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Disney struck gold with the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. It wasn't the first movie based on a Disney theme park attraction, but it was the one that proved that such films could be successful. Since then, Disney has tried to recreate that formula, but no other theme park based movie has done quite as well. Disney isn't done trying, however, because a Space Mountain movie is on the way. Will this be another Pirates, or will this be the next Country Bears?
As a fan of the classic Walt Disney World and Disneyland attraction, I am totally on board with a Space Mountain movie. While the ride itself doesn't have a particularly deep story to it, there are certainly some elements of the roller coaster ride that could be adapted into a film. Here are a few of the things that should be part of any Space Mountain movie.
A Michael Giacchino Score
Certainly the Space Mountain film will need somebody to write the music, and Disney movies rarely have much difficulty getting some of the best composers alive to write their music. However, there is one specific Oscar-winning composer who should be tapped to handle the Space Mountain music: the guy who's already written some, Michael Giacchino.
The Disneyland version of Space Mountain includes ride vehicles with onboard speakers and a synchronized soundtrack. The current piece of music used for the ride was written by Michael Giacchino, the man behind many of Pixar's greatest scores, like Up, Ratatouille and more. It's a great piece of music and it needs to appear in the film. It could honestly be the theme for the movie itself; a simple way for people experiencing the ride after the film to feel like they're in the movie. But even if the score is entirely original, including the attraction's music somewhere needs to happen. And while we're at it, let's throw in the original Dick Dale music as an easter egg reference.
A 1970s Sci-Fi Aesthetic
Space Mountain first opened at Walt Disney World in 1975, and it followed at Disneyland only two years later. While the attractions have certainly been updated and improved over the years, the core design of what Space Mountain is has never really changed. As such, there's no hiding that, when you enter the queue, you're getting on a ride that has been around for decades. Rather than make it a bug, let's make this a feature and give the Space Mountain movie a production design that makes it feel like a sci-fi movie out of the '70s. Or, more specifically, let's make it look like a movie designed in what we thought the future would look like back then.
Every modern movie-making technique can still be used, of course, but if you want to make a Space Mountain movie feel like the ride, make sets and costumes feel a little retro. Look at something like Disney's own 1970s sci-fi movie, The Black Hole, and make it feel like a modern take on that. Part of what makes the Pirates of the Caribbean movies work, and part of what I think will make Jungle Cruise work, is that the period setting gives the production a little space to be more fun and silly than a modern film would allow. So give Space Mountain a feel that is both futuristic and a throwback.
An Actual Mountain In Space
The first Disneyland roller coaster was the Matterhorn, built to resemble the actual mountain found in the Alps. So, since then, the major Disney attractions of significant size, mostly roller coasters, all were given the name "mountain." Some of them, like Thunder Mountain Railroad, make some sense, as there is an actual, albeit scaled-down, mountain in the attraction. But what exactly is a Space Mountain anyway? Clearly the only reason it has that name is that it's a large roller coaster. The coaster itself is the "mountain."
But if we're going to call the movie Space Mountain, then there needs to be an actual mountain somewhere at the heart of the story. I mean, that's almost certainly going to happen, right? Because as previously mentioned, there just aren't a lot of other story elements to tie the ride into the movie the way that Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion were able to do. Maybe this mountain on an unknown planet is the goal for the hero, or maybe it's where they're from, but either way, it needs to be there.
A Story About The Journey, Not The Destination
In as much as there is an actual story in the Space Mountain attraction, the building is designed to look like an intergalactic transit hub, with guests boarding a space vehicle that then launches into space. It has a Mission Control overseeing the continuous launches, and basically, it's an airport, but in space. Space travel is a fairly normal thing in the world of Space Mountain, and that should be the case for the film as well.
Maybe the story is about employees at one of these Mission Control centers where people travel between intergalactic destinations. Or perhaps the main character is a pilot on one of these shuttles who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. However it works, by making a location like this a key part of the story, the Space Mountain movie can do more to capture the look that those familiar with the ride will recognize. The actual spacecraft in the film could reference the ride vehicles. Since the various Space Mountain attractions use different designs, we could see multiple ships, each borrowing the look and feel of a different attraction.
Since there are not a great number of ways to reference Space Mountain directly, a Space Mountain movie could take some inspiration from the larger Tomorrowland where the attraction is located at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Perhaps we could see Peoplemovers used to transport characters throughout the space station, or even a cafeteria that resembles the Pizza Port, but hopefully with better pizza.
If the Space Mountain movie really wanted to have some fun, it could even reference the Tomorrowland movie. The previously mentioned Michael Giacchino wrote the score for that film as well, so it could be easily integrated, and we can slowly begin to create the Disney theme park cinematic universe.
Disney's track record with the theme park inspired movies certainly isn't without its faults, but as somebody who loves the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and has high hopes for the delayed Jungle Cruise, I'm excited for the potential of a Space Mountain movie. A fun new science fiction adventure is always something that audiences will go for if executed well. If it's successful, then we can all look forward to the forthcoming sequel Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy.