March 5, 2024

Will Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Be Reimagined?

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Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is now closed for a multi-month refurbishment. With this, rumors and speculation are swirling about whether it'll star a new band upon reopening. This covers that, debunks what's likely

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is now closed for a multi-month refurbishment. With this, rumors and speculation are swirling about whether it’ll star a new band upon reopening. This covers that, debunks what’s likely false, and engages in fun armchair Imagineering about themes, characters, movies, and bands that would work as a replacement.

From the outset, we want to be crystal clear that nothing official in terms of changes to the ride. To the contrary, Walt Disney World has publicly stated that the “rocktastic attraction will resume its super-stretch limo rides in summer 2023.” Now, the rocktastic and limo references could just be fun wording, but they do suggest that the rockin’ nature of the roller coaster is not changing.

Internally, Disney went a step further than this. The company informed Cast Members late last year that ride is going down for regular maintenance, and there will be no changes to the guest experience as a result of the routine refurbishment. Given that, it seems like an open and shut case–the ride will reopen substantially the same as it closed, right? Well, it’s potentially a bit more complicated than that…

More recently, Walt Disney World filed two construction permits for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith’s lengthy closure. One is a straightforward permit for electrical work–nothing interesting about that one. However, the other is for general construction with a Adena Corporation, a regular collaborator with Disney that has roller coaster expertise. Their involvement could mean a number of things: replacing portions of the track, upgrading the launch system, or otherwise refreshing components of the coaster to extend its life.

There’s also the fact that Disney deliberately overrode the default expiration date for both of these permits, and changed them to September 2023. This could mean nothing at all–but it was a deliberate change that suggests Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster won’t be reopening during the heart of summer season.

Suffice to say, if the scope of the project has grown since Walt Disney World’s original internal statement that this would be a routine refurbishment, it’s entirely possible some guest-facing changes are also made. The longer the project and the more it costs the company, the more pressure/desire there will be for this to be a full-scale reimagining that gives the ride new life and marketability. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is already a popular ride, but it could certainly have even more drawing power.

There also have been real world changes since then. Days after the “routine” refurbishment was announced, Steven Tyler was formally named in a lawsuit that was first filed in December against unnamed defendants. The litigation was brought in Los Angeles County Superior Court after new California legislation extended the window for child sexual abuse allegations. In it, the plaintiff alleges Tyler started abusing her in the 1970s when she was 16, accusing him of sexual assault, sexual battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The purpose of this post is not to assess the merit of the allegations against Steven Tyler, the likelihood he’ll settle or prevail at trial, or anything of that sort. We’re going to sidestep that entirely because, frankly, the outcome here doesn’t much matter. This Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster refurbishment will be over before there’s an outcome in that case.

Regardless of the eventual outcome of the case, it’s fairly undeniable that showcasing a rock band from the 1970s is a liability for Walt Disney World. Not just Aerosmith…pretty much any rock band of that era. Not because they all did unsavory things, but because it’s impossible to vet at this point.

Between increased social scrutiny and Disney’s family-friendly image, it’s simply an unnecessary and imprudent risk. We’ve previously reported that Disney has contingency plans in place that would allow the company to remove all references to Aerosmith overnight. That may be a slight exaggeration–given how long it took to build TRON Lightcycle Run, I’m guessing the changeover would take at least a week. But the point stands. And to my knowledge, this is nothing new–Disney has had such contingency plans for years. (It’s possible this is an urban legend, but I’ve heard the same about other attractions, including one at Universal Studios Florida.)

From my perspective, changing the ride is a pretty easy decision for Disney. When you combine the allegations with the risk of more skeletons and weigh that against the current marketing power of Aerosmith, the obvious conclusion, I think, is that it’s time to retheme the ride. And I say this as someone who loves Aerosmith’s music.

Reimagining Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is not just the safe move, but it would be money well spent. It presents an opportunity for Imagineering to easily inject new life in an attraction that’s inherently popular as a thrill ride, and would give the company something to market in early 2024. In light of that, what are potential possibilities for a rethemed Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster?

You might’ve heard “rumors” earlier this week that Imagineering plans to retheme Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Walt Disney World to the band Queen. The source of this rumor is actor Ken Marino, who plays the sound technician in the current pre-show for Rock’ n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. (And is also in the excellent Party Down, which you can catch on Hulu!)

The actor appeared in a recent episode of ‘Office Hours Live’ on YouTube and made a matter-of-fact but offhand comment that Aerosmith was going to be replaced by Queen on the roller coaster at the Disney’s Hollywood Studios ride. On its face, this seems credible. After all, Marino is in the preshow and actors from attractions have been the source of leaks in the past. (Tiana’s Bayou Adventure and Star Tours are notable examples.)

However, Marino conceded that this is not a credible rumor after being inundated with questions from diehard Disney fans. He tweeted: “I have no idea what they are changing it to. Some one said that to me at some point so then I said it. It was more of rumor than anything else I suppose. Maybe it’s gonna be the new Billie Holiday ride. Could be good.”

Oddly enough, celebrities regurgitating online speculation as fact is another thing we’ve seen in the past. In fairness to Marino, unless you are deep in the Disney fandom, it can be very difficult to separate wishful thinking from rumor. A normal person might hear speculation and take it at face value. After all, what kind of Disney dork would give so much thought to theme parks?! (Harsh but true.)

With that in mind, it’s safe to say this Queen rumor is not credible. Nevertheless, I can understand how it’s grown legs. Queen has seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to Bohemian Rhapsody, the band’s back catalog is great, and there are a few songs that would lend themselves to a roller coaster. If the goal is to replace Aerosmith with another timeless band that won’t feel dated in a decade, Queen might be the best possible pick.

I’ve heard other fans mention Metallica, Journey, the Beatles, Eagles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lady Gaga, U2, and many others. Everyone has their favorite musicians that they’d like to see. I’ve mentioned before that my vote would go to Led Zeppelin. Swapping out one band for another would definitely be the easiest routine for a retheme, as it would allow some of the pre-show and show scenes to remain the same.

Nevertheless, I’m skeptical of Disney going that route. Centering the ride around pretty much any band presents a potential long-term liability–it’s different from simply featuring their music, which offers more of a disconnect. I also question just how much cultural relevance any of those bands have with young people. Queen might be enjoying a resurgence and the rest get regular play time by us, but does the TikTok generation know who they are? Then again, does that matter? A thrill ride does hold an inherent amount of popularity.

Still, if a different band wouldn’t attract a broader audience or have improved drawing power, and wouldn’t present synergistic opportunities for Disney, what’s the point? It’d simply be spending money and making a change for change’s sake. If it won’t be a marketable addition that incentivizes people to book trips to Walt Disney World, it probably isn’t going to happen.

That brings us to other potentially great ideas that are likewise doubtful. Years ago, one of my ideas for a ‘Muppets Takeover’ of Disney’s Hollywood Studios was a Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster reimagining featuring national treasures Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem Band and a redone entrance to Pantages Theater, Amoeba Records, or Roxie Theatre.

Another option would be a “Great Muppets Music Ride” that features those characters in the queue and pre-show, but features a random ride soundtrack of actual rock music from the aforementioned bands. This is part of Cosmic Rewind’s recipes for success, would offer the desired disconnect between band and music, while also giving the coaster infinite re-rideability. It would also be a nice olive branch for removing Great Movie Ride but not replacing it with Great Muppet Movie Ride!

Similarly, one option I’ve heard mentioned is turning Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster into a Max Goof “Powerline” ride. Wait a minute…I love that idea! Seriously, I wish I could take credit, but it’s not mine. (I don’t recall who originally did mention it, but I’ve seen it a few times in the comments here and on our Facebook page. Props to whoever first had the thought!)

Not to be a buzzkill, but just because something is an awesome idea doesn’t mean it’s practical. Sadly, this country doesn’t appreciate culture, and both the Muppets and Powerline enjoy limited popularity with small but passionate fanbases. It’s one thing to feature them in low-budget, low-capacity entertainment or meet & greets; it’s another entirely to center a high-capacity thrill ride around them. Then again, I also thought TRON was too niche for a major new roller coaster, so what do I know?!

However, there’s also another problem with redoing Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster to characters from animated movies: it’s the most intense ride at Walt Disney World. It also has the highest height requirement at 48 inches. I could see this giving Disney pause about tying the attraction to family-friendly animated characters, which would signal it’s appropriate for all audiences. The Muppets probably escape this concern, but Powerline doesn’t. Even as a character who’s primarily known by Millennials (and most of us are taller than 48″ by now), he’s still in the Goofy family.

You could point to Incredicoaster at Disney California Adventure as being a similarly-intense roller coaster that also has a 48″ height requirement. That’s fair. My counter would be that DCA has different demographics, and Imagineering was backed into a corner with a Paradise Pier reimagining. Toy Story Midway Mania made Pixar the most obvious choice, and from there, The Incredibles is about as “adult” of a Pixar movie as there is. (Well, Wall-E–but that’s not exactly coaster material.) There’s no such consideration with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which is isolated from the rest of Sunset Boulevard.

I’m sure you’ve already guessed the most obvious options that would leave: Marvel and Star Wars. Even before summarily dismissing the other armchair Imagineering candidates, these were always the most likely brands in the Disney portfolio.

There’s precedent for a Star Wars overlay, which Disney has done before with multiple different Space Mountains around the globe. I know many purists hate it, I think Hyperspace Mountain is shockingly good for what it is. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster’s intensity and speed might make that type of effects more difficult, but there’s also more that could be done in the pre-show.

However, I’m skeptical of this because Imagineering and Lucasfilm have been pretty dead set on consolidating Star Wars into Galaxy’s Edge. As a result of that, Disney’s Hollywood Studios has already lost other Star Wars entertainment elsewhere in the park. I still think that’s crazy, but whatever. There’s another good reason not to do this: DHS doesn’t need another high-profile Star Wars ride. (All ages and well-rounded entertainment is a totally different story.)

Pretty much by process of elimination, this leaves us with Marvel. You might recall that back in November 2018, the New York Times did a piece about how much Disney was spending on expansion that included a tidbit about Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster being rethemed. The company quickly issued a denial–that there were “no current plans” to retheme Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster “at this time.”

My belief then and now was that the story as originally published was accurate, and Disney unintentionally let the cat out of the bag early. The company clearly participated in the piece and its author is a seasoned Disney fan, not just some random journalist who would’ve confused Paris and Florida. It still hasn’t happened since, but March 2020 derailed a lot of plans.

Marvel made the most sense then, and it still makes the most sense now for a Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster replacement. Walt Disney Studios Park has already done exactly that with its incarnation of this attraction, turning it into Avengers Assemble: Flight Force. That reimagined roller coaster has received a mixed response from fans, but that’s not really relevant. Walt Disney World couldn’t do an Avengers attraction due to Universal’s Marvel contract. So different characters would necessarily need to be chosen.

There are still plenty of possibilities, including Black Panther and a number of other recent films and Disney+ shows from Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Four. Heck, it could be an mash-up of characters that Imagineering finds an excuse to put together, along with an eclectic and randomized roster of songs from various Marvel movies. Perhaps I’ll get my wish for Led Zeppelin after all–few more memorable fight scenes than the one with “Immigrant Song.”

Personally, I think Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster becoming a Marvel attraction is likely. Not necessarily this year or in 2024, but at some point in the medium-term. Iconic as Aerosmith may be, it’s probably fair to say that the band doesn’t have the same cachet or name recognition with younger guests. They’ve had a good run, but it’s time for something new–and probably not another band.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind has already proven massively popular, and there’s an appetite for more Marvel at Walt Disney World. While it obviously wouldn’t be identical, a thrill ride following that template–with a mix of music and humor–would be really well-received, and could be accomplished with a reimagining Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.

Ultimately, advocating for a Marvel replacement of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster probably isn’t going to endear me to a lot of longtime fans who either dislike super heroes or would prefer to not see Marvel shoehorned into another area where it doesn’t make perfect thematic sense. I’d counter that more Marvel at Walt Disney World is an inevitability at some point. More attractions will be built or repurposed; it’s a matter of when and where, not if.

Recognizing that inevitability, I would ‘sacrifice’ Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster before gambling on a new location or another reimagined ride. For one thing, this spot is fairly isolated from the rest of the park and could be transformed into pretty much anything without disrupting broader thematic integrity. For another, it’s Walt Disney World’s studios park, which is synonymous with IP dumping ground. Personally, I’d rather see Marvel here than in World Showcase or Animal Kingdom. (I’m not saying those are serious alternatives–I just don’t want to risk it.)

There’s also the reality that budgets are finite. Doing a Marvel reimagining now while Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is already closed for an 8+ month refurbishment is likely the most cost-efficient possible option, and leaves more money for expansion plans in Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom.

In a nutshell, that’s my “pitch” for a reimagining of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Even though I don’t buy the Queen “rumors” at all, I hope something actually is happening. In my view, this much downtime without substantive changes to the ride would be a huge squandered opportunity, necessitating future downtime of this major ride in the next ~5 years that will be more costly (both in dollars and needed ride capacity at DHS). Marvel would maximize marketability, and give Walt Disney World something “new” to advertise in Spring/Summer 2024, before Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens at the end of the year (or in 2025). It just makes too much sense…so it probably won’t happen!

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Your Thoughts

What do you think about the multi-month closure of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster? Hopeful that it’ll still be “Starring Aerosmith” when it reopens? Or, would you prefer a reimagining? Thoughts on potential bands, brands, or super heroes to replace Aerosmith? What would get your vote, so to speak? Think Disney is being coy, and a retheme has actually been planned all along? Any questions about the current refurbishments at Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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