Here’s an in-depth look at a truly underrated movie. What makes Robin Hood defy the odds?
Category: Walt Disney
The Origin of Mickey Mouse (and What it Means to Me)
There’s something incredibly special about Mickey Mouse. Even 90 years after his debut, he’s still making people smile all over the world. But why is Mickey Mouse so special? This is a peculiar question, because I don’t think people ask it very often…or even think about for that matter. For a lot of people, he just is. Today, I think that it’s kind of easy to take this cartoon character for granted and miss the spirit which made him popular in the first place.
Today, I wanted to explain what Mickey Mouse means to me. I wanted to talk about why Mickey Mouse is my hero…
As I was growing up, I knew that I loved animation. I was already interested in movies, but there was something unique about the hand-drawn films of Disney’s heyday that captured my attention. There was an intangible charm that set them apart from most of the live-action movies that I had seen. Animation was the playground where anything was possible.
And of course, you couldn’t be a fan of animation without at least hearing the name Mickey Mouse. He was an icon; his face was everywhere.
So, as a small child who didn’t understand how films were made, I think I took Mickey for granted and just assumed that he went with cartoons the same way that peanut butter went with jelly. But as I got older, and began to study the film industry in earnest, I began to realize that Mickey Mouse represented so much more. And in order to understand why, we have to go back to his creation.
The story of Mickey Mouse’s inception is a long one, so I’ll try to keep this recap brief for context. The most important thing about his creation was that Mickey Mouse was born out of desperation. He was created during one of the lowest points in Walt Disney’s life. In fact, Mickey Mouse’s creation was a direct result of Walt Disney losing everything. During the 1920’s, in the early days of his animation career, and before his name would become synonymous with high-quality animation, Walt produced cartoons for established industry leaders. But it was hard work for very little return and Walt was having trouble making ends meet. Still, ever the perfectionist, Walt strove for greatness and a standard of quality that made his competitors balk. But in this season of pushing for the best product possible he may have done too well. first truly successful creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was popular enough to run a series that Walt’s Distributor, Charles Mintz, coveted. But Walt Disney poured every cent the company had back into his cartoons to make them better. In addition, he spent as much time and talent as was possible on improving the quality of the animation which slowed production and limited the amount of cartoons that Mintz could cash in on.
Of course, this didn’t sit too well with Mintz’s avarice. Mintz, who still retained the right to distribute Oswald and therefore could make his own cartoons (despite Walt having been the one who created the character) decided that he didn’t want Walt’s quality control. He believed that he could pump out cartoons twice as fast and make double the profits on low-quality animation. He believed Walt to be unnecessary to his own chars and swindled Oswald out from under Disney’s nose. And if that wasn’t enough, Mintz then proceeded to bribe most of Walt Disney’s top animators into leaving him. Effectively, the entire studio, save for a few loyalists who believed in Walt’s standard of quality, abandoned Walt to work on Oswald for Charles Mintz.
Even after working years for what little he had, Walt had lost everything.
Walt Disney, along with his wife Lillian, claimed that on the train ride home from this heartbreaking and potentially career-ending event, he refused to give up hope. No matter how bleak everything looked, Walt was determined to survive. So, with no creative assets to his name, Walt decided to try and create one more character to make new cartoons with. In his desperation, he sketched out a little mouse, and although the design would end up changing significantly thanks to the collaboration of a genius animator named Ub Iwerks (one of the few employees that remained loyal during the Mintz fallout) the spirit of the character was created. Mickey Mouse had been born. And without knowing it, Walt Disney created the most recognizable and popular cartoon character of all time. And he had done it during a time when everyone thought he would fail. That fateful day, Disney proved Mintz wrong. He proved that the Disney touch was crucial to his cartoon character’s success!
The rest is history…and that’s the point.
Mickey’s history, and what it represents, is what is most important about him. What makes Mickey Mouse so special isn’t his popularity, or even his bankability (although he has both in spades), but rather what he meant to Walt Disney himself. For Disney, Mickey Mouse represented perseverance. Mickey was proof that hard work, perseverance, and quality were the keys to success. He represented Disney’s own humble beginnings, and this was something that Walt Disney never forgot.
“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing-that it was all started by a mouse.”
Walt would say this years later, recalling the humble start of his artistic legacy. It remained a lesson for Disney to never forget how he had started out with nothing, and that he had a responsibility to treat whatever he earned with respect. To remember that he was no better than anyone else, and that what he had was a blessing.
Ironically, Mickey Mouse came to eventually represent that very thing; an average, humble, everyday citizen who could do something extraordinary if he put his mind to it. And knowing the history behind it all, there’s no way that this could have been a coincidence. Walt put his very identity into this little mouse, because he had risked everything on him, and as a result Mickey became Walt’s alter ego, literally and figuratively. Walt even voiced Mickey for several years in his classic cartoons; turning Mickey into who Walt Disney wanted to be.
Mickey is special because he reminds us of what it means to persevere; to never give up on your dreams. Without Mickey, Disney would have never found success, and because many consider Disney to be the pioneer of modern animation, the art form itself might not have become the prevalent and memorable industry that we recognize it as today. Mickey changed the way we look at animation and shaped The Disney Company into what it would one-day become.
So, when I look at Mickey Mouse, I cannot help but be full of gratitude for what he’s done for the movies that I love. When I see him, I’m reminded of what animation means to me, and why I love film in the first place. Filmmaking inspires me to live out my dreams and to never give up on them. It pushes me to tell stories that impact the world and invites me to bring a smile to faces everywhere. Mickey Mouse is simply a physical reminder of this love, and for that, I owe him my undying respect.
So, when I go to a Disney Park and see the statue with Walt Disney holding Mickey’s tiny hand in his, gesturing to a world of imagination, I must thank them both for being brave enough to follow their dreams… and in turn inspiring me to do the same. Mickey Mouse is more than just an iconic face. He’s the representative of a legacy that spans generations, and reminds dreamers everywhere, that they can do anything that they set their minds to. It shows them, like Walt Disney said, that “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
Swinging Wake: The History of The Haunted Mansion Part 2
Read Part 1 HERE!
The year is 1966. A thrilling adventure on the high seas has just been added to Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. But there is something else that grabs the attention of guests in the area. Something new and mysterious. Wide-eyed children look through a pair of wrought-iron gates at a strange building…an opulent mansion. No one knows what will be inside, and the only hint of what’s to come is a sign that reads:
“Notice! All ghosts and restless spirits. Post lifetime leases are now available in this Haunted Mansion”
It’s followed by a description of the mansion’s offerings for retired haunts and ends with the phrase:
“For reservations send resume of past experience to: Ghost Relations Dept., Disneyland. Please! Do not apply in person.”
This sign is all guests know about the inside of the Haunted Mansion and would be the only bit of knowledge they’d receive about the attraction for several years. expectations were rising. This mysterious attraction captured the imagination of Disneyland guests from all over the world and the anticipation rose to new heights.
Fast-forward to early 1969…All who visited Disneyland were eagerly awaiting the future attraction; none of them even realizing the development nightmare that had been going on behind the scenes for nearly half a decade.
They could have never known that in 1964 work on the mansion (which had already been in development for 10 years) came to a screeching halt when Walt Disney diverted all of his attention to the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. Everyone who was anyone at Disneyland was sent to work on the extensive lineup of attractions that would debut at the fair, and no one was left to work on any of the ongoing home-projects at Disneyland. The Haunted Mansion would have to wait for a little longer.
However, fate was on the Haunted Mansion’s side, because the World’s Fair actually provided several technological breakthroughs that effectively solved many of the future storytelling problems for the Mansion, allowing development to flow more smoothly than it ever had before.
You see, before the World’s Fair, the story that the Imagineers could tell In the Haunted Mansion was limited by the technology of the times. The World’s Fair provided an unprecedented stroke of luck that greatly broadened the borders of what they could accomplish and opened up previously unimagined horizons. The first of these lucky breakthroughs, and arguably the most famous, was the “perfection” of Disney’s Audio Animatronic technology; which had first debuted in the Enchanted Tiki Room in 1963. With the technological innovation of the photo-realistic Mr. Lincoln at the World’s Fair, it was finally possible to populate the Mansion with a believable cast of characters in various stages of movement, rather than in static scenes, allowing the story to be told in a much more efficient manner.
The second breakthrough, and probably the most important for the future of the Mansion, was the advent of the Omnimover Ride System. This ingenious vehicle design was an evolution of the PeopleMover system developed for the Ford’s Magic Skyway attraction at the World’s Fair. In essence, this system was a chain of individual swiveling vehicles that ran on a hidden track underneath the ground moving at a constant speed, so that passengers could be unloaded and loaded in an efficient manner and at consistent rate.
The reason why this second innovation proved such a game-changer was the fact that, up until that point, the Haunted Mansion was supposed to be walkthrough exhibit. The Omnimover system allowed the attraction to become a continuous ride-through experience; raising its hourly capacity tremendously. It also allowed Imagineers to control what riders would see, by preplanning the track layout and the programming the individual cars to swivel or turn on cue. They effectively controlled the audience’s view of the story and special effects in the same way a camera would for a feature film. The Haunted Mansion was slowly becoming like a real-life movie that you could step into.
Now with the technology to tell an effective story, Disney simply needed storytellers that could execute those technological tools correctly. Luckily, after the World’s Fair ended, two of Walt’s greatest storytellers were now available for the mansion. Marc Davis, known for his brilliant animation of Cinderella, Maleficent, Cruella De Vil, Tinker Bell, and many more famous Disney characters, was brought onto the project for character and scenario design. After his concepts for Pirates of the Caribbean proved so crucial to its success, Walt Disney wanted him to help guide the new haunted masterpiece they were building. At the same time, Claude Coats, a Disney background painter who was known for designing many of Fantasyland’s famous storybook rides and providing the layout for Pirates of the Caribbean, was brought in for his familiarity with the spookier aspects of fairy tales.
However, there was one problem with this dynamic duo; both had completely different ideas for what the Haunted Mansion’s tone should be. Marc wanted the mansion to be funny and lighthearted, believing that a real haunted house would be too scary for a family establishment like Disneyland. On the other hand, Claude Coats believed that you shouldn’t even make a “haunted house” attraction in the first place without making it scary. The two conflicting ideologies became a bit of a problem, so much so that Walt was forced to bring in a third party to reconcile the two of them.
Xavier ‘X’ Atencio was an animator at the studio in whom Walt saw something very special. Even though Atencio had never written a script before, Walt thought he would be good at it, and had him assigned as the lead writer on Pirates of the Caribbean only a few years prior. Walt’s insight would prove prophetic as that ride became what many consider to be the greatest ride in theme park history, and Atencio’s lyrics for “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me” would be sung around the world; remembered by thousands of people to this very day! Walt thought Atencio might be able to pull it off again with the Haunted Mansion.
Again, Walt Disney was right! Atencio managed to somehow juggle Claude Coats dark tones with Marc Davis’s silly characters and create a script that balanced the macabre with the satirical. After a few drafts, a final story focusing on that “retirement home for happy haunts” was approved. This final draft would tie together separate side-stories based on Marc Davis’s unforgettable characters under a singularly sinister roof from Claude Coat’s designs. Finally, the Haunted Mansion had the story it deserved, and although Walt never got to see the finished product due to his untimely passing in late 1966, the ride would have made him proud. The Haunted Mansion opened to critical acclaim in 1969…the rest is history.
We tip our hat to an attraction that’s been entertaining and spooking guests for half a century. Just make sure the ghosts don’t follow you home!
It may have taken over 15 years to create, but it was worth it! And with 999 happy haunts to visit, you’ll want to hurry back again and again! After all, there’s room for a thousand… Any volunteers?
WANT MORE DISNEY HISTORY?:
Welcome, Foolish Mortals: The History of the Haunted Mansion
It had been sitting, seemingly abandoned, for years…
The mysterious building in the far corner of New Orleans Square towered above the land in opulent style, causing all guests to wonder at what could be taking place inside it. But they would not wonder for long. Finally, the mansion’s gates were opening, and its secrets were available to the public. Even though its visionary founder, Walt Disney, had been gone for 3 years, the Imagineers were still able to finish the dream. The long-awaited happy haunts were assembling for a swinging wake.
But how did the Haunted Mansion get its start? What made it become one of the most famous attractions in theme park history? The answer to that question is found in the mansion’s origin, way back in time; at the beginning. The very beginning…
In 1951 Walt Disney began brainstorming what would become one of his most important achievements: a Disney theme park. Walt had been frustrated with local parks where kids and adults had so little that they could do together, so he made up his mind to create a theme park where families could do everything together. At the time, this concept was referred to as Mickey Mouse Park and would be located across the street from the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank, California.
This was where the idea for the Haunted Mansion was born.
Legendary artist Harper Goff was called upon to conceptualize ideas for concepts that might be found in the park. One of these concepts, was a drawing of a graveyard path, leading to a crumbling Victorian mansion off on a distant hill. This would be the first ever mention of a haunted house attraction for a Disney park.
Eventually, the concept for Mickey Mouse Park grew into something much more than a small diversion, and it became abundantly clear that the 11-acre lot across from Disney’s Burbank studio would not be enough space to contain the rapidly growing plans for Walt’s theme park idea. So, a new location was found in Anaheim, and the park was renamed Disneyland.
However, during this time, there were so many concepts for the new park, that they could not all make the final cut. Many ideas were inevitably put on hold, and when the park opened in 1955, many of the attractions that had been created for Disneyland were set aside for future expansions. Harper Goff’s haunting concepts happened to be one of these delayed ideas. Luckily, Disneyland became a smash hit, and many of the delayed concepts were resurrected to accommodate the public’s seemingly never-ending appetite for themed Disney entertainment.
In 1957, Walt brought out the haunted house concept as a possible element of an upcoming expansion to Disneyland. He was planning on opening a brand-new land on the far corner of Frontierland, and he needed new attractions for the area. It would be called New Orleans Square, and would also be home to plundering pirates…but that’s a story we’ll cover later. Walt went live on BBC stating that he planned on building a “retirement home” for happy haunts who no longer had a place to live because their original homes had been destroyed over time.
“The nature of being a ghost is that they have to perform, and therefore they need an audience.”-Walt Disney
The haunted house would be a premier New Orleans Square attraction, and Disney had something extra special in mind for its debut. Being the master storytellers that they were, Disneyland’s “Imagineers” wanted to craft an immersive experience. None of them were content with throwing together a bunch of haphazard spooky carnival ideas and calling it a day. Walt especially wanted a real story, something to provide consistency and quality; elevating his haunted house above the generic ones you’d find at the town fair. To this end, he tasked Imagineer Ken Anderson with brainstorming a story and a possible layout for the haunted attraction.
Ken Anderson had been a Disney animator for many classic films, and he had also previously worked on Fantasyland’s famous “dark-rides”, (like Snow White’s Scary Adventures). And although the Fantasyland rides weren’t meant to be too scary, he knew a thing or two about playful spookiness…and he also knew how to tell a good story. Walt was famous for family entertainment, and it was almost certain that he wanted the haunted house to be much more lighthearted than other haunted attractions found across the country; making Ken Anderson a logical choice for lead designer.
Still, early concepts for the ride tended towards the scarier side of things, and although some ideas stuck, the story would go through several unused iterations before Walt Disney would even begin considering construction. We’ll cover these unused concepts in a future article, but it’s important to know that they ranged anywhere from a concept based on an evil sea captain and his unsuspecting bride, to an idea revolving around an entire family dying mysterious and sudden deaths. There was even a concept based on a never-ending ghostly wedding feast! You can see why Disney didn’t want to use some of these creepier concepts for his family park!
But since he had announced it already, Walt couldn’t delay the project for too long. He had to come up with something concrete to show the public. At the same time, he strove for quality and never wanted to rush anything. So he came up with a clever compromise.
They would begin construction on the facade that guests would see when they visited the park, but take more time to perfect the attraction behind the scenes. So, even though the inside of the mansion was facing major story delays and roadblocks, the outside would soon come along rather nicely. In 1958, Ken Anderson had drafted a pencil sketch inspired by a Victorian-era antebellum mansion. The drawing had a decaying, run-down, and creepy look, which artist Sam McKim made into an official display painting. Walt liked the look of the house, but not the state of repair that it was in. He didn’t want a ramshackle, rotting house to be a visual blight in his pristine and clean Disneyland. So, he told his Imagineers to make the outside look nicer, saying:
“We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside.”
At around the same time, Walt brought on Imagineers Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump to design the special effects that would be placed into the ride. Both Gracey and Crump had made a name for themselves at Disney for their technical wizardry and mastery of imaginative special effects. Walt had them spend a huge amount of time perfecting the tricks that would sell the story of a ghostly retirement home. They tinkered away, day and night, crafting the greatest illusions and special effects of their entire careers. In fact, the special effects created by Gracey and Crump for the Haunted Mansion deserve their own article, but suffice it to say that they were so numerous and well-made, that they earned the pair a prestigious new title: “Illusioneers”! This is a nickname which is still used today for Disney special effects artists!
Despite these breakthroughs, the development of the story was not going well. To the untrained eye, it would have seemed like everything was coming together nicely, but in actuality the project was dangerously behind schedule, and the attempts to come up with a satisfying story had so far met with disaster. The Haunted Mansion was slowly dying, and it would take more than a nice façade or state-of-the-art special effects to save it…
Read Part 2 HERE!
Childhood Innocence: The History of It’s A Small World
The Year was 1966, and Walt Disney smiled cheerfully as a crowd gathered in the far corner of his magical kingdom known as Disneyland. It was a beautiful day for a Grand Opening, and Walt was pulling out all the stops to make sure this would be one to remember. There were celebrities, balloons, fanfare, family, friends, and a whole crew of cameramen gathered around a little “canal” leading into a charming looking building; a façade that would put a smile on anyone’s face. The crowd cheered and clapped as little children representing countries from around the world each poured a bottle of water shipped from their country into the man-made river. The balloons were released into the air. Walt Disney smiled even wider as his boat drifted down the river into the building and disappeared as he waved to the crowd.
It was a celebration the little ride deserved, because it was one of Walt’s favorites. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Or you at least have the tune stuck in your head! It’s a Small World, after all!
It seems impossible, but Small World has only grown more popular since that day in 1966. It seems daunting that, more than 50 years after its debut in Disneyland, it’s still entertaining the young, and the young at heart, who ride it. But what’s even more astounding is the origin of the happy singing dolls; which goes back even further than that special day at Disneyland.
In 1963, Walt Disney was called up by Hollywood friend Joan Crawford with a very interesting proposition. Crawford was the widow of Pepsi’s former president Alfred Steele, and she was desperately looking for an attraction for Pepsi to sponsor at the already famous upcoming World’s Fair in New York. Pepsi was on a deadline and time was running short. Joan Crawford believed Walt Disney, who was already working on four other attractions for the fair, was the only one who could create a worthy attraction for the Pepsi brand on such short notice. It would be a tribute to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), but other than that, Pepsi had no idea what it would look like.
Walt, who already happened to have an idea lined up, jumped at the chance to get funding for another of his wild ideas. With only 11 months to prepare the attraction, far less time than any other thing he had contributed to the fair so far, Walt immediate jumped at the task. He wanted to make something truly special; something that would touch the hearts of millions and bring a smile to their faces. It would be a little boat ride with children from around the world in adorable doll form called “Children of the World”.
Truth be told, Walt wanted a change of face from what he saw in the rest of the world. It was the time of the Cold War. Tensions were high, and a possible nuclear war loomed on the horizon. Culture was changing, and unrest was breaking out all over the country. Walt was sick and tired of the fear which clouded the atmosphere and aimed to make this new attraction a ray of sunshine to the anxious public; a symbol for the World’s Fair and its idealistic look at the future.
So, Walt brought on board the happiest crew of “Imagineers” that had ever set sail on a Disney voyage. Walt put his favorite artist, a Disney color stylist and children’s illustrator named Mary Blair, in charge of most of the project. With Mary’s unique style helming the design of the attraction, other talented artists had clear direction on where to go. The husband and wife team of Marc and Alice Davis were immediately set to work on designing the iconic look of the dancing dolls and breathing personality into them; Marc imagined the characters, while Alice lovingly clothed them in fashion of her own design. A younger Imagineer named Rolly Crump, who had repeatedly impressed Walt with his very unique creative style, was given the task of designing the Doll’s toys and accessories, as well as the kinetic “Tower of the Four Winds” which would anchor the outside of the ride and draw attention to it. Lastly, master modeler Blaine Gibson sculpted out the physical dolls under Walt’s direct supervision. Strangely enough, every single one of these Imagineers, save for Mary Blair, would eventually work together again on Disneyland’s great masterpiece Pirates of the Caribbean; and most of them would contribute to the Haunted Mansion too!
The result of this all-star team of Imagineers was nothing short of magical, as the ride exceeded all of Walt’s expectations. But it was the music of the ride that would elevate it from a great ride, to one of Walt’s favorites. The Sherman Brothers of Mary Poppins fame were inspired by the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 to write a song of hope to go with the ride. They specifically made it as catchy and simple as they possibly could, so that it could be translated easily and sung in multiple languages. At first, they wrote it as a slow Ballad, but on prompting from Walt for something more upbeat and cheerful, they sped up the tempo. The resulting song “It’s a Small World” moved Walt so much that he decided to change the name of the entire ride in honor of it, and it was subsequently moved to the World’s Fair in 1964.
Despite its extremely short production time, the now renamed It’s a Small World was a huge hit, becoming one of the most popular attractions at the fair. But it wasn’t only children who were flocking to it. There was something deeply innocent about the ride which spoke to the hearts of downtrodden adults everywhere. Whether they were 9 or 99, Small World made them think of a simpler time when the threat of nuclear missiles wasn’t at their doorstep. It gave them hope that maybe the world would one day be at peace again. It’s a Small World seemed to reach out and speak to the child in everyone.
Even today, the original Small World continues to entertain and delight children of all ages with its message of hope and unity. And with versions at Disney parks all around the world, it’s continuing to bring smiles to faces everywhere…Just like it did to Walt over 50 years ago.
SUPPORT THE AUTHOR ON PATREON!
The Wild History of Splash Mountain!
Legends of the Magic Series:
Part 1: A Rocky Origin
The year was 1983. The Disney Parks seemed to be changing every day, and the designers of these shifting magical environments were faced with some rather daunting tasks. In fact, up-and-coming Imagineer Tony Baxter had a major problem on his hands. Tony had been thrust into a unbelievable career, the likes of which he could have never imagined. He was thrown into the spotlight with the massive success of his design work on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in 1979. Now other Imagineers were looking to him for leadership. They needed someone to lead them into a new era of Disney Parks. If you would have told Tony Baxter that he would become one of the most successful Disney artists of all time when he was first hired as an ice cream scooper in 1965, he would have thought you were crazy.
Nevertheless, here he was, with dozens of people looking to him to fix all the park’s problems. Unfortunately, during the year of 1983, there happened to be some very specific problems at Disneyland. The first problem was that The Disney Company was about to have a change in leadership, and that change seemed to be going in a very different direction from the company’s past. The Disney Company was looking to widen its audience beyond just families, children, and animation. As a result, Disneyland executives were getting more and more interested in thrill rides, something that Disneyland was sorely lacking compared to other theme parks. It was a tall order, and after the success of Big Thunder (which just so happened to be a thrill ride) they had immediately turned to Tony Baxter to lead the charge on another similar experience.
The second problem that was facing Disneyland at that time was a changing of the creative guard. The original Imagineers (Disneyland designers/builders/engineers etc.) were retiring, and a second generation was in the process of discovering their place in the parks. These new Imagineers were attempting to honor tradition, while simultaneously trying to forge a new creative path. That was a very fine line for them to walk, especially when the the company leadership was so set on changing direction with the end-goal of thrill. As a result, some of the old attractions that were seen by the new management as “outdated”, (all of which were rides overseen by the original Imagineers) would have to permanently close to make way for the new ones. Or at the very least, they needed to be heavily refurbished. This caused distress for the new Imagineers who still wanted to honor the work of their predecessors. None of them wanted to tear down the work that they respected so much.
The third problem, while comparatively trivial to the aforementioned issues, would prove absolutely crucial to the future of these situations. A section of Disneyland known as Bear Country was facing a major attendance deficit. Unfortunately, there was no Galaxy’s Edge at the time to draw in crowds to that corner of Disneyland, and the area was cut off from the rest of the park. The land’s location at the far corner of the park, tucked away behind New Orleans Square, with no other path leading in or out, caused dwindling interest and low attendance. Few guests wandered past the haunted mansion into Bear Country’s single entrance. The area was often virtually deserted. Naturally, Disneyland was desperately looking for a way to boost the area’s draw to guests.
All of these problems and artistic dilemmas were placed on Tony Baxter’s shoulders. In fact, they constantly on his mind for some time, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t think of any way to solve them. There was just too many variables to consider, and he was being drained creatively by all of the other projects that management seemed to want to throw at him. He was at a loss for what to do. That was, until one fateful day when Tony happened to be daydreaming in California’s rush hour traffic. Tony suddenly received an unexpected and brilliant epiphany; he could solve all three problems at the same time! His brain bursting with imagination, Tony Baxter rushed straight to his boss, unable to keep the idea to himself. In a legendary pitch, Tony Baxter explained his idea to Disney executives, in almost exact detail. It wasn’t perfect, but it was far more than anyone else had come up with up to that point.
His idea, called Zip-A-Dee River Run (later changed to Splash Mountain when the ride’s production was green-lit in 1984), would be an old-school log flume thrill ride, fulfilling the desire of the Disney executives to draw in teenage crowds. However, this log flume wouldn’t be just any thrill ride! It would be a highly-themed and immersive ride that would take the amusement park staple of a log flume to the next level. But How would they do that, you ask?
To understand that, we must first go back in time to 1946 and the release of a live-action/animated hybrid film called Song of the South. Disney may have had the best intentions in mind when they made Song of the South, and had never meant to offend anyone, but even good intentions couldn’t save the PR disaster that it turned out to be. Due to several crucial writing mistakes, as well as sheer ignorance, they created what soon became a very controversial film. Ashamed of their mistake, The Disney Company would never release the film on home video in the United States (for more information on the troubled history of Song of the South, we recommend reading the excellent book “Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South” by Jim Korkis.) He goes a lot deeper into this topic than we could ever do in a blog. Despite the nightmare it would one day become, it was virtually unknown to the Disneyland public at large during the 80s. However, when he was younger, Tony Baxter happened see Song of the South in theaters, and he chose this obscure film as the property to base the ride on.
Tony Baxter was convinced that most of the animated sequences featured memorable, cute characters that could be extrapolated from the more controversial aspects of the source material and planted into a different story. At the time, pre-social media, few people had actually heard of Song of the South, and they thought it was prime time to completely redo the IP. If they removed the controversial aspects of Song of the South, and focused on the cute animated characters by building a new story out of the cartoon “cat and mouse” chase sequences in the film, it would be a perfect themed ride for Bear Country (later changed to Critter Country for Splash Mountain’s debut). At the time, executives were convinced that a majority of Disneyland guests would not be familiar with Song of the South or would not have seen the movie. They reasoned that guests would assume that it was an original property and that they could retool the characters as Disneyland mascots instead of references to Song of the South. Still, this was mostly wishful thinking, and a bit of a shortsighted decision on the part of the executives. Because of the birth of the internet and social media over the following years, more and more people “rediscovered” Song of the South. The characters continued to gain controversy over the years, and the connection to the film, however small, would eventually effect the future of the ride in a big way… more on that later.
The Imagineers were back in their element solving difficult problems. By pure luck, Song of the South’s animated critters happened to be designed by legendary first-generation Imagineer Marc Davis who also just so happened to have been the designer for the soon to be extinct attraction America Sings. America Sings was an outdated stage show featuring a huge cast of Audio-Animatronic animals. Because of this amazing twist of fate, the imagineers could simply reuse most of America Sing’s cast as characters in Splash Mountain because they looked like they belonged in the same world! So, besides a reskinning of two Animatronics into Brer Fox and Brer Bear, the rest of the America Sings animals were simply reprogrammed to synchronize with the new show and moved over to Splash Mountain!
But even after all these creative solutions, there were still some rather large obstacles that the Imagineering team needed to overcome. After all, building a Disney attraction is no easy task. After 4 years in production, Splash Mountain had risen well over its budget at a cost of over $75 Million and would continue to rise in cost to an estimated $85 million by the time of its official debut; which is more than the entire Disneyland park cost in 1955, even adjusted for inflation!
As a result, during the year of 1988, Imagineers were looking for a way to save some money on the tail end of this construction behemoth. It was at that moment that the Imagineers were thanking their lucky stars that they already had the foresight to reuse assets from America Sings to reduce cost early on. Tony Baxter realized that this decision to recycle the audio-animatronics from America Sings saved the company millions and was the only thing that kept the ride afloat financially. If it wasn’t for that foresight, the ride would never have been green-lit, or it would have been cancelled halfway through construction!
Finally, after five years in development, including 80 hours of reprogramming for every single Animatronic, and an additional three months to rewire them, Splash Mountain opened to the Imagineer’s great relief on July 17th, 1989; the 34th anniversary of Disneyland! The ride was an instant success and soon spawned beautifully redesigned copies at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.
Part 3-The Reimagining:
Although it’s a fan favorite around the world, it’s controversial film roots have finally caught up with it. After careful consideration, the Imagineers were faced with a brand new problem: retooling Splash Mountain for a new generation. They wanted to fix their mistakes and reimagine the log flume concept with a new theme that wasn’t connected to Song of the South. And with Disneyland’s Splash Mountain situated right between New Orleans Square and Critter Country, a new idea was sparked in the creative team behind this project. It would make sense to choose a new IP that was firmly placed in both worlds. Hence the decision to utilize the Princess and the Frog…a film that has deep roots in New Orleans, and a wonderful connection to the lovable animals found in Critter Country! This solution fit perfectly into the story of the two neighboring lands and seemed meant to be! This decision would redeem Splash Mountain in the eyes of the more socially aware public and reimagine this thrilling experience for a new generation. And although many people are understandably sad to see the classic attraction disappear, especially when it spawned so many of their nostalgic childhood memories, the creativity of the Imagineers continues to live on in its future. And if Mission Breakout at California Adventure is anything to go by, the re-theme could be amazing! It just goes to show that any problem, no matter how daunting, can be solved if we’re willing to put in the imagination and hard work! Who knows, maybe your next big idea will come during rush-hour traffic too!
Which version of Splash Mountain is your favorite?
Walt Disney’s Final Dream: Legacy of Utopia (The EPCOT that never came to be Pt.3)
A Tribute to 95 Years of the Walt Disney Company
(Note: This is the final part of a 3-part post. You can find Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE.)
“Walt Disney World is a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney… and to the talents, the dedication, and the loyalty of the entire Disney organization that made Walt Disney’s dream come true. May Walt Disney World bring joy and inspiration and new knowledge to all who come to this happy place … a Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn together.”
Roy O. Disney, Walt Disney’s brother and lifelong partner, stood in front of dozens of cameras on October 25th, 1971 as he dedicated the Walt Disney World Resort. Roy had always been camera shy, and it wasn’t easy for him to be the center of attention. That was always Walt’s thing. But now Walt Disney was gone. Roy had lost his best friend and business partner five years earlier, and although half a decade had passed, Roy still missed him terribly. It just wasn’t the same without Walt.To honor his brother, Roy, then acting as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, had decided to officially rename Disney World as Walt Disney World; a small but powerful change that reminds the world who it was that started the Disney magic in their hearts. Roy decided to do everything he could to ensure that his brother’s final dream came to be. If Roy had anything to say about it, EPCOT, Walt’s final dream for a utopian city, would come true. He would make it a reality, no matter how much the board protested.
But sadly, it was not to be. A mere two months after he gave the dedication for Walt Disney World, Roy passed away. On December 20th, 1971, Roy Disney died at age 78, and the Walt Disney Company was left without the stable leadership of either of its founders.Due to this, EPCOT would sadly never come to be. But that does not mean that all the ideas which came with it had to die. In fact, although we will probably never get to see Walt Disney’s final dream come to fruition, we can still see sparks of it in the final design of what became Walt Disney World.
3: Revisiting Utopia
It wasn’t as if nobody tried to make Walt Disney’s dream of EPCOT a reality. Even after Roy’s death, members of the board who believed in Walt’s dream still championed the cause. In the late 1970’s Card Walker, Disney’s CEO at the time, even tried to get the board interested in the concept again. But every time the concept was brought up, it was shot down as too risky. Perhaps it was risky without the guiding vision of Walt Disney. With Walt Disney, nothing had seemed impossible. But after his death, the company was thrown in to turmoil, functioning on a “what would Walt do” philosophy, but without the actual vision and endless enthusiasm that the man himself had. It was a rough time for the company.
The result of this philosophy led to a sort of compromise. The Disney Board would allow the Walt Disney World resort to expand and add another theme park in honor the idea of EPCOT, but they would not actually build the city. So, the Imagineers, many of whom had known Walt Disney personally, decided to pour their hearts and souls into this ‘new’ EPCOT. Even if it wasn’t going to be the dream that Walt had in mind, they were determined to pay tribute to it as much as possible.
A team of dedicated artists and craftsmen poured over the plans for EPCOT, trying to see what they could keep from the concepts and what would have to be removed. They settled upon the seemingly opposite concepts of technological innovation and honoring world culture. On one side of the park, Walt’s idea to show off the latest technology to visitors around the globe was repurposed as Future World. On the other side of the park, Walt’s idea of having a common place where the history and culture of every country could be honored and practiced came to be reimagined as World Showcase.
The Monorail went on to become the major transportation system for the entire Walt Disney World Resort, even if it wasn’t used quite the same way it was originally planned. The PeopleMover sadly never became the traffic-eliminating system that it was intended to be for future cities, but it was beautifully realized in the Magic Kingdom where guests can still get a taste for Walt’s vision for ease-of-access transportation today.
Even EPCOT’s major means of funding was derived from Walt’s original plans. Partnerships with the world’s leading corporations, and even with the governments of the countries that the Imagineers would honor, led to the creation of a sort of permanent world’s fair and helped make sure that EPCOT would have the money it needed to get started. The leaders of industry from around the world would make sure that EPCOT would be up-to-date with the latest technological wonders and attractions, just like Walt had planned for the homes of his original concept.
It’s hard to tell if EPCOT as it was originally intended would have been a success, but Walt Disney proved time and again that he was a man who could accomplish the “impossible”. It would have been fascinating to find out if that would have been the case in this instance. Even though EPCOT evolved into something different from what Walt originally planned, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t good! In fact, EPCOT was a resounding success and a phenomenal park; proof that the spirit of Walt Disney lived on in the hearts and minds of those who knew him. So, next time you visit the park, take a moment to stop and imagine what might have been, and allow yourself to be inspired by Walt Disney’s final dream. (<<PREVIOUS PAGE) (<FIRST PAGE>)
Walt Disney’s Final Dream: Living in Utopia (the EPCOT that never came to be Pt. 2)
A Tribute to 95 Years of the Walt Disney Company
(Note: this is part 2 of a 3-part post. You can find Part 1 HERE, and Part 3 HERE)
The one and only Walt Disney stands in front of a giant map covered in a circular design, a broad smile forms on his face as he gushes with excitement over his newest and greatest dream. Once more, he addresses the audience as if they were an old friend.
“EPCOT will take its cues from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed but will always be introducing, and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity of American free enterprise.”
He wanders back to the chair that has been prepared for him by his staff. In hindsight, one might realize that Walt’s health had already been waning as he grasps for the chair and sits down heavily; but at that time, very few people knew how sick he really was. Regardless of how sick Mr. Disney was, he always had time to share his dreams with the world, and that fact never changed. He continued;
“I don’t believe there’s a challenge anywhere in the world that’s more important to people everywhere than finding solutions to the problems of our cities. But where do we begin? How do we start answering this great challenge? Well, we’re convinced that we must start with the public need. And the need is not just procuring the old ills of old cities. We think the need is for starting from scratch on virgin land and building a special kind of new community.”
You can see it in his eyes, the joy and the eagerness to make EPCOT become a reality, and although Walt passed away before it could be realized, the plans still exist. We can still see what he had planned for the culture of his final dream.
2: Inspiring Day-to-Day Life
Every resident of EPCOT would be required to work on Disney property, at either the theme park, or somewhere in the city itself. There would be absolutely no difference between the living conditions of apartments and homes, save for the fact that the homes would be reserved for workers with families. Both would have access to the same amenities, and they would both have the same high-quality city transportation.
Speaking of transportation, EPCOT would have had the most innovative transportation system in the western hemisphere. Everything would be connected by the highly efficient, quiet, and clean Monorail system. The line would start at the Transportation Hub located right outside the city airport, travel through all of the outlying areas of EPCOT, through the city center, all away around the surrounding land, and then circle back to the Transportation Hub. All areas of EPCOT would be easily accessible and connected by Monorail. But it doesn’t even stop there!
Residents wouldn’t even have to walk to the monorail if they didn’t want to. Each house would be located only a few yards from the unobtrusive PeopleMover line, a system of continuous carriages chained together and looping on a track without stopping. It was specifically designed by Imagineers to eliminate noise and traffic. It’s a similar concept to the conveyor belt walkways you find at the airport that never step moving, allowing passengers to simply step on at their leisure. Both the Monorail and the PeopleMover would be utilized at a much smaller scale in the Walt Disney World that exists today.
The transportation system was supposed to be so comprehensive as to eliminate the need for automobiles entirely! In fact, you would never see one in EPCOT; as the cars of tourists, and even the trucks used for transporting goods into EPCOT would only be utilized underground! That’s right, EPCOT was supposed to be built on the second level of the city! To keep pedestrians safe, and to keep “backstage” out of guest’s view, all outside transportation would take place under the very streets of EPCOT’s homes!
As Walt Disney stated in that fateful EPCOT film, his city was meant to be at the cutting edge of technology; testing new ideas in a safe and friendly environment. To this end, Walt intended to partner with the world’s leading industries to constantly update the homes and apartments of EPCOT’s residents. They would always have first access to the latest home appliances and amenities, for no additional charge! It was quite possible for a resident to come home from work to find a brand-new stove installed in their house.
EPCOT would be a symbiotic relationship between the Disney Company, other American corporations, and the residents that lived there. In return for helping fund the building of the city, leaders of industry would receive Disney’s financial help and a free platform to test their newest products on the open market; all for a reduced manufacturing cost. The new products would then be tested by the very people who helped make them, EPCOT’s own residents; allowing the first users of a new product to be the ones that were most deserving of it. All these elements would work together to form a sort of BETA testing ground to find out what would or would not work for the rest of the world.
Everything would be connected, not being able to survive apart, but functioning strongly as a unit. Everyone in EPCOT would belong there. It may not have been a perfect utopia, but at least it would be relatively comfortable and efficient for everyone! No one would be in EPCOT unless they were needed.
So, it’s sad to see that none of this came to be after Walt’s untimely passing. It would have been amazing to see whether EPCOT could be accomplished the way it was intended. For now, the original EPCOT is a simply a dream that we can be inspired by. If anybody could have done it, it would have been Walt Disney!
But as most people know, a good idea never dies at Disney; it waits for an opportunity to be revisited and reimagined in new ways. So, what happened to the ideas of EPCOT? Next week we tackle what became of this idea and how elements from Walt’s City of Tomorrow can be glimpsed, even if just for a moment, in what became known as Walt Disney World! (NEXT PAGE>>) (<<PREVIOUS PAGE)
Walt Disney’s Final Dream: Utopia Lost (the EPCOT that never came to be)
A tribute to 95 years of the Walt Disney Company
(Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-Part Post. You can find Part 2 HERE, and Part 3 HERE)
“And now, here is Walt Disney.” The narrator says as the camera focuses on an older gentleman sitting on a desk amidst concepts and artwork.
Walt Disney, the famous dreamer and architect of fantasy, warmly welcomes everyone during a special television program on October 27th, 1966; proceeding to explain what he’s been planning next. His eyes sparkle and a childish smile sneaks onto his lips. He’s filming this program to tell the world about his newest and greatest vision; the Florida Project, also known as Walt Disney World. With enthusiasm that is infectious, Mr. Disney points to a large map of Disney World and addresses the audience.
“But the most exciting, and by far the most important part of our Florida Project, in fact the heart of everything we’ll be doing in Disney World, will be our Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow. We call it EPCOT.”
He points to the top of the map, to an area of land that makes Disneyland look like a small garden by comparison. It’s a massive area of land, miles across, and it so happens to be Walt Disney’s greatest dream; a utopia of innovation and inspiration. It’s a new project dedicated to making the world a better place, something that Mr. Disney always wanted to do. You can also tell by the look of pure joy on his face that it is something which he cannot wait to accomplish…
But sadly, he never had the chance.
Walt Disney passed away a month and a half later.
On December 15th, 1966, the world was shocked by the loss of one of America’s most beloved icons, a mere ten days after his 65th birthday. It was sudden and unexpected, and the world was not ready for such a loss. The people grieved, and the dream of EPCOT never came to be…at least, not how it was originally intended.
But what was the original intention for this ‘City of Tomorrow’? Why did it never come to be?
To celebrate 95 years of the Walt Disney Company, we will be uncovering the mysteries of this final Disney dream!
1: The Revolutionary Design:
In the 1960’s, after the enormous success of Disneyland, Walt wanted to take his ‘Imagineering’ to the next level. After seeing the sleazy motels, businesses, and tourism that popped up around Disneyland because of its popularity, Walt became dissatisfied with the chaos of the city. He desired a place where living and working were safe, comfortable, and beneficial to all. Thus, the idea for Disney World was born; a place for people to live and work that would have enough space for Walt to dream up anything that he could possibly imagine…and keep the chaos of the outside world from encroaching on it. It would be his own little world for people to work, live, and play. There would be a real Disney city in Disney World, not just a new theme park!
Walt’s city would be a futuristic, carefully planned, well-organized, and beautiful near-utopia…at least, as close to utopia as imperfect humans could get; even Walt knew that they would make plenty of mistakes and that his city would be far from perfect, but that didn’t stop him from trying. He was determined to at least make it cleaner and more organized than similar American cities at the time; meticulously designed to provide ease-of-access to its citizens. This City of the future soon became known as EPCOT, The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
Inspired by revolutionary designs in city planning, specifically the garden city movement started by Ebenezer Howard in his book ‘Garden Cities of To-morrow’, Walt tasked his Imagineers with the careful and meticulous planning that EPCOT would require. The city design may have seemed simple at first glance, but each facet of the project had a million details that needed to be attended to.
The concept of EPCOT was for a radial city; a series of interconnected rings that could be built outward from the circular city center. This would theoretically keep the city connected and organized, preventing overcrowding and minimizing frustration with transportation and living conditions.
The City Center would contain the downtown and commercial areas of EPCOT. It would be here that the Cosmopolitan Hotel/Convention Center would be built; grounding EPCOT at the geographical center of the city as the tallest structure for miles around. This area would be surrounded by shops and restaurants themed to different nations and countries from around the world; catering to foreign residents and the multi-cultural audiences that wished to experience EPCOT; a concept that would eventually inspire the World Showcase section of the current EPCOT theme park. In addition, the city center was to be completely enclosed by a transparent dome to protect it from outside weather conditions and pollution.
The second ring, referred to as the Green Belt, would contain the city’s public services, such as pools, libraries, parks, post offices, stadiums, and schools. The Green Belt would then connect to the third ring, which would contain the low-residential areas. This suburb-style area would be divided into petal shaped loops. In a green area in the center of the petals, there would be recreational spaces for the residents, with the houses and amenities circling them.
The final ring of the city, the rim of EPCOT, was to hold the high-density apartment housing and would also be EPCOT’s tourist hub; all incoming visitors would arrive at EPCOT’s airport located near this area. Walt didn’t just want EPCOT to be an isolated city, but rather an example to the rest of the world of how cities could be in the future. He wanted it to inspire visitors from around the globe to return home and make their own cities better.
And indeed, the planned culture and lifestyle of EPCOT was very inspiring! You can read how in Part 2 HERE! Or, if you want to learn what eventually happened to the EPCOT concept, you can just move on to Part 3 HERE!
We’re sorry that we must divide this up into multiple parts! We promise that we’d be putting them all in one if there wasn’t so much to talk about! There’s FAR too much information to properly cover in a single post and we didn’t want to try and cram it in all at once. Thank you for your patience!