The Digital Frontier opens this week with the new ride Tron Lightcycle/Run at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
The new thrill coaster brings the digital landscape of the Grid to Tomorrowland, straight from the cult fave sci-fi Tron movies with a good dose of Tron: Legacy’s Daft Punk score. io9 recently attended media days for “All the Disney Thrills” at Disney Parks to preview the attraction, where we talked to Disney Imagineers and Tron’s filmmakers about seeing their creations take on a whole new life.
Tron Takes Over Tomorrowland
“When we did Tron initially some people thought it was too far out and had a hard time dealing with it. And I thought, ‘Oh, maybe, maybe I wrote the wrong story,’” shared Tron creator and screenwriter Steven Lisberger. “And then over the years you start to realize, ‘No, I wrote the right story.’ It’s been building ever since, you know; Tron: Legacy and now the ride is kind of the ultimate payoff to see a fantasy become totally real. It’s amazing.”
While Tron Lightcycle/Run is the sister version of the Tron ride that opened in 2016 at Shanghai Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom variant is the fastest coaster attraction at Disney Parks. It’s also a striking addition to Disney World’s landscape, as Imagineer Audrey Hauser pointed out. “Not only did we get to add this amazing new coaster, but it’s also got this beautiful plaza and concourse leading up to it. It’s such a big architectural statement and we’re really excited to have added to the skyline of Tomorrowland.”
Prior to Tron Lightcycle/Run’s arrival, Tomorrowland had been thematically slumbering, populated by nostalgic visions of a future long past, with the beloved PeopleMover and Carousel of Progress carrying the weight of Walt Disney’s original intention to feature futuristic experiences. With Space Mountain being the coaster E-ticket for so long, it’s been a while since there’s been an attraction that really highlighted the themed land’s tenets. Tron: Legacy producer Justin Springer feels Lightcycle/Run is right at home. “I think there’s this constant quest to make the virtual become real. And I think that’s one of the coolest things about the ride. We work really hard in the movies that we’ve made to try to bring audiences in and make them feel like the virtual world is a real place.” he said, motioning to the coaster track. “With a ride like this, you’re able to actually physically create that world. And as soon as you pass through that threshold and get onto a Lightcycle for the first time, it feels like you’ve really done it beyond what you could ever put on screen.”
That’s not to say that Tron newcomers whose first exposure to the films will be the ride will feel alienated. “We really wanted to make the attraction approachable for guests that have not seen the movies,” Hauser emphasized. “It’s got such a fun story, as our guests enter into this digital world and play a game on the game grid in this Lightcycle race.” It’s a clever way of introducing new fans to the memorable racing scenes from the films.
Daft Punk-Inspired Music and More Tron Easter Eggs
While the attraction does not feature Jeff Bridges’ character Kevin Flynn, “Flynn Lives” (ahem) through the game creator’s vision. “For those guests that have seen the movies, we wanted to add tons of little details so that they’re going to recognize those things,” Haused shared. “One of those things is we’ve got the Shiva Laser from the films, which is part of our digitizing room, which brings our guests into the grid, and you’ll also see a few light discs. The biggest thing is getting to ride the Lightcycles that our guests have seen in the movies.”
And of course there’s the music. Sprinkled in among Tron soundscapes is the music of Daft Punk’s seminal score from Tron: Legacy. Springer, who was part of the team that brought in the iconic electronic duo, gives them a big amount of credit for the film’s longevity. “The music for the Tron: Legacy Score is one of its most enduring aspects. I think people love it so much. I love it so much. I still listen to it and I think for it to be a part of the ride is so cool because it really is about the whole picture.” He described how he responded to touring the attraction’s queue: “When you walk up to the ride and you hear the music and you see this sort of perfectly matched aesthetic of Tron, and then you get on what’s the most iconic aspect, the Lightcycle. It just feels like a fully immersive experience. But yeah, the music is such a huge part of that. I’m so grateful we were able to use it here.”
Lisberger jumped in. “I was talking to Daft Punk when they were working on the music and I said when we did the first film, it was really extremely difficult to make anything look perfect. Everything back then we tried to get, you know, fell apart on you, whether it was the CGI or even the the stuff we were doing by hand that was mimicking the CGI,” he said. “And then we talked about how Daft Punk’s problem was that now the challenge was everything automatically tended to come out too perfect and they had to figure out a way to put some humanness back into it. So things have reversed 180.”
Tron’s Meta Prophetic Vision
With the future of Tron’s franchise constantly evolving through various platforms like the coaster, video games, and films in development, we asked if the core theme of optimism is still the throughline. And yes, Lisberger has hope in the creatives who get to play in the Grid next. “With Tron, the timing worked out that it was a new frontier. It’s the digital frontier, but all frontiers go through these cycles where there’s a great deal of idealism initially, and then people have a hard time living up to that idealism. And then things can get gnarly. I mean, Facebook,” he added, noting how Meta has mirrored the thematics of the first film in regards to letting the users have freedom (and not the other way around at a price). “The next generation has the job of trying to bring back that idealism, the hope. And so that’s where we are now.”
Springer concurred. “I think it’s in trends, always about finding your humanity in a digital world or figuring out ways in which the human technology connection can bring about a brighter future.”
Looking out across the expansion of the Lightcycle/Run queue and out to the rest of Tomorrowland, you can’t help but recall Walt Disney’s dedication to the land—which he intended as “a vista into a world of wondrous ideas.” I thought of all the young minds who’d visit, maybe even some with futures in STEM, who could see this as a gateway to the stories Tron tells. It fits perfectly with Disney’s hope for what the land would represent: “… a step into the future, with predictions of constructive things to come.”
“I think you really pinpointed it when you said there’s always kind of an optimistic outlook in Tron,” Springer agreed. “And I think that’s super important. For us, it’s something we try to carry forward in all the stories. There’s a lot of doom and gloom technology stories out there and that’s real and can’t be denied—aspects of that. But there also is a way forward to a brighter future.”
Watch us enter the Grid below!
Disney World’s Tron Coaster Is a Must-Ride Experience
Tron Lightcycle/Run is open now at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. For more information visit Disney Parks online.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.