For the better part of a year, rumors have swirled that Tron Lightcycle Power Run, one of the flagship attractions of the just-opened Shanghai Disneyland, would be somehow, someway making the move over to Walt Disney World Resort, whether that be Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland or Epcot’s Future World (two lands that are in desperate need of updating, given their decidedly antiquated states of affairs). With Blog Mickey now reporting that the move, indeed, is happening – and that, furthermore, it’ll be made official at this weekend’s biennial D23 Expo – we decided it’s time to run down every last bit of the still-hypothetical development, from the rumored location of the attraction to just what, exactly, Tron Lightcycle is.
Let’s actually start at the very end of the story, with the (speculated) potential opening date and why Disney has decided to go ahead and pull the trigger on a development that, until just recently, wasn’t even officially on the drawing board, before jumping back to the very beginning.
Walt Disney World turns a whopping 50-years-old in 2021, and the company – never one to miss out on a celebratory shindig – is reportedly prepping the entire resort in a way that has never been seen before (some whispers have indicated that it expects every single hotel room across the whole property to be sold out for the entire year). The bulk of these efforts actually goes well beyond balloons and marketing campaigns and instead focuses on sprucing up each of the area’s four theme parks, giving them new attractions, at the least, or giant new expansions, at the most.
Animal Kingdom has already been the recipient of the effort, as it now boasts a major nighttime presence (anchored by the Rivers of Light show) and a whole new land, Pandora: The World of Avatar (which also doubles as Disney’s official response to the game-changer that is Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter). Hollywood Studios is next on the list, with both Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land set to debut across the next two years; Epcot is said to be in the rotation after that, with its Future World getting a long-overdue update to complement the recently-arrived Frozen Ever After (and, potentially, even more) in World Showcase.
That just leaves Magic Kingdom, of course, as the only location to not receive any tender loving care. Although mired in conjecture and rumor, it seems as if this was originally a deliberate decision on the company’s behalf – the park did receive the massive New Fantasyland expansion just five years ago (though it would take another two for it to be finished up), after all, and signs keep pointing to a massive makeover for its Tomorrowland sometime within the next decade, after the 50th celebration has wrapped up. But there are external forces that keep popping up and, apparently, influencing Disney Parks and Resorts, including the never-staying-dead nature of the Tron franchise, the ongoing worldwide attention that Lightcycle Power Run nabs, and, humorously, the sheer excitement that the rumors of its being imported to Florida continues to generate. (There’s also the report that Vekoma, the vendor behind the Shanghai ride, built a duplicate coaster alongside the original – which just underscores how [comparatively] cheaply and easily Disney can order up a clone of a preexisting attraction.)
Should Tron, indeed, arrive at Tomorrowland, expect two things to happen. Firstly, it would, most definitely, be timed for the 2021 gala, giving guests yet another reason to come to the most magical place on Earth for that summer season. Secondly, it would be utilized as the very beginning of the area’s refurbishment, one that may likely contain several other new attractions and which is purported to be the final facelift that Disney intends to ever do (both the Disneyland and Disney World Tomorrowlands have struggled to live up to their names over the decades, staying abreast with the latest technological and sociological developments and trends); for this very reason, some have even speculated that the land would be given a name change, possibly to Discoveryland, the name of Disneyland Paris’s Tomorrowland (which has a retro-futuristic Jules Verne aesthetic).
In this way, Tron Lightcycle wouldn’t just be a potential new E-ticket in a corner of a theme park that could truly use it – it could also help point the way to a new thematic future.
The exact location for Orlando’s Tron Lightcycle Power Run is said to be the Tomorrowland Speedway, which may be one of Magic Kingdom’s several remaining opening-day attractions but which receives little of the reverence that all of its brethren do; large (it consists of some 2,000 feet of track), noisy, and smelly (thanks to the presence of exhaust fumes), the ride is considered by many to be more of a nuisance than anything else, but it seems that just as many still consider it to be a childhood rite of passage.
The idea behind the Speedway is simple: riders (typically kids, though certainly not exclusively) drive gas-powered miniature cars at maximum speeds of 7 mph around a curvy track that has a slot running through its middle, guiding drivers steadily along. It’s an attraction that is itself a clone, hailing from a progenitor in Disneyland (called Autopia – “automobile utopia”) that has likewise been there since the park opened, all the way back on July 17, 1955.
Whereas its Californian counterpart has seen numerous overlays and overhauls, changing its fleets of cars and sponsors, Disney World’s Speedway has remained remarkably consistent over the years, sticking to an international race motif rather than the future of American suburban life (the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which President Eisenhower signed into law to create the nation’s interstates, wouldn’t be passed until the following year). That’s not to say that the ride hasn’t seen some changes of its own, however – it originally opened as Grand Prix Raceway in 1971 (sponsored by Goodyear), changed to Tomorrowland Indy Speedway in 1994 (which eventually saw a partnership with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), and finally settled on the more generic Tomorrowland Speedway in 2008. Along the way, in order to accommodate the presence of new neighbors (such as Space Mountain), it continually had its track shrunken down, leaving it today some 1,000 feet shorter than it was 46 years ago.
All of which is to say: given its massive footprint and its decidedly unfuturistic premise, it seems a shoo-in for Tomorrowland Speedway to make way for the next generation of Tomorrowland attractions, whether it be Tron Lightcycle Power Run or another, yet-to-be-determined ride.
Welcome to the Grid
Before we can get into what the Chinese flagship ride entails, it would first behoove us to take a quick step back and get into what, exactly, its source material is. For an international corporation that lives and dies by its franchises, Tron is one of the lesser-known and -developed properties – but it is still one of the more engrossing ones, visually speaking, and its resilient nature means that it may yet be poised for a return, even after all these decades.
Tron initially made waves back in 1982 thanks to its status as being one of the very first films to utilize computer-generated imagery, which was fittingly employed to realize a computer world (called the Grid) that various programmers and engineers got accidently sucked into. Featuring such iconic elements as light discs and, of course, lightcycles (which were designed by legendary concept artist Syd Mead, whose other career-defining work includes Blade Runner and Aliens), the movie quickly became a cult classic.
Disney attempted to translate that underground following (which, fittingly enough, was kept alive partially by the property’s continued presence in various videogames, most notably in Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series) into mainstream success with a delayed sequel, Tron: Legacy, in 2010. Pulling a Star Wars: The Force Awakens five years before that “soft reboot” came out, the follow-up featured the original cast but centered on the fresh faces of a newer, younger group of characters, and attempted to mine the property’s retro-futurism with a soundtrack supplied by Daft Punk. Though it was intended to be the launching-off point for a brand-new series of movies, and though work on the follow-up, Tr3n, was initially greenlit, Disney finally pulled the plug on the endeavor in 2015, albeit doing so with the caveat that it was a temporary halt (in order to concentrate on Star Wars and other, more verifiable franchises) instead of a permanent cancellation.
Progress on the television front, meanwhile, proceeded quickly. Tron: Uprising, which was meant to fill in the gap between the first and second films, premiered in 2012 and was intended by the company to be yet another Star Wars: The Clone Wars – that is to say, a (mostly) kid-oriented extension of a long-lived sci-fi property that could serve as the backbone for future developments for years to come. This, unfortunately, also fizzled out, with Disney failing to pick the show up for a second season the following year.
The status of Tron today is surprisingly tentative: word broke in March of this year that a new version of Tron 3 is being prepped, and that an offer was in the process of being made to Jared Leto to star and produce. While the filmmaking team behind the project is said to be completely different from Legacy’s, it’s also been said that the germ for this particular iteration of the story came from Tr3n’s original drafts – including Leto’s brand-new character, Ares. Should this movie ever materialize, it’s expected to serve as something of a reboot to the franchise but similarly pave the wave for a whole slew of sequels – and, just possibly, new attractions at Disney’s theme parks.
Let’s get to the good stuff already
Finally – the ride of the hour itself.
Tron Lightcycle Power Run is Shanghai Disneyland’s version of Space Mountain, a requisite landmark for each and every Tomorrowland across the planet (a practice which got its start at Magic Kingdom in 1975, incidentally). But this is a comparison that doesn’t extend to the attraction’s composition; although still a roller coaster, riders here board motorcycle-esque seats and experience an Incredible Hulk Coaster-esque launch to simulate the sensation of speeding off into the computerized horizon. Along the way, the track swirls through both interior and exterior stretches and reaches speeds of just over 60 mph – the fastest of any Disney coaster. To fill the landscape of the Grid (and to create a “multi-sensory environment”), the company has installed laser lights, projection screens, CG animations, color-changing “Tron iconography,” glowing glass rails, and a thumping techno soundtrack.
But it wouldn’t be a complete modern experience if the attraction didn’t also incorporate dark-ride elements, as well, and Tron Lightcycle doesn’t fail to deliver here. The premise of the coaster has it functioning as a new type of game, a way for users (read: humans) and Programs (the denizens of the Grid) to interact in a friendly race. The object is to capture eight energy gates, and the process of entering the loading station and boarding the stylized ride vehicle has guests get digitized, synched to their lightcycles, and sorted into Team Blue. As they blast off into the “cyber-fi” world, riders will occasionally spot their digital opponents, Team Orange (where the CG animation comes into play), as they attempt to take the lead in the Power Run.
If current rumors are to be believed, the whole package will be transplanted to Orlando nearly in full, thanks in no small part to Tomorrowland Speedway’s parcel of land – some four acres in total – being roughly the same size as Tron’s in China. Sadly, two elements that do seem to be on the international chopping block include Tron Realm, an adjoining attraction that has visitors design their own next-generation vehicles, and the show building’s funky, futuristic, light-undulating roof, which cost a fortune to design and build (and which not only goes against the cost-saving nature of cloning rides, it also goes against the aesthetics of Florida’s Tomorrowland, which are – unfortunately – completely different than its Chinese counterpart’s).
We’ll see soon enough how accurate – if at all – these rumors are when Disney officially announces the arrival of Tron Lightcycle Power Run at Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom, which will presumably occur this weekend at D23.