It’s pretty remarkable to think how a decade ago, very few who didn’t read Marvel comic books would even know who the Guardians of the Galaxy are, and yet now the characters are popular enough to justify their second major attraction at a Disney Park.
In 2017, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! opened at Disney California Adventure at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA and now, exactly five years later, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind will officially debut on May 27 at Epcot in Orlando, FL’s Walt Disney World. I took part in a recent press event for the attraction to see what it offers guests and how it reaches deep into both Marvel and Epcot history.
THE GUARDIANS OF THE OMNICOASTER
So what’s the ride itself like? Well first off, it’s a blast – a genuinely thrilling, joyful experience that I was eager to go on again the second it finished. But to be more descriptive, Cosmic Rewind is an indoor rollercoaster set in a darkened environment and yes, as that description may hint at, it will evoke Space Mountain if you’ve ever been on that classic Disney Parks ride. Essentially, it feels like Space Mountain if it was built from the ground up today, boasting a very modern ride system that provides some notably smooth motion and a building that utilizes large, vivid movie screens as you hurtle through the darkness, telling you a story about the Guardians pursuing a Celestial, with you in the middle of it.
The coaster vehicles, labeled “Omnicoaster” technology, are able to completely turn and spin, allowing for rotations at the same time you are speeding forward – and for the ride’s first big launch to occur while you’re facing backwards, before you spin back around forward. In addition, this means that when big moments are occurring around you, the individual ride cars can actually turn towards them and make sure you are focused on them. I genuinely loved the ride and would name it as one of my personal favorites at Walt Disney World now, along with standouts like Animal Kingdom‘s Avatar: Flight of Passage and Hollywood Studios‘ Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (and, of course, Magic Kingdom‘s all-time classic, the Haunted Mansion).
The experience is nothing like Mission: BREAKOUT, which was built within the pre-existing building and design mechanics for Tower of Terror. Disney Imagineer Marcus “Flounder” Hurst (Principal Show Technical Production Manager, Disney Live Entertainment) told me they knew that Cosmic Rewind would be vastly different from the start, explaining, “It’s what Walt Disney Imagineering is constantly charging itself with. We have some wonderful experiences we’ve offered to our guests in the past, now what is the future? And absolutely, I think Guardians of Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is that opportunity. It’s the next step in attractions. It’s a next step in a lot of the technologies we’re using to tell the story. It’s definitely the next step in rollercoaster technology.”
Hurts said they jumped at “the opportunity with the Omnicoaster, and with all the technologies that we’re using, to help reinforce and focus the attention of the rider on different elements and really have fun with what you can do and taking the rollercoaster technology to that next level through the Omnicoaster opportunity.” He added that rather than feeling like they had to pick and choose what they wanted to include, “It really is what ideas rise to the top as the best opportunity to help the story.”
EPCOT MEETS CELESTIALS
So what is the story for the attraction, exactly? While waiting to board, guests travel through the “Wonders of Xandar” exhibition and its accompanying “Galaxarium “, which we learn is all meant to be set within Epcot – as in the storyline has the Xandarians having created an entire outpost at Epcot itself, meant to promote unity between Earth and Xandar and teach us about Xandar’s history and the shared connections we have.
An introduction from Nova Prime (Glenn Close, reprising her role from the first Guardians of the Galaxy film) explains how Xandarians have been able to travel the vast distance to Earth using the Cosmic Generator – and how we will soon be transported to their ship above for a demonstration.
We also meet a new character, Centurion Tal Marik, played by Terry Crews, making his MCU debut… Well, sort of. We’ve been told all of the ever-expanding Marvel-based Disney theme parks experiences take place in their own universe, not the MCU proper (though it’s certainly similar), but that doesn’t mean we can’t meet Tal Marik in a film down the line after all. And hey, he is part of the Marvel multiverse, one way or another.
Things go awry when the Celestial Eson the Searcher (who was glimpsed in the first Guardians movie) steals the Cosmic Generator and announces that Terrans have “failed” and that he intends to travel through time to “erase an error” – and end humanity in the process. Acting quickly, Rocket comes up with a plan to stop Eson… and he needs our help! And so we are off on our journey on the ride. (It’s worth noting that Rocket is the one who comes up with the plan to rescue the Guardians from the Collector in the Mission: BREAKOUT storyline. Basically, these attractions are reinforcing that this team would be screwed without him.)
It’s all a fun set up, though my one notable complaint about Cosmic Rewind is that the dialogue that continues the storyline on the ride itself, during which you frequently hear the Guardians, is often difficult to clearly hear. It’s a somewhat minor complaint, given at that point, you’re gleefully immersed in the thrill of the ride itself and the songs blasting alongside it (more on that below) but still, on repeat visits, it did stand out to me that you somewhat lose the plot here.
GUARDIANS = MUSIC
Thanks to James Gunn, the Guardians of the Galaxy have become synonymous with music and, like MISSION: Breakout, Cosmic Rewind makes sure that is reflected both via new music from Tyler Bates, who scores the Guardians films, and also by having six song possibilities you might hear on the ride, randomized to play along with your time on the coaster. The songs you might hear include “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire; “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps; “Conga” by Miami Sound Machine; “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears; “I Ran” by A Flock of Seagulls; and “One Way or Another” by Blondie.
Personal preference will of course play a huge factor in which is your favorite, but I will say that not only did I think “I Ran” was the song that best worked in conjunction with the ride and amplified the experience the most, but that seemed to be the most popular choice when I spoke to others who’d been on the ride a few times and gotten to hear several of the songs. I ultimately was able to hear all of the songs on the ride except “Disco Inferno,” and all were enjoyable in their own way, though some like “Conga” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” were more divisive than others. Personally, I dug the more chill vibes of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” playing as you sped through the ride, but others I spoke to felt it wasn’t fast-paced enough to match the ride’s pace.
Regardless of which ends up as a favorite, it was clear you really do get a very different vibe on the ride depending on which song you hear. It was really interesting to note how much the different songs played a role in when and where on the ride you got a particularly cool mixture of musical beat and ride moment intertwined.
Hurst said having songs of this sort included was never in doubt, noting, “Music is such a key part of the Guardians experience. We all went through a lot of different songs and there were things that the whole team brought to the table. ‘Oh, I love this song!’ And then as a group, we were able to go through that and identify, ‘Oh, that one, as you’re riding through the attraction, the way that hits emotionally, it viscerally takes it to another level.’ There are other songs that you would talk about and think, ‘Oh my gosh, just the perfect song!’ but then it didn’t quite hit that same emotional level. You throw everything at the table and you see what rises to the top as the best opportunities.”
Easter eggs Aplenty
Disney Parks rides are known to include Easter eggs, most often nods to attractions they might have replaced in the same location, but Cosmic Rewind goes to particularly great lengths in this regard. Not only are there numerous references to Universe of Energy (and its follow-up, Ellen’s Energy Adventure), the prior “tenant” at that location of the park, but also to many other aspects of Epcot’s history dating back to its early years.
The in-story reason for this is none other than Star-Lord himself, Peter Quill, who has fond memories of visiting Epcot as a child, in the 1980s, prior to that whole “abducted by the Ravagers and taken into space” thing. Unfortunately, Peter doesn’t realize how much has changed since he was gone, as he makes clear while appearing alongside Gamora in the queue while doing an interview from across the galaxy in which he talks about how great it’ll be to visit attractions like Horizons and… Universe of Energy. (As with MISSION: Breakout, Guardians of the Galaxy cast members Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and Dave Bautista all filmed original footage for Cosmic Rewind. Listening closely, it’s clear that’s not Bradley Cooper’s voice on Cosmic Rewind, though the person they got does a decent impression. And whether or not that’s Vin Diesel saying “I am Groot” or not, it sure sounds like him.)
Generally speaking, Disney Parks replacing old attractions will always be a controversial move for some old school fans, which can sometimes be especially true at Epcot. I personally found Quill’s longing to go on attractions or see shows that were long gone to be fun (and relatable) but a quick glance at “Disney Twitter” finds some who feel its salt in the wound for the likes of Kitchen Kabaret and the “Veggie, Veggie, Fruit, Fruit” song to be evoked, which is among Quill’s dated references. Hurst though says it all came from a place of affection, remarking, “It means a lot to all of us able to honor where we started – our history, our roots within the Disney organization, Epcot as a whole – and embrace that past as we’re taking this giant leap towards the future of not just Epcot, but the entire Disney Experience.”
The references to Epcot (and Disney Parks at large) are incredibly frequent throughout the queue, given how the story interweaves within the park itself and range from obvious ones like the digital analysis of the go-to snack that is a Turkey Leg to some very deep cuts involving references for the more hardcore Disney/Epcot fans.
On the Marvel front, the ride overtly puts the Xandar, the Nova Corps, and the Celestials center stage (the latter getting their most notably nefarious use yet, after their roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and Eternals), along with other aspects not yet seen in the MCU popping up. Perhaps most notable is the use of the Xandarian supercomputer Worldmind as a guide during the queue, an element of Marvel lore directly tied not just to the Nova Corp, but specifically to Richard Rider / Nova, a character we have yet to meet on screen as yet.
And of course, you can’t have a Disney Parks attraction without merch to sell – much less one based on a huge Marvel movie franchise. At the exit to the ride is the “Treasures of Xandar” store, which comes with its own big MCU connection thanks to the appearance on video screens of another character not seen since the first Guardians movie – the Broker (with Christopher Fairbank once more playing him).
As Tracie Alt (Senior Manager, Brand Merchandising, Walt Disney World Merchandise Strategy) explained, regarding the Broker, “It’s his shop. [We asked] what are the stories that he’d be telling as he’s coming through and coming to Terra to set up shop, so to speak.”
Though there are exceptions, like a Marvel Legends action figure set of the Guardians, much of the merchandise in the store is designed to be in-universe as well, based off of two criteria: That the Xandarians have quite a bit of hero worship for the Guardians thanks to being saved by them (Cosmic Rewind is set shortly after the events of the first Guardians film, before things went very badly for Xandar, offscreen, prior to Avengers: Infinity War) and that Peter Quill made some Epcot-specific suggestions based on his childhood recollections.
As Alt put it, Star-Lord explained it to the Broker as, “‘These are the things that everybody on Terra wants to have!’ So it’s all an 80s vibe based on his memories.” That is reflected in imagery that Alt noted was directly based on art (and merch) Epcot had in the 1980s, with a Guardians-infused twist.
As for the Guardians as heroes side of things, there are rock tour-style t-shirts and clothing that allows for a hint of cosplay, including a Star-Lord-style jacket. And yes, of course, there is a ton of Baby Groot merch because obviously that cute little sucker sells! (should he and Grogu team up, they’d be unstoppable…)
Following various preview days for Annual Passholders and other special events, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind officially opens May 27 at Epcot.