Welcome, Foolish Mortals: The History of the Haunted Mansion

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.

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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.

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Harper Goff Concept

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.

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Disneyland Opening Day

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.

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New Orleans Square Concept

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!

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Ken Anderson

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.”

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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!

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Yale Gracey

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

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.

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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.

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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.

IT'S A SMALL WORLD AT THE 1964 WORLD'S FAIR 50TH ANNIVERSARY

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.

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the Sherman Brothers and Walt Disney

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.

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The Wild History of Splash Mountain!

The Wild History of Splash Mountain!

Legends of the Magic Series:

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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 at about the same rate. In fact, up-and-coming Imagineer Tony Baxter had a major problem on his hands. Tony had been launched into a career that he could have never imagined; thrust into the spotlight with the massive success of designing Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in 1979. Now others were looking at him to lead them into this 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.

But nevertheless, here he was, with dozens of people looking at him to fix all the park’s problems. Unfortunately, during 1983, there happened to be a very specific large problem at Disneyland. Actually, Disneyland had a few issues that eventually played into each other. The first was that The Disney Company was about to have a change in leadership, and that change seemed to be going in a very specific direction. The Disney Company was looking to widen its audience beyond just 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 the type of thrill ride they were looking for) they had immediately turned to Tony Baxter for another similar experience.

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The second problem facing Disneyland was that all 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 path. A very fine line to walk, especially when the leadership of the company was set on the goal of thrill. As a result, some of the attractions that were seen by the new management as more outdated, (all of which were rides that were overseen by the original Imagineers, the new artist’s mentors and idols) would have to close, or at least be refurbished, which caused distress from those new Imagineers that wanted to honor the work of their predecessors.

The third problem, while comparatively trivial to the aforementioned issues, would prove absolutely crucial in the future. The problem was a section of Disneyland known as Bear Country…Rather it was the attendance of this section. Unfortunately, there was no Galaxy’s Edge at the time, and the land 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. Disneyland was desperately looking for a way to boost the area’s draw to guests.

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These problems mulled around in Tony Baxter’s mind for a quite some time, but he couldn’t think of any way to solve them effectively. There were just too many variables and he was being drained creatively by all of the projects management seemed 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 what he had conjured up.

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 type thrill ride, fulfilling the desire of Disney executives to draw in older audiences. But 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?

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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 due to several crucial mistakes and sheer ignorance, they created what soon became a very controversial film. Ashamed of their mistake, Disney would never release the film to a home audience (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.) 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.

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Tony Baxter was convinced that most of the animated sequences featured memorable and cute characters that could be extrapolated from the more controversial aspects of the feature and planted into a new story. If they removed the controversial aspects of Song of the South, and focused on the cute animated characters, building a new story grown out of the cartoon “cat and mouse” chase segments of the film, that it would be a perfect theme for a ride to fit into 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 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.

Back in the design phase: 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, 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 it finally opened; which is more than the entire Disneyland park cost in 1955, even adjusted for inflation!

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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. Tony Baxter suddenly realized that his earlier decision to recycle many of the audio-animatronics from America Sings had saved the company millions. If it wasn’t for that foresight, it would have never been green-lit, or would have been cancelled halfway through construction.

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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 versions at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.

And 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 with a brand new theme not connected to Song of the South. And with Disneyland’s Splash Mountain situated right on the edge of both New Orleans Square and Critter Country, it would make sense that the new property that it’s based on would have some footing 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! It just goes to show that any problem, no matter how big, can be solved if we’re willing to put our imagination to work! Who knows, maybe your next big idea will come during rush-hour traffic!

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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)

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.)

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“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.epcot 52To 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.epcot 48Due 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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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>)

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Lifelong best friends, partners, and brothers Walt and Roy Disney pose with child actress Margie Gay for a publicity shot in 1925; a mere 2 years after founding their company.

Walt Disney’s Final Dream: Living in Utopia (the EPCOT that never came to be Pt. 2)

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)

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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.”

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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.”

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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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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)

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Walt Disney’s Final Dream: Utopia Lost (the EPCOT that never came to be)

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)

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“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.

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“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…

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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.

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newspaper depicting the mourning of Walt

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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5 Obscure Disney Park Characters that Fans Can’t Get Enough Of

5 Obscure Disney Park Characters that Fans Can’t Get Enough Of

We all love Disney characters, but did you know that there are some obscure ones that Disney Park fans go particularly crazy for? Ever wondered who that Michael Jackson character is? Or that man with the purple suit at EPCOT? This is the place to be!

If you’re interested in more details about these characters’ history, beyond why they’re so popular among fans of the parks, we will be making separate posts for them in the future! However, today we are simply giving a quick background for each so that you get a basis of why fans love them!

So, without further ado…

Orange Bird:

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This cute little guy was created in a sponsorship deal with the Florida Citrus Commission (FCC). The FCC required that Disney, a company known for its recognizable cartoon characters, would create a mascot to use in the marketing of Florida’s citrus products in return for funding WDW’s version of the Tiki Room (Tropical Serenade). Not wanting to lose a sponsorship from a large and wealthy coalition of Florida citrus growers, Disney jumped on the task. Thus, the Orange Bird was born.

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The character was featured heavily in not only the marketing for the 1971 attraction, but also in several ad campaigns for the FCC up until the late 70’s. The Orange Bird continued to be featured in educational films made for the FCC and in the parks until 1987, when Disney finally stopped working with the FCC. As a result, the character virtually vanished from the parks. However, something about the character resonated in Japan when it showed up in Tokyo Disneyland. In fact, the Japanese were absolutely obsessed with the Orange Bird aesthetic and he experienced a bit of a revival in popularity as a result, which quickly spread to the United States. In 2012, the Orange Bird finally returned to the Magic Kingdom with force and the character became an icon for ‘in-the-know’ nostalgia fans.

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Captain EO:

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In the 80’s Disney commissioned some of Hollywood’s biggest names to make attractions; in hopes of widening Disney’s audience. To this end, they commissioned George Lucas, at the height of his popularity after Star Wars, to make several attractions for Disney. One of these attractions, and the most expensive film ever produced at the time would be directed by the legendary Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) and star the one and only Michael Jackson in the title role! This ‘masterpiece’ became the wild musical space-opera known as Captain EO.

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Sadly, reviews for the show were mixed, and the attraction was eventually removed after ten years due to the dwindling crowds. However, 80’s kids never forgot the wild musical space opera that was Captain EO, and when the King of Pop passed away in 2009, the film saw a massive resurgence in popularity; causing Disney to revisit the film as a tribute to Michael. Ever since then, Captain EO has become a Michael Jackson icon…even outside the parks!

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Hatbox Ghost:

The Hatbox Ghost was another resident created for the Haunted Mansion in 1969, but unlike other tenants of the mansion, the Hatbox Ghost had a gimmick that made him special; his ghostly head disappeared from his shoulders and reappeared in the Hatbox that he was holding! The gimmick was a big deal at the time, and so the Hatbox Ghost was featured prominently all over promotional materials for the ride. When the ride opened, fans clambered to see the Hatbox Ghost and others like him. But after just a few short weeks, the Hatbox Ghost mysteriously disappeared! Rumors spread like wildfire about why it was removed, with some people even reporting that he had never been there in the first place!

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But, the character (who really was there for a few weeks, despite what some would say) was simply removed early on because his gimmick did not work as intended. However, the myths and speculation about ‘Hatty’ became so popular and outrageous, that Disney could not pass up such a good PR opportunity. With much fanfare, the Hatbox Ghost was updated with new technology and inserted back into the Disneyland mansion, where he has been resting to this day.

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Oswald:

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Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is a very special character to Disney fans. In fact, his importance in Disney is unparalleled by any other Disney character besides Mickey Mouse himself…and most people don’t even know it!

Believe it or not, Oswald predates Mickey Mouse as Walt Disney’s first fully-fleshed cartoon character! So why haven’t more people heard of him? Well, unfortunately, Walt Disney was swindled out of the rights to the character by his distributor in 1928; along with almost all his staff! Broke, and with no character to his name, Walt desperately searched for a new character that would save him; the result of this despair-ridden brainstorming was none other than Mickey Mouse himself! So, you could say that Oswald was directly responsible for the creation of Mickey Mouse. The lessons Walt learned from that betrayal helped shape the entire company from that day forward.

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In 2006, nearly 80 years later, the rights to Oswald were finally bought back by Disney; proudly placing ‘Mickey’s Older Brother’ back in the family where he belonged, much to the joy of longtime Disney fans everywhere!

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Figment And Dreamfinder:

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Arguably the most popular characters on this list, Dreamfinder and Figment may be two separate characters, but true fans know that you cannot really have one without the other! As evidenced by the lackluster response to Figment’s recent solo career, the lovable dragon from our imaginations just isn’t the same without his red-bearded best friend. These guys are the unofficial mascots of EPCOT and are beloved by fans worldwide.

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They were originally introduced as EPCOT’s first walkaround characters, appearing to promote their upcoming ride; Journey into Imagination. When the ride opened in 1983, it was a massive hit, and the imaginative duo became the most popular feature at EPCOT. However, in 1999, Disney made what some fans consider to be the company’s biggest mistake ever. Announcing that Journey into Imagination would close for a simple refurbishment, fans were shocked and appalled to find that Disney would reopen the ride as the completely different, vastly inferior, Journey into Your Imagination instead! They even removed the iconic Dreamfinder and figment from the entire attraction!

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Due to the huge outcry from fans, Disney soon closed the attraction and once again changed it to the now current Journey Into Imagination with Figment; bringing back Figment, but not Dreamfinder. It lessened the outcry a bit, but diehard fans still yearn for the original attraction to return!

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What’s Your Favorite Obscure Character at the Parks?

 

Disneyland Almost Failed!

Disneyland Almost Failed!

Disneyland Almost Failed!

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On July 17th, 1955, one of Walt Disney’s greatest dreams became a reality. Disneyland opened its gate for the first time, and the world would never be the same! But what if we told you that this dream was very close to dying before it even got off the ground? What if I told you that, without Walt Disney’s seemingly endless perseverance and dedication, Disneyland might have failed?

Some Disney fans are already aware of the fascinating and disastrous day that happened almost 65 years ago, but for those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, we hope that you leave today with greater appreciation for The Happiest Place on Earth and the extreme effort that it took to make it come to life!

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The story begins in the early days of the Disney Studios, when Walt was inspired by visits to amusement parks with his daughters in the 30’s and 40’s; reportedly, he came up with the concept while watching his daughters riding a carousel from a nearby bench. He was frustrated that there weren’t enough experiences at the park that he and his daughters could enjoy together and he made up his mind to one day build a park where kids and grown-ups could play together. Thus, Disneyland was born!

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The development for Disneyland was long and tedious, yet undeniably fascinating. We don’t have the time to cover all that history today; that’s a subject for another time. But the long and short of the ordeal was that Walt Disney’s plans continued to grow…and grow…and grow, until his ambitious dream began to worry the money-men. However, Walt was determined to see the culmination of his dream project no matter what happened. So, Walt continued to fund-raise, promote, invest his own money, and even borrow against his own life insurance to get the project up and running!

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Naysayers surrounded the project. The Disney Board argued that Amusement Parks weren’t their type of business, Roy Disney (Walt’s brother and business partner) warned Walt against the financial ruin it would cause if it failed, and even Amusement Park experts told him that nobody would be interested in a ‘family park’ that (at the time) wouldn’t sell alcohol! Most critics even went so far as to call Disneyland Walt’s worst decision ever, and a foolish idea that was doomed to fail. It seemed that most people thought that Disneyland would never work. In hindsight, we know this to be false, as Disneyland was not only a huge success, but it also reshaped the Theme Park Industry as we know it. However, during its construction it was a legitimate fear that Disneyland would not succeed. Many people were very worried.

Then came Black Sunday.

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Black Sunday was the name that Disney Executives gave Disneyland’s opening day of July 17th, 1955 due to the perceived disaster of the theme park’s debut. The park opened to the public and press with what was, at the time, considered a disaster of epic proportions. First, the opening day was meant to only be open to the media and special invited guests; instead, twice as many people as expected showed up! This was due to a vast number of counterfeit tickets sold to the public, and even a few people climbing the fence and sneaking through gates. In fact, about half of the 28,000 people in attendance that day had entered Disneyland illegally.

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The opening day festivities were broadcast worldwide on ABC, hosted by Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings, and future President Ronald Reagan! although this seems like an amazing idea, unforeseen broadcasting problems quickly mounted with so many unexpected guests. People tripped over television cables left and right, problems sprang up around technical issues and mistakes, cues were missed, responsibilities were mismanaged, and there was even an improvised ‘skit’ involving Linkletter looking for his lost microphone (he really had misplaced it but tried to hide the fact by making the search an ‘impromptu adventure through Disneyland’).

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In addition, a regional Plumbing Strike forced Disney to chose between water fountains and toilets. Of course, Walt chose the latter for sanitary purposes. However, since Pepsi sponsored the park’s opening, guests mistook the lack of working water fountains as a greedy way to force them into buying soda! Soda and food ran out very quickly due to the demand of so many guests. Parents threw their kids over the shoulders of the crowds to get them on rides faster, and people cut in line (not that the last one has changed all that much). The Mark Twain Riverboat even began to sink when guests continued to force their way on, even after Cast Members told them that the boat had reached peak capacity! There were even the problems resulting from unexpected weather, as the unusually high temperature of 101° Fahrenheit caused the newly poured asphalt to become soft. This led to things like high heels sinking into the sticky substance.

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By the time the park closed for the day, it seemed as if Disneyland had been the failure that everyone had been expecting it to be. If we were there on that day, without the benefit of hindsight, we would have probably said the same thing. To all who heard about it, the day seemed like a nightmarish disaster.

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Today, historians recognize that most of the perceived disaster was due to bad luck, and the park being unprepared for so many people. They now can objectively see that the park was a success with fans from its very first day, despite what it had looked like in the moment, and the second day attendance proved this. the park managed very well on its second try and the insanity of Black Sunday became a legendary false alarm as Disneyland quickly became one of the greatest tourist destinations in the world. Walt Disney’s vision finally became a reality, but not without a few scares along the way!

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If Walt hadn’t stuck with his dream and persevered against all odds, Disneyland might have never existed!

What do you think was the craziest thing to happen on Black Sunday?

 

The Lost Land of Disney’s Animal Kingdom

The Lost Land of Disney’s Animal Kingdom

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The Lost Land of Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort has always been one of the most fascinating theme parks in the world. However, Animal Kingdom was originally supposed to be even more fascinating than it already is. It was supposed have three separate types of animals featured in the parks; The animals of today, the animals of days gone by, and the animals of fantasy. Obviously, two of these can be found readily enough across the park, with the acres of live-animal habitats and a whole land devoted to Dinosaurs. But what about the animals of fantasy? It turns out that Imagineers had planned plenty of fantasy in the park, but most of it never came to be. However, one of these scrapped concepts was particularly intriguing; the legendary plans for a realm called Beastly Kingdom.

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Unsurprisingly, Disney had originally planned for mythical creatures to be a larger presence in the park; intending them to be the centerpiece of Animal Kingdom’s first major expansion in the years following its opening. It certainly made sense for Disney, a company associated with myth and fantasy, to play to their strengths. So naturally, a massive amount of concept art and development was directed to the creation of a large and intricately themed land based on humanity’s greatest legends.

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Divided into two opposing sections, the concept for the land called Beastly kingdom was intended to be an immersive world surrounding the creatures of mythology. The ‘Dark Side’, located to the left of the entrance, would showcase more heart-thumping thrills, while the ‘Light Side’ on the right would focus more on family attractions.

The Dark Side opened with a twisted path leading through a dark and brooding forest that exited into a large Stonehenge-styled courtyard. There, guests would enter a medieval village that sat under the looming shadow of a crumbling castle tower. Inside the tower, the first of Beastly Kingdom’s E-Ticket attractions would reside; The Dragon’s Tower!

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Guests entered the decrepit fortress to find a roller-coaster/Dark Ride hybrid that would bring them face to face with a fire-breathing animatronic dragon. The guests would board ‘bats’ that flew on a coaster track in a mission to steal back the gold that had been hoarded by a mighty dragon deep within the bowels of the ancient castle; witnessing a supposedly immersive interior filled with grand halls, battered armor, old swords, and piles of endless gold. It was intended to end in a very close and personal encounter with the dragon itself before guests narrowly escaped certain doom. Located in a sub-section of this land, there was going to be shops and eateries surrounding the lagoon of a giant sea-serpent.

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To the right of the entrance, an entirely different path awaited the young at heart; a land of goodness and light. The ‘Light Side’ of Beastly Kingdom would stand in stark contrast to its darker neighbor, supposedly beginning with a path through peaceful woods that opened onto Olympian architecture and Greek statues of an area called ‘Fantasia Gardens’. Here, a tranquil boat ride for the whole family would take you into the mythical world of Disney’s Fantasia (1940) letting you drift past musical scenes from the film, in a visually fantasy of the Disneyland ‘Small World’ variety.

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But Fantasia Gardens, however cute, was simply meant as secondary experience to compliment Beastly Kingdom’s second E-Ticket attraction; Quest for the Unicorn. This walk-through attraction would allow the guests to go on a journey into their most beautiful dreams. Designed as a maze/interactive adventure attraction, Quest for the Unicorn would allow guests to travel through a hedge labyrinth, and past breathtaking sets designed to transport you into a child’s storybook. While there, guests would attempt to locate hidden statues which gave them clues to make it to the center of the maze. Once guests successfully navigated the steps to the center, they would be rewarded with a beautiful chamber of bubbling pools and glittering caves. And there in the center of it all, would be a beautiful animatronic unicorn.

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All in all, Beastly Kingdom was to be a feat of Imagineering that would require all of their vast skills. So, what happened to this enchanted realm of Unicorns and Dragons?

Sadly, at the time Beastly Kingdom was in development, Disney was not ready to commit to the large sum needed for its construction. Due to unforeseen complications at Disney’s overseas parks, the company was not yet willing to risk so much money on an expansion to a park that was already successful, and thus Beastly Kingdom was put on hold. However, Disney would keep delaying the project due to bad luck, and it never really had the time to take off. However, Joe Rohde, the Imagineer in charge of Beastly Kingdom, would continue to hold onto those concepts even through the tough times; eventually spinning them off into new projects like Expedition Everest.

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But finally, with Director James Cameron’s support, and the acquisition of the rights for a popular movie called Avatar, an elaborate new land would finally have the financial backing that it needed. Joe Rohde took the old ride concepts for Beastly Kingdom, and reworked them into the amazing new land called Pandora: The World of Avatar and subsequently built Avatar Flight of Passage (using concepts from Dragon’s Tower) and Na’vi River Journey (using both Fantasia Gardens and Quest of the Unicorn).

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Sadly, the legendary Beastly Kingdom will probably never be built the way it was originally intended. However, there is now a new world full of mythical creatures and immersive environments that you can visit. Even though it’s not the same as Beastly Kingdom, the spirit of adventure and escapism remains through the talented designs of Imagineers that worked on the original Beastly Kingdom. As for us, we are more than happy to have an alien world filled with floating mountains and otherworldly creatures! Believe us; The World of Avatar is worth it!

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