Each day, thousands of visitors to Walt Disney Co.'s theme parks ride pulse-pounding attractions that propel them into space, plunge them multiple stories and send them racing along tracks at stomach-churning speeds.
For the most part, visitors ride without worrying much about the risks, especially when the attractions are backed by a trusted, family brand such as Disney. But it takes just one headline-grabbing accident - such as the recent death of a 4-year-old boy on the Mission: Space attraction at Disney's Epcot park in Orlando - to raise questions about safety and whether Disney has pushed the envelope too far when it comes to thrills. Such accidents also inevitably bring new calls for tougher regulation.
The Mission: Space tragedy illustrates a difficult predicament for Disney: Even though its rides are usually not as extreme as parks owned by Six Flags Inc. - where some roller coasters top 450-foot heights and go from zero to 128 mph in 3.5 seconds - Disney's family-friendly reputation puts it under a harsher spotlight when things go wrong.