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How Disney fit a Guardians of the Galaxy space age power plant into a theme park

How Disney fit a Guardians of the Galaxy space age power plant into a theme park
Exterior view of the Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout ride in Anaheim. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The new Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout ride set to open Saturday at Disney California Adventure looks like it was dropped from outer space into the middle of the Anaheim theme park. And that's by design.

Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative arm of the company, re-skinned the 2004 Twilight Zone Tower of Terror indoor elevator drop ride with a back story loosely based on the original 2014 "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie and its sequel. The films feature a mismatched team of intergalactic misfits who band together to save the universe.

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Imagineer Joe Rohde, who led the renovation project, says the imposing Guardians building was designed to make an "abrupt, powerful appearance" out of nowhere, surrounded by "torch marks where this thing burnt itself into our reality."

"It's not a fantasy world," Rohde said in an interview with The Times. "It is an alternative reality world. It appears in our world and transforms it."

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The new Guardians of the Galaxy -- Mission: Breakout! ride will open May 27 at Disney California Adventure Park.

The polarizing exterior facade has drawn the ire of some Disney fanatics. One fan in a MiceChat forum described the renovated tower as a "half-roasted turkey." Others were less kind. The positive comments tend to fall into the "wait and see" or "give it time" categories.

The renovated building is now home to an alien museum, where the Collector character from the first film stores his vast extraterrestrial collection. The structure — combining an industrial power plant with an imposing fortress — is intended to reinforce the notion of the power-hungry Collector's vast energy consumption.

"If you look at the building, we had to draw from not only the filmic universe, but also the comic book universe," Rohde said. "Make nods to Jack Kirby and to old, established comic book style in order to get that building to feel like it comes from the universe without necessarily being a copy of anything that you've seen in a film."

To say the wild new exterior sticks out in the meticulously designed Disney theme park would be a vast understatement. Disney Imagineers purposely designed the Guardians facade to contrast with the Art Deco surroundings of the nearby faux Hollywood Boulevard.

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The renovation transformed the exterior of the haunted hotel into an imposing space age fortress covered in power plant-like piping and shimmering earth tones. The effect is shocking. It looks like someone dropped an industrial oil refinery in the middle of the park. The 183-foot-tall building is visible throughout the park and even from the Santa Ana (5) Freeway.

The Collector's fortress was inspired by gothic influences, art nouveau design and even Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt, Rohde said.

"We want your eye to flow up that building," Rohde said. "Make your eyes lift up and look up, up, up at this thing and feel that you want to go inside. Ultimately, the building has to make you want to go inside."

The design of the Guardians ride building drew upon Renzo Piano's inside-out Pompidou Centre in Paris, which Rohde described as an industrial building with "high romantic feeling."

"Ultimately our product needs romanticism," Rohde said. "It needs to be picturesque. It needs to be beautiful."

The controversial renovation raises the age-old question Disney fans have been asking for decades: What would Walt think?

Walt Disney famously rejected early designs that called for a decrepit Haunted Mansion, refusing to build a ramshackle haunted house in the middle of his immaculately maintained theme park.

Imagineers followed Walt's lead when plans called for a "junkyard" at the entrance to Cars Land at Disney California Adventure. Mater's Junkyard Jamboree is the cleanest, most orderly and well-manicured garbage dump you will ever find.

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We will have to wait to see how the new Guardians attraction eventually fits into Imagineering's larger vision for a Marvel-themed land already in the planning stages.

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