Alien Encounter Action Figures

Since we’re on the subject of Alien Encounter, I want to share some pictures with you of my toys. Because that statement didn’t sound creepy at all.

Did you know that back in its heyday, Disney marketed a line of action figures based exclusively around this attraction? And there were some pretty good ones! I have the whole set, which I keep on my desk at work, to remind me that if I’m not scary enough, Michael Eisner might swoop in at any moment and order me “re-imagined.”

I predict that that the 80% of you who have never heard of these things will immediately check eBay for the going rate. I predict also that 75% you will scoff at the exorbitant prices some collectors think they can get away with. For the other 5%, you people need to realign your priorities and stop spending money on silly theme park memorabilia. Focus on those Kitchen Kabaret plush toys instead.

"You're our lucky volunteer!"

“You’re our lucky volunteer!”

First up is Skippy, the cuddly teleporting alien with the wobbly eyes and anteater snout. He looks positively adorably here, with posable arms and plastic molded back legs — just like the real AA figure!

"Welcome to the great big universe of X-S."

“Welcome to the great big universe of X-S.”

Next up we have S.I.R., which stands for Simulated Intelligence Robotics. S.I.R. is one of those rare action figures that can be voiced either in your best Tim Curry impression, or your best Phil Hartman impression. With some extra paint and a little bit of play-doh, he can even be voiced in your best Richard Kind impression, but you really don’t do a very good Richard Kind, so I recommend sticking with Curry or Hartman.

"You're not burned. You've just got a healthy glow."

“You’re not burned. You’ve just got a healthy glow.”

How awesome is this one? Fried Skippy! Kudos to Disney merchandisers for recognizing the sales potential in a torturous experiment gone awry. Fried Skippy’s eyes are painted with fine bloodshot details, and his fur is a nice tone of “burnt toast.” He may not look like much, but his arms are still fully posable!

"It's an alien!" "It's my mother-in-law!"

“It’s an alien!” “It’s my mother-in-law!”

And now the piece de resistance! The Alien! You probably don’t quite recognize him. To fix this, fill your room with mist and blink your lights on and off really fast. The alien is painted a pleasing blue and green color, and is certainly misunderstood. Before he came through the teleporter, I’m sure he looked like Good Skippy up there.

If there is anything to complain about with this product line, it’s that they did not follow through with action figures of Chairman Clench, Spinlock, Tyra Banks, and Kathy Najimy (whatever their characters’ names were). Maybe we can convince Disney to give us a set for the 20th Anniversary. D23, are you listening???


This Post Is Not Scary Enough

I’ve been away for awhile. Disneyland and Christmas ate up all my time. It is a tough life being me.

But as the new year approacheth and my grammar regresseth into King James dialects, I find myself misty eyed with reflection and possibly a cat hair that has fallen onto my contact lens.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 18 years (no, not since my last post — I’m a slacker, but give me some credit). A full 18 years has passed since my last real “family” trip to Walt Disney World (you know, with my parents and siblings and our travel hamsters). Christmas week, 1994. Eighteen years is a long time. All the crying newborns in the strollers from that trip are now of voting age, and many of them are also now drinking illegally. I warned you babies. Life turned out to be harder than it looked, didn’t it?

The crowds were hellish, and Younger Me didn’t know that Mr. Toad, Skyway, 20,000 Leagues, World of Motion, Horizons, and Imagination would all bite the dust in the next few years. It was a brave new world then. Four major new attractions premiered that very week, and I loved them all. Three of them are now gone.

Honey I Shrunk the Audience blew me away, especially the mice gag and the spitting gag (remember, that was the first time they had used it). Timekeeper was hilarious and I thought the AA figures added immeasurable enjoyment to the CircleVision experience. And  the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter had George Lucas’s name on it, ensuring that I would fork over my hard-earned cash multiple times just for the chance to experience it. On a side note, were we not supposed to be forking over cash to the shabby man out front? He said it was a cleaning fee.

Not once was the theater ever this bright.

Not once was the theater ever this bright.

Hard to believe that none of those attractions are left. Of my four new attractions, only Twilight Zone Tower of Terror remains, and I guess it is sort of okay, but not nearly as impressive as HISTA or Timekeeper (“terror” was apparently 1994’s word du jour, which I know is nonsensical, but I can’t be bothered to look up the French word for “year”). I lamenteth much at their loss.

Alien Encounter in particular, for a couple reasons. For one thing, it was completely different from anything Disney had done before. A sensory assault designed to scare the living daylights out of you. If they could have figured out a way to create the sensation of a chest-bursting xenomorph, they would have done it. Heartburn from the chili dogs, maybe? (that’s a little Stitch’s Great Escape humor for you — which is known far and wide for its hilarious one-liners).

But more importantly, the 1994 Christmas week version of Alien Encounter has passed into  Disney fanboy lore, because it is the one that closed shortly thereafter, because Michael Eisner said it wasn’t scary enough.

I don’t know why he thought that. Maybe Michael Eisner is made of hardened steel, the kind of man who can stare down the throat of a flesh-eating monster and calmly greenlight a direct-to-video sequel to Cinderella without batting an eye. The sort of man who gives Chuck Norris and Jack Bauer nightmares. A fearless, ice-water-in-his-veins executive who can’t be bothered to elevate his heartbeat on his way to kicking alien butt across the galaxy. But for those of us who were still listening to Boys II Men that year, the 1994 version of Alien Encounter was plenty scary.

Heavy breathing on your neck. Copious amounts of blood gushing from severed XS-Tech maintenance worker arteries. That shivery, flicking snake tongue in your hair. There were long stretches of pitch blackness, echoing thuds, alien screeches. And that was just from watching Tyra Banks in the preshow.

There's nothing sexier than a bald green supermodel. Ask Captain Kirk.

There’s nothing sexier than a bald green supermodel. Ask Captain Kirk.

Alien Encounter shut down for several months, and re-opened in the summer of 1995, during my brief stint as a Big Thunder Cast Member. I got to see Cast Previews, and frankly, I preferred the original. Most people’s memories of Alien Encounter include the voice of Tim Curry as S.I.R. The 1994 version had SNL’s Phil Hartman. The basic plot was the same, but a few elements were switched around, and I think more video footage from Maintenance One was used in the later version. And I swear — though I have no photographic proof of this — the alien itself looked different.

I could be completely dreaming this, but it has bothered me for a long time. I have very strong memories of the alien looking more like the devil dogs from Ghostbusters, rather than the insectoid beast that haunted the attraction for almost its entire history. Is there anyone out there who can confirm a different alien? Someone, perhaps, with a gritty, illegal flash photo?

Okay, who brought the dog?

Honey, I blew up the dog.

Anyway, as we barrel headlong towards 2013, it makes me wonder where some of 2012’s new attractions will be, when the current crop of newborns start experimenting with recreational drugs and being drafted into our new corp of Space Marines. Will we be complaining about the outdated Tron look of Test Track 2.0? Wishing they’d hurry up and do something with Belle’s empty cottage? Signing online petitions as Little Mermaid is bulldozed for the Duffy the Bear ride? Celebrating the 1 millionth performance of the Legend of Jack Sparrow?

As the Horizons family used to say, it’s always fun looking back on tomorrow. Happy early  New Year from Parkeology!


You Can Learn A Lot From a Dummy

I suppose this is a sad week. After 15 years, we finally say goodbye to Test Track, the “first Epcot thrill ride” if you pretend Body Wars didn’t exist. It ushered in a new era of awesomeness that finally pushed Epcot past those pesky elaborate animatronic epics. Test Track 2.0 may rock a sleek, Tron-esque look and bucketfuls of that “interactivity” buzzword, but nothing beats a checkered yellow-and-black design motif, plywood hill climbs, and those heat lamps in June.

As you can tell, I admire Test Track 1.0 as the absolute pinnacle in park attractions based on a corporation’s Quality Assurance department. And while I embrace TT2.0 with open arms, at least one life-long dream has died this week, because I no longer see any realistic chance of seeing the following in a Disney park ever again:

“I want to play a game,” the thing intoned.

In case you don’t know (though I don’t possibly see how you can’t), that is a Crash Test Dummy named Fletch, and yes, you can see the gates of Hell if you stare long enough into his lifeless eyes.

Fletch was an actual walk-around character appearing in Test Track’s early years. You can tell by the lab coat that he is one of the smarter Dummies. Probably an office drone. It’s not often that you can get your picture with a real live test subject, especially one about to be scattered over a roadway. The best analogy I can think of is if Mission:Space suddenly announced a meet-and-greet with Laika the Soviet Space Dog.

I think there was one other test dummy out and about at the time this pic was taken. I unfortunately do not remember his/her name. Now that I think about it, Disney showed amazing restraint by naming this dummy “Fletch.” Knowing their propensity for jokey names, I’m surprised they didn’t go with something like “Hertz” or “Gurney” or “Lawsoot.”

His full name is Fletch F. Fletch.

But with the Test Track emphasis moving towards “Vehicular Design” and away from “Vehicular Body Mangling,” it’s unlikely Fletch will ever make the rounds again. I will have to be satisfied with his occasional visit to my nightmares, where his soul-less gaze holds sway over all the land, until there is only Fletch, and Fletch is you. And Fletch owns you. And Fletch rules all. All hail Fletch.

And then the nightmare ends with an uncomfortable rendition of “Moon River.”