Disney continues to set the bar in innovative technology and compelling storytelling at its theme parks, as evidenced by several recent accolades. Announced November 19, the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) presented both Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway with its Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement – Attraction. TEA also honored Walt Disney Imagineering President Bob Weis with its Buzz Price Thea Award, Recognizing a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements. Additionally, Disney Parks’ top safety officer Greg Hale and former longtime Imagineer and Disney Legend Tony Baxter have been inducted into the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions’ Hall of Fame.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which debuted in December at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and in January at Disneyland Park, takes immersive experiences to an entirely new level. The attraction uses multiple ride systems, the latest Audio-Animatronics® technology and stunning visual effects to transport guests onto a First Order Star Destroyer, where guests attempt a harrowing escape. TEA calls the attraction “the most technologically advanced theme park attraction in existence today… the entire attraction, from front to back, is one massive magic trick that leaves riders gobsmacked and represents the absolute pinnacle of how our industry can entertain an audience at a theme park.”
Opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in March, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway drops guests into the middle of a Mickey and Minnie cartoon short and all the zaniness that ensues. Said TEA, “With a combination of physical sets, Audio-Animatronics® figures, animated media and projection-mapping techniques, all syncing in time with trackless vehicles and a catchy original song and musical score, it turns a two-dimensional cartoon world into an immersive, eye-popping experience. Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway raises the bar for all dark rides to come.”
Walt Disney Imagineering President Bob Weis hired on at Imagineering right after graduating from architecture school, and soon found himself in Japan helping build Disney’s first international theme park—Tokyo Disneyland. He followed that up by leading the design and development of Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, and went back to that park a few years later to oversee expansion efforts. He would return to projects in Asia multiple times, including to develop the second gate at Tokyo Disney Resort and then as the creative leader of Shanghai Disney Resort. He also oversaw the extensive transformation of Disney California Adventure by remaking the entry sequence, adding several new attractions and creating an entirely new land that celebrates California’s car culture. As the current leader of Imagineering, Bob oversees the global team that creates Disney’s theme parks, resort hotels, cruise ships and other themed family experiences. A compassionate leader, Bob also serves on nonprofit boards and is deeply committed to working with cultural institutions and mentoring the next generation of Imagineers.
Greg Hale is Disney Parks’ chief safety officer, where he leads a global team of ride design, operations, maintenance and safety professionals around the world that keep Disney on the leading edge of theme park safety, accessibility for guests with disabilities, and technology advancements. Greg has received a number of previous awards in recognition of his commitment to safety and for fostering innovative practices that increase access to Disney experiences for those with disabilities. He holds dozens of U.S. patents and is credited as one of the inventors of Disney FASTPASS Service. He has served on several industry safety boards and associations and has held a number of leadership roles within IAAPA, including as the organization’s chairman in 2017.
Former Walt Disney Imagineering creative executive Tony Baxter started his 47-year Disney career as a teenager, scooping ice cream on Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland. Within a few years he caught the attention of Imagineering with a proposal for a Mary Poppins-themed attraction, and he was brought on to help open Walt Disney World. He would go on to have a leading role in the creation of some of Disney’s most popular attractions, including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Indiana Jones Adventure, Journey Into Imagination, Splash Mountain and Star Tours. He was also the creative lead on the complete makeover of Fantasyland at Disneyland in 1983, and executive producer for Disneyland Paris in the early 1990s. Tony has been the recipient of numerous awards recognizing his creative efforts, and in 2013 he was named a Disney Legend—the highest honor presented by the Company. He retired that same year, but continues to consult with Walt Disney Imagineering on various projects.
The use of cutting-edge technology and captivating storytelling, along with inspiring leadership, continues to position Disney Parks for a bright future. Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, shared his thoughts on the recent honors and his enthusiasm for what lies ahead:
“Congratulations to Bob Weis and to the entire team at Walt Disney Imagineering for these incredible achievements. Over the past several years, Imagineers have taken creativity and storytelling to an entirely new level, and I’m proud to see that the experiences they have created are being celebrated by our guests and our peers throughout the industry. I look forward to sharing even more great stories with our guests as we continue to complete new experiences at our sites around the world.”