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Gamer Tuesday

February 5, 2013

Pap the Disney Gamer's Highlights: Where are the Disney video game references at the parks?

Every once in a while, I like to browse through YouTube and see Disney parks videos. On occasion, I stumble upon the comments, and one of the most common is: where is Kingdom Hearts at the park? Sometimes it's 'I want to see more Kingdom Hearts stuff at the parks,' other times it's 'there should be a Kingdom Hearts attraction!' This led me to try and answer the question: just where are the references, not just to Kingdom Hearts, but all major Disney video game franchises, at the Disney theme parks? The answer won't be simple so hang on tight!

Kingdom Hearts

Disney loves to reference their own movies, characters, stories, TV shows, and even their attractions, both existing and retired, at the parks in many unique ways. For example, at the Magic Kingdom you can see Cinderella's Wishing Well, which references the scene where Lucifer chases Gus Gus while he is carrying beads, at Disneyland you can see statues of Aurora's forest friends around her castle, and even at Disney's Hollywood Studios you can dine while being surrounded by props from famous Disney movies. So with all of these references to many of Disney's own projects, where are the video game references?

Disney's first major franchise based around a video game world was TRON. Released in 1982, TRON tells the story of Kevin Flynn as he is digitized into a video game world of his own creation and is forced to partake in games of survival with other programs. One of them, TRON, becomes his ally as they uncovered a conspiracy going on in the real world that threatens the stability of the digital world they are in. The film, while at first wasn't a box office darling, quickly gained a cult following thanks to its then revolutionary use of computer graphics to convey an alternate universe. It was also a movie that celebrated the endless possibilities of computers, the games we played and how we communicated with each other. TRON was so inspiring that it led an unknown animator to pursue a career in computer animation. That man was John Lasseter, and his company became known as Pixar. Such is the legacy of this little movie.

With TRON being Disney's premiere video game based franchise, it was briefly seen at Disneyland, specifically on the now extinct People Mover. The People Mover is a futuristic transportation system that takes guests around Tomorrowland and through its attractions. While not as fancy or as iconic as the Monorail, the People Mover has become a classic among Disney theme park fanatics. Despite being one of the original attractions at Disneyland, it no longer exists there. In both versions of the People Mover, guests could enter tunnels that depicted a scene, sometimes related to the attraction, other times imagery of the future (like Walt's early concept for EPCOT). For a period of time, one of the tunnels hosted a TRON scene depicting the famous light cycle race using projectors that surrounded the vehicles.

Peoplemover and Tron

In 2010, the cult success of TRON and many of its spin off projects, such as video games and comics, allowed Disney to create TRON: Legacy, a sequel to the original film which brings back many of the classic characters. Now, instead of it being all about video games, it was all about the digital world, the software it can create, and digital life. The movie was much more visually ambitious as the first and was fairly successful at the box office and with critics. Disney understood the potential the film could have with both old fans of the first movie, as well as brand new fans that were getting to know the TRON universe, so they filled both parks with many references and attractions to TRON: Legacy.

At Disneyland, Disney presented a night show called ElecTRONica, a techno music inspired dance party hosted by the charismatic Eckert. There was also a 3D preview of the film nearby, and even an arcade inspired by Flynn's Arcade in both films. Sadly, with the hype of the film waning as the years went by, the whole show and its attractions closed down in 2012, leading way to the Mad T Party. The arcade is now an Alice in Wonderland themed arcade hosting classic arcade games, and ElecTRONica made way for the Mad T Party band. Around the same time, the nighttime spectacular, World of Color, featured a brief segment on TRON: Legacy at the end of the show.


At Walt Disney World, Disney did something that divided fans greatly: they adorned one of the Monorail vehicles with a decal featuring TRON: Legacy. Many fans enjoyed that it made the vehicle look very sleek and futuristic, and with it making the rounds at EPCOT, fans just couldn't get enough of it. Other fans, though, thought the decal turned the Monorail into a shameless promotional vehicle, the kind you would expect on buses and cabs at major cities. Still, Disney kept the affectionately named TRONorail for a long time until the even more infamous Avenger-rail took its place.


Last year, Disney released their 52nd animated classic, Wreck-It Ralph. With the film being all about the worlds of classic video game characters, Disney would adorn itself with references to both the film and the games mentioned within it. Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope hosted meet and greets at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. As expected, their area was decorated with lots of video game references, Disneyland featuring a row of classic arcade cabinets at the Tomorrowland arcade, while at Walt Disney World there is a whole area themed to Game Central Station (to see all the references thrown in, check out this article from last year). If the success of Wreck-It Ralph results in a timeless legacy, you can bet you will be seeing more of him and the games at the parks.

Wreck-It Ralph

One of the major Disney video game projects of the last few years has been Epic Mickey. I have talked about both games extensively in the last few weeks so you can read about them in extensive detail here and here. Unfortunately, the projects have not been as widely accepted as, say, the latest Pixar or Disney movie, so Disney has no plans to further extend the legacy of Epic Mickey at the parks. However, the success of the game did inspire Disney to do more with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit beyond the game and the DVD sets of the Oswald cartoons. Merchandise featuring Oswald has sprung up, including the now famous Oswald ear hats. At the renovated Disney California Adventure park, on Buena Vista Street, there is a shop called Oswald's Tires that dedicates itself to selling Oswald merchandise. Surely, the games helped Disney fans get acquainted with a forgotten Disney character, and thus have a bigger role in the parks.

Oswald's in Disney California Adventure

Finally, the question that inspired this whole article: just where are the Kingdom Hearts references at the park? Now if you are a fan, prepared to be disappointed. The reason we have yet to see Kingdom Hearts at the parks is because the series is primarily owned by Square Enix. Yes, they have to license the characters and stories from Disney, and they co-develop the games with Disney Interactive. However, the whole concept and design of the franchise was created primarily by Square Enix, specifically series creator Tetsuya Nomura. The gameplay design, the original characters, and story that surround the Disney characters and stories belong to Square Enix. In other words, if Disney wanted to do a whole attraction or have grand meet and greets with the characters, they would have to work with Square Enix to make it happen and most likely spend a lot of money in the process. That's a lot of things to do for a series that primarily followed by gamers and role playing fanatics. And in case you feel that this wouldn't be the case at Tokyo Disneyland, this applies there too. It's a complex legal issue, that's for sure. I too wish the series would somehow appear at the parks, but for now, we should be content meeting the Disney characters we know fully exist now.

And that, my friends, are the Disney video game references you can or could find at the parks. Yeah, it's not a whole lot, because sadly video games have yet to be as regarded as film, television or books, and Disney's own presence in the video game industry is very limited. Hopefully as both TRON and Wreck-It Ralph continue to inspire Disney fans and gamers, Disney will continue to keep them alive and implement them in creative ways at their parks around the world.


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