This Sad and Lonely Crocodile Will Eat You

I think I read somewhere that journeys into the jungle are supposed to be dark and intense. Nobody ever says “I’ve returned fresh from the jungle.” They always come back half-starved, half-mad, half-naked, and half-bumpy from parasitic insects. But I’m starting to get suspicious about the Jungle Cruise. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like some scenes are less than realistic.

For instance, the Nile and Amazon and the Mekong rivers don’t actually connect in real life. I can’t believe the Imagineers did not construct a story device to cover this clear logic flaw. If it were me, I would have had a better transition rather than just “Now we’re on the Mekong.” Seriously, how hard would it have been to introduce a little exposition to smooth that over?

"Now the engineer will put you into hypersleep. Don't worry, it will only seem like a second or two to you."

“Now the engineer will put you into hypersleep. Don’t worry, it will only seem like a second or two to you.”

And other scenes are not so realistic as well.

We had a little argument going in the Parkeology offices a few months back — one I’m going to drag out into the public, because there’s nothing more interesting than reading about two park geeks bickering like old women on the internet.

It all stems from a wonderful little video that has been making the rounds for awhile now. This thing is pure beauty, one of the best films I’ve seen this summer next to Guardians of the Galaxy and watching Michael Bay abuse my childhood (because hey, I wasn’t using those memories anyway). It’s a restored home movie of Walt Disney World from 1972 courtesy of our friends at retrodisneyworld.com. It is jaw-dropping.

There’s a lot I would like to comment on about this film, but one thing that really blew me away was a shot of the Jungle Cruise at the 9:15 mark.

If you watch the clip, it is of a crocodile in the Indian Elephant Bathing Pool, who happens to be literally gushing fluid from some kind of tear ducts behind his optical orbs. And then the film moves on to a showering elephant, which is totally unrealistic. Elephants are notoriously stinky.

We tried to find an explanation for this crocodile from 1972, which boiled down to two camps. One was that the animatronic had sprung a hydraulic leak. The other correct view (my view) is that the crocodile is weeping crocodile tears.

The notion of crocodile tears may or may not be a myth. Now the phrase means something like faking pain in order to lure unsuspecting victims close enough to be eaten — in which case Dinorama is a good example.

But nobody seems to really believe this. And even if they did subscribe to some sort of reptilian saline secretion, they certainly wouldn’t buy the idea of a crocodile blubbering like the Bellagio Fountain, dousing elephants with a bucketful of sorrowful lachryma.

Yet as far back as the 14th century, explorers were raving about these deceptive beasts. As described in the awesomely-titled Curious Creatures in Zoology:

In that country and by all Inde be great plenty of cockodrills. These serpents slay men, and they eat them weeping; and when they eat they move the over jaw, and not the nether jaw, and they have no tongue.

Now I have a special fondness for English that sounds as if it were written a long time ago back when men thought the moon was made of cheese, and the one good thing that has come out of this debate is that I will henceforth call these creatures “cockodrills” from now until the end of my life. But one thing is for certain: the idea of crocodile tears is at least consistent with beasts from the wild jungles of India, and since is the bathing pool of Indian Elephants, a super-soaker cockodrill is perhaps a reasonable inclusion.

Everyone knows the moon is made of Eric Idle.

Everyone knows the moon is made of Eric Idle.

One of the coolest aspects about this cockodrill is that it existed in 1972, but I never noticed the weeping until I watched the video. I knew there was a cockodrill in the ride scene, but I figured he must have gotten replaced or broken over time. But when I rode Jungle Cruise last week, I made a point to look out for him and sure enough, he’s still there, and still spouting off on cue like Tammy Faye Bakker.

This parkeologist's camera captured the cockodrill in breathtaking, non-weeping action -- in full-on blurred-sasquatch mode. Are the tears real or myth?

This parkeologist’s camera captured the cockodrill in breathtaking, non-weeping action — in full-on blurred-sasquatch mode. Are the tears real or myth?

How I never noticed him before, I don’t know. I must have been distracted by all those wacky skinny-dipping elephants. The cockodrill is somewhat relegated to background scenery, tucked off on the left side of the boat just as you exit the sunken temple. He’s got a couple of juvenile elephants nearby, so maybe he’s hoping for a snack. But his jaws still open and his eyebrows are still crying.

Give him a look the next time you ride. He really is making quite a mess of himself.

 

Big, ugly “temporary” things

We have made it to number 8 on our top ten list of the biggest park controversies.To catch up on the earlier entries click here.

Today we look at a trend that started in the late 1990′s and in one case still plagues us today.

8) Cakes and Wands and Hats OH MY!

Back in 1996 in order to celebrate the resorts 25th anniversary Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom was painted pink, covered with faux fondant, mock candles, synthetic sprinkles and turned into something roughly emulating an 18-story birthday cake. Shane hated it… a lot… but most people actually enjoyed it. While it lasted a bit too long (15 months) Disney did return the castle to its original appearance in a fairly timely manner and all was well. Very few normal (***cough***Shane) people minded it and many quite enjoyed it.

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Garish? – yes… but it was only short term. Sadly it created a monster.

The park was setting attendance records during this period and Disney assumed at least a portion of the popularity was due to the novel idea of defacing a park icon. BING! A light bulb went off and suddenly desecrating the resorts most cherished landmarks was all the rage.

Stitch_at_Walt_Disney_World

For a while they really got off on vandalizing park icons… in this case literally.

In 1999 a colossal, unsightly, exposed raw steel structure most reminiscent of an industrial construction crane was erected arcing over Spaceship Earth. It loomed above the park; it dwarfed the once majestic sphere now cowering below the crane. Somehow the edifice was made even worse when a primitive Mickey Mouse hand holding a magic wand was bolted to the side. Shockingly Disney was still not done; above the flat glove fashioned out of sheet metal Disney added the number 2000 covered in red glitter, sparkly red stars sprinkled off the wand onto Spaceship Earth itself. It was horrific.

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Gorgeous! You can hardly see the supporting structure at all.

Fans were told that this was a temporary salute to the turn of the millennium. It was ugly, out of scale, out of place and really a slap in the face to all EPCOT Center was originally intended to be. But the worst offense was that Disney’s idea of temporary was roughly eight years. For the better part of a decade this unsightly mess lorded over the park as jolly park managers congratulated themselves (no doubt slapping each other on the back while hoisting glasses of aged scotch served neat).

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Yea, it looks like we should start screwing around with this…

The wand was finally, begrudgingly removed in 2007 once a new sponsor took over the attraction. For that eight-year stretch many fans vocally complained about the monstrosity… but not only did Disney pay them no heed… they actually upped their icon destroying game!

Sorcerers Hat

In and of itself it is “OK” but as they say in real estate… location, location, location.

In 2001 high on the “success” of the massive wand Disney constructed a 122-foot tall Sorcerer’s hat at the end of Hollywood Boulevard in what was then called Disney-MGM Studios (Disney’s Hollywood Studios). Not unlike the Epcot wand this structure features a flat simulation of Mickey’s hand this time grasping a massive three-dimensional clone of the hat he wore in Fantasia. One could argue that the execution of the hat was better than that on the wand. It is not ghastly, executed slightly better and very little of the supporting structure can be seen. The problem is less about the actual hat and more about the placement.

hollywood_boulevard_at_disneys_hollywod_studios_by_the_consortium

Ah yes, Hollywood of the 30′s, romance, glamour, oversized metal cartoon hats… it’s all here.

Disney decided that the only logical place for a twelve story, metallic cartoon hat  housing a pin trading station was directly in front of what used to be considered the flagship attraction at the park; The Great Movie Ride.

The Great Movie Ride is housed in a painstakingly detailed recreation of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. This replica of the famous Hollywood landmark was meant to serve as the main icon for the park; it’s Cinderella’s Castle. It sits perfectly at the end of Hollywood Boulevard and is a sight to behold… that is if you could actually see it.

The Great Movie Ride at DisneyÕs Hollywood Studios

It’s stiull hiding back there obscured from view… you just need to look for it.

A couple years back we wrote a sarcastic article about the new Carthay Circle Theater at the rejuvenated Disney’s California Adventure being obscured by a similar mess, it was a joke (read it here). However no amount of sardonic commentary can truly do justice to the actual reality still being played out at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Imagineers worked for years to design and build a temple to the movies. They wanted to create an idyllic representation of a Hollywood that never was but should have been. The perfect image of the entertainment capital of the world captured at a very specific time… the 30’s and 40’s. The structures, the streets, the lamps, the vintage cars, the themed characters it all is there to develop a sense of time and place that Disney does better than anyone else. And then in one incredibly idiotic move the marketing team destroyed it. There is no way to explain away this clearly modern (or perhaps post modern) monstrosity. It not only does not fit the theme of the area but it actively hides one of the prettiest parts of the park… it is a massive failure on every level.

Fans were upset to varying degrees about all of these moves and fortunately the idea of ruining years of careful work for easy short term promotional gain seems to have fallen out of favor. Since the hat no other icon destroying gimmicks have surfaced and we only have one remaining. Sadly unlike Spaceship Earth there is no sponsor for the Great Movie Ride and until the day comes that they overhaul that attraction and want to call attention back to it the hat will likely remain.

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One more look at this beauty (seen here post 2000 when the numbers gave way to some horrible script font).

As a side note I understand that some fans enjoy the wand and the hat. They find them playful or enjoy the added Disney connection. I would argue that virtually all of those fans enjoy these things simply because they were in place when they were first introduced to the parks. If the wand or hat was there when you were a child and you never knew the parks any other way then the removal of these things may ironically feel like a loss of a beloved memory. But this is not the same as removing original attractions; this is in fact destroying the original attraction for nothing more than a marketing stunt.

Shane may not like the cake but man… I hate that hat.

Click here for #7

Bold New Worlds – Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Yesterday I posted about how strange it is for frequent guests to suddenly have new experiences to enjoy. The Seven Dwarfs mountain has been isolated in the middle of New Fantasyland for what feels like a decade. We all remember when it was just a wee bump of steel in the middle of a dirt pit. And now suddenly here it is with a date to the prom and a tennis scholarship to State U.

Like the rest of New Fantasyland (except Storybook Circus), it is exceedingly pretty. And while I found the coaster to be rather disjointed, the ride is not without its moments.

The dark ride section is pretty great. It has one of those quintessential Disney moments, when Doc starts to call Heigh-Ho and the train creeps ever-so-off-kilter up the lift hill, with the music swelling, and Dwarf shadows marching beside you. That’s the kind of thing that Disney does best. It can give you goosebumps when done properly, and this moment is a bonafide goosebump moment. What Disney Magic used to mean, before the term became so watered down.

The ride is not meant to be a major E-ticket attraction, and in fact it is a little jarring to go from nicely themed kiddie-coaster to amazing dark ride to nicely themed kiddie coaster again. The lines should settle down after the initial newness wears off. In spite of some initial trepidation about the project (back when it was mostly Dumbo and princess greets), I’m a fan of New Fantasyland. I think both Seven Dwarfs and Little Mermaid are worthy additions to the Magic Kingdom. The restaurant is a much needed improvement, and though I don’t care for Story Hour with Princesses, the cottage is at least pretty and well rendered. Storybook Circus is not cream of the crop, but at least it’s an upgrade over Toontown. On the whole, this new area significantly improves the ambience of the Magic Kingdom — especially compared to the medieval tournament tents of original Fantasyland. I’m anxious to see where the Magic Kingdom goes from here.

I had the benefit of exploring these Bold New Worlds almost back to back. As strange as it sounds, I probably enjoyed the initial Harambe Theater District experience more. Harambe offered not just a surprising new set of buildings and landscaping to explore, but it gave me a different view of the old stuff — the view back towards Africa, the return of the geyser rocks, that white access bridge beyond which lies Pandora. But this new, fresh glimpse of Disney World from a different angle will soon fade, and I suspect the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will have the staying power.

As a parkeologist, I was delighted to discover something in the Mine Train queue which I’m sure went unnoticed by practically everyone else standing in the Florida heat with me. Back in the 90s, I bought a collectible CD of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Soundtrack. It contained two songs on it–scratch tracks of deleted songs from the movie. While listening to the instrumental background music in the queue, I was startled to hear renditions of both “Music in Your Soup” and “You’re Never Too Old To Be Young” mixed in with “I’m Wishing” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.” It shows a welcome attention to the history of the landmark film that inspired the ride.

The Cottage of the Seven Dwarfs