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Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy attraction amps up the laughs and thrills

Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy attraction amps up the laughs and thrills
Exterior view of the Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout ride in Anaheim's California Adventure theme park. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The new Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout at Disney's California Adventure is more fun, thrilling and humorous than the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride it replaces.

I rode the new Guardians attraction three times during a media preview last week and was surprised how quickly I forgot about the former Twilight Zone version of the ride. The revamped attraction officially opens Saturday to the public. The Guardians overlay replaces the original Tower of Terror attraction, which opened at the Anaheim theme park in 2004.

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The reskinned ride adds several new twists. The action starts sooner and lasts longer. Visitors don't know which randomized ride profile they are about to experience. The rapid drops and ascents are interspersed with video scenes filled with the irreverent and chaotic humor associated with the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie franchise.

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

From the outside, the otherworldly Guardians ride building may be the ugliest attraction ever built at any Disney theme park. Industrial power plant piping and smokestacks wrap an imposing fortress structure. The polarizing building is designed to not fit in with its 1930s Hollywood surroundings. It will take some getting used to.

Inside the queue, the old Hollywood Tower Hotel lobby has been transformed into an alien museum, where the Collector character from the first film stores his vast extraterrestrial collection in suspended glass cases. In a clunky video introduction, the Collector (played by Benicio Del Toro) explains that the Guardians of the Galaxy — Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Groot and Rocket Raccoon — are his prized possessions.

Moving into the Collector's office, an audio-animatronic Rocket sets up the back story and explains our mission: Help the Guardians escape. The sophisticated animatronic raccoon looks fantastic and performs an impressive sequence of movements.

The basement boiler room queue area remains largely unchanged from the Tower of Terror iteration, except for a few set pieces. The old abominable snowman from the Matterhorn Bobsled roller coaster makes an appearance in a clever nod to Disney history. During my visit, a series of arcing power cables — intended to reinforce the notion of the power-hungry Collector's vast electrical consumption — had not yet been installed in the queue.

If I was somewhat nostalgic for the Tower of Terror attraction when I stepped into the new Guardians queue, it didn't take long once the ride started for me to forget all about the old Twilight Zone theme.

The ride experience remains essentially the same: an indoor drop tower in the dark with quick ascents and descents. Unlike Tower of Terror, where time was spent building up the back story, the action starts immediately on the Guardians ride. Each ride begins with Rocket pulling the plug on the power to the Collector's fortress, triggering a blackout that enables the Guardians' escape.

A retro soundtrack inspired by the two Guardians movies kicks off the jailbreak bedlam. The songs, including "Born to Be Wild" by Steppenwolf and "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar, are considerably more upbeat than the 1960s, '70s and '80s soft rock hits of the movie soundtracks.

The ride profiles add an unpredictable twist to the once familiar ride experience. The elevator car briefly pauses four or five times during the ride for humorous prison break video scenes with the Guardians. A few of the scenes are identical for every ride. A couple of them are different, creating an incentive for repeat rides.

For me, the highlight of the new attraction was the seamless mix of practical sets and animatronic figures with the digital screens that have come to dominate most new theme park rides.

While fans of the old Tower of Terror ride will have to travel to Disney parks in Florida, France and Japan to get their fix, I'm sure most Disney California Adventure visitors will be thrilled with a new attraction based on a contemporary movie franchise.

A "Twilight Zone" ride based on a 1960s black-and-white sci-fi television show always seemed like an odd fit for a theme park that paid tribute to California dreamers. The transplanted ride was widely viewed as a quick-fix to boost attendance at the then-struggling park. The immediate needs of the time paid little heed to the problems a towering ride building would create for future Imagineers.

Walt Disney Imagineering has decided to incorporate the drop tower ride into its future plans for the park rather than tear down the relatively young attraction. The refreshed ride is guaranteed to be the centerpiece of a new Marvel-themed land that is already on the drawing board. In time, the shocking Guardians building facade may make more sense once we see how this out-of-place puzzle piece fits into the larger vision for the park's upcoming Superhero Universe.

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