U.S.A.! U.S.A!

We are heading into the home stretch of the T.T.D.T.P.C.

Today we look at something that was so controversial it never got built.

Click HERE to get caught up to date in case you have just joined us.

4) Disney’s America

It is the rare situation when one of these controversies crosses beyond simply die-hard (lets be honest; nut-job) fans and into the real world. This was much more than park-goers fondly remembering a purple dragon and complaining when it was removed from a ride… this turned into an actual political drama that played out on the nightly news.


They made a logo and everything so you know they were serious

It was the early 90’s. The Michael Eisner regime was firmly in control and hitting its peak. They had turned around the studio division of the company managing its transformation from a sleepy also-ran into an industry-leading powerhouse. They were tapping the goldmine of classic movies for home video release and the Disney Stores were taking over malls across the country. At the parks Eisner had opened Disney-MGM Studios, major new attractions such as Star Tours and Splash Mountain and the sure to be a mega-hit Euro Disney was just around the corner.

Eisner knew nothing but success at this point; everything he touched turned to platinum (forget gold… he was way beyond that). In 1993 it was time to expand the parks again and this time he wanted an all-new park in an all-new location outside of Florida or California. Many locations and themes were explored but it was eventually decided that the park would be located near the well-established tourist area of Washington DC and themed around American History.


Look, a balloon… just like the original concept art of Disneyland

More specifically 3000 acres of Prince William County in Virginia was to be the location of Disney’s America. This spectacular new park would explore a broad range of historical topics spreading out over nearly 200 years of America’s past. Much like the current Disney formula the park would have featured several different “lands” each themed to a different era:

Crossroads USA served as the main entrance and hub of the park. It was to be themed after a Civil War era town. Antique steam engines would circle the park departing from this area.

america 3

I was going to try and make some jokey reference here but frankly it gets really touchy when you are talking about Civile War era America… so I’ll just leave it alone.

Guests could then enter the Native America land. Here a Lewis and Clark Expedition themed white water rafting ride would anchor the area and Native American villages would be represented.

disney america raft

Grizzly Rapids Lewis and Clark raft ride

President’s Square would have been home to a new Hall of President’s attraction, theoretically relocated from Walt Disney World.


Hall of Presidents (HOP) should not be confused with International House of Pancakes (IHOP) though Lincoln does make a mean apple baby.

Next would be the Civil War Fort that would immerse visitors in the most turbulent time in America’s history. From here guests could watch large-scale Civil War re-enactments and a recreation of the battle between the “ironclad” boats the Monitor and the Merrimack.

civil war fort

Can you say Tom Sawyer Island?

Despitethe name Enterprise this area was not focused on space travel but rather the late 19th century. A factory town represented American innovation and ingenuity. The major attraction here was the Industrial Revolution, a roller coaster through a steel mill complete with blast furnaces and molten steel.


Guests apparently ride on rivers of mustard through a steel mill… or something.


This is like the fifth time in Disney history where they tried to make an Edison Square type of attraction… Not going to happen guys.

Proceeding through the park and into the turn of the century visitors could explore the We The People area of the park. A recreation of Ellis Island would have housed live entertainment, music and in an effort to represent a melting pot of cultures featured cuisine from several countries.


The American Waterfront section of Tokyo Disney Sea looks a LOT like this


Ah yes, the good old days of the depression and scurvy in the streets… what a wonderful memory

A State Fair section was a throwback to the 30’s with a wooden roller coaster, Ferris wheel and baseball fields (featuring old timey games).

A Family Farm area would touch upon the importance of agriculture and offer hands on exhibits and attractions.


Six Flags over Virginia

Finally Victory Field would tackle more modern military exploits showcasing the struggles of World War II. Themed after a 1940’s era airfield various hangers would have housed the attractions. Here guests would board a flight simulator like they had never experienced before.

disney america victory field.jp

What exactly are those two guys in the foreground doing? It looks as if they are both about to drop their pants.

The location was chosen due to its proximity to existing historical attractions and the short drive to the related sites within Washington DC. Disney felt that the park would be a perfect compliment to the museums and battlefields of the area. Land was found several miles from the site of the Battle of Bull Run and Disney did feasibility studies and created the concept art and designs required to proceed.

Then all hell broke loose.

Disney was not attempting to purchase an orange grove in the middle of nowhere or some discarded swampland. Disney was not hiding behind a pseudonym or a shell company either. They made their intentions very clear and many local residents (of a generally wealthy area) were not pleased.


Lets be honest… Disney does not have a spectacular history when dealing with ethnic minorities

Opponents feared that Disney would bring with it tacky hotels, fast food chains and souvenir shops like the type found near the other Disney locations. Furthermore they feared huge crowds of tourists clogging roadways and bringing chaos to their sleepy community. Historians argued that this area was historically sacred and not fit for the volume and scale Disney had envisioned. Moreover many argued that Disney could never properly present the deep and complex issues present in our country’s past. How would they discuss slavery or the massacre of Native Americans? Disney largely planned to ignore these subjects and would touch on them only superficially in the same way the American Adventure attraction at Epcot does. But this was not one attraction at a theme park in central Florida; this was an entire park dedicated to these topics located in the cradle of American history.


Disney doesn’t even like dealing with this… can you imagine the challenges Disney’s America would have presented?

Was it disrespectful to have roller coasters and rafting rides a stone’s throw from historic battlefields? Would a brief synopsis of deeply serious issues suffice before junior ran off to ride the inverted coaster and eat a corn dog?

Detractors claimed that Disney would present a version of history in which the United States was the center of the world. One in which there would be an “awe shucks sure we have made some mistakes but in the end we saved the world!” mentality.


Damn straight!

Opponents also happened to be wealthy and connected to some of the most powerful people in the country. It soon became apparent that this was going to be a long and messy uphill battle.

Then in 1994 Eisner canceled the plans. Seemingly backing down to the vocal minority who did not want the park to happen. However lost in all of this is the fact that the “can’t miss” Euro Disney park did in fact miss… and missed big. The park opened in 1992 and was losing money at an alarming rate. Enough time had passed that it was clear this was not a short-term problem.

Eisner was facing a failing park draining resources on one hand and a bunch of loud, rich, powerful complainers on the other. Eisner lost his love of the park at this point in time and the choice was really very simple; Disney threw in the towel. They shifted gears and certain elements were re-used in the next parks they did build: Disney’s California Adventure and Tokyo Disney Sea.

At the end of the day it is probably a good thing that Disney’s America did not move forward. These are very serious and sensitive issues and though Disney may have handled them very well if they did not, or if they ignored them completely, the backlash would have been severe. This was also the start of a long dry-spell in spending for the Disney parks.  Spooked by the debacle of Euro Disney Eisner was loathe to spend big money on theme parks. Imagine a park not only saddled with serious subject matter and surrounded by controversy but severely underfunded as well.

Was it a good idea or is it a good thing they bailed?  What do you think?


One Misguided Spark of Inspiration

Our march through the Top Ten Disney Theme Park Controversies (T.T.D.T.P.C.) continues as we cross the midway point with #5.

Click HERE to cath up with the first 5 entries.

5) Bye-Bye Figment:

One little spark of inspiration is at the heart of all creation… so goes the catchy tune that served as the theme song not only for Epcot’s Journey Into Imagination pavilion but in many ways also for all of Disney in the 1980s. It is upbeat, optimistic and eminently hummable. Yet despite the broadly loved song and the royal purple dragon (the aforementioned Figment) who sang it, someone within Disney had a very different type of inspiration and decided to remove both the song and the singer in 1998.


Bright and optimistic was replaced by dark and insulting

In 1999 an all-new version of the attraction opened, creatively titled “Journey into YOUR Imagination”. In this version guests entered “The Imagination Institute” which was a tie-in with the 3-D movie Honey I Shrunk the Audience. After boarding ride vehicles (now red instead of the original purple), guests were scanned and immediately insulted (the scanner states that the entire audience had no imagination whatsoever). Visitors then proceeded through a series of dark rooms featuring rudimentary optical and aural illusions. These basic tricks were said to energize guests’ imaginations until the final scene, when they were scanned once again and found so full of creativity that the machine exploded with light and sound. Figment, his human partner Dreamfinder, and all the original music were absent (save for a few throwaway cameos from Figment).


Hit the road, Jack

Fans were seriously outraged. Figment and Dreamfinder were not only beloved characters but also the faces of Epcot. They were original creations of the park and managed to gain such popularity that they grew beyond being simply a ride or even park mascots and stood shoulder to shoulder with some of Disney’s most famous creations. Figment and Dreamfinder plush dolls, key chains, picture frames and merchandise of all sorts flew off the store shelves; Figment was a star. Yet in a move nearly on par with the New Coke debacle Disney decided to remove them both, erasing them from memory.


Still selling the Figment merch

Perhaps even worse was the fact that what replaced the attraction was a shallow shell of the original. The new ride was considerably shorter and much less grand than the original (a ride many considered one of Disney’s best). The changes did not stop with the ride itself either. In what is still one of the most head-scratching moves Disney has ever done, the Image Works — a playground of sorts located on the second floor of the pavilion — was shuttered. Here guests could explore sight, sound, touch and other creative elements using interactive exhibits. Dreamfinder and Figment were featured in many of these installations and acted as your hosts and cheerleaders. It was a fun, immersive experience that was especially well suited to young kids. Today the stairs sit roped off and the second floor still has many of the exhibits rotting in place, unused for many years.


Now both are gone…

Though this happened prior to social media, enough people complained online and via mail that Disney was forced to take notice. In a virtually unprecedented move, they closed the attraction after just over two years and retooled it again. Fans took a deep breath of relief and some even speculated that the original ride would be recreated in a new souped-up, high tech form. It appeared as though Disney recognized their mistake and was now making it right.


One or more of these characters is now seriously annoying

In 2002 Disney joyously announced the return of Figment and re-opened the attraction. Wanting to be very clear, they named it “Journey into Imagination with Figment”. The original Journey Into Imagination had Figment and they did not feel the need to call it out in the title — but they are the marketing masters, not me. Maybe they should rename all the rides? How about “Pirates of the Caribbean with Pirates” or “The Haunted Mansion with Ghosts”?

Anyway, fans wanted Figment so here you go folks… all the Figment you possibly can handle. It was as if Disney was telling fans to go choke on Figment.


Choke on it, suckers….

Suddenly he was everywhere; in the queue, in every show scene, and in the finale he is seen a dozen times. They also added back a new version of the original song and yet Dreamfinder did not make the cut and is still MIA today. In many ways this newest version is the worst yet. It loses the one or two nice special effects of the previous version (such as a legitimately surprising ending) and replaces them with cheaply done overdoses of Figment. Figment’s existence is not explained and he is not incorporated into the attraction in any sort of organic manner. Rather he is just slapped on every show scene as a sort of unexplained pixie host / instigator. To me it is a worst of both worlds experience; the very definition of “neither here nor there”. While the second version was a travesty, the current version does little to improve upon it. Fans by and large were not thrilled by the ride, but the fact that Figment was alive and well quelled many of them.


Though the original purple color scheme was better, it still looks nice from the outside.

This is yet another example of Disney removing something that people loved and replacing it with something that was clearly inferior, smaller in scope, and less expertly executed. The original Journey into Imagination set a very high standard; it was fun, creative, optimistic, memorable and original in every way. It was replaced with a cheap, dark funhouse featuring a small handful of effects and significantly less heart than the original. It was the equivalent of a modern day special effects film (Hello Transformers)… just loud and with little reason to exist. Yet at least that second version had a few interesting visual or audio twists. In its haste to satisfy the calls for the return of Figment, Disney managed to take even those few interesting tidbits away and instead created what is in essence a cavalcade of Figment dolls mixed in with some neon paint and nonstop droning of the Imagination song. It is overkill… and who would have thought Figment drives a pick up truck and uses a human toilet… info we did not need to know.


This photo is not upsdide down… Disney thinks that will blow your mind!

Disney failed to realize that it was not actually Figment or Dreamfinder that fans missed, but rather the spirit of fun, hope, excitement and pure joy that those characters brought to the original incarnation of the pavilion. Sure, a purple dragon is great, but he can also be annoying if not presented with care and love.


Figment and Dreamfinder are still popular enough to have spin-off new comic books based on them

Today it is one of the least popular Epcot pavilions, and having lost its sponsor (Kodak) in 2010, it is likely to be renovated into something totally new sometime soon. Was this a rare win for fans or simply a way for Disney to shut them up with an inexpensive alteration? You can probably guess how I feel.

It is incredibly difficult to create an attraction on the scale of Journey into Imagination and tougher still to make it a success. It is catching lightning in a bottle. Disney was fortunate enough to have had that happen with the Imagination ride and had stellar and long-lived characters come along with it to boot… and yet still decided to rip it out… go figure.

Decide for yourself:

Click HERE for the original ride video (unfortunately edited, but the best I could find)

Click HERE for the misguided second version

or Click HERE for the current version

To see #4 click HERE

Bear Attacks!

Today we hit the midway point on the great T.T.D.T.P.C. list. Click here for the previous entires.

We have already seen fast food companies flock to the parks, the Funmeister get sent packing, icons being destroyed and George Lucas run amok. Today we get attacked by a bear.

6) Here comes Pooh!

Who would guess that a loveable, kindhearted stuffed bear from the 100-Acre Woods could wreak such havoc upon the Disney fan community while simultaneously taunting them with what could have been? We generally do not think of Pooh Bear as being a rabid and vicious monster but in the late nineties some park fans viewed his exactly as that.


Rabid and angry… don’t underestimate the power of Pooh.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was one of the original attractions that opened with the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in 1971. In fact the original version in Disneyland opened with the park in 1955 so the history of Mr. Toad’s goes back to the very genesis of the Disney parks. Therefore it was no surprise when fans were shocked and angered by the announcement that the ride would be gutted and replaced with a simple Winnie the Pooh attraction in 1998.


Yes, you really did end up in hell.

Whenever an existing attraction is removed it is bound to have folks upset but removing one of the most unique and irreverent attractions in Disney’s history from the parks; especially an original one was more than many fans could bear. Just imagine the Disney of today building a ride where guests drive recklessly (and perhaps drunk) through a town, go to jail and eventually smash headlong into a train sending them to hell. I just don’t see that happening ever again.


The rehab a couple years ago at least made the fornt nicer looking.

Despite petitions and lots of fan uproar the ride did in fact close and Pooh moved in midway through 1999. One could argue that the Pooh attraction is more relevant to kids today and that the plywood cut-outs that made up most of Mr. Toad were feeling dated but most agree that overall this move was a net loss for the park.


Hit the road Big Al.

Not content with destroying one beloved Disney classic Pooh soon set his eyes to the west. In 2001 Disneyland closed down it’s version of The Country Bear Jamboree to make room for the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride… a modest dark ride which was different but largely similar to the Walt Disney World version. The ferocious bear had once again succeeded in killing a long-standing attraction. His appetite for destruction seemed unquenchable.

Neither Pooh attraction is actually offensive in any way and many enjoy them. However in both cases the removal of classic attractions (instead of simply adding the Pooh rides elsewhere in the parks) caused fans to think twice about the new comers.


Nice as it is the facade is the least impressive part of this attraction

Perhaps what made it an even tougher pill to swallow is that concurrently to the removal of Mr. Toad and The Country Bear Jamboree in the U.S. Disney was busy designing and installing a fantastic telling of the Winnie the Pooh story in Tokyo. Pooh’s Hunny Hunt opened in Tokyo Disneyland in September 2000. Unlike the domestic versions it did not directly replace any attraction (though the Skyway load station once stood where it was built) and utilized an innovative and exciting new trackless ride technology. With a budget of 130 million (in year 2000 dollars) it is a true E-Ticket attraction, it is one of the most popular rides at Tokyo Disneyland and regarded as one of the best dark rides in the world. Had something comparable to this been built at the U.S. parks fans would not have complained nearly as loudly as they did.


The trackless system is hard to explain but it is very cool

Alas as Disney knows time moves on and today few guests complain about no longer being able to take a drunken tear through Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and out West the Country Bear Jamboree is long forgotten. It simply confirms that even hardcore fans will ultimately accept what they are given and line up for more.

Pooh is now thought of as a core ride in virtually all of the Magic Kingdoms (only Disneyland Paris is missing one).

Do you miss Toad or the Country Bears or is a simple albeit pleasant trip through the 100-Acre Woods all you need?


Bear on bear violence… Pooh wins

Click HERE for number 5