Friday, January 21, 2011

Disney That Never Was: Thunder Mesa and the Western River Expedition

What a fitting way to start this new series than to look at one of the biggest undertakings that Disney almost went through with. This attraction was so far along that it was even designed and had a place in the park.

As part of phase 1 of Magic Kingdom, Thunder Mesa would have been located near the current locations of Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The show building that would have housed the Western River Expedition would have been larger than any show building in Magic Kingdom at the time.

Thunder Mesa was to be Walt Disney World's response to Pirates of the Caribbean. It was thought by many Disney higher ups that a Pirates ride would not be popular in Florida because of the close proximity and history the state shared with past pirates. Because of this Marc Davis, a former Disney animator and creator of the Pirates attraction in California was given the task of creating such an attraction. Among the attraction within Thunder Mesa would have been, a runaway mine train (sound familiar?) a series of hiking trails, and the prize an indoor bat ride that would take guests through the heart of Thunder Mesa and show scenes of cowboys and historical America. (still sounds familiar)

These attractions were so far along that on top of a scaled model being completed and presented to Disney brass, Buddy Baker was working on a score for a theme song for the WRE attraction. Also, full size model AA's were being produced to show higher ups what the attraction could look like when finished.

Disney was ready to pull the trigger on this attraction just prior to the parks opening in October 1971. So what exactly is the reason that we do not see this immense building in Frontierland? Why is it that most people have never even heard of Thunder Mesa? well the answer is simple, yet complex.

The problem was the crowds that poured into WDW in 1971 fully expected to see the Pirates attraction within the confines of Magic Kingdom. What they found was not a single Pirate, Buccaneer or scalawag. There were many complaints about this considering many people remember seeing the Pirates attraction at Disneyland on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color television show. Now they were hearing that Disney was not putting this attraction in their new Florida resort.

Once 1972 rolled around it was clear that WDW needed a version of POTC. That decision obviously put the WRE and all of Thunder Mesa onto the back burner. As a matter of fact, the attraction was believed to be scrapped altogether. To the contrary. This attraction has never really been scrapped.

Marc Davis became increasingly upset by the lack of progress on WRE, and when an attraction named Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was green lit Davis all but believed WRE would soon follow. That sadly was not to be. By then Disney was putting the finishing touches on the update to Tomorrowland (Remember Space Mountain) and Davis was informed that he would have to cut costs significantly to get WRE a green light. One idea was adding WRE to the completed Big Thunder Mountain. Big Thunder was to be built on the land specifically reserved for Thunder Mesa. Davis made a compromise here. He would scale down the WRE attraction,among the ideas was canceling the trails above the show building and cutting the length of the attraction down. The attraction would become almost an afterthought. This did not sit well with Davis, and by 1979 he had left WED. the Western River Expedition was Marc Davis'  prized creation, and its lack of addition to the parks affected him greatly. Today we have Big Thunder Mountain, and Splash Mountain, which seems to be a cartoony take on WRE with quite a few changes. Unfortunately WRE has never been officially scrapped, but the costs of construction would make it almost impossible for any park to create today.

Thanks to Widen Your World for the info

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Another New Idea for the Blog

The future always brings change. And with change comes new challenges and adventures. With that I am going to try something new this year. My new challenge is to not only continue looking into past attractions but also look I to attractions that never came to fruition. This will be the Disney that never was and always will be. I will discuss attraction history that never arrived in the parks. It is important to look at these parts of Disney's past because as the new Seven Dwarves Mine Coaster (which was conceived and then shelved) proves, we just never know when Disney will go into the archives to bring ideas in.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fantasyland Officially Changed

Apparently it seems the Fantasyland Expansion has been officially changed. (once again) It seems that Walt Disney World will be introducing a new attraction when the expansion is completed. The long rumored Seven Dwarves Mine Coaster sounds like it is definitely a go. Unfortunately, with this news comes the news of the closing of Snow White's Scary Adventures. An opening day attraction SWSA will be missed by classic Disney fans, but Disney's long standing tradition of having only one major attraction per park on a specific film is the reason for this change. Hopefully something will be done in the former show building (considering the rumor was a princess meet and greet.)

Also Goofy's Barnstormer has a new theme than the original generic "clown" theme. The ride will be themed with "The Great Goofini" (Goofy as a magician it would seem) and coincidentally Pixie Hollow was not mentioned. I believe that has been officially scrapped. The question now remains, is this really the last update of the expansion in Fantasyland or only just another change in the grand list of them.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

History of WDW: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

The 20,0000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage opened with Walt Disney World on October 14, 1971. As an opening day attraction it was immediately designated as an "E" ticket attraction, meaning it was one of the best that the resort had to offer.

The attraction took guests on an under sea adventure in "submarines" to the depths of the ocean. Guests encountered eels, lobster, and a slew of divers before Captain Nemo (voiced by Peter Reneday) ordered the sub to dive. Once under the waterfall (which happened to be the entrance to the show building) Nemo would navigate through a graveyard of ship wrecks, the polar ice caps, and the lost city of Atlantis before encountering the squid from the films lore.

The "submarines" that were used to guide 12 guests at a time through the attraction were not submarines at all. They were really just boats. They were boats that had a guest viewing level under the water line. These boats never went completely submerged. It would be like being in a ships hull while on a trip. This plus the bubbles that were released in front of the portholes gave the illusion that the sub was diving.

The attraction closed on September 5, 1994 to be "renovated" and "refurbished." That was the last operating day that the attraction would ever have. Without warning the attraction was never re-opened. Now there are many ideas as to what caused the attraction to permanently close, but one thing is for certain, the maintenance company was not upset that the attraction was never returned to operating shape. Legend has it that when Michael Eisner (boooo....!) was looking to save money throughout the parks the WDW crew decided that they could close 20k for good. It was because of the high cost of maintenance that made the attraction difficult to maintain. Between the chlorine to keep the water crystal clear, the constant re-painting of the show building, and the lack of a real wheelchair access it was apparent that this was the perfect time to close it. So that's what was done.

But the story does not end there. Apparently the support the fans had for this attraction prompted Eisner to deploy is newly appointed President Michael Ovitz (are they still paying him as of today?) to check out the ride to see if it was really not worth fixing. Well it seems that the crew at WDW pulled a fast one on this day because before the park opened one day Ovitz rode the attraction. Well the crew choose the worst "sub" they could find and legend has it that they dumped water in the boat to simulate that it was leaking. It was also blowing diesel gas into the air like an 18- wheeler. The attraction took a rough trip through and when it was finished, surprisingly Ovitz called Eisner to tell him that the decision to close the attraction was the right one.

So there it is the life and sad end many peoples favorite attraction. To find something similar to this you will have to travel to Disneyland's Finding Nemo: Submarine Voyage to bring back some memories.

special thanks to for info