When Disney’s Tower of Terror was in the midst of being remade into Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, the lead designer on the project promised that the comic book-inspired thrill ride would have an animated feel.
“It's almost like the equivalent of a 1940s cartoon,” said Joe Rohde, the veteran Imagineer who has been working with Disney for nearly 40 years.
And key to the attraction’s lighthearted, zany tone is its abundance of furry animals. No doubt the star of the show will be Rocket, a talking raccoon-like character who leads guests on the mission — and up and down a 193-foot tower — to free his fellow Guardians of the Galaxy.
But before guests encounter Rocket, who is represented as an audio-animatronic and scurries amid the bookshelves of an office, they’ll come face to face with another robotic critter, Cosmo.
Before Cosmo arrived at California Adventure, he was a former test dog from the Russian space program, having made his Marvel Comics debut in 2008.
Mission Breakout heralds a potentially major change coming to Disney parks, as the ride is the company’s first Marvel-inspired attraction in North America. But while superheroes are relatively new to the Disneyland Resort, and are arriving in Anaheim with a pop soundtrack that includes tunes from the Jackson 5, Pat Benatar and Elvis Presley, Mission Breakout utilizes plenty of old-school Disney magic, including possessing two audio-animatronics.
The ride Mission Breakout is replacing, the beloved Tower of Terror, had zero. When Mission Breakout was unveiled in summer 2016, Disney die-hards fretted that the relatively quick turn-around meant there wouldn’t be any fancy creations. But that proved not to be the case, and Disney managed to keep the presence of audio-animatronics relatively secret.
Rohde indicated that was done, in part because everything was happening so fast that it might not have been clear what was or wasn’t working. In January, for instance, Rohde said he was unsure how Rocket would be represented in the attraction.
“This was an exceedingly short production schedule,” he said last week after giving a tour of Mission Breakout. “The only way to get it done was literally to make a decision that you were going to do it, and then do it. It was like, ‘Go. We’re building it. Get to work. Building it.’ We’ll test it and adjust it as we go, otherwise it won’t be there.”
Cosmo was glimpsed in the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” film as being held captive inside the Collector’s museum, essentially a roll Cosmo will reprise at California Adventure. At the Disney theme park, he’ll also be available for purchase, at least in the form of an adorable plushie.
In the attraction’s backstory, the Collector (also known as Taneleer Tivan) has acquired a number of living, dead and inanimate objects — among them the Guardians of the Galaxy — and is displaying them for tourists.
Or, in the words of Rohde, “arrogant rich guy collector, and really, really funny irreverent, slightly anti-hero characters. I like them. I don't like him. We're going to help them get out.”
Spoiler: The ending is happy for the Guardians and Cosmo.
Cosmo is presented in the Mission Breakout pre-show, tilting his head and wagging his tail. You can’t miss him, as Cosmo is situated inside a vitrine in the lobby of the fortress, which serves as part of the line queue.
Unlike Rocket, Cosmo doesn’t talk on Mission Breakout, but you can hear him whimper. But he’s certainly one of the showcase items in the Collector’s assemblage of stuff.
There are more than a dozen items on display in Mission Breakout, many of them hanging above guest’s heads (be on the lookout for the “cocoon of unknown origin”), and Disney has promised that new items will regularly be rotated in and out of the fortress.
But Cosmo, however, is expected to be a permanent — or near permanent, at least — resident. That also makes him the first audio-animatronic canine at Disney California Adventure. Directly next door at Disneyland Park, of course, the pet and Disney obsessed can find dogs on the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean.
What’s perhaps unique about Mission Breakout, however, is that here the audio-animatronics are presented before guests actually buckle-up for the ride experience. It’s part of the continued theme park evolution, where the attraction more and more begins the moment guests set foot in line.
That’s certainly the case Universal Studios’ the Wizarding World of Harry Potter parks, and
The all-encompassing worlds of video games, says Rohde, may play a part in such an approach.
“I think this is an expectation that has grown from the audience, along with the growth of various forms of gaming and more dome-shaped world building,” he says. “The expectation that a story is going to be presented with a proscenium, where there’s a space for audience and a space for story, that seems to be evolving into another kind of presumption that the audience brings.
“The presumption that they bring is that the story is enveloping, the story is around them.”
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