Sequels are tricky things.
On the one hand, a sequel is like playing with house money. The original creation upon which the sequel is based on has already been deemed a success in some form (or else there wouldn’t be a sequel!) and the “second version” is simply a continuation or extrapolation of the first version. Even if the second version does not result in the same success as the original, it can still be looked at favorably as a continuation of a franchise, and an opportunity to give the franchise brand the exposure it needs to go on going. It’s one of the “safe investments” that entertainment executives love: since the original version was such a success, creating a sequel is like creating an ATM machine, where the money just keeps coming. In Hollywood parlance, it’s one of the safest gambles you can make.
Hollywood knows all about taking safe gambles!
And yet, the creative (and by that I mean “actually creative”) community looks at the concept of sequels very differently. Unlike the executive types, the creative types actually take each project as a challenge to do the best creative work you can. Unlike the executives, who think sequels are like Nick Papagiorgio’s experience in Vegas Vacation, where he puts four quarters in four slot machines and wins four cars, asking creative professionals to make a sequel is like saying, “hey, great job climbing that Himalayan death mountain over the past two years…wanna climb another one that’s even steeper and deathier?” (Sidebar: deathier might not actually be a word, but I think it’s appropriate in this case)
Ask any major creative force in the movie industry, and they’ll tell you that sequels are usually much harder to produce than original creations. If you’re creating something like Star Wars or Matrix or Back to the Future out of thin air, then you just make it up as you go. There’s comparatively little executive interference, except for their constant whining “story notes” that they don’t get what’s going on (glad they’re in charge!), and there is no fan interference because, at this stage, there’s no fans. Man, life was great back in the day!
Sir, I think we need a slightly bigger budget...
But when the sequel is announced, everybody has an opinion. The characters and stories are now beloved. Everyone with a keyboard and an emo avatar will lay out the entire plot (or what they think should be the entire plot) of the potential sequel. This is how the story should go. These two should fall in love. This guy should die (fans can be dark sometimes). And if you don’t follow their fan fiction, woe be your MetaCritic rating. And the executives and marketing people have their own opinions, too. “We need more droids that we can base our merchandise on!” “We need more animal sidekicks!” “We need an octopus played by Bill Nighy!”
There are expectations galore. And, the characters have now been established. Once Mickey Mouse’s character as the lovable (and G-rated) little guy was finally nailed down after a few years of trial and error (Mickey’s first ever role in Plane Crazy involved him using Minnie’s panties as a parachute. Seriously, Mickey was kind of out there in his Black and White years. Watch Traffic Troubles or The Barn Dance some time), a little piece of Walt lamented the fact that Mickey had to become the symbol of the company, and thus had to be stripped of his more mischievous side. This part of Mickey was eventually transferred to other characters, especially Donald and Chip ‘n Dale.
This eventual vanilla treatment of Mickey also transpired with other franchise symbols, such as Superman and Kermit the Frog, where their more naughty sides would vanish in almost perfect synchronization with how many t-shirts they sold. After Star Wars, C3PO and R2D2 (who have surprisingly large roles in the original, and actually drive the plot for the first 45 minutes) would fade into the background as simple secondary comic characters in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
And creative producers know what executives apparently do not: for every Dark Knight or Toy Story 2 or Terminator 2, there is a Basic Instinct 2 or Exorcist: The Beginning or Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars (seriously…WHAT). Practically every famous creative producer, from Jim Cameron (Terminator) to Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) to Bob Zemeckis (Back to the Future) are quoted as saying that making the sequels to their beloved franchises were far more difficult than creating the originals.
Actually, you know what Jim Cameron? Stop complaining.
Sequels are often loaded with bigger budgets, and therefore can run off the rails faster, following the “bigger they are, the harder they fall” mantra. While films controlled by executives practically guarantee sequels that are bland and boring (see: every Disney animated direct-to-video sequel in the history of video), there is too much pressure to put everything into the films when creative producers are in charge. This is why overly-gigantic productions like Matrix Reloaded, Dead Man’s Chest, and more recently, Age of Ultron, seem to collapse under their own weight. There is, after all, such a thing as too much creative freedom, and budgets that are too big.
Such is the fickleness of a sequel. It must, somehow, be the same yet different than the original. The characters must go to new places, yet maintain the same qualities that made audiences fall in love with them in the first place. This is especially hard when a character goes through a complete throughline transformation, as Neo does in The Matrix. The sequels just did not take Neo to satisfactory places, because his arc in the first movie was so absolute and transformative. This also leads to the opposite temptation: to give secondary characters from the original film a more prominent (some would say over-prominent) role in the sequel. This, obviously, is what happened with Jack Sparrow, who is, at best, the third-most important character in Pirates of the Caribbean, and becomes literally the center of the entire bloody Pirates universe on everything created after the original. Literally, if there were a bright center of the Pirates universe, it would have Johnny Depp’s face on it.
As you can tell, sequels are tricky to balance. The key lies in how to grow the franchise without betraying its original themes and intentions, while at the same time not cannibalizing the original’s effective reach to the audience. Easy, right?
The Same, Yet Different...in Florida
Which brings us to Walt Disney World, which for all intents and purposes was a macrocosm of every potential problem and question a sequel might have in its creation. It is the Muhammad Ali of sequels in the Walt Disney Company’s history.
Walt notoriously hated sequels. In addition to the reasons given above, Walt did not like sequels because he wanted to continuously push the envelope of a creative medium. He felt retreading on familiar ground was a waste of time and effort for him and his artists, and gave his competition time to catch up with him creatively.
So when he set about in creating a “sequel” to Disneyland, he was bound and determined to make it as distinctive from the Anaheim original as possible. Actually, in Walt’s mind, the entire reason to build Disney World was not to build another Disneyland, but to build a city of the future, his EPCOT. And for that, he would need land, lots of land.
Pictured: Phase II
Seriously, Guys...We Need More Land
Walt’s determination for Disneyland: The Sequel came from his lamentation that everyone could buy land outside of Disneyland but him. Walt didn’t even have money to finish the whole park in 1955. He had to rely on a huge loan from ABC (in return for his Disneyland television show) and the revenue from a million sponsors (seriously, back in the day practically every food location, building, latrine, and singing waterfall was sponsored by a major conglomerate) just to get the park open on time, and even then, Tomorrowland was only half-finished, and Fantasyland attractions had to be housed in maintenance sheds with banners draped over the walls to hide the fact that they were maintenance sheds. He even gave Jack Wrather a 99-year exclusive license to the Disney name in Anaheim so Jack could build a Disneyland-themed hotel across the street from the park.
Since Walt was a notorious control freak, he was devastated that he did not have the money to control the Anaheim area around Disneyland. Around Harbor Boulevard sprang seedy motels and restaurants, none of which had anything resembling good design sense and architecture (this unfortunate development was carried to its logical and fitting conclusion with the opening of Disney’s California Adventure). Big hotel companies such as Sheraton proposed massive high-rise hotels across Ball Road, which would have the undesirable side effect of being conspicuously not part of Disneyland but would be able to be seen by guests in many locations throughout the park (Walt successfully petitioned the Anaheim City Counsel to enact strict zoning and height restrictions in the immediate Disneyland area). All of these bright, loud, conspicuous buildings would clash with each other on Disneyland’s doorstep in what Judge Claude Frollo would describe as a “shallow, drunken stupor.” It had the effect on Disneyland visitors of sitting down to watch Fantasia, only having the first ten minutes replaced with a Burger King commercial.
Naturally, Walt was devastated. And more than a little upset. He knew that Disneyland served only a fraction of the United States tourist population, and so began thinking about a possible Disneyland East. And this time, he would make sure there would be lots more space for his ideas.
Eastern Land Expedition
As any good Disney fan knows, Walt used the attractions he produced for the 1964 New York World’s Fair (Ford Magic Skyway, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Carousel of Progress, and It’s a Small World) as a test to determine whether or not Disney’s attractions would be popular on the east coast, when there already existed a Disneyland that anyone could visit. Of course, Walt didn’t have to worry about such things, as Disney’s attractions were 4 of the top 5 most popular attractions at the fair.
So Walt began looking for the best location for his Disneyland 2: Electric Boogaloo. The frontrunners in the beginning (St. Louis, Niagara Falls, Palm Beach, and Washington DC) were rejected for various reasons (land, weather, proximity to beaches, a lack of tiny lizards and toads that could stick to your hotel window and scare the crap out of you before you left for Extra Magic Hour), and Walt’s team decided that Orlando would be the perfect place for Project X.
Walt bought an insane amount of land. I mean, we all know Disney World is twice the size of Manhattan. Walt just walked in and bought the land, from everyone, right under their noses. It’s like the exact opposite of what happened when Disney tried to build Disney’s America. And Walt knew exactly what he was buying it for. It wouldn’t be another Disneyland. That would be the weenie for Roy’s boys, and the banks, and the investors. Walt wasn’t interested in the sequel Magic Kingdom. He wanted EPCOT. He wanted his city of tomorrow, his next great dream. After they had already bought 12,000 acres, Roy told Walt that they shouldn’t buy any more land, since the money was getting short. Walt shot back, “how would you like to own 7,000 acres around Disneyland right now?” “Buy the land!” Roy shouted.
Buy it, damn it! Just DO IT!!!
Unfortunately, after plans were made, 27,500 acres were acquired, and a preview film created, Walt passed away. The Walt Disney Company was almost sold. And Disney World came this close to being as nonexistent as Walt’s dream city.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Roy became determined to finish the Disney World project (now named Walt Disney World in honor of The Man), come hell or high water (and let’s be honest, Orlando was a little of both). But, the EPCOT city would not be a part of Phase I. To make WDW a viable investment to the banks and the money men, Roy would build Disneyland 2: The Return of Jafar as the only main attraction of WDW’s initial development, along with several hotels, golf courses, and a campground.
It looked just like this!
And so, this is where sequel-itis would finally come into play. Out of financial necessity, Roy had to downgrade the Disney World project and build only one spoke of a fantastic wheel, and that spoke was, quite simply, a bigger, better version of Disneyland. That would be the whole ball of wax, the entire WDW development for its first 5-7 years of existence. And so, Disney’s stable of genius designers had to grasp the intricate philosophical question: how to invent a second version of the most successful amusement park entertainment complex of all time.
Of course, in the grandest Walt Disney tradition, Disney’s Imagineers wanted to take what they had already accomplished at Disneyland and create a version that was an order of magnitude bigger and better than the original. They would, in one fell swoop, fix the mistakes and growing pains found in the improvisational design style of the original Magic Kingdom while pushing the envelope and evolutionizing practically every conceptual inch of what was created for Disneyland. Indeed, more than a decade had past since Disneyland first opened, and Walt and his crew had proven their products grow by leaps and bounds in an astonishingly short amount of time. After all, Disney animation went from wire-and-bubble black and white Mickey Mouse cartoons to Technicolor to multiplane animation to Snow White in LESS THAN TEN YEARS (everyone forgets just how jaw dropping that is. No really, think about it. And then Fantasia three years later. Just…wow). And at Disneyland, the Imagineers evolved their craft from Mr. Toad, Canal Boats of the World and the Pack Mule ride in 1955 to Pirates of the Caribbean, Carousel of Progress, and Haunted Mansion just over ten years later. Think of what they could do to push the envelope even further at Disney World!
And they certainly were determined to push that envelope. In fact, they would look to push it in every conceivable facet of the resort. If Disney was going to make a sequel, then by golly in the best Walt Disney tradition they were going to make it be no less than a trip to the moon and back. Every feature of Disneyland 2: Scamp’s Adventure was going to be plussed in some major way. Take a look below at the semi-comprehensive list of ideas the Imagineers were determined to bring to Lake Buena Vista:
1. As the Imagineers discovered an old town square/main street area that was about to be torn down in nearby Winter Park, they determined that Main Street would be paved not with the usual concrete, but with real red brick, all the way up and down the street.
2. The new Castle would have much more space to bloom into its full potential. The Imagineers discussed the appropriate parameters of the new castle, they determined that the castle would have to be a beckoning hand, a weenie, that could be seen all the way across Seven Seas Lagoon to entice visitors, similar to how the Matterhorn beckons visitors into Disneyland from the parking lot and Anaheim freeways. And, also like the Matterhorn, the castle would also be used as a compass and directional point for guests within the park, to orient them and provide them with a beacon they could return to should they get lost. Since WDW’s Magic Kingdom was larger than DL’s the castle would have to be taller than the Matterhorn’s 146 feet, and eventually was built to be 183 feet tall.
3. All shops and amenities, from the barber shop to Center Street, were designed with bigger crowds in mind, so every walkway and public area was expanded much larger than its Disneyland counterpart.
4. The Castle would also be surrounded by a full moat, to create a full transition space between the central hub and the surrounding lands. Since the moat would be much larger, and continue as the waterways of Adventureland, the Imagineers created a small transportation/atmosphere attraction to sail up and down the waterways. Familiar to Rollercoaster Tycoon fans everywhere, the boats would be designed as classic Swan Boats from several classic amusement parks.
5. The Plaza Pavilion, which at Disneyland was a pleasant indoor/outdoor QSR restaurant with a patio at the hub, would become the full-fledged Crystal Palace restaurant, a glimmering jewel of glass with a full-service restaurant housed inside.
6. The Hub would be greatly expanded to provide more transition space between Main Street and the surrounding lands, allowing the Imagineers to gently shift guests from one locale to another via thematic elements such as background music, pavement composition, and color palette.
1. Adventureland would become almost its own miniature Main Street. While the Disneyland Adventureland was basically a boulevard with a small collection of shops and a few attractions, WDW’s Adventureland would have its own “central hub” at its termination point, from which the guests could choose among a variety of attractions, shops, and full-service food locations. However, much like DL’s Adventureland, it would be the only land in the park not to provide a weenie to beckon guests past its front gate. To keep its spirit of adventure and mystery, Adventureland’s main drag weaves its way around buildings and landmarks, never in a straight line, to keep guests guessing what might be around the next bend.
2. The Enchanted Tiki Room would move from its awkward position at Disneyland (where it sits on the bridge from Main Street to Adventureland with very little transition) to its ultimate destiny as the weenie attraction of Adventureland. The Imagineers would build a thatched tower above the Tiki Room at the end of Adventureland’s central hub area (remember, in 1971 the Tiki Room would require an E Ticket!) as a testament to its heightened status at the time. And, while DL’s Tiki Room had its small but perfunctory Dole Whip stand, the Tiki Room at WDW would become a full-fledged pavilion, The Sunshine Pavilion, a Cro-Magnon precursor to EPCOT Center, which would house not only a much-larger Tiki Room show area but also the Sunshine Tree Terrace QSR location, complete with its own specialty drink (the Citrus Swirl) and even its own mascot (the Little Orange Bird).
3. The Swiss Family Treehouse and Jungle Cruise would be much expanded, with the Jungle Cruise becoming a Marc Davis masterwork from beginning to end, with the addition of several show scenes, waterfalls, animals, and an Angkor Temple to house the cobras, the monkeys, and the Bengal tiger.
1. The Frontierland complex at WDW would have fixed a major, glaring issue inherent in the DL version, namely, that sub-land New Orleans Square was structurally more an outlet of Frontierland than it was its own land. Remember, in the days before Bear/Critter Country, the northwest section of the park, now home to Splash Mountain, was part of Frontierland, and hosted Indian Villages and the like. So, in essence, if you were to walk from the Hub through the section of Frontierland that borders the River, you would walk from the Nature’s Wonderland/stockade section of Frontierland through New Orleans Square and then back into Frontierland. As you can imagine, this was a jarring and quite nonsensical transition, to say the least. The Imagineers looked to remedy this by combining WDW’s Frontierland with a new offshoot land, Liberty Square, to form an “American History Land” connecting this entire western section of the park into one big mega-complex. As you enter from the Hub and walk down the River, you actually gradually pass through American history from the revolutionary times through the Old West years, as each building in succession represents a later and later time period.
2. The northwest corner of Frontierland would culminate with Thunder Mesa, the largest attraction project Disney had planned up to that time. It would have been housed in a massive structure, and contained multiple attractions, including the Western River Expedition boat ride (to replace Pirates of the Caribbean, which was originally NOT part of the WDW plans), a log flume ride, and a mine train roller coaster ride (a precursor to Big Thunder Mountain).
3. Frontierland would add Marc Davis’s Country Bear Jamboree animatronic show, originally planned for the Mineral King Ski Resort.
4. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln would expand to realize Walt’s original plans for the One Nation Under God attraction, which would include animatronics of all the US presidents.
5. Though it had been built at Disneyland just a few years before WDW’s opening, The Haunted Mansion would adopt a more American Gothic façade, as well as a few added show scenes at the beginning of the ride.
6. There was some talk (briefly) about placing either The Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean on the other side of the River, in the space currently occupied by Tom Sawyer’s Island. This setup was eventually actualized at Disneyland Paris with Big Thunder Mountain.
1. Fantasyland would gain its “castle court” setup, with most of the attractions that resembled old amusement park rides (the carousel, Dumbo, the dark rides) set up with similar medieval fair-type facades. However, the WDW version of Fantasyland would also add a “European” section on its west side to better transition with the Liberty Square architecture of the Columbia Harbor House restaurant, which bordered Fantasyland. The European/Chalet style architecture would be featured in the Pinocchio Village Haus restaurant, Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a Small World, and the Skyway Fantasyland station.
2. Fantasyland would add a new attraction, the Mickey Mouse Revue, featuring animatronic performers of classic Disney animated characters.
3. Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage would transform into the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction, themed to the Jules Verne novel and Disney film of the same name.
4. The classic Fantasyland Trio of dark rides would be replaced with three new classics. Instead of rides based on Mr. Toad, Peter Pan, and Snow White, WDW would have attractions based on Ichabod Crane, Mary Poppins, and Sleeping Beauty.
1. Tomorrowland would be heavily influenced by the 1966/67 redesign of Tomorrowland at Disneyland, with its Modernist aesthetic and blue and white color palette, along with a similar boulevard and hub layout, with the Star Jets deck and the PeopleMover platform performing the function of the beckoning weenie in the Tomorrowland hub. One major change would be two gigantic cascading waterfalls flowing down massive concrete spires at the land’s entrance from the Hub.
2. Tomorrowland would retain Disneyland’s Autopia (now Speedway), Skyway, Rocket to the Moon, CircleVision 360, and Star Jets attractions.
3. The Carousel of Progress would be updated with an all-new show and theme song by the Sherman Brothers, with the rotating theater traveling in the opposite direction as the original World’s Fair and DL version.
4. Instead of the rotating tire and engine system used as Disneyland, WDW’s PeopleMover would be using quiet linear induction motors to transport the trains.
5. The Adventure Thru Inner Space attraction would be replaced with another Omnimover attraction, If You Had Wings, which was more or less designed to be little more than an infomercial for its sponsor, Eastern Airlines.
So this stable of attractions and experiences would be quite a sea change from what guests may have seen at Disneyland. Today’s fans may argue to give Disney a pass on the first shots in the “Clone Wars,” however as you can see there were many aspects of WDW that were going to be much different from Disneyland at the outset. And wait…WHAT was going to replace the Fantasyland dark rides?!
Bet You Haven't Heard THIS One Before...
It’s a popular legend among Disney fan circles that Walt famously wanted three different dark rides for the original Disneyland Fantasyland: a scary ride (Snow White), a beautiful ride (Peter Pan), and a funny/thrilling ride (Mr. Toad). Whether this legend is true or not, it’s certainly of note that the three rides that were ultimately built for Fantasyland were so different in tone, and in the intention of the ride mechanism (with Mr. Toad originally planned to be half dark ride, half roller coaster). So, whether this legend is true or not, evidence suggests that there was at least some deliberate thought given to which attractions were built for Fantasyland 1.0.
Fast forward to Disney World’s construction, and the Imagineers have tried to keep moving forward (as is Walt’s legacy) by building three brand-new dark rides for Fantasyland. However, keeping with Disney World’s “same yet different” philosophy, despite the fact that these dark rides would be all new, they would be following the tone/genre palette of the original Fantasyland Trio. To wit:
1. The scary pretty princess ride based on Snow White would be replaced by a scary pretty princess ride based on Sleeping Beauty. The highlights of the ride, of course, would have guests be chased by Maleficent and her goons through an Eyvind Earle-inspired enchanted forest and through Maleficent’s castle, ultimately ending in a showdown between Prince Phillip and a giant animatronic Maleficent dragon (this would have been twelve years predating the Monstro figure in Pinocchio’s Daring Journey). As a random but interesting side note, the load area mural/display of Disney World’s original Snow White’s Adventures ride was inspired by Eyvind Earle’s designs for Sleeping Beauty, which is weird, because the ride has nothing to do with Sleeping Beauty. Perhaps the Imagineers had done so much research on Eyvind’s designs for a Sleeping Beauty ride that they just went ahead and created a similarly-designed forest space for Snow White’s Load Area?
2. The beautiful/mellow overhead-hanging ride based on the flying Peter Pan would have been replaced by a beautiful/mellow overhead-hanging ride based on the flying Mary Poppins. Since Mary Poppins was one of the most successful Disney movies of all time and was not represented at all in the parks up to that point besides the occasional walk-around character, the Imagineers decided to give Mary her due by designing a ride where guests would be riding in flying umbrellas, venturing through famous scenes in the movie such as the “Jolly Holiday” chalk painting land, the upside-down “I love to laugh” scene with Uncle Wilbur, and the Steps in Time number.
3. The funny/thrilling out-of-control Mr. Toad would have been replaced with the totally thrilling and not at all funny chase of Ichabod Crane by the Headless Horseman. Here, guests would have rode pumpkins (winning the “least sensical ride vehicle theme” award previously held by the randomly levitating Golden Sleighs of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Curse of DarKastle attraction) and been chased by the Headless Horseman, his demon horse, and his flaming pumpkin head. Fun for the whole family! I’m actually kind of glad they didn’t build that one…(Though, I wonder what kind of ending they would have come up with for this one that would have lived up to the “what did I just see” scale of Mr. Toad?)
These attractions, at least for me, would have been wholly fascinating to see. We current Disney fans are spoiled by all the revisions and effects renovations that have been done to the Fantasyland attractions over the past few decades. In fact, the current versions of the Fantasyland attractions at Disneyland have more in common with the Disneyland Paris Fantasyland attractions than the original Disneyland or Disney World versions.
The Disney World versions would have been a step beyond, as far a leap in storytelling and technology as the Disney World Jungle Cruise was over the Disneyland version. At the time, the Disneyland Fantasyland Trio were little more than a series of cardboard cutouts lit by blacklight and shiny paints. Since that time, the Imagineers had built the Submarines, the updated Jungle Cruise, the Tiki Room, Carousel of Progress, Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion. Think of what that Imagineer brain trust would have been able to do with a Maleficent figure, or a scene inspired by the fully-animated Jolly Holiday sequence! I think it would have been quite impressive and unique. They would also have probably been one-offs, which would have made them even more interesting.
Hear that, entertainment industry? DO YOU HEAR THAT? They're not listening.
Unfortunately, as we know, we did not receive Fantasyland Trio 2.0. We’ll get into a few reasons why in a minute, but the bottom line is the bottom line. Disney World was originally set with a $100 million budget that ballooned to $400 million (and this was without a lot of the proposed extra stuff that never made it off the drawing board!). So, the Imagineers had to do a lot of creative editing. Three hotels (The Asian, Venetian, and Persian) were pushed to Phase II with Western River Expedition, and Disney could no longer afford luxuries like paving Main Street with real brick. They had to get down to brass tacks.
As it stands, Fantasyland ended up receiving updated versions of the original Fantasyland Trio. However, these were FAR from standard incremental updates. Remember, Disneyland’s original Fantasyland Trio might as well have been made of paper-mache the way they were put together (though very impressive at the time they debuted). The Imagineers brought the talent and experience that carried over from the space-age animatronic era of Pirates, Mansion, and the New York World’s Fair. These simple dark rides could now afford to have more sophisticated, fully sculpted full-motion figures, with a sense of dramatic timing, storytelling, and atmosphere from some of the illuminati that graced us with Pirates and Mansion, and a new bag of tricks from Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump who were behind the amazing illusions in these same attractions. Each of the Fantasyland Trio presented its own unique elements.
While it certainly is true that Snow White and Mr. Toad are the most ballyhooed Fantasyland attractions in the Disney fan community (and for many reasons, rightfully so), it should be noted that the Last Man Standing among the Orlando Fantasyland Trio is the innocuous Peter Pan’s Flight. Say what you want about the Snow/Toad Complex, it is the much ignored and sometimes scorned upon Peter Pan fly-thru that continues to pack in the crowds year after year after year, to the point where Disney operations “professionals” are at a loss as to how to make it’s gargantuan waiting time so bearable. The Peter Pan magic just doesn’t wear off.
The original Peter Pan at Disneyland, similar to the one that is there today, is presented in a very small space, and therefore can afford only passing glimpses of its most memorable elements: the flight over London and over Neverland. Indeed, Neverland is presented at Disneyland first as a model island which your pirate ship encircles, before your ship blasts through a waterfall and you’re able to see Peter Pan’s individual characters up close in different show scenes. At Disney World, there is an enormous “wow” factor as the model island of the Disneyland version is replaced with a full-blown Neverland that is so large that it has show scenes actually on top of it and throughout the showroom. It’s one of the magical Disney moments that is afforded by the Floridian “blessing of size” and the increased Disney World budget. The fact that the attraction, though almost completely untouched since its inception in 1971, continues to have some of the longest lines in the park is a testament to the magic and wonder that Disney can elicit in audience members of any age, regardless of if they have seen the 1953 movie that inspired the ride. Children continue to be mesmerized by its great beauty, and adults also appreciate its more benign speed and thrill quotient, making it a perfect experience for the Dumbo/Small World crowd.
And Now for Something Completely Different
At the exact opposite end of the spectrum from Peter Pan is of course the pure chaos incarnate that was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Its eventual demise is as inexplicable as its inception. This was a cult classic through and through, by every sense of the definition, since it somehow seemed to gain more fans after it closed than it had while it was open. Mr. Toad was based on an animated half-film, Wind in the Willows, released by Disney in 1949. What was curious was the timing of the building of the second Toad incarnation in Orlando. Upon its original creation at Disneyland, Mr. Toad’s life as a character was barely five years old, and therefore fresh in the minds of the country’s youth generation at the time. Once Disney World opened in 1971, Toad would be going on 20 years old, and was certainly not one of Disney’s more popular animated efforts. Indeed, Disney even elected to keep Toad as a featured attraction over potential replacements with more marketing promise, such as Sleeping Beauty or Mary Poppins or Winnie the Pooh, all of whom were featured in movies that were released after Disneyland was opened. And not only did they keep it, but Dick Nunis (Operations head at the time) even insisted there be two tracks for Mr. Toad, to double the capacity, since Toad was such a popular attraction in Anaheim. Rolly Crump (of Haunted Mansion and Museum of the Weird fame) responded by designing an attraction where the two crisscrossing ride tracks were not even remotely alike, and was, by his own admission, entirely designed to screw with people. Score one for WED old-schoolers.
Mr. Toad is most famously known for its crazy, out of control style of ride as you “drive” one of Toad’s motorcars through London. The Orlando version, somehow, was even more unhinged than the Anaheim version, becoming so chaotic and nonsensical that the official Disney backstory insisted that you were riding in Mr. Toad’s dream (El Sueno de Toad?) rather than actually riding through London town. You know an experience has to be seriously tweaked if the company has to come out and say, “You know, we give up. It’s all a dream.” Mr. Toad was now housed in a huge building, with two intersecting tracks behaving crazily, which turned the Orlando Toad into the disturbing classic it has become.
And Then There's Maude
Last, but certainly not least, was the slambang hellfest of Snow White’s Adventures, one of the cruelest gestures in Disney history not just because the ride itself was a trip to the Seventh Circle and back for anyone under the age of ten, but because the ride’s namesake is one of Disney’s sweetest and most harmless princesses (who, incidentally, you never see). Disneyland’s Snow White ride had an original trope in that the idea was that you, as the guest, played Snow White. This was why the witch seemed so bent on chasing you around the scenery. Funny enough, it was the Snow White/Mr. Toad combo, along with the Jungle Cruise, that fully revolutionized the amusement park into a theme park by presenting fully immersive, participatory experiences. Indeed, Snow White’s Adventures was “Ride the Movies” forty years before Universal would coin the phrase.
Like Star Tours or Temple of the Forbidden Eye, the idea behind Snow White is not that you are going through a static series of scenes (like on Peter Pan), but that the characters represented therein completely react to you, providing a Cro-Magnon video game/you are the star experience. Disney threw the whole thing on its ear by making your star experience literally be the very thing from Snow White that you absolutely did not want to experience: the witch realizing that you are now her target. The word “nightmare” to describe this situation would be kind.
In the Disneyland original, you take a nice trip through the Dwarves’ diamond mine before the threat of the witch is ever upon you. In the Disney World version, you’re not even in your seat when the witch (as the creepy Queen looking out her tower window) has invaded your personal space. What follows was so nightmarish and crazy, as the witch literally put you in her torture chamber for two and a half minutes, that we are to assume again that we are not a part of any sane version of reality and are instead in “Snow White’s dream.” Disney giving up on a coherent thematic explanation again…oh dear.
Why? Because we Like You!
These Fantasyland dark ride additions were no-brainers for the Imagineers, since the dark ride is one of the most classic amusement park staple attractions, and the one that has the most potential for storytelling possibilities. It’s one of those subliminal human nature type of things, there’s just something we like, something innate about barreling down a track in the dark as images pop up around you. Like watching, these images trigger a sort of dream state in our minds that lends itself to wild interpretations and imagination. Like I mentioned in the Snow White section, these dark rides are almost a bridge between the passive storytelling experiences of the stage play or feature film and the participatory storytelling experiences like video games that we enjoy today. Back in the day, it was a big deal to have yourself play Mr. Toad or Snow White, and to participate in their adventures, not just watch them.
And even then, dark rides had become increasingly out of style from the 1920s through the 1950s (much like the roller coaster) and amusement parks just didn’t build them like they used to, opting instead for the much cheaper and easier to maintain Fun Houses as their “dark ride” experience. The 1900s-1920s saw tons of dark rides built in all shapes and sizes, from Coney Island to the World’s Fairs of the time. Disney literally re-invented the dark ride in the 1950s, not just because the dark ride was going out of style but because the Imagineers treated dark rides with the same storytelling sense as they would an animated movie. They created storyboards and mock-ups, and wrote the script with a multi-act structure. The Disneyland dark rides were the beginning of this new paradigm, and the Disney World cousins, though not necessarily evolutionizing the experience, still pushed the concept to fully flower. The Fantasyland Trio 2.0 were the original storytelling blacklight-and-cardbaord dark ride concept to its full conclusion, with enough room to fully flower allowing for a two-tracked Mr. Toad tour de force and a fully realized model of Neverland. Not until the Disneyland Paris versions of these attractions were built was the concept allowed to take the next step, nearly 20 years later.
It was sad that the Imagineers were not allowed to fully unleash their creative powers on the original Disney World presentation, but if they did the final product probably would have cost more than the GDP of Portugal, which of course Roy Disney would not have been happy with. We briefly touched upon the fact that Disney World’s budget ballooned to $400 million from the original $100, and it was primarily this reality that forced the Imagineers to settle back on the 2.0 version of pre-existing concepts rather than executing a trio of attractions that would be based on completely new concepts (and therefore new figures, more artwork and construction planning, etc.). In fact, it was a series of incidents that caused the budget to expand to such a state.
To be fair, the Project Summer/Project X/Disney World project was so enormous in its undertaking that it’s little shock the budget expanded to such a state early on. Once the legislation for the Reedy Creek Improvement District was approved, Disney had near total control over the constructional and industrial makeup of their resort, everything from roads to telephones to building codes to even airport construction and food and beverage regulation. Even in the first nascent stages of the resort, Disney had to plan not only a massive 500+ acre Vacation Kingdom area, now known to us as the Magic Kingdom Resort Area on the world’s most famous purple road signs, but they also had to lay the groundwork for a possible (yes, still possible) EPCOT expansion. And remember, the Magic Kingdom was planned to be waaaayyyyy in the back of the property, in the far northwest corner (as far from I-4 and 192 as you could possibly get), just as Walt wanted (many Disney financiers argued to Roy to place the Magic Kingdom at the south end of the property near 192 to avoid constructioning so many roads in the swamp and making it easier for guests to drive in and out of property, until the Imagineers and the Operators reminded Roy that Walt wanted the park at the north end of property to be the ultimate weenie, drawing guests into the property. Roy, as always, made the smart decision). This necessitated the building of roads, sewers, telephones, buildings, canals, everything to at least entertain the possibility of a future utopia. Honestly, it’s no wonder we lost three of the five major hotels in the interim.
Luckily, Roy was still up to his best game and had some tricks up his sleeve. Despite his insistence on relegating himself to the background, it cannot be re-stated enough that Roy Disney was just as important to the success of the Walt Disney Company as Walt Disney himself. Roy and his team were wizards with balance sheets the same way the animators and Imagineers were wizards with their own art. A few things Roy was able to wrangle to keep Disney World’s budget from exploding:
1. By negotiating the Reedy Creek deal, which set up Disney’s own municipality within Orange and Osceola counties, Roy and his team were able to secure huge tax breaks on their new city from the counties and state of Florida, which also included having their new land be taxed as farmland rather than commercial land, which would have taxed much heavier.
2. As part of the Disney World deal, the State of Florida agreed to fully finance all road construction outside of Disney’s property. Disney did not have to pay a dime. This included not only the widening of local roads such as SR-535, I-4, and US 192, but also the construction of huge new intersections of I-4 and 192, I-4 with Disney’s new service entrances, and 192 with the entrance to Disney property.
3. Roy had hired several financial experts to help him fight off other companies who were trying to purchase the Walt Disney Company outright following Walt’s death. One of the experts, a finance attorney named Nolan Browning, came up with a brilliant solution to get Disney World built 100% debt free. The idea was for Disney to issue what’s called convertible debentures. These are, in a nutshell, bonds that would be converted to stocks once the stock hit a target price. Since Disney had such a high price-to-earnings ratio, all $230 million of the debentures issued were converted into stock and eliminated any and all debt from the bond issue.
But again, even with so many financial safeguards in place, Disney World’s budget expanded to 4 times its original estimates, causing the elimination of Phase 1 plans like Fantasyland Trio 2.0. Here is a by-no-means-exhaustive list of the main items which caused major construction and budgetary headaches:
1. Several of the hotel construction unions went on strike for various reasons, most of them at the 11th hour when the October 1st opening day deadline was fast approaching, causing Disney to settle and pay for an insane amount of overtime.
2. Disney underestimated the true cost and headache of construction in Central Florida. They had to hack and drain their way through unseen swamps, bogs, tons of trees, muck-infested lakes, and a water table that was an average of 10 feet below ground level. This all in an attempt to build over 80 combined miles of canals and levees, and 24 water control structures.
3. Bay Lake and the adjacent wetlands (the original planned location for MK) were deemed unusable for the construction. Disney had to dredge the muck and algae-filled Bay Lake and create its own major body of water, Seven Seas Lagoon (this involved completely draining the 3.5 billion gallons of water from Bay Lake and then, you know, putting it back). They then used the seven million cubic yards of earth taken during the dredging to raise the Magic Kingdom site 14 feet above sea level (wherein, as we all know, the Utilidors were built underneath the park).
4. The construction necessitated the building of roads, power plants, water control structures, cooling plants, water reclamation and cleaning plants, maintenance shops, and food distribution centers, with most of these projects (such as the food and laundry centers) being some of the largest ever constructed.
5. Disney created a tree farm to grow the trees that would be needed for future expansion. The tree farm would eventually house 2,000 trees and 50,000 plants.
6. Then there was, of course, the monorail, which not only had to be re-formatted from the simple two-station attraction at Disneyland to a full-blown heavy-rail train system that could be elongated to serve either future theme parks or a massive utopian city, but also necessitated its dozens of concrete pillars to be buried 50 feet into the ground in most places due to the high water table and unstable swampy ground. Every single one of these pillars had to be shipped via train from the construction plant in Tacoma, Washington.
7. Initially, US Steel would own and operate the original Polynesian Village and Contemporary (…or Tempo Bay…) Resorts, however halfway through construction Roy and his team did not feel US Steel would run the hotels the way Disney wanted them to, and decided to buy out their contract.
8. One year before Disney World’s official opening, Allen Contracting told Joe Fowler that Disney World would not be finished in time. Joe then had Roy and Joe Potter (construction head and president of Reedy Creek) fire Allen on the spot, and Disney had to create their own construction company, Buena Vista Construction, to get the job done.
As you can see, it’s honestly shocking that Disney was able to build the thing at all, let alone finish construction on time. But finish they did, and what success they’ve had with Disney World since. Of course, the park was not 100% finished even when it was 100% finished. Even the park that was planned for a realistic opening (ie after the three extra hotels and Fantasyland Trio 2.0 and other new ideas were nixed) did not open as planned. Much like Disneyland in 1955, many attractions had their openings delayed until days, weeks, months, or years later (and some, like Thunder Mesa, not at all). Walt notoriously had to cut attractions left and right to his opening day roster in the face of a skyrocketing budget. Fantasyland’s major attractions were little more than maintenance sheds with banners and flags draped over them, Storybookland had to be the Canal Boats of the World for about a year, and Tomorrowland was not even half-finished by the July 17th opening. And even with a full theme park’s worth of experiences under their belt, Disney’s operating and creative teams still had to delay the openings of many attractions. Ironically, mirroring the fate of Disneyland’s original Tomorrowland, Disney World’s Tomorrowland opened with a pathetic TWO whole attractions (can you guess what they were? … Wrong! Or Right! Depending on what you said! … It was the Skyway and the Speedway … What a lineup!).
Peter Pan, Flight to the Moon, and CircleVision did not hit opening day, but were able to debut before the busy holiday season that winter. In early 1972, they were joined by a new Carousel of Progress show and the Eastern Airlines-sponsored If You Had Wings. 1973 saw the debut of Tom Sawyer’s Island and Pirates of the Caribbean (the details of why that particular attraction was made will be revealed in a later article). And, to conclude Disney World’s original Phase I plans, 1974/75 saw the debut of the Star Jets and the PeopleMover, along with the first Phase II attraction, Space Mountain. And thus, Project Summer Phase I would sail into history.
It’s amazing how, looking back on Disney’s now-extensive history, there are so few Fantasyland-style dark rides around any more. Disneyland has had the market cornered on this style of ride since Walt’s time, with not only the Fantasyland Trio 1.0 (and later 3.0), but also Alice, Pinocchio, Winnie the Pooh, Roger Rabbit, Ariel, and even Mike & Sulley. Disney World has nothing to add to this list, and rather pathetically now still has just three Fantasyland-style dark rides (Pan, Pooh, Ariel) spread out over a four park resort. Subsequent international destinations do not have much to add to this list either. This, to me, is so nonsensical it borders on lunacy.
The Fantasyland dark ride is not only a staple amusement park attraction, like the roller coaster, but also the one that lends itself best to Disney-style storytelling. Not only that, but these attractions are certainly cheaper than other bigger attractions, and building an all-new Mr. Toad, Snow White, and let’s say Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast dark rides combined would cost about as much as one Expedition Everest. And yet, these Fantasyland rides are easy advertising for Disney’s animated films, the heart of the company (which Disney completely forgot until the Pixar invasion). The merchandise sales potential for these rides alone easily justifies a return on investment far better than a non-character (and thematically shallow) attraction like Everest or Soarin. Yet, there is no trace of this legacy in any of the Disney resorts outside of Anaheim. The lack of inclusion of these types of rides continue to boggle me to this day, which is why I’m so fascinated and so curious about what-could-have-been Fantasyland inclusions like Sleeping Beauty, Mary Poppins, and Ichabod Crane. You’d think with the recent princess mania and ongoing animated princess love-fest that we’d see a practical assault of Fantasyland dark rides onto our domestic theme parks, yet there is nary a whisper or breath about any forthcoming. So for now, we can only wonder what could have been, and wish upon a blue sky.
Send Jeff a line at HamGamgee@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @ParkscopeJeff.