Ye come seekin’ adventure and salty pirates, eh?

This is it… after touring through nine of the biggest blunders in Disney theme park history we have finally arrived at the top of our list of the Top Ten Disney Theme Park Controversies. If you have not read them all click HERE to get caught up…

Keep a weather eye open, mates, and hold on tight if you please… there be squalls ahead and Davey Jones waiting for them what don’t obey…

1) PC Pirates

Pirates less rape poster

Yo,ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

 We torture we rape and we don’t fear the brig.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We treat women like slaves we’re misogynist pigs.

Drink up me ‘earties yo ho!

 

 Yo,ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

 We slit your throat and then we sing with glee.

Drink up me ‘earties yo ho.

We’re murdering terrorists and proud to be.

Drink up me ‘earties yo ho.

 

 Yo, ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

 We disembowel and we eviscerate.

Drink up me ‘eraties yo ho.

We like your women but not to date.

Drink up me ‘earties you ho.

 

We’re diseased and dirty, we’re oversexed studs.

Drink up me ‘earties you ho.

We wallow in feces and have a taste for blood.

Drink up me ‘earties you ho.

 

We’re wretched and drunk and may cut off your head.

Drink up me ‘earties you ho.

Aye, but we’ll also take your sisters to bed.

Drink up me ‘earties you ho.

 

 Yo, ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

 

Um wait a second… what exactly are we talking about here?

Pirates of the Caribbean has never been politically correct. It is impossible to imagine much of the atttractcion passing through Disney’s corporate filters today.

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Looting, arson, murder and rape… now lets get a churro.

Earlier on the list we took a look Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. It carries guests on an intoxicated romp through city streets and includes multiple attempts at vehicular homicide and a trip to hell. As very “un-Disney” as that attraction may seem it has nothing on Pirates of the Caribbean, a ride that celebrates looting, rape, torture, sexual slavery, arson and more.

Yet Pirates of the Caribbean is widely considered to be Disney’s top ride and in fact the greatest theme park attraction ever created. You would be hard pressed to find any ride designer, theme park fan or Disney freak who would not put Pirates at the very top of their “best of” list.

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Some concept art was even less subtle that what made it into the attraction.

Think about it. Pirates of the Caribbean is nearly 50 years old and is still one of the top draws at every park is appears in. It created an entire genre of rides and was chiefly responsible for defining what we know as a “Disney style” attraction. It was created by legendary Imagineers and has even spawned a hugely successful series of films.

Pirates of the Caribbean opened in 1967 at Disneyland and immediately redefined what a theme park attraction could be. Moreover Pirates was the last attraction that Walt Disney personally supervised to the point of final design (though he did not live to actually see its completion). It is impossible to over-state the importance of this attraction regarding the history of the Walt Disney Company, modern theme park attractions or even themed experiences in general. Without Pirates there would be no Haunted Mansion. Without Pirates there would be no EPCOT Center. Without Pirates of the Caribbean there would be no Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Simply put: Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean is the absolute pinnacle of theme park design and the most significant attraction in Disney’s or any other theme park company’s history.

The attraction boasts lavish sets, memorable songs and amazing artistry, but also a rabid legion of fans that span multiple generations and cross all cultural lines. For a group of “really bad eggs” people flat out love these pirates.

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The original “Pooped Pirate”; sexual assault at gunpoint has never been so much fun.

With this in mind it can come as no surprise that fans were outraged and livid in 1997 when the Walt Disney Company announced imminent changes coming to the beloved attraction. What may have seemed amusingly naughty in the mid-sixties was feeling a bit more ominous 30 years later. The original incarnation of the ride clearly depicted swashbucklers chasing down women with a sexual intent. Pirates could be heard offering to share the “wenches” with guests and uttered other lewd and suggestive dialogue.

Upon examination the attraction is one illegal, illicit or morally reprehensible scene after another from start to finish. The town magistrate is tortured, the women of the town are rounded up and sold at auction and eventually the entire town is burned to the ground… Pirates were not nice guys.

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Pirates used to chase the ladies…

Though the ride depicted many wretched things it did so with a tongue-in-cheek approach than softened the hard edges and created an overall tone that was lighthearted and campy. Regardless, in the mid nineties there was a growing swell of complaints that the acts portrayed on the attraction were not appropriate for a family fun park. It could be argued that Disney was actually presenting a fair and accurate representation of Pirates rendered in a more palatable manner (ironically Disney is often accused of white-washing the realities of history). One could also be reminded that Pirates were outlaws and criminals and any attraction themed around them would need to include the acts that they were known for. Nonetheless park management decided it was time for a change.

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…but then they started chasing chicks.

Originally the pirates pursued attractive woman as they scurried away in a famous series of chase scenes. One heavy-set woman turned the tables and lustfully ran after a scrawny pirate. This scene, with an apparently sexually starved woman, was also seen as offensive; critics asked why it was only the heaviest woman who not only welcomed the Pirate’s amorous attentions but actively sought it out as well? And why was it that the only woman the pirates were not interested in happened to be the overweight one? Beyond concerns of weight discrimination critics lashed out about the general premise and the overtly sexual and abusive themes.

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From lustful desire…

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…to self protection.

The first changes gave the heavyset woman a rolling pin to brandish. She was no longer lustfully chasing down an unwilling pirate lover but now fending him off and protecting herself.

More changes came later in a rather ham-fisted attempt to remove the sexual overtones from the chase scenes. A 1997 overhaul (to the original Disneyland version) added food and drinks to the hands of the fleeing damsels in distress. Disney aimed to tell guests that the pirates were now hungry, not horny. The scoundrels were not chasing the women themselves but rather the delicious delights in their possession. Not content to leave the largest women alone they oddly upped the weight insensitive suggestions by having her now chase down a pirate who was carrying a hunk of ham. No longer was she trying to bed a bandit or even trying to chase him away, rather she was so ravished with her endless need to gorge herself that she just had to get her hands on that ham at all costs. The rest of the more slender women trotted along protecting dinner from the grubby hands of the invading riff-raff.

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Must Get HAM!!!!

A short bit later another scene originally depicted a drunken buccaneer known as the “Pooped Pirate”; exhausted from his encounter with an unwilling victim he rested against a wood barrel. Guests would hear his frustrated commentary as he held a piece of her undergarments and asked for our help in finding her. The terrified woman would occasionally reveal herself. Trembling with fear she hid in a barrel near the would-be rapist. This scene was altered so that the Pooped Pirate (now surrounded by a bounty of food) complains about hunger and how he is in search of a fine pork loin (you really can’t make this stuff up). For some unexplained reason a scared cat of all things replaced the poor woman in the barrel.

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He’s still pooped but now he is bloated and in search of a pork loin as well… doesn’t he see one sitting right next to him?

Similar changes were previously made at the Walt Disney World version of the ride. There the female victims carried treasure in lieu of food and while the terrified woman remained in the barrel she held a treasure map suggesting the pooped pirate was in search of gold and not a different kind of booty.

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The original version… does adding some mugs on a tray really change the meaning?

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Just give the guy the freaking mugs already… it would make things a lot easier and he is really thirsty.

Other clearly controversial and misogynistic scenes remained largely untouched, most notably the auction scene depicting enslaved woman as they are sold to the highest bidder for the apparent pleasure of the drunken sailors nearby. The pirates are most enchanted with the busty redhead while a less conventionally attractive woman cowers with embarrassment (and perhaps concern that she will be chosen at all); another sobs with fear.

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Are they suggesting sex crimes are OK if you are really hot?

Disney may have been taken aback by the very vocal complaints these changes garnished. It was not only the fans but also even some of the original designers (mostly old men by this time) who complained. Xavier “X” Atencio, the show’s writer and composer of its catchy song feared that the changes turned the pirates into “The Boy Scouts of the Caribbean”. The mainstream press picked up on the changes too and soon newscasts were filled with stories about Disney “caving” to pressure while others criticized the changes as either not going far enough or that no changes should have been made at all (Disney could not win for trying). It was unprecedented to have such a widespread outpouring of concern and anger (on both sides of the controversy) over alterations to a theme park attraction. Late night talk show hosts made jokes, radio shows discussed the various implications and Disney was caught in a media storm it surely did not expect.

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The undertones of scenes like this were probably lost on most riders.

Perhaps Disney should have simply left the attraction alone. As George Lucas also discovered around this same time; when a classic is altered, regardless of the intent behind it, those who grew up with said classic and those who have true love and admiration for it will never accept the changes. It is as if a piece of their childhood has been ripped away from them and tossed to the side. People fear that it is a slippery-slope leading to a bland homogenization of everything they once loved. Disney was placed in a very difficult situation; the critic’s points could not be denied but the fans love of the attraction knew no bounds. It is very unlikely that proponents enjoyed the ride because it suggested misogamy and in fact most who rode probably never really understood it that way to begin with, to them it was a silly spoof.

To be fair other more positive alterations were made to the Disneyland attraction at this same time. The recently closed World of Motion ride at Epcot made many audio animatronics figures available to be re-used. Marc Davis, the same Imagineer who designed the pirates and in the same exaggerated cartoon fashion, designed these figures. In fact many of the World of Motion figures were sculpts originally created for Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney’s designers tried to incorporate these animatronics into the attraction in order to better flesh out the story and enhance several scenes.

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Look Familiar?

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Six years later Disney released “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl”, a big screen action adventure movie with very loose ties back to the original attraction. The movie starred Johnny Depp and was a massive hit, so big in fact that Disney decided to alter the theme park attractions once again. This time the stated intent was not to sanitize the more lewd aspects pirate life but rather to inject elements of the film series into the attraction that inspired it. Nonetheless it gave Disney another crack the more suggestive parts of the ride.

In 2006 a new version of the attraction debuted. Disney decided to alter the chase scenes once again. Now in the Florida version two pirates inexplicably run in a circle each holding an end of a treasure chest. In Disneyland vignettes featured newly empowered women chasing pirates who have stolen pies (man those pirates really are nasty). No longer are the pirates trying to capture the women for sexual gratification, treasure or even to satisfy their hunger. Now the women are the aggressors hunting down the befuddled and inept seaman.

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Today Mr. Depp peeks at a map while the pooped pirate tries to beat him to the treasure. The entire plot of the ride has changed.

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Johnny, Johnny everywhere!

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The pooped pirate remains but now Captain Jack Sparrow (from the films) peers from the same barrel that once hid the frightened girl. It appears as though Jack is looking over the treasure map the pooped pirate clutches. The plot of the attraction has been shifted, Pirates are now in search of Jack Sparrow and trying to beat him to the treasure, the town and its inhabitants are inconsequential. Additional figures of Captain Jack and his nemesis Captain Barbossa were added as well. Even music lifted from the movies found it’s way into the attraction. Most of the changes made in 1997 were removed including several of the World of Motion figures and the overall “Pirates are hungry” motif. Now the attraction that inspired the films had been consumed by them. Pirates of the Caribbean had been turned into a promotional synergistic corporate shill.

For thirty years Pirates of the Caribbean stood virtually untouched, then within a decade nearly every scene had been alltered in one way or another. Additional minor changes continue today (in order to insert more elements from the movies) with more inevitably to come as the film franchise marches on. Somehow through all of this the auction scene that in many ways is the most offensive of them all remains intact.

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There are at least four offensive things in this image, can you spot them all?

Pirates of the Caribbean is still an awesome ride but it is a ride that now has a different tone, a different plot and a different intent from the original incarnation. It is not so much about whether it is a “good” or “bad” ride but rather about what happens when a truly beloved experience is altered (and many would argue unnecessarily so). Perhaps they had no choice? Perhaps times have changed? But Disney messed around with the crown jewel in their collection and because of that it earns the number one spot on our list.

Did we miss anything? Are you surprised? Do you agree or disagree?

Let us know and lets hope that there are precious few controversial surprises to come!

Near Misses

We have made our way through nine of the top ten Disney Theme Park Controversies (T.T.D.T.P.C.) but before we reveal number one let’s take a look at some of the other contenders that just missed the list.

To catch up with the rest of the list click HERE

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The original ticket to the coolest place ever.

• The gradual bust consistent loss of the original EPCOT Center.

We have already discussed the Figment debacle as well as the very sad fate of Horizons but what about the park as a whole, especially Future World? EPCOT Center suffers from many of the same problems as the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland; when you try and predict the future you will not only fail but also become dated very quickly. In some ways it is surprising that Disney took on the challenges of Future World give that by the late 70’s they already knew how impossible it was to keep Tomorrowland fresh. For the first 8 years or so Future World was an amazing place filled with legitimately forward thinking ideas and some actual science. Over the years things inevitably did age and in an effort to move the park to long term sustainable ground much of the futuristic elements were slowly removed.

The Energy Pavilion got a comedic makeover.

The World of Motion became a thrill ride.

The Living Seas pavilion was filled with cartoon characters.

The Wonders of Life pavilion went away completely (though to be fair this was a late-comer than never truly fit the original vibe of EPCOT Center to begin with).

Communicore became leased out advertising space and so on…

What we saw was a complete distortion of the original intent of EPCOT Center; even the name was changed to simply Epcot… no longer was this the center of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow… now it was just a meaningless made up word.

So why did it not make our list? It has taken place over many years and is still going on today… even World Showcase is now being affected (Mexico and soon Norway). It’s too broad and slow of a process to be considered one controversy… though I do feel it is sad and as a whole one of the worst things ever to happen to the parks.

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Seriously pretty

• Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage

20K as it was known was perhaps the most beautiful attraction Disney ever created. It was housed in a magnificent lagoon fed by waterfalls and filled with a fleet of incredible Jules Verne inspired (and Harper Goff designed) submarines. For a child it held real magic. As a young kid I recall visiting the parks and thinking it was so cool that in one day we could fly to Disney, then be on a monorail and a boat before we even enter the park! Once inside the Magic Kingdom we could go below the sea and a fantastic adventure… it blew my mind, it was magic, anything could happen. But 20K took up a huge piece of valuable land, it was a very low capacity ride, it was extremely expensive to operate and maintain and it had the added hindrance of not being easily accessible for disabled visitors.

Many fans were very sad when it was abruptly closed in 1994 under the guise of refurbishment (the permanent closure was made official in 1996). For well over a decade the lagoon sat unused and that made its closure even worse; it had not removed to build something new, it was removed simply to save money.

It did not make the list because there were other attraction closures that made even bigger waves… but 20K will always be a personal favorite of mine (and the first attraction I worked on way back when).

As an aside a similar fate awaited the Submarine Voyage at Disneyland. In 1998 and for the same reasons as 20K the attraction as suddenly closed. This time however the management was toying with alt’s original park and many Imagineers took personal offense at this. Quickly Walt Disney Imagineering erected a sign in the lagoon announcing the imminent construction of an attraction based on the Disney animated film Atlantis” The Lost Empire. This was a rogue action not approved by park management and with no real solid truth behind it; it was in essence a protest by the Imagineers. Atlantis tanked at the box office and the sign was quickly removed. The lagoon sat empty for 7 years but after a regime change a glimmer of light appeared. In 2007 a new version of the attraction themed after Finding Nemo opened. It lacks much of the charm of the original but the subs remain alive at Disneyland (for the moment at least) and the Imagineers can chalk this one up as a win.

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Seriously ugly

• Dinorama at Animal Kingdom

When Animal Kingdom opened there were two undeniable facts:

1) It was an incredible park with and incredible theme.

2) It was VERY short on attractions and most people barely spent half a day there before they felt that they had “seen everything” (On the other hand I spent days on end exploring the place).

They needed more attractions, especially those aimed at kids. The chief designer Joe Rohde will tell you that they also needed some kinetic movement for the park, that trees and shrubs were not enough to keep people moving throughout the lands. However the truth is simply that Dinorama provided a quick “fix” for early complaints. Much like we later saw with DCA by adding off the shelf carnival rides Disney could up the attraction count very cheaply.

Today Dinorama is an eyesore for the park. It contains two kiddy rides and some midway games. It also prevented the building of the much larger and more elaborate dinosaur excavation themed roller coaster originally planed for the Dinoland area.

Ultimately other controversies overshadow this one so it missed the top ten… I’d still love to see it go the way of the T-Rex though.

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Tickets, Apps, Reservations and rubber bands… sounds like fun

• Fast Pass confusion

The introduction of Fast Pass caused all sorts of confusion and complaints amongst guests. While fans quickly adapted to and exploited the system it took years and years to educate the average guest. In fact a decade later many first time visitors were still clueless and did not understand how to use it.

Enter Fast Pass+… an even more confusing and involved system that now requires making reservations for rides before even leaving on your trip, wearing a RFID chip embedded wrist bands and carrying a smarty phone to access a Disney mobile app. Disney claims they did this to make vacations simpler. I think they did it because it makes spending money easier. Guests now do not even need to reach for their wallets… just a wave of the magic band and you have charged dinner, or a snack or that t-shirt you kind of like to your credit card. I am sure studies have shown that this ease of purchasing raises total bills by a significant percentage. The billion dollars they spent building the system will come back in spades… if they can get people adjusted to using it.

It did not make the list because we really don’t know what will happen yet and though it has caused a great deal of confusion it has not caused that much controversy.

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Chief Wilson Matua will keep you safe… and don’t forget to recycle!

• Message of conservation at Animal Kingdom

When the park first opened Disney was intent on letting guests know that this was not a zoo and more so they were taking active efforts to educate visitors about conservation. This was evident in many ways from donations to wildlife foundations to not using plastic straws in the park. Perhaps the biggest and most controversial implementation of this idea was the original storyline of Kilimanjaro Safari.

The very first story-line not only had guests chasing down poachers but actually riding by the hulking corpse of “Big Red” the matriarch of the reservation’s herd of elephants. Before the park opened Disney decided that actually seeing a dead bloodied elephant was too graphic and so the corpse was removed. However the message of poaching and conservation remained. Many guests complained about this either not understanding or agreeing with its message. After more than a decade the conservation message was toned down and now instead of a poachers camp we see more animals and the ride ends without having any direct conservation story at all.

While this is interesting and an example of a dilution of the park’s original messages it just was not a big enough issue to make the top 10.

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The future is kind of rusty

• Disneyland’s New Tomorrowland circa 1998

As mentioned earlier Tomorrowland has always been an issue for Disney. Keeping it new feeling is a very difficult proposition. In the mid-nineties Disney was reeling from the financial failure of Euro Disney (see both DCA and Disney’s America entries on our list). Tomorrowland at Disneyland had not seen significant changes since 1968 and this had to addressed, yet management did not want to spend money on the parks… so the budget for the New Tomorrowland was slashed.

Disney tried to avoid the issue of an aging future in much the same way they did at Disneyland Paris… by making it more about the past and how the future was envisioned years ago. Space Mountain and much of the land was painted a muted copper / aged bronze look… fans hated it. Little of substance was improved within Tomorrowland; Honey I Shrunk the Audience replaced Caption Eo, the Autopia received updated cars, and Circle-Vision was closed. The general public’s take was that it was uglier and more confusing than ever before… but the biggest failure was the one new large-scale attraction being introduced.

Rocket Rods was intended to be the centerpiece of the new land. It took over the WedWay People Mover tracks and was meant as a high-speed thrill ride above Tomorrowland. Budget restraints prevented the tracks from being modified and the results were a technical nightmare. The Rocket Rods rarely worked and when they did the ride was a short, herky-jerky mess. It was closed for good in 2000 making it one of the shortest-lived attractions in Disney’s history.

Alas it missed the list because most of it has been restored or changed at this point and there is very little left of the botched 1998 redo. This is another example of how short-sided budgetary decisions cost Disney much more in the long run.

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Why?

• The Tiki Room Under New Management

We have seen it several times on the list: when they mess with classic attractions people get mad.

In this case Disney took one of the most classic attractions ever (The Enchanted Tiki Room) and removed all the songs and characters people knew and loved. They replaced them with movie tie-ins and along the way insulted the original show.

Eventually a small fire closed the attraction and rather than spending money to re-create a show no one liked Disney relented and brought back the original show (although an edited version).

It missed the list narrowly as the concept was already covered with several other entries.

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pointless

• It’ a Small World now starring your favorite Disney character!

When Hong Kong Disneyland opened it was yet again a park severely impacted by the financial troubles of Euro Disney (how could one park affect so much for so ling!). It was given a small budget and that budget did not allow many attractions to be built. Rather than taking the DCA approach of filling the park with cheap rides they simply did not build many at all. Predictably fans were not pleased and crowds failed to come. Disney once again found themselves in the position of needing to quickly add new attractions. In this case the classic It’s a Small World was chosen to be added to Fantasyland.

This was a fine idea but in an effort to introduce the Chinese to the Disney characters, many of which they had never been exposed to, Disney added several of their animated stars to sing alongside the Small World dolls.

This was generally not seen as too great of an issue… it was happening thousands of miles away, it was a new version of the ride and specifically being used to introduce Disney to a new audience… but when that same plan came to Disneyland it was not accepted with open arms.

Fans argued that adding the characters specifically flew in the face of what the ride was about. It was meant to be a celebration of children from the world over singing in unity. The characters drew attention away from the overall message and made it into a sort of “Where’s Waldo” of Disney attractions as guests hunted for the new character additions. It introduced a pure fantasy element that the original never had. While Small World was fantastical and fanciful it still was about the real people of real cultures… suddenly we had mermaids and talking fish sharing space with the boys and girls of the world.

Many fans were vocal about not liking the changes but those complaints were ignored and the characters are still in Disneyland though they have not made their way to Walt Disney World as of yet.

It was a big one but it missed the list simply because the top 10 were even bigger.

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If you look closely you may spot a puddle of my tears

Magic Shop(s):

Shane will make fin of me for this but the Magic Shops (yes there were two) at the Magic Kingdom were to me what the Swiss Tree house is to Shane. They represented a special place that I visited every trip.

I am including it here for strictly personal reasons… I am sure virtually no one else even noticed that they were removed… but it is symbolic of a monumental shift in how the parks were being run.

Prior to this (sometime in the mid 90’s) Disney allowed little shops or quiet spaces to exist in the parks. They were not churning out high dollar per square foot totals but they enhanced the over all experience. In the case of the House of Magic (which also sold masks and jokes) kids could pick up a gag and play a prank on their parents or pretend to be a monster for the day. It was another element of escapism and I have many fond memories of times spent in the shops and the results of the purchases made there. I fooled my dad into eating a super hot version of salt-water taffy on one trip. On another I learned a card trick that wowed my family (legitimately) to the point that they had me showing waiters at the various restaurants. There was always something special about the stores. They were not selling Disney shirts; they were in essence selling memories. These memories perfectly mesh with the feeling of fantasy that the park itself has.

I view the closure of the magic stores as a sign of the shift in tone for the parks. They became a little less about providing great memories and a little more about squeezing every dollar out of the parks that they could… and that to me is the biggest controversy of them all.

To see the number one most controversial move click HERE!

 

The Future Ends Today

The list of Top Ten Disney Theme Park Controversies continues today with #2.

If you just joined us click HERE for the first 8 entries on our list.

2) Horizons is shuttered and demolished

Take a beloved fan-favorite attraction. An attraction built on a huge scale. An attraction designed by some of Walt Disney Imagineering’s greatest. An attraction that showcased everything Disney does best. Then suddenly shut it down… permanently. And then for good measure demolish the building in full view for the world to see. No problem right? It’s a perfect storm for fan frustration.

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Herb Ryman could capture the essence of an attraction in concept art like no one else ever could.

If EPCOT Center was an exploration of our optimistic future shared by a united world then Horizons was a crystallization of that future. It was the crown jewel of EPCOT Center. It was the single attraction that represented the spirit, the hope and the goals of EPCOT Center (and Walt Disney’s personal ideals) more than any other.

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The marhcing bad of the future, here today (or in 1984 at least)

Each of the other Future World pavilions focused on a singular idea or industry: Communications, Agriculture, Imagination, Transportation and so on whereas Horizons encapsulated them all into one glorious mega-attraction. Poised like a spaceship on the brink of take-off Horizons was architecturally unique, a beautifully detailed and skillfully executed vision of the future. It was an exciting and unifying vision of things to come and a knowing nod at our past visionaries. Using a side facing Omni-mover ride system Horizons picked up where the Carousel of Progress left off. Guests explored the future of life on Earth, both on land and under the sea, before leaving terra firma and venturing into outer space. It was a long attraction with an abundance of technology and deft storytelling… in other words it was classic EPCOT. Though Horizons debuted a year after the park’s grand opening, and had its budget and scope reduced along the way, the end result immediately made it a classic and the first attraction many think of when discussing EPCOT Center… and then it was gone.

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Horizons had a bit of everything, from comedic robots to Omnimax screens to Pepper’s Ghost “holograms” to orange scents, it showcased everything Disney did so well.

The exact reasons for the closure are murky at best. We know that Horizons lost its sponsor (General Electric) and that is never a good sign for an attraction. But there is a lot more to it than just that. The most popular theory or excuse is that the building was collapsing upon itself and that the land beneath it was hiding a sinkhole necessitating its removal. Some say that Disney management felt the attraction was corny, old-fashioned and passé. Others claim that it simply came down to dollars and cents and that Disney needed the space and a fresh start in order to attract a new sponsor. No one outside of Disney really knows the true reasons why Horizons was so unceremoniously dismantled but we do know that it sent fans into a tizzy.

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These are honestly hard for me to look at… just so sad.

This was the first time in history that a marquee “E-Ticket” attraction was not only shut down, but the entire building was razed erasing any trace of its existence. A new version was not being created, the building was not being re-used, and instead the entire shebang was simply being deleted.

Horizons

Perhaps more than any other now extinct attraction fans have kept Horizons alive in their hearts. Fan-made DVDs, tribute web pages and even fully recreated interactive virtual rides have been created to keep Horizon’s message optimism for the future going strong. If you are old enough to know the original spirit of EPCOT Center then you know that the loss of Horizons was almost unimaginable. It was ripping the very heart out of the park and in fact Epcot has never been the same since.

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You should check this out if you have not already.

Horizons was closed in December of 1994. A year later it suddenly re-opened unchanged (thwarting many theories that it had to be closed due to pressing safety issues). Horizons remained open while both World of Motion and Universe of Energy were closed (due to a bad mismanagement of refurbishments brought on by major design issues with the new Test Track ride) but by 1996 was no longer operating on any regular basis and by the start of 1999 was closed for good. In 2000 the Horizons building is slowly, painfully demolished.

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Roomba my ass!

Today Horizons lives on in the memories of the legions of fans that so fondly recall the power of the message it carried. Far more than a thrill ride or a cavalcade of special effects, Horizons had a soul. A few relics of the attraction have survived and Disney occasionally trots out the robotic butler figure for display on special occasions. Most of the attraction found it’s way to a landfill and a few parts oddly ended up rotting in the Parisian sun (click here to see what I mean).

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I have no tattoos… but if I were ever to get one…

I recently met a park enthusiast in his twenties, he considered himself a fairly hardcore fan. He had visited the parks annually since he was a kid; I could relate. Then I found out that he had never even heard of Horizons… it meant nothing to him, that was a bit sad for me to hear. Sure he was probably 7 or 8 when it shut down and likely never rode it, but to never have heard of it at all was a shock. We all want our heroes and our most vivid memories to live forever… but they cannot.

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As loud and sustained as the fan community complaints may have been Disney knows that eventually they will all subside and that new generations of fans will come in replacing the jeers of the old guard with cheers for the newest and “best” attraction to come along. Such is the theme park circle of life.

Did you ride Horizons? Do you miss it?

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