July 24, 2024

Muppets Mayhem Redo of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Proposed by Disney+ Series Creators


There's a new "rumor" that Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is going to be rethemed to Muppets Mayhem, with the series co-creator fan the flames on this reimagining that many Walt Disney World fans would love

There’s a new “rumor” that Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is going to be rethemed to Muppets Mayhem, with the series co-creator fan the flames on this reimagining that many Walt Disney World fans would love to see happen. This covers the details, why “rumor” is in air quotes, and engages in fun armchair Imagineering about how Hollywood Studios could ‘reshuffle’ its Muppets and Cars lands to make this happen.

For starters, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith unofficially reopened at the start of summer following its multi-month refurbishment. When the thrill ride originally closed earlier this year, rumors swirled about the duration of the downtime–reinforced by construction permits–that gave the impression it could last until Fall 2023. These indicated that Walt Disney World and third party contractors were taking extensive time to address problematic aspects of the ride system that have plagued Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster with downtime woes over the last several years.

With this lengthy closure, there also came speculation that the theme of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster would change. Walt Disney World never directly addressed that, but implied that it was inaccurate by publicly stating that the “rocktastic attraction will resume its super-stretch limo rides in summer 2023.” Well, now the ride has reopened and nothing has changed. It’s still Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, and although a couple of props and photos of the band have been removed, Steven Tyler and co. are still front and center.

So, if Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster reopened and it’s still Starring Aerosmith, it would seem to put these ride reimagining rumors to rest, right? Wrong. For one thing, bifurcated closures are not uncommon. Spreading work into multiple distinct phases allows Walt Disney World to schedule downtime at the most opportune times, and have rides available when they’re really necessary. Here, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster reopened just in time for the summer season.

Another recent example of this is literally right next door, with the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. That ride was never added to the closure calendar last year, but it had a ‘stealth refurbishment’ taking one elevator shaft down at a time and effectively reducing the ride to half capacity. (That’s why it had the #1 or #2 highest average wait time at DHS for much of last year.) With Tower of Terror, Walt Disney World timed the maintenance somewhat strategically, and also paused the project entirely during peak season to allow the attraction to operate at full capacity.

Yet another example would be last year’s winter refurbishment to Splash Mountain. Very little was touched on show scenes, Audio Animatronics, lighting, and other aspects of the attraction that would change when it was reimagined into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. However, Imagineers did extensive groundwork to prep for the transformation a year later. Suffice to say, Walt Disney World not dropping Aerosmith during the recent closure is hardly conclusive that it won’t happen anytime soon.

That brings us to the latest development, which comes courtesy of Jeff Yorkes, co-creator of The Muppets Mayhem series on the Disney+ streaming service. Posting on Twitter in response to an article discussing rumors of a Muppets takeover of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Yorkes said: “Not gonna lie–this was absolutely part of our original pitch and is another piece of this dream. Fingers-crossed that it happens.”

Yorkes deleted the tweet within hours of posting it, likely at the behest of someone at Disney. While not conclusive of anything, it’s actually a somewhat positive sign that he’d be asked to remove the statement. If this were simply wishful thinking with no teeth to the rumors, Disney would be less inclined to care.

This also isn’t the first time in recent weeks that there has been notable discussion about the Muppets taking over Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. In response to another tweet suggesting a reimagining, former Imagineer Kevin Lively said, “if only someone had pitched that a few years with a full preshow script and treatment…”

To that point, it’s also again worth noting here that the Muppets are now under the purview of Walt Disney Imagineering, and have been for the last few years. That’s likely how we got Muppets Haunted Mansion (and why it was so good) and also explains the promotional appearances of the Muppet characters, including Floyd Pepper from the Electric Mayhem band taking a ride on Spaceship Earth just last month to promote the new Disney+ series.

As we’ve mentioned repeatedly over the years–even before Imagineering took over the characters–there must be someone high up at Disney who’s championing the Muppets. There’s no other explanation for why they’ve been given chance after chance despite middling results.

Now, in addition to the Muppets being front-of-mind for WDI, their latest outings on Disney+ have actually been really good. The Muppets Mayhem has the best critic and audience ratings of any of the characters’ shows or movies since the Jason Segel-led film in 2011 that essentially brought the characters back into the spotlight.

Before we get overly excited and turn to the possibilities for an Electric Mayhem takeover of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, let’s present the reasons for skepticism. First, although there’s a decent amount of “smoke” here, there is no “fire.” A lot of people in Hollywood are Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans (celebrities–they’re just like us!), and would love to see their projects or armchair Imagineering ideas come to fruition.

In particular, Marvel’s Kevin Feige is a huge and longtime fan, in particular of old school EPCOT Center. It’s safe to assume some of the half-baked Marvel projects that have come to the parks are not ones for which he advocated. If Ryan Gosling had his way, there would be no Haunted Mansion Holiday. John Stamos, Neil Patrick Harris, and Chris Evans probably would love to see one of their characters brought to life at Walt Disney World. The list goes on and on.

More to the point, we’ve heard about pitches like this before–and many of them have gone nowhere. It stands to reason that the creators of Muppets Mayhem would want as much synergy as possible, as it increases the likelihood of renewal or longevity for the show. That they presented the idea to Disney, or even had discussions with Imagineering, doesn’t mean the proposal went anywhere. WDI has exponentially more proposed projects than built ones. So nothing to date confirms that this is happening–the Muppets takeover of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster should be treated with less than rumor status.

With that said, there are a ton of reasons that a reimagining of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster not only makes sense, but is an inevitability at some point in the next several years. For one thing, Aerosmith just doesn’t have the name cachet that they did in the late 1990s when Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster opened. Yes, the band is among the all-time greats, but not nearly to the same degree with current park-goers.

For another thing, Disney is paying to license the band’s music and likenesses. There’s no indication as to how much that costs, but it’s a non-zero amount. In the time since Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster opened, Disney has gone on an acquisition-spree and become more laser-focused on internal synergies. If the ride opened today, there’s zero chance the company would look outside their own portfolio.

Finally, sticking with Aerosmith presents sex scandal risk. Days after the refurbishment was announced, Steven Tyler was formally named in a lawsuit and is accused of sexual assault, sexual battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Regardless of the outcome there, the allegations are unsettling. As a rock band from a “different era,” there’s a high probability that there are more skeletons in Aerosmith’s closet that would not be perceived positively if ligitated in the court of public opinion (or actual court).

Simply put, showcasing a rock band from the 1970s is an unnecessary liability for Walt Disney World. Not just Aerosmith…all of them. Between increased social scrutiny and Disney’s family-friendly image, it’s simply an unnecessary and imprudent risk. This is also why Disney has contingency plans in place that would allow the company to remove all references to Aerosmith overnight. All of this is also why we are highly skeptical of “rumors” that Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster would be rethemed to Queen.

From my perspective, changing the ride is a pretty easy decision for Walt Disney World. 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 while in-between development cycles.

(As of right now, there is absolutely nothing confirmed for after Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, and even if the next projects as part of that $17 billion spending plan for Walt Disney World were announced today, nothing would open until 2026 at the absolute earliest.)

Enter the Muppets. 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 a rotating roster of 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 offer flexibility in changing out songs, seasonal overlays, and more.

The biggest problem with redoing Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster to characters from animated movies, and one that I suspect has given Disney pause, is that it’s the most intense ride at Walt Disney World and has a height requirement at 48 inches. I’m not sure to what extent this is a concern with the Electric Mayhem band, which is probably most recognizable to people over 40. Nevertheless, they are cute and colorful characters, and the audience watching Muppets Mayhem on Disney+ almost certainly skews younger.

Incredicoaster at Disney California Adventure is a similarly-intense roller coaster that also has a 48″ height requirement. However, Disneyland 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. There’s no such consideration with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which is isolated from the rest of Sunset Boulevard.

Nevertheless, moving the Muppets to the back corner of Sunset Boulevard has a lot of potential. Reworking the entrance and queue to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster could open up this area, which could be a bona fide Muppets Studio land. Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy could be replaced with another Muppets attraction, and there’s probably also space for a restaurant, too.

No good idea in Imagineering ever dies, and perhaps this could be the partial realization of the Muppets Studio land concept from decades ago. That was supposed to feature not just MuppetVision 3D, but also a Great Muppet Movie Ride, plus two restaurants: “The Great Gonzo’s Pandemonium Pizza Parlor” and “Swedish Chef’s Cooking School.”

As much as it pains me to say, I can’t see Walt Disney World moving MuppetVision 3D given its age and popularity. Then again, I also can’t see the company building a new attraction and restaurant from the ground up to create a Muppets Studio for that corner of the park. Then again, I also didn’t expect Disney to keep pushing forward with Muppets concepts after repeated flops following the 2011 film. Point being, stranger things have happened.

From Walt Disney World’s perspective, there’s also likely a lot of long-term value in relocating the Muppets from Grand Avenue to somewhere else in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Given how little the company spent on redoing that area ahead of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it has always been a placeholder.

Initially, it was rumored to be a placeholder for further expansion of Galaxy’s Edge itself. Personally, I think that’s exceedingly unlikely at this point. I have heard nothing that leads me to believe the company has any appetite to bet bigger on Star Wars in the theme parks. That could change if the timeline is changed or opened up and the land becomes more popular, but it’s hard to see happening now. (I do think the dinner show will be announced in the next few years, but that’ll be on the other side of the land, behind Oga’s Cantina.)

Rather than Star Wars, I think another Pixar franchise is the more likely candidate. Before Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge were announced, Walt Disney World came thisclose to greenlighting Cars Land. That’s a massive success at Disney California Adventure and a land with tremendous staying power and merchandising potential; Walt Disney World getting a version of that still makes sense.

Imagineering would need to get creative in order to replace Grand Avenue with Cars Land, likely putting the show building for Radiator Springs Racers outside the existing boundary of the park. They’d probably also want to retool the secondary attractions, but that’s doable. Cars Land would be a massive hit, and could be part of that aforementioned $17 billion expansion.

So there you have my armchair Imagineering, and what I hope a potential Muppet takeover of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster would bring to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. To be 100% clear, none of this is credible rumor–it’s simply what I want to happen. (Well, not so much the Cars Land part–I’m fine with that being exclusive to California. I just think it makes sense and is low risk.)

As for what I think will actually happen? Marvel. We covered this in our last piece about Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster reimagining rumors, so I won’t rehash all of that, but I think the most plausible retheme of the thrill ride is still Marvel. Those characters are more fitting for a roller coaster and Marvel is one of Disney’s tentpole brands.

Imagineering has already redone one version of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster as a Marvel ride, and it would make complete sense to do that again–albeit with different characters, out of necessity. Marvel is just too obvious of an answer for it to be anything else. Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind has already proven massively popular, and there’s an appetite for more Marvel at Walt Disney World.

Despite being one of Disney’s biggest brands, Marvel characters currently have less of a presence at Walt Disney World than do the Muppets. In fairness, a big part of that is the Universal contract, but there are still plenty of characters that Disney could use. A thrill ride following the Cosmic Rewind template–with a mix of music and humor–would be really well-received, and could be accomplished with a reimagining Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.

Still, we Muppets fans can dream, right? (I feel like there’s a song about that.) While still pretty far from happening, this feels much more plausible than the “rumors” about Queen or other bands, and it’s inevitable that Aerosmith is replaced at some point in the not-too-distant future, and probably not with another band. Doing so would breathe new life into the attraction and offer fresh marketing potential.

Given that…why not the Muppets? They are evergreen characters that have a cult fan following, someone high-up in Burbank clearly loves them, and they are front-of-mind with Imagineering. It may not be the perfect or most logical choice in terms of synergy, but the exact same thing could be said about TRON Lightcycle Run. The fact is that thrill rides have a tremendous amount of inherent appeal, so it’s not like Disney needs to make this the Wakandacoaster in order for it to be popular.

Disney could be try for the opposite approach, with a theme park attraction that draws more attention to a somewhat-dormant franchise that has tremendous potential. Again, stranger things have happened. Here’s hoping we get an announcement at Destination D23 this fall. In the meantime, start playing Muppets Mayhem on loop to get those viewership stats up!

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Your Thoughts

What do you think about a Muppet takeover of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster? Think the Electric Mayhem band would be a good replacement for Aerosmith? 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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