Rock 'N' Roller Coaster

Disney and Aerosmith, Together At Last.

All photographs and logo art below © Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Once upon a time, I harbored a fantasy that I'd someday make movies. Didn't have much interest in directing an Academy Award-winning tear-jerker like Out of Africa; though; I leaned more towards doing things like Terminator, or Evil Dead. So in high school and then in college, I took some Super-8 film courses.

One college class in particular made an impression I'll never forget. We took a look at some raw, silent footage of pigs just walking around, laying in the mud, nosing through the slop trough, doing the things pigs do. Dull as dishwater. Then the instructor showed the same footage again with a slaphappy banjo tune playing behind the visuals. Now they had a sort of "Hee-Haw" quality to 'em and everybody started chuckling.

"Hey, this is real interesting, Mr. Steven Spielberg-wannabe. What's yer point?" Indulge me for just a moment longer.

We watched the same clips one more time with an ominous, minor-key organ score droning in the background. And suddenly those damn pigs were kinda creepy, like any second they were gonna grow claws and fangs; call it "Porky's Revenge." Of course, what the instructor illustrated with this simple exercise was the all-important role music plays in triggering and amplifying specific emotional responses. Think about some of your favorite movies; can you imagine Jaws without its heart-pounding score? "Duh-da... Duh-da... duh-da, duh-da, duh-da, duh-da, duh-da..." John Williams' infamous theme is probably the single most important contribution to that picture's horrific impact.

Which finally brings us to the issue at hand. From the day it opened, Disneyland's Space Mountain has always been one of my favorite thrill rides. But when the Imagineers took the brilliant step of adding on-board speakers and a Dick Dale-performed guitar soundtrack to the experience, what was once already an exceptional coaster became something truly one of a kind. The first time I soared through the Mountain with that driving tune pouring into my ears, I flipped. Everything about that ride - the turns, the drops, the final run into the exploding light tunnel - seemed twice as fast, twice as intense, twice as satisfying. And the music made all the difference.

Now Disney has taken this idea to a much higher level with its Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at the Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Florida. Not only is this the first Disney rail-rider in the U.S. to get us motorvated with an electromagnetic launch and include inversions, the RnRC is, like Space Mountain, fully enclosed and it features the aurally awesome contributions of Aerosmith, a band that knows how to shake the rafters.

Since Universal's Islands of Adventure opened, Disney has been taking it on the chin; somewhat unfairly, members of our community and the media at large have wondered if the Imagineers aren't prepared to meet Universal head on. After one ride on the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, you'll know that Disney is still a force to be reckoned with. To borrow a line from Spinal Tap, this one goes to eleven.

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The Rock 'n' Roller Coaster rocks and rolls at the end of the park's Sunset Boulevard, right next to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (which, by the way, is now four times as fun as it was when it first opened; those service elevators are more out of control than ever). Walking under an inverted Cadillac, ridin' high on loopy coaster tracks/gee-tar strings, we approach a rather mundane building...mundane, that is, except for the 40-foot-tall electric guitar body rising up its facade.

Off to the right is the entrance to the line, where you can choose to start waiting then and there or pick up one of Disney's new FASTPASS reservation system tickets. (I wish I could tell ya how well the FASTPASS system works, but each time I rode - and I rode a lot - the regular line was so short and moved so quickly, I never bothered with a FASTPASS.)

After strolling back and forth beneath a canopy outside the building, we're sent through the turnstiles and up a ramp to the front door of G-Force Records, a fictional, Hollywood-based purveyor of rock and roll. Right through the door, we enter a circular vestibule ringed with guitar-fret columns and illuminated posters advertising the label's recent releases (Well, sort of. These placards actually plug Disney's own Hollywood Records artists... gotta love them savvy Disney marketeers ;).

We then pass through a regal pair of glass marble-encrusted doors and make our way past display cases filled with old guitars, amplifiers and reel-to-reel tape decks. And that hallway leads us into a waiting room outside the individual recording studios. While we bide our time, we can groove on some vintage rock concert posters, relics of psychedelic pop-art hawking bands like the Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. "Oh, wow, like, I was at that gig, man!"

Behind a couple of doors, you can hear the muffled sounds of musicians and engineers toiling away. Brief announcements over the PA system further add to the authenticity: "Mike, we need a drum kit in Studio B." Along the far wall, there's a second display case filled with artifacts like "close and play" turntables and 8-track tape decks. Remember those? I'm sorry to say I do.

Soon, we're ushered into a split-level booth where we can watch through a glass wall as Aerosmith finishes a recording session, tinkering with the sound mix. A lowly studio grunt sweeps up in a room full of instruments.

The band's manager, played by Illeana Douglas (co-star of the new Action TV series on Fox and featured performer in several major motion pictures), stands talking on her cell phone. Aerosmith sees and greets us enthusiastically, but they're already late for a concert and their manager is anxious to get them on their way. Righteous buds that they are, the band mates all complain; they don't want to leave us stranded. Howzabout she sets us up with tickets to the show, backstage passes, transportation, the works? She's pretty frazzled but says she'll take care of it. They head outside and she makes another call.

The concert is due to start soon, so we gotta haul if we're gonna see any of it. She does a quick head-count and orders up a big stretch limo. And a very, very fast one. No time to spare, people. Out to the alley we go.

It's well past dusk and we find ourselves on a gritty city sidewalk, one of Hollywood's neon-lit backstreets. Above us, racks of scaffolding climb up the brick walls of an apartment building. We're headed over to the "Lock and Roll" parking garage where our limos await and while we meander over, we can watch several tire-screeching launches. These limos ain't your discreet, jet-black Town Cars; we get to travel in chrome-grilled, shark-finned, metallic-baby-blue hot rods. They make a turn, pause and then flat-out rocket away. Oooh, I want sumathat now...

As you're walking down the final stretch, be sure to read all the entertaining pre-board signs; as always, the Imagineers have left no detail to chance. And finally, we get to climb into our own high-octane land yacht. Another thoughtful touch that I loved: the guitars etched into metal step-guards on the car sidewalls - superior. Once again, I say the front seat is where you'll want to be on this machine. It makes for a little smoother cruisin' and the launch from that perspective is just awesome. Snuggle in, pull down the harness, and get ready to burn some rubber!

We glide around the bend and pull up to stop before a freeway entrance ramp. The on-board audio comes to life. Friends, we're not listening to the radio, we're feeling it. With two high-frequency tweeters, two mid-range speakers and an under-seat subwoofer per passenger, the soundwaves literally flow through your entire body. It's incredible.

The voice of Los Angeles' classic rock dee-jay Uncle Joe Benson tell us that if we're late for that Aerosmith concert, don't panic; the station's gonna be broadcasting live from the show, so we won't miss a thing. Sure enough, the ecstatic cheers of the audience fade up, louder and louder. Man, does that ever get the juices flowin'.

In front of us is an ivy-covered cement arch, our freeway on-ramp portal. And hanging beneath that arch is an alphanumeric light panel, displaying traffic conditions and the like in a most humorous fashion.

The engine revs, growling like a caged animal itchin' to run wild. Steve Tyler climbs inside yer skull and lets loose with a primal scream: "Are you ready TO ROCK?!!" Let's get it on!

BAM! The train plows forward like it was fired out of a cannon. Guitars howl, drums rumble, the limo redlines. Street signs and rail guards whistle by in a blur. With power chords booming through our bones, we hammer down the straightaway, hitting 60 miles per hour in a hair under three seconds.

Yes, folks, this is a Disney coaster.

The train sails up into a double-inverting Cobra Roll, twisting and turning, flipping and rising, falling and charging through the dark of night. Holy Mother of Mercy, this puppy is In-Yer-Face Mountain, Big Thunder Shout 'n' Wail Road, the Shatterhorn! Bottoming out, we peel around banked curves, flying past palm trees, Randy's Donuts, interstate freeway markers, through the "O" of the famous HOLLYWOOD sign, traffic jammin' with pedal to the metal all the way.

Supercharged riffs and reverberating beats punctuate every move we make. Custom-tweaked tunes, like "Love In A Roller Coaster" ("Love In an Elevator") and "What Kind of Ride Are You On?" ("What Kind of Love Are You On?") blast outta those speakers and shimmy yer innards the way real rock and roll should. Wango Tango!

Charging on and on, we plow through a corkscrew loop, swing through a few more turns and all too soon, arrive at the arena, where a red carpet and formal valet waits to escort us off the train.

Outta my way, dude... I'm gettin' right back on.

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After making several mad dashes through the exit gift shop (don't tell me you're surprised to hear there's a gift shop), I did finally poke around a bit on one occasion. And it was awfully hard not to blow a few bucks on one of the very cool RnRC tee-shirts, caps and jackets; there's some nice stuff to be had. If you're really jonesing for a souvenir, you'll have plenty to choose from.

But, of course, it ain't the knick-knacks that make this thrill ride memorable. With the awesome intensity of linear synchronous motors (like those found on Superman: The Escape), more than 32,000 butt-kickin' watts of audio output and Aerosmith's party-hearty rock and roll, Disney has created, at long last, a rollercoaster that ranks with the best of them, at least in my book. I know a lot of you will disagree; the RnRC isn't even close to being the tallest, steepest, fastest, or the most intricate coaster out there. And yes, frankly, it's a little too short. I should add, though, that even if it were hours long, I'd still want for more.

I just hope I'm not spoiled forever; every "silent" coaster won't seem quite the same again.

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Rock 'N' Roller Coaster

  • TRACK LENGTH: 3,403 feet
  • TOP SPEED: 60 Miles Per Hour
  • MAX. G FORCE: 5
  • RIDE DURATION: 1 minute, 22 seconds
  • CARS: Each "Limotrain" accommodates 24 passengers.
  • MANUFACTURER: Vekoma, Vlodrop, The Netherlands





© Robert Coker.
All Rights Reserved
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