Friday, October 26, 2012

Disney That Never Was: Switzerland and the Matterhorn

It is always a Disney tradition for there to be a certain landscape within the parks. This landscape revolves around the "mountain" region, or a mountainous weenie, as Walt called them, to draw people further into each land. Consider Magic Kingdom and its mountain dominated landscape: Space Mountain draws guests into the heart of Tomorrowland, and Big Thunder and Splash Mountains draw guests to the back corner of the park, through Adventureland and Frontierland. Even Animal Kingdom has Expedition Everest, which clearly draws guests through Animal Kingdom to the rear of the park. Believe it or not, there was once a concept that would leave Hollywood Studios as the only park without a mountain? Ok, true this is incorrect, and we will see why, but it is strange to think.

One of the ideas as an addition to World Showcase in and around 1989 was to create a Swiss Pavilion, that would sell cuckoo clocks, and Swiss chocolate (Swiss Miss hot cocoa anyone?) as well as add that distinct Swiss flair within the World Showcase. One of the real reasons for this addition is the ability to add the Matterhorn Bobsled to Walt Disney World. This attraction, which debuted in Disneyland in 1959 would serve as the weenie that would draw guests to the back of World Showcase, possibly located near the now Outpost. The mountain would have the coaster within, and an appearance by the legendary Yeti (anyone guess why this idea is completely out now?)

The legendary Matterhorn Mountain would serve as a suitable and appropriate backdrop to the pavilion as Disney prides itself on making each EPCOT pavilion as realistic as possible. It had been released in the Orlando Sentinel in May of 1989 that the Swiss government had approved the proposed plans, and would provide $10 million dollars funding, contingent on the approval by the Swiss population to match the $10 million the government had proposed to pay. This would have made the Swiss pavilion one of the few funded by the government in which it was replicating. The question we all must ask is, what happened here? It sounded like a done deal. It sounded too good to be true. Evidently, it was.

The Switzerland Pavilion never saw the light of day, and in fact only few stills and artist renderings actually exist to even prove that the concept existed. If we look into the timing of the whole project it might be easier to see what went wrong. This announcement and development began in 1989, around the time of the Disney/MGM Studios opening. As it is known, Michael Eisner believed MGM Studios to be a half-day park, and as such created in that image. As guests flocked, it became apparent that more needed to be added to the park to convert it into a more full day experience. This led to the opening of MuppetVision 3D and the eventual construction of Sunset Blvd. These ideas seemed to leave Disney with no extra cash, or resources (Imagineers, construction workers, time) to complete this project, and like all the World Showcase Pavilions, left behind to wonder. As it is now, there is virtually no chance of this pavilion being developed as Disney opened its Matterhorn attraction in Florida by ways of the Expedition Everest attraction in Animal Kingdom. Announced on April, 23 2003 and opened roughly three years later on April 9, 2006, the attraction features the Yeti and follows the similar story arc. It it understood that though it is not a "bobsled" coaster, its design has made the idea of moving the actual Matterhorn attraction to Walt Disney World a moot point. Thus, the Switzerland concept with its majestic Matterhorn will stay where it has for the past 20 years. On a piece of paper and a country's dream. 

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