Six Amazing Facts about Soarin’
For all the many things that Disney California Adventure (DCA) did wrong at its start, the park got one ride right.
Soarin’ Over California expanded a children’s toy into an E-ticket attraction that was the envy of theme parks everywhere.
To this day, imitators continue to rip off Disney’s innovation, most recently with Sky Fly: Soar America in Pigeon Forge.
Seriously, several tourist traps have stolen borrowed this idea, demonstrating its brilliance.
Here are six amazing facts about Soarin’, a ride so good that even Disney has recently expanded on it.
A Gigantic Erector Set
When Disney planned for a California-based ride at a theme park with California in the name, expectations were high.
Everyone involved with the project understood that this attraction would make or break the park.
Amusingly, the ride Disney built was perfect, but the rest of DCA disappointed guests so much that Soarin’ couldn’t save it.
Still, the early days of planning involved much debate. Nobody could decide on the infrastructure for a premise known as Ultra Flight.
Park planners wanted guests to ride something while staring at an IMAX screen, which was still a relatively new technology at the time.
IMAX projection screens reach 80 feet in the air, which caused Disney some headaches.
They needed to build something that could provide the same viewing perspective to all guests.
No such technology existed…at theme parks. An Imagineer named Mark Sumner visited his childhood home and noticed one of his old toys.
As he examined an erector set, he experienced an epiphany. That technology could solve the problems of Ultra Flight.
A large-scale erector set design could lift multiple rows of guests into the air and show hundreds of guests the same relative view of Soarin’.
Soarin’ Is the Hardest Ride to Film
Have you ever watched the jumping whale in the ocean and wondered how Disney did that? You’re not alone.
Many of the sights of Soarin’ feel staged…because they are. When you notice someone is hanging off the side of a mountain, that didn’t happen organically.
Disney liaised with various governments for the rights to film Soarin’ scenes. In many instances, people waited for hours to appear.
Residents of Fiji agreed to do a bit of sailing on camera. Filmmakers planned some of the kites on the Great Wall of China, too.
You may wonder how Disney plotted others like the animal march in Tanzania, the bear, and the whale. Obviously, they didn’t.
However, they knew enough about the scenery to anticipate what could occur and set up cameras to film repeatedly. Then, some magic happened.
The technical challenges from these setups vastly exceeded even the ones from the original version of Soarin’.
For the California portions, Disney negotiated with national park officials to fly a helicopter through the area, which hadn’t happened in decades.
Soarin’ Around the World required the approval of 13 different countries! You can imagine how much red tape that involved.
Then, there’s the matter of the cameras. Soarin’ used 4K tech before anyone knew what that was.
The re-theming required digital filming using an unprecedented setup. Soarin’ utilizes five different IMAX cameras set up in a rig!
After filming, an algorithm combined all five images into a single shot! The system isn’t perfect, though.
Fans lament that when they sit off to either side, the Eiffel Tower and other shots suffer from a tilting effect. The landmarks appear bent!
Ah, well. Pobody’s nerfect.
The Ride Manipulates Your Senses
I’m addicted to Disney candles and scents. They recreate the fragrances you’ll notice at Disney theme parks.
Imagineers place machines called Smellitzers near vents throughout the parks and some attractions.
These devices exist for one purpose. They manipulate your senses to heighten the theming and feeling of immersion.
Some Smellitzers possess more nefarious purposes. Those smells on Main Street, U.S.A. aren’t there just to make you happy.
You’re smelling cotton candy and popcorn because Disney wants you to buy its high-priced cotton candy and popcorn.
On rides, Smellitzers reinforce the escapism that you’re experiencing on the ride. And none of them does it better than Soarin’.
Guests will always associate the original version of Soarin’ with orange groves. The ride piped in the orange scent to accompany the scene.
On the updated version of the attraction, you’ll smell a beach, Tanzanian wildlife, and the Taj Mahal, among others. It’s the most fragrant ride at Disney!
Soarin’ Went Global in 2016
When Soarin’ debuted in 2001, its target audience was Californians and other guests visiting the Golden State.
Over the years, the popularity of Soarin’ led to its expansion. EPCOT added a duplicate in 2005, which wasn’t a perfect fit for the initial concept.
As a global park, EPCOT didn’t have much reason to celebrate California. Still, that wasn’t the primary reason why Disney re-themed it.
In 2016, Shanghai Disneyland opened. That park didn’t even exist as a concept when Soarin’ debuted.
Obviously, people in China didn’t share the same enthusiasm over the sights of California that Americans do.
So, Imagineers took on a new assignment. They globalized the concept, filming new locations around the world.
Places like the Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids, and the Great Wall of China replaced the former California sights.
The Ride Features Multiple Endings
One of the reasons why Disney re-themed came down to the introduction of a more personal touch.
The international versions of the ride include scenes that you won’t get at EPCOT or DCA.
To wit, Tokyo Tower appears during the Tokyo DisneySea ride. That’s not the most remarkable part, though.
Disney introduced new endings for each park, one that would directly relate to that locale.
The EPCOT version ends at Future World, where Tinkerbell flitters around while the camera zooms in on Spaceship Earth.
As is the case with all endings, fireworks light up the last scene. Adorably, the ones at EPCOT create a Hidden Mickey at the end!
At DCA, the ride finishes with a shot of…Disneyland. I guess park officials deemed it more iconic.
At Shanghai Disneyland, Disney named the ride Soarin’ Over the Horizon. It shows off the majestic Shanghai skyline at the end.
The most recent version, Soarin’ Fantastic Flight, ends where the ride is: Mediterranean Harbor at Tokyo DisneySea!
You can watch an unprecedented view of Mount Prometheus as your Soarin’ journey winds down.
Soarin’ Features the Best Musical Score
You don’t need to be a Hollywood historian to recognize the collective works of the late Jerry Goldsmith.
This musician earned 18 (!) Academy Award nominations during his career, including one win.
Goldsmith crafted the soundtracks for classics like Planet of the Apes, Patton, and Chinatown. He worked with Disney on 1998’s Mulan.
That project paid later dividends as Goldsmith mentioned that his father had worked as a pilot in California.
When Imagineers plotted Soarin’, they realized that Goldsmith’s perspective would enrich the overall ride experience.
The artist proceeded to create the score for Soarin’, a project that moved him emotionally. Goldsmith famously wept with joy on his first ride.
When Disney re-themed Soarin’, Bruce Broughton took the gig, as Goldsmith died in 2004. However, Broughton’s work displays a strong influence from Goldsmith.