Last week I started a column (An Education In Magic) on a walkabout of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World with a class of honor students from Western Illinois University (WIU).The class was called Communication Around the World
The walkabout was focused on the west side of the park and included Liberty Square, Frontierland, and Adventureland. I talked about Liberty Square in the last article and it is amazing how the Imagineers used the language of architectural styles to create a sense of time and place. Then they clustered the facades by region (Hudson Valley, Philadelphia, New Amsterdam, Williamsburg, etc.).
Stop 10 - Diamond Horseshoe Saloon
It is said that Frontierland is the most distinctly American statement in the park. This is the land that is influenced by Davy Crockett and Tom Sawyer. A walk through Frontierland is a walk through time and space. As you travel east to west, on one side you are skirting the vast wilderness represented by the Rivers of America and on the other side is a row of facades that represent geographic locations along the frontier trail. In a sense, you are recreating the great American westward migration.
Let me explain. The Diamond Horseshoe Saloon is representative of a typical dancehall found in St. Louis around 1840. At the time, St. Louis was considered the gateway to the new frontier and the perfect place to start your adventure.
Our trip will take us from the midwest through the Southwest and end up in a ghost town in the far west. We will see the landscape change from a forested frontier to the desert.
As you cross over a small bridge that is barely noticeable, you will be making the leap across the mighty Mississippi River. Notice that the pavement even changes as you cross from one land to another.
Country Bear Jamboree.
Stop 11 - In front of the Country Bear Jamboree closer to the river
Stop 12 - Down on the Boardwalk by the Rivers of America
Walt knew that children needed a place to burn off that extra energy and a spot for spontaneous, unprogrammed play so he came up with the idea of a themed playground called Tom Sawyer Island. He thought that the children would love to run around and pretend they are part of the story while the parents could sit, relax, and know there was only one way on or off the island. There was no way they could get lost. At the Magic Kingdom, there are two islands that were connected by a bridge in 1973. The plantings were meant to look like the native woods of the untamed Midwest. The island features hardwoods like maple, oaks, and sycamores.
While we were standing in this spot, I had the class look down the Frontierland corridor toward Splash Mountain. I reminded the class that something much different and far more grand was originally planned for that spot. At one point, the far west edge of Frontierland would have been the home to the Western River Expedition.
For those not familiar with the proposed attraction, it sure would have been a doozy. Marc Davis was a brilliant Imagineer and animator who worked on such iconic Disney attractions such as the Jungle Cruise, the Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean. With those successes under his belt he decided he really wanted to outdo himself, so he came up with a Western themed version of the Pirates attraction.
The Western River Expedition project was started back in 1968. The Imagineers felt the real New Orleans was not far from Florida and would not prove to be exotic enough of a setting for a major "E" Ticket attraction. What they proposed was to build a huge show building dressed as a mesa for the end of the corridor. The building would be so large that Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad could fit inside. In fact, the show building was going to be so large, they were going to cover part of it with runaway mine train (designed by Imagineer Tony Baxter).
Like Pirates, guests would have sat in boats floating by highly detailed, comic scenes. For example, one scene had bank robbers wearing masks. The strange twist was their horses were also sporting masks. Another scene featured Native Americans doing rain dances (and only getting themselves wet). Everything would be tied together with a catchy song. An incredibly detailed model was constructed and put on public display. In fact, some of the show elements had already been fabricated before the project was cancelled. The buffaloes and some of the other animals in Epcot's Living With The Land attraction were repurposed from the proposed ride. In the end, the demand by the public was so strong for Pirates of the Caribbean that the Western River Expedition was shelved. You can still see evidence of what could have been in some early guidebooks and maps.
Stop 13 - Boardwalk in front of Splash Mountain
There is one exception to the time and space journey of Frontierland and it is Splash Mountain. Splash Mountain was kind of stuffed into the Magic Kingdom. The attraction is set in the rural South in the 1870s and based on the 1946 film Song of the South. It opened in 1992 and takes 11 minutes to make a full circuit. It is also the fastest ride in the park; the logs get up to 40 mph during its 52.5-foot, 5-story drop. Splash MountainCalico Log Ride.
Tony Baxter and Bruce Gordon, among many other Imagineers, created this attraction for Disneyland. Along with the need for a thrill ride, Splash Mountain addressed another need...what to do with the Audio-Animatronics that were going to be torn out of America Sings. America Sings was a fun, but odd, Marc Davis production that replaced the Carousel of Progress when it was moved from California to Florida. The idea was to take advantage of the American bicentennial in 1976, but once the show was considered past its prime and the audiences kept dwindling, it was eventually closed. The show featured a tour of American music sung by really great Audio-Animatronic characters. The design team knew that there were going to be dozens of very sophisticated characters about to be retired. So the story goes that each character in America Sings was matched up with a character from the Song of the South and the left over characters were put on the showboat at the end of the new attraction.
While the original name for the attraction was the Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah River Run, Michael Eisner was in a synergistic mood and suggested that they integrate a new character - Madison, the Mermaid from the film Splash - into the ride and rename the attraction Splash Mountain. The mermaid did not make it but the name stuck.
In Florida, traffic was so congested in this area that the park added the boardwalk in 1999. Personally, I enjoy the interaction between those who have been splashed and those who are about to.
Stop 14 - The intersection between Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and the Frontierland train station
I am a train geek and this was a chance to get in a bit of train trivia. There are four locomotives and they were purchased from the United Railways of Yucatan. They were the first attraction to be completed at the Magic Kingdom. If you go from Frontierland station (set in the 1880s) to the Main Street USA station (set at the turn of the 19th century) you will have just cycled through American history.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Stop 15 - Walking past Pecos Bill on the way to Adventureland
As we walked toward Pecos Bill, I point out yet another example of the Imagineers using a common architectural language shared by two different eras to tie together two very different themed areas. Pecos Bill is firmly planted in the American Southwest and is based on the Spanish Mission style popular around 1870. However, when you turn the corner to enter Adventureland, you notice that the same details fit in nicely with the Caribbean theme. A natural fit. Some things change, the materials change from stone to wood. The surrounding landscape starts to intrude as you move deeper into the islands. What you experience is a smooth cross-dissolve that is not jarring and helps to set the mood...for Pirates
Stop 16 - Sitting outside of Pirates of the Caribbean during a storm similar to the skeleton piloting the ship in the caverns.
The plaza area in front of Pirates
Stop 17 - A Walk Through Adventureland
At this point, the class was treated to a talk by an Imagineer about the changes inside of Pirates and the group went for a ride. Safely back on land, we quickly ran through Adventureland as the skies opened up.
Other Trivia? The camels that spit on you while riding the Magic Carpets of Aladdin were used in the 1995
I just love the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. I am not fond of the Tarzan overlay in Anaheim. Based on the 1960 film, the tree contains more than 300,000 polyethylene leaves that cost $1 each in 1974. There are 1,400 branches and real Spanish Moss. The foundations are buried 42 feet into the ground. Overall, the tree is 60-feet tall and 90-feet in diameter. They even gave it a Latin name - Disneyodendron eximus
Finally, the gateway from Adventureland is yet another example of the visual cross-dissolve. In this case, the Victorian era Crystal Palace, which was inspired by greenhouses such as the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, Kew Gardens in England, and the Crystal Palace in New York fits within both realms. The only difference is that the jungle edge gets much closer in Adventureland.
Whew. Thank you for taking the tour! What are some of your favorite little details from the Magic Kingdom? How do you feel they enhance the Disney experience?
One of the benefits of writing a book, like Walt and the Promise of Progress City,
May 3 @ 10:30 a.m to Noon
WINTER PARK LIBRARY
460 East New England Avenue
Winter Park FL
May 3 @ 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.pm
ORLANDO COUNTY LIBRARY
101 East Central Boulevard
May 5 @ 6:00 p.m.
WORLD CHAPTER DISNEYANA FAN CLUB
May 6 @ 2:00 p.m.
May 6 @ 7:00 p.m.
CONGRESS FOR THE NEW URBANISM
Was Walt Disney a New Urbanist?
With Chad Emerson Project Future
May 7 and 8 Walt Disney World
Meeting with various Cast Member teams.
May 20 @ 11:00 a.m.
There's more to come in June and July. Thanks for your support.