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The Walt Disney World that Never Was: Dick Tracy Crime Stoppers

by Josh Taylor

The Walt Disney Company saw a huge shift in the right direction during the mid-1980s with Frank Wells and Michael Eisner taking control of the company and Jeffrey Katzenberg becoming head of the animation and motion picture department. Films like The Little Mermaid, Splash, and several others were put out during the beginning of this “boom” period. Business was strong and executives were looking to launch the next big franchise for the company. Katzenberg looked to a former project he had worked on with Warren Beatty during his time at Paramount. The project was Dick Tracy and had been previously dropped due to disputes over payments to Beatty who was going to direct, produce, and star. Katzenberg and the rest of the crew at Disney thought this could be a perfect storm and that Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy could be a huge hit. The film went into production in February of 1989 and the concept of an attraction for the new Disney-MGM park at Walt Disney World quickly followed.

Dick Tracy’s Crime Stoppers was to be an E-ticket attraction at Disney-MGM Studios (now named Disney’s Hollywood Studios), recreating the sets and pacing of the feature film. Guests boarding the ride would be in for a high speed chase through Chicago streets, chasing and shooting at gangsters as music and sound effects whizzed by. The attraction would use the latest in audio-animatronic figures as well as new vehicles called Enhanced Motion Vehicles. You may now know these vehicles for their use in the Indian Jones Adventure at Disneyland and Dinosaur at Walt Disney World. The vehicles had been in development and Imagineers were looking for an attraction that would fit them. Dick Tracy was to be it.

Crime Stoppers was also to have had technology similar to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Guests boarding the Enhanced Motion Vehicles would be given a toy tommy gun. Aiming at certain areas as you passed through the Chicago environment would allow movements, making the experience different every time you were to ride. If you were to hit a trashcan, it may rattle, or if you were to shoot a window, you would hear the glass shattering.

Not only was Dick Tracy’s Crime Stoppers to be the standout attraction at the new Disney-MGM Studios, but was also to get its own land. Much like the inside of the attraction, guests in the park would wander into a 1920s Chicago, fitting with the themes of the parks Hollywood Boulevard area or the Streets of New York area. As you were to walk into this new Chicago land, you would find yourself in an industrial area, with one of the buildings occupied by the Crime Stoppers attraction. Most likely a shop would be placed in the area to help sell and promote Dick Tracy and future sequels to the film, but nothing is really known of what else would fill out the land. (Crime Stoppers would also make its way to Disneyland in a new land called Hollywoodland, but that is another story for another time.)

Unfortunately for Disney and all of us interested in a Dick Tracy attraction (my hand is raised as high as it can go), Dick Tracy was not the success executives were looking for. Between filming and marketing, the film cost $101 million to make, a very high budget considering Disney originally gave the film a $25 million budget. The film grossed $162 million and was nominated and won for several academy awards, but Disney executives, in particular Katzenberg, believed the film would match the previous years Batman film which grossed $411 million.

On top of a disappointing turnout at the theaters, legal battles between Tribune Media Services, who previously owned the film and television rights to Dick Tracy, and Warren Beatty began soon after the release of the film in 1990. Warren Beatty had purchased the rights from Tribune in 1985, but due to the possible production of other films as well as a television show in the works by Tribune, they wanted their cut of profits or the rights to the character back. (After years of battles and court appearances, a U.S district court judge ruled in favor of Beatty and gave him the rights to the character in 2011.)

Needless to say, the Dick Tracy rights have been a mess and Disney did not see the monetary possibilities involved in future sequels nor a theme park attraction. So Crime Stoppers was nixed as well as the Chicago area of the Disney-MGM Studios and the future Hollywoodland at Disneyland. The technology to be used in the Dick Tracy attraction did not go to waste however, as Disney turned its attention to an Indiana Jones attraction at Disneyland. Eventually, several elements would also come into play in Dinosaur at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Buzzlight Year attractions at both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, and Toy Story Mania at Disney’s California Adventure and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Would you have enjoyed a Dick Tracy attraction at the Studios?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.