Disney's Lost Rides: Dick Tracy's Crime-Stoppers

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Disney's Lost Rides: Dick Tracy's Crime-Stoppers

Over the past six decades, Disney has thought up many theme park rides that were never actually built. Some were far along in development before the plug was pulled, while others were just ideas and concepts that never made it past the drawing board. We’ll be taking a look at these lost rides of Disney, from the exciting to the mundane, over the next few months, starting with a project built around one of the weirder movies Disney made during the Michael Eisner era. Here’s what we know about Dick Tracy’s Crime-Stoppers.

As the spring faded into summer in 1990, there was one movie on the minds of children everywhere: Dick Tracy.

At least, that’s what Disney hoped. Because obviously the kids of 1990 would love a movie starring and directed by a fifty-something Warren Beatty, and based on a comic strip character who was most popular in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

To show how much faith Disney had in Beatty and the Dick Tracy license, this would-be blockbuster’s original budget of $23 million was allowed to eventually balloon to almost $50 million, making it one of the most expensive films ever made at the time. For comparison’s sake, Batman, which redefined the modern blockbuster a year earlier, had a budget of $35 million. And Batman was very much the model for Dick Tracy, at least in how it was pitched to the public; Disney followed the marketing plan that helped make Tim Burton’s superhero film such a smash the year before, spending $54 million to blanket Dick Tracy advertising and promotional deals all over America throughout May and June of 1990. Beatty and his bright yellow fedora were omnipresent that spring.

Disney CEO Michael Eisner was so confident in Dick Tracy’s success that he couldn’t wait to get the hard-boiled cop and his outlandish rogues’ gallery in the Disney theme parks. As film production was underway in 1989, Eisner had Walt Disney Imagineering develop an attraction that would aim to capture the candy-colored gangland thrills of the movie. It would put guests inside an old-fashioned roadster as it roared through the streets of a Depression-era city, and arm them with tommy guns for shootouts with crooks and gangsters. It would be a major new E-ticket added to both Disneyland and the then-new Disney-MGM Studios Park at Disney World. It would be called Dick Tracy’s Crime-Stoppers, and according to Eisner, it would be part of a huge decade of expansion for Disney theme parks in the ‘90s.

It would also never be built.

dick_tracy_getty_inset.jpg

Before we get into the (fairly obvious) reasons why Dick Tracy’s Crime-Stoppers never made it into theme parks, let’s dig into what the ride was supposed to be. If what the Imagineers had planned did make it into the parks, it sounds like it would’ve been as beloved as the movie wasn’t.

Dick Tracy’s Crime-Stoppers was going to be based on a new ride system that Imagineering had developed as the ‘80s turned into the ‘90s. It would’ve recreated the lurching sensation of a speeding car that suddenly had to change direction—something that would happen, theoretically, if your car was involved in a high-speed shootout with another one. It would also let riders aim fake guns at targets, to recreate the bullet-blazing action of the movie.

Does any of that sound familiar? If you’ve ridden Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea—or Dinosaur at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom—you’ve ridden the ride system that was once envisioned for Dick Tracy’s Crime-Stoppers. Both the Indiana Jones rides and Dinosaur take place on a Jeep-style vehicle that careens its way through bumpy terrain; the ride system itself—known as an “enhanced motion vehicle”—actually consists of a truck-shaped chassis that has a range of movements on top of a platform that moves along a track. It simulates the heaving, unruly motion of a vehicle across unsteady turf, while staying entirely under control.

Meanwhile, the gun-based system was later incorporated into a couple of Toy Story-related rides. What would’ve been the tommy guns of Dick Tracy’s Crime-Stoppers became the lasers of Disney World’s Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin—or, as it’s known in Disneyland, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. The same concept was later used for the various Toy Story Midway Mania rides. Both of those rides can be found in American and international Disney parks. They’re part shooting gallery, part dark ride, with guests riding through a variety of scenes while “shooting” at targets with “guns” located on their vehicles.

Imagine the vehicle from Indiana Jones Adventure, mounted with tommy guns that let you shoot at Dick Tracy’s malformed enemies like you do at the targets in those Toy Story rides. Then imagine riding that at high speeds through a seedy city scene from the ‘30s, like the gangster movie portion of The Great Movie Ride—only with the primary color palette of Beatty’s movie, which consisted exclusively of seven colors, instead of the grimy street found in that deeply missed ride. That’s what Dick Tracy’s Crime-Stoppers could’ve been.

disney_indiana_jones_Adventure.jpg Dick Tracy’s Crime-Stoppers would’ve used a ride system similar to Indiana Jones Adventure’s.

Dick Tracy’s presence in the parks wouldn’t have been limited to this ride, though. Crime-Stoppers would’ve been the centerpiece of new lands at both Disney-MGM Studios and Disneyland. Disney-MGM would’ve seen a small Chicago-themed area built off of the Sunset Boulevard section that’s home to the Tower of Terror. Meanwhile, Disneyland would’ve gotten a whole new addition called Hollywoodland that would’ve been an idealized version of the film capital’s “golden age” from the ‘20s and ‘30s. Dick Tracy’s Crime-Stoppers would’ve been the major new attraction in both areas. When plans for the ride were scrapped, so were these expansions, although Hollywoodland was later revisited for California Adventure.

Why were all these plans cancelled? It’s pretty simple: Dick Tracy wasn’t a hit. It wasn’t a total flop—it was just barely one of the 10 highest grossing movies of 1990 in America, coming in at number nine, and was responsible for Disney’s biggest-ever opening weekend at the time—and essentially broke even after international box office and other revenue streams were factored in. But after the massive production and marketing budgets, it was estimated to have lost Disney tens of millions during its North American release. Eisner’s plans to turn it into a major franchise fizzled, and the movie’s mediocre performance became one of many factors in the rapidly deteriorating relationship between Eisner and Disney’s studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg. With no sequels on the way, and no new Tracy merchandise to push, there was little reason to build an expensive new attraction

There were also legal issues over the film rights to the Tracy characters that dragged on for over 20 years. Tribune Media owned the comic strip and its characters, and licensed the film rights to Beatty in the ‘80s. After Disney passed on making sequels, Tribune tried to reclaim the film rights in 2002. That started a legal battle between Beatty and Tribune that wasn’t resolved until 2011. Disney, meanwhile, got out of the Dick Tracy game that it was barely still in by ceding most of its rights back to Beatty in the mid ‘00s, a couple of years after Tribune kicked up a fuss.

Crime-Stoppers never existed, but Dick Tracy did have a presence in the theme parks. A live stage show, Dick Tracy Starring in Diamond Double Cross, adapted songs and plot points from the movie in a musical revue that premiered in Disneyland and Disney-MGM Studios. It opened in Orlando in May 1990, before the film, and the California version came a few weeks later, in June. The show had the same bright color scheme as the movie, along with slightly less intricate masks and makeup for villains like Flattop and Mumbles. When the movie sputtered, Disney wasted little time shuttering Diamond Double Cross; it closed in Disneyland at the end of 1990, and lasted only a few weeks longer at Disney-MGM Studios.

If you weren’t around in 1990, you’d probably have no idea that Disney ever had so much riding on Dick Tracy, a comic strip that was already over 40 years past its pop culture peak. The movie and character haven’t had any presence in the parks for decades. And despite being a Disney film (albeit one released under the Touchstone banner), it’s not available on Disney+. It’s one of many Disney-owned films currently streaming on HBO Max. If you have the means to watch it, you might want to check it out—it was weird in 1990, and seems even weirder today to think that this was supposed to be a blockbuster for kids, with its archaic license, grotesque character designs, and ample sexuality of Madonna’s character. (She wears a sheer, see-through top in one of her first scenes, which will probably see some Splash-style digital alteration if the movie ever comes to Disney+.) It’s also gorgeous, though, with its hyperreal color scheme, heavy use of matte paintings, and lack of any computer-generated imagery. And it has an absurdly overqualified cast of great actors, from legends like Beatty, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, James Caan and Dick Van Dyke, to such great character actors as Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning, John Schuck and Seymour Cassel. Where else will you see Mandy Patinkin as a balding, piano-playing crook who croons sensitive Sondheim ballads in-between framing people for murder? Catherine O’Hara, from SCTV and Schitt’s Creek, even pops up in a scene or two, although I’m pretty sure she doesn’t get a line.

Even if the movie had been a success, it’s hard to imagine how a Dick Tracy ride would fit into Disney’s theme parks today. With so many of the attractions of the 1980s and ‘90s being removed or rethemed over the past decade, it’s possible that Crime-Stoppers wouldn’t exist today even if it had been built back in the ‘90s. Its concepts were divvied up for a handful of popular attractions, including one of Disney’s crown jewels, Indiana Jones Adventure, so it might be for the best that Crime-Stoppers was never actually realized, no matter how exciting it sounds. Crime-Stoppers doesn’t really seem to be one of the unbuilt Disney rides that theme park fans still hold out hope for, like Western River Expedition or Fire Mountain, but an odd curiosity that stands as one of the major “what if’s” for Disney World and Disneyland.

And oh, if you’re a diehard Dick Tracy fan, have hope: Warren Beatty still has the rights, and as recently as 2016 was openly discussing a sequel. He’s now in his 80s, so it’s the perfect time for him and this Depression-era cop character to capture the hearts and minds of America’s youth. Slide into that trench coat and fedora, Warren, and make it happen.


Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.

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