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By Thomas Wheeler

This may soon qualify as a "Flashback" review, since I have heard word that Walt Disney World plans to overhaul their "Alien Encounter" attraction in Tomorrowland into something based more on "Lilo & Stitch".

I love Walt Disney World. I wish I could afford to go there more often. With four major theme parks, several water parks, a massive shopping and entertainment area, numerous elegant hotels, and plenty of other recreational opportunities, I can't think of a cooler place for a vacation. That's not to malign Disneyland, the original, in any way. It's very cool, too.

In fact, one of my favorite areas in Walt Disney World is the Magic Kingdom, the counterpart to the main Disneyland park. While very similar to its California progenitor, there are differences.

Some of these differences amount to popular rides being structured somewhat differently. In some cases, these are improvements. In some cases they're not. Space Mountain, for example, is not an improvement. The track is cool, but the vehicle you're sitting in is some sort of Matterhorn Bobsled leftover with an ill-placed safety bar that if you don't position yourself properly is going to ram you in the stomach several times during the course of the ride hard enough so that you're going to know it for the rest of the day. I learned this the hard way.

However, for the most part, the Tomorrowland section of the Magic Kingdom does have some very cool stuff that won't be found in California. There's the TimeKeeper, a cool Circle-Vision attraction featuring a wacked-out Audio-Animatronic robot voiced by Robin Williams. There's Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, an absolute must for any Toy Story fan, a super-cool ride where you actually get to fire at targets and rack up a score like a video game. And this Tomorrowland still has the pleasant PeopleMover and the Carousel of Progress, instead of the ill-advised (and now closed) Rocket Rods and the thoroughly pointless Innoventions stinking up the place in California.

But this is a toy review, not a travelogue (although I could certainly write one). Tomorrowland in Florida also has (or had) one other attraction not found in California -- ALIEN ENCOUNTER. This science-fiction scare-fest was created in part with the help of George Lucas, who apparently wasn't content with Star Tours.

The attraction takes you through what initially seems to be a very businesslike alien laboratory, where you are to witness the demonstration of a new teleportation chamber. A brief, if somewhat debatable, demonstration is given by a robot, and then you are led into the main arena to watch a larger demonstration.

But something goes terribly wrong. When the harmless little creature in the chamber disappears, something else reappears. Something nasty. Something big. Something that manages to break out and goes on a rampage through the arena. Something that -- frankly, you never get THAT good a look at. The lighting in the chamber is such that the ugly cuss that's teleported in is just vague enough to let your imagination run away with you when the thing supposedly "breaks loose". You get the general impression of something entirely non-human, with lots of claws and teeth.

Fortunately, you can buy something that will give you a better idea of what you just went up against. At least you could back in 2000 when I was last there. I don't know if they're still selling these things, but depending on the nature of the "Lilo & Stitch" overhaul, they might not be available much longer.

Sealed in a largely opaque chamber, no doubt to not give away any more of the attraction's monster than necessary, is a "Alien Encounter Action Figure". And this thing is probably the single ugliest action figure I've ever purchased in my life. This critter makes most McFarlane toys look cute. Weirder still that it came from the same place that gave us Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

The toy stands, if it can be called that, about 7-1/2" in height, and if I was to try to compare it to a known species of creature on Earth, I'd have to call it the Lobster from Hell. It's almost totally non-human. It has an ugly, inhuman head with a wide open mouth of decidedly sharp teeth, a long, undulating, multi-sectioned body that ends in something resembling a stinger, eight primary limbs, two of which could arguably legs, six vestigal limbs which amount to little more than a single claw, what looks like considerable armor plating around its shoulders, a dense carapace on its back, and either minimal wings or defensive fins, like those of some species of dinosaur, on its back. No wonder this thing scares people. In and of itself, it's nothing especially recognizable from normal standards, but rather is a nightmarish version of several creatures' attributes, none of which are generally known for being "cute".

The toy is extremely well made. The body is rough-textured, and very well-detailed. It has 14 points of articulation, very good for a toy like this. The head turns, the six arm-limbs move, and the two larger arm-limbs have elbow joints, the legs move, and they have something like knee joints, and the stinger tail is a bendie, although it's not especially moveable. Still, I'm counting it.

The figure can be made to stand on its tail and two legs, creating a sort of "tripod". The alien is obviously a little top-heavy, but if the legs are good and tight, it will not fall over readily.

And this "Alien Encounter" alien will certainly make an interesting souvenir in and among all of the cute stuff Disney normally markets. I do not know what its present availability is (or future, especially), and this item is not available outside of Walt Disney World. But if you happen to be there, or know someone who's going -- soon -- have them stop by a souvenir kiosk and look for the plastic and cardboard tubes containing these Alien Encounter action figure critters. They're tightly sealed -- just as a, you know, precaution...