was more merchandise, too...



Ha ha!  I opened this action figure right when I got it!  It's not been used as a toy, but it's not technically "Mint In Package."  This character is effin' awesome!  The monster is about 7 inches tall.

But wait, there's another scary alien collectible!

This version of the alien beast is about 13 inches tall.  The creature is made out of latex (with that Halloween mask smell) with metal wires for posing and is stuffed with polyester filling.
The tag here says the alien's planet of origin is unknown, but this toy was made in Sri Lanka.

Alien Encounter went through changes after opening to tinker with the level of scariness.  The ferocious alien terrorized guests in the dark through the use of Audio Animatronics, audio and special effects.

Alien Encounter had replaced the old space travel simulation, "Flight to the Moon" (1971-1975) which later became "Mission to Mars" (1975-1993).  In 2004, "Stitch's Great Escape" replaced Alien Encounter.  The show is now set in the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleport Center, and guests are in charge of guarding Experiment 626 (Stitch, from the 2002 movie, Lilo and Stitch).  Skippy is still in the show, but is now a prisoner.  S.I.R. was re-themed to a character named Seargeant (voiced by Richard Kind).  The fried version of Skippy was redressed to become another alien prisoner.  An animatronic Stitch replaced the scary monster that was the star of Alien Encounter.

 On my visit to Walt Disney World in 1994, Alien Encounter was under construction.  On my next visit in 2004, Alien Encounter had been shut down for work on Stitch's Great Escape.  I got this Alien Encounter pin on this visit (I snatched it up pretty quickly).  It seems like it would be pretty easy to bring Alien Encounter back.  Maybe someday it will---you just never know!

8 comments:

  1. Yeah, whatever happened to all the stuff that was planned during "The Disney Decade"? Disneyland was supposed to get a Little Mermaid ride and a Dick Tracy ride...oh, and a Hollywoodland.

    I thought Alien Encounter was a hundred times better than Stitch's Great Escape. I don't think I EVER need to see that one again!

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  2. Hey TokyoMagic! Yes, there were many, many "Disney Decade" projects that never happened (including Alien Encounter at Disneyland---I can remember Harry Anderson mentioning it (and the projects you mentioned, and "an incredible live Muppet show") as part of Disneyland's 35th Birthday TV Special).

    I was upset that I never got to see Alien Encounter. I did get to see the Stitch attraction last year. The Stitch animatronic was impressive, but, um, yeah, I have no plans on seeing that show again. :-o

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  3. I always listed Alien Encounter as one of my favorite WDW attractions. At the time it debuted I was perhaps at my peak of interest in Disney and Imagineering. One of the main reasons I loved it so much was that it was the Pirates of our generation- not so much in specific technological paralells, but in that it was an original story and characters, not based on a particular film. I scoffed at those who said it didn't belong in the Magic Kingdom- in retrospect, and with a young daughter now I guess I understand that a bit more. I certainly wouldn't want to open the flood gates and have several equally violent or scary attractions in the Park, but as an isolated attraction that made a point to tell you ahead of time, this is scary, I don't think it was the end of the World.

    THose action figures are one of my favorite pieces that Disney has ever put out, right up there with Kevin Kidney's stuff- they're obviously not high quality collectibles, but clearly somebody in the Merchandising department was saying "If I were a kid, what kind of merchandise would I want to see for this attraction" which of course is exactly what they should be asking. Great post Dan!

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  4. Hey, thanks Eric! The "world" the Imagineers created for this was so different and fantastic, that it's a shame it didn't last. I'm very curious about all the characters created for "Plectu's Fantastic Galactic Revue" show--I would love to see those!

    Of course, I agree with you about the action figures---for what they are, they are really outstanding!

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  5. Never saw the Old show. Saw the Stitch one last year and was disappointed. My friend went on the old ride, and said he had to keep telling himself "It's not real... it's just a ride". Can you imagine how scary that thing used to be? They used to make kids and folks who were "anxious" about the ride, watch a preview video to show them what they were in for. A LOT of folks opted to get out of the line! LOL!

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  6. Darrin, of course I feel your pain! I think the fact that much of the show took place in total darkness was a big part of the scare factor. Plus, the alien was pretty freaky looking!

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  7. Well you didn't really see the alien. The only time he was lit was when he was in a fog filled ube, so you kind of saw a mass of legs and his glowing red eyes. You also saw just a brief glimpse of it's face, in night vision green, on the monitor when the workman goes to investigate on the catwalk, but I don't remember that being very clear. I never really felt that the toy, or the alien depicted in other merchandise accurately reflected my imagination of what it looked like.

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  8. Eric: Wow, I had just assumed there was a full-scale animatronic alien! (You know what they say about assuming things...). Crazy!! See, for some reason I thought the Lava Monster from Tokyo Disneysea's Journey to the Center of the Earth (I've only seen photos of this, never in person) was a modified version of the Alien Encounter alien!

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