Walt Disney World Chronicles: Lost Projects
by Jim Korkis
This article appeared in the October 16, 2012 Issue #682 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
I have always been fascinated by things planned for Walt Disney World that came so close to completion that press releases and artwork were shared with the general public. Yet, just as the next step was about to be taken to make it a reality, there was a stumble and the project was shelved.
In past columns, I wrote about the additional resort hotels that were planned to be built around the Seven Seas Lagoon in the first five years after Walt Disney World opened. In addition, I have written about one of the most famous "unmade" Walt Disney World projects, the Big Thunder Mesa section of Frontierland that would have included Marc Davis' "Western River Expedition", a Wild West version of the popular "Pirates of the Caribbean". Some audio-animatronic critters like buffalo and prairie dogs were built for that attraction and were later installed in the prairie scene of "Living With the Land" at Epcot.
In this column I am sharing a few other little "orphan" anecdotes about never-built Walt Disney World projects that I think readers will enjoy.
World Showcase Pavilions
That Never Were
In the column on what World Showcase would have looked like in 1978, I listed the plans for the pavilions for the never-built Israel and United Arab Emirates pavilions. However, there were many other pavilions that were also planned for the World Showcase. Russia (with a re-creation of Red Square), Denmark, Iran (when the Shah of Iran was in power) and Switzerland (with a Matterhorn and the bobsled attraction), as well as Spain, Costa Rica and Equatorial Africa were all announced.
From the booklet Epcot Center: A Pictorial Souvenir sold to WDW guests in1982, here is a description of the Spain pavilion that Disney guests were told was going to appear soon:
"Spain — take a spectacular journey through Spain by film to little-known and out-of-the-way vacation Edens. A ride attraction captures the country's passionate heritage and spirit in her arts. In a waterside restaurant indulge in tapas, or Spanish style finger food — a blend of varied ingredients but suitable to simple tastes. And browse the market places of striking contrast, from pueblo village to aristocratic opulence."
There were final negotiations for a proposed pavilion to focus on Costa Rica as well. The architecture would have been Spanish colonial with a crystal palace containing a sample of the tropical gardens of Costa Rica featuring an orchid show at the entrance. The conservatory would cover nearly a third of an acre with beautiful flora, waterfalls, and tropical birds to create a very relaxing atmosphere. Outside would be a snack bar serving seafood and melons. Leather items, carved wood and similar items would be sold in the craft and merchandise area.
Imagineering created an impressive model for the pavilion and a Disney team brought it with them to the Costa Rican government for the final presentation. Unfortunately, the instability of the government prevented Disney from getting the firm commitments they needed from sponsors.
One of the most unique things about the Costa Rica pavilion was that the incredibly detailed model mysteriously disappeared soon after the presentation, prompting an extensive investigation by Imagineering. It was never recovered.
"The model was one of the best we've ever built," claimed Imagineer David Mumford. "It was insured so we recovered the money, but I think we lost a real treasure."
In addition, an Equatorial Africa pavilion was designed to be located on the land between China and Germany. The centerpiece icon was a huge treehouse similar to ones that African tribesmen might have built and would have housed an immersive film experience of wild animals gathering at a waterhole at dusk.
The pavilion would have included a film presentation on the history of Africa written and hosted by Alex Haley, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the novel Roots titled "Africa Rediscovered". There would also have been a "Sound Safari" where guests walked a lushly landscaped pathway and heard the animals behind the foliage. The finale of that experience would have been a walk through a dark cave during a feeding frenzy with lions.
In addition, the pavilion would have featured African musicians and dancers as well as a small museum with rotating exhibits of African art.
The Disney Movie That
Was Never Made
In a past column this year, I shared the extremely detailed back story of the Disney water park Typhoon Lagoon. There is an interesting reason why it is the only Disney water park with such depth of story.
Typhoon Lagoon was designed so that it could be used as a film location for a movie of the same name to be made when that area opened in 1989. According to a Walt Disney World press release, Gary Wolf, the author of the book Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (the novel that inspired the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) was writing the screenplay for a film to be called "Typhoon Lagoon". In fact, Wolf still lists that project on his official resume.
The press release proclaimed that the project was an "unprecedented undertaking whereby a motion picture and a themed attraction… will perfectly complement each other in a unique demonstration of the capabilities of The Walt Disney Company". All of the locations and the Imagineering-created characters like Singapore Sal would have sprung to cinematic life.
Speaking of water parks, Blizzard Beach was originally going to be connected to a Disney resort. Some Disney fans know that Imagineer Eric Jacobson had a collection of snow globes in his office and that they inspired the idea of a water park with a winter theme. However, there is more to that story as well.
Located where the Coronado Springs Resort site now stands, Disney's Alpine Resort would have overlooked the melting snows of Blizzard Beach. The Alpine Resort would have been a moderately priced hotel and as one of the perks for staying there, guests would have been able to ride a chairlift to the water park.
One of the reasons the idea of a hotel connected to a water park was eventually rejected, according to Imagineer Kathy Mangum, was "the water parks need to be rehabbed just about every year, which means draining them and sandblasting the bottom. We didn't want the guests overlooking an empty water park. It would ruin the story."
Noah's Ark was announced to be "the most ambitious nighttime spectacle in Disney Theme Park history" to open in 1992. It would have been staged on the waters of Crescent Lake, primarily for the delight of the guests staying at the deluxe Walt Disney World Resorts such as the Boardwalk, situated around that body of water. Storyboards were created, and models were built. Award winning composer Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the score.
Similar to the Electrical Water Pageant, there would be huge floating stages with miles of neon tubing so that the colorful lights could be easily seen. Disney officials even considered moving the show to then-named Disney-MGM Studios to be the East Coast version of the popular Disneyland Fantasmic! Show. Eventually, it was decided just to re-create a version of Fantasmic for Florida.
Webber also worked on another grand spectacle show for WDW titled "EQ" that centered around horses, but it, too, never came to life. Don Frantz, responsible for producing and directing the Walt Disney World nighttime parade SpectroMagic, managed the conceptual development of both the proposed Webber shows.
"At the time, we were talking about doing all kinds of different spectaculars," said Imagineer Eric Jacobson. "You could say that the basic thinking behind them was one of the keys that led the way to Disney's foray into Broadway."
Sometimes it will take years for a project to be built, and over the course of those years, it will go through many changes. Fantasia Gardens was built in Orlando, but originally it was not going to be a miniature golf course. In the mid-1960s, Imagineer Marc Davis designed an overlay for Disneyland's Motor Boat Cruise attraction that would have incorporated elements from Disney's feature animation classic, Fantasia.
Because of the landscaping already in place, as well as Davis' selection of the more bucolic segments from the film, the project was called Fantasia Gardens. Several challenges could not be overcome, including Davis' proposal to create "water sculptures" and the ambient, disruptive noise from the nearby Autopia attraction, so the plans were shelved.
In 1983, with the closing of the beloved Swan Boat ride at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, Imagineer Claude Coats re-examined Davis' plans and came up with a suggestion. He planned to re-theme the water pathway that the Swan Boats took to a Fantasia theme and to include new boats that had higher capacity.
Working with Katy Moss Warner of Walt Disney World Parks Horticulture, Coats envisioned topiaries of the Fantasia characters along the route.
As Disney historian and friend David Koening wrote in 2003, "Coats adapted his initial designs to the waterway at the end of Main Street. Coats, show producer and writer Mark Eades, and vice president of concept development Randy Bright divided the ride into six show scenes, each themed to a sequence of Fantasia. The first section, coming clockwise off the load area, was going to be a simple, beautiful, colorful garden based on Toccata in Fugue. There would also be sections devoted to the Pastoral Symphony, the Rite of Spring, the Sorcerer's Apprentice, and two for Dance of the Hours. The Sorcerer's Apprentice section, for instance, would feature fountains shaped like giant broomsticks that dumped buckets of water in the path of the oncoming boats – drying up just as each vessel approached."
Coats even staged an audition ride-through for Disney executives by taking two water craft from the Seven Seas Lagoon and setting up colorful show cards along the bank. The attraction was estimated to cost approximately $20 million dollars but no sponsor could be found to fund the project and it died. The Walt Disney Company had invested heavily in the new Epcot Center and could not commit funds of its own to the new ride.
Finally, there were plans to include Fantasia Gardens in the Beastly Kingdom section of Disney's Animal Kingdom. The boats would have sailed past Greek architecture, including columns, temples, and Mount Olympus, as well as floated beneath a brightly colored rainbow archway.
According to the Disney press release: "There is also Fantasia Gardens. A gentle musical boat ride through the animals from Disney's animated classic, Fantasia. Both the crocodiles and hippos from Dance of the Hours and the pegasus, fauns and centaurs from Beethoven's Pastoral are found here."
When the Beastly Kingdom area was indefinitely postponed, the concept and the name were utilized by a miniature golf course near the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort hotel.
Other features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. He is the author of the book The Vault of Walt, which contains nearly 40 chapters of untold Disney stories. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.
Read more about The Vault of Walt: http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi/detail/0615402429
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.