The history of the Walt Disney Imagineering is littered with unbuilt projects. From full theme parks to attractions to resort hotels, these unbuilt attractions are like catnip for hardcore Disney fans eager to know everything about what could have been.
Perhaps the two best known of these unbuilt Disney attractions are the unbuilt lands of Discovery Bay and Beastly Kingdom. The former was designed for Disneyland in the late 1970s, while the latter was originally pencilled in as an opening day cornerstone of Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
Today we’re going to deep dive into each of these unbuilt lands and examine what they would have been, and which had a better chance of surviving until this day.
Discovery Bay was the brainchild of legendary Imagineer Ton Baxter, who would go on to be well know for attractions including Journey Into Imagination, Star Tours, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure, and the overall design of Disneyland Paris (among others). However, in the late 1970s, Baxter was still a relatively young Imagineer. While working on Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Baxter hatched the idea of adding a steampunk-style land to the Happiest Place on Earth, on the land where Galaxy’s Edge currently stands.
Baxter’s Discovery Bay would have featured Victorian sci-fi elements heavily inspired by the then upcoming Disney film adaptation of Jules Verne’s Island at the Top of the World. The land would have featured numerous attractions including a Nautilus simulator and restaurant both based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a magnetic roller coaster, a river rapids ride, a hot air balloon-themed skyway-style attraction, and a shooting gallery based around fireworks.
Interestingly, Baxter also planned an attraction known as Professor Marvel’s Gallery for the area. Its titular character and his pet dragon would eventually evolve into Dreamfinder and Figment, the star characters of Epcot Center’s original Journey Into Imagination attraction. In addition to Professor Marvel, the whole land would have tied together through the newly created character Jason Chandler, whom Baxter planned to use to tie Discovery Bay and Big Thunder Mountain into a larger narrative. Decades later, Chandler would be incorporated into the mythos of S.E.A. aka the Society of Explorers and Adventurers.
Suffice to say, Tony Baxter’s Discovery Bay would have been a monumental addition to Disneyland; had it been built it would have been the first new land in the park since New Orleans Square and would have added numerous ride systems that were ahead of their time when looked at in retrospect – and fans were excited when concept art of the land was released through company marketing materials. However, the steampunk paradise wasn’t meant to be.
As with many unbuilt Disney projects, Discovery Bay fell victim to budget issues. The land would have been incredibly expensive to begin with which made the company hesitant to build. Then Island at the Top of the World, the core IP of the land, bombed miserably at the box office, essentially ending all real hope of Discovery Bay being built. However all wasn’t totally lost, as in the ensuing years, numerous elements of Discovery Bay made it into Disney Parks worldwide, particularly Disneyland Paris’ Discoveryland.
Nearly two decades after Discovery Bay was cancelled, another heavily hyped Disney theme park land went unbuilt. Throughout the early- to mid-1990s, the medieval Beastly Kingdom was planned to be a key part of Walt Disney World’s then-upcoming Animal Kingdom theme park. Unlike the rest of the park, Beastly Kingdom was meant to celebrate mythical animals that never truly existed.
The land was planned to be split into two halves based around “good” and “evil.” The “good half of the land would have been built around a walkthrough attraction known as The Quest of the Unicorn. The large maze would have featured numerous “magical” encounters, and culminated with an encounter between guests and a “life size” realistic unicorn animatronic. This side of the land would have also featured a boat ride attraction titled Fantasia Gardens themed around its namesake film.
The “evil” side of Beastly Kingdom was to have been the burnt out remains of a medieval village, the skyline of which was to be dominated by a larger than life castle. Said castle would have held the land’s, and arguably the park’s, premiere attraction: Dragon’s Tower. The thrill attraction would have used an inverted roller coaster ride system to tell the tale of a group of bats stealing treasure from the evil dragon who lords over the castle and village.
Artwork for the land was heavily used to promote Animal Kingdom prior to the park’s opening, however due to the ever-escalating budget that the live animal attractions required, Beastly Kingdom was pushed to the second phase of the park’s development. To tease its eventual addition, numerous references to the land were included in Animal Kingdom on opening day. These included a Dragon in the park’s logo above its ticket booths, a parking lot named after the unicorn, and most notably a dragon-shaped rock, melted suits of armor, and fire shooting from a cave located near the proposed site of the land, all of which were visible on the Discovery River Boats attraction. The temporary land Camp Minnie-Mickey was built in the land’s place, with plans calling for it to quickly be removed once work on Beastly Kingdom began.
So what happened to Beastly Kingdom? Well, longhand rumors in theme park circles maintain that once Beastly Kingdom was pushed back, many of the Imagineers who worked on the land moved over to Universal Studios to work on the then-upcoming Islands of Adventure theme park. Furthermore, these rumors allege that many of the initial ideas for Beastly Kingdom were incorporated into the original version of that park’s Lost Continent land. While these whispers have never been substantiated, there are many elements of the original Lost Continent that seem to line up with much of Beastly Kingdom, especially the Dueling Dragons coaster. The theory goes that once Disney saw that they land had essentially been “built” by Universal, they abandoned the concept.
However, some argue that these claims are simply theme park fans manufacturing drama and that the land was simply never built due to its large budget and the well-documented attitudes of the Walt Disney Company toward its theme parks in late 90s/early 2000s. In any case, any hope fans had for the land to be built were extinguished in 2017 when Pandora: The World of Avatar was built in the spot once reserved for Beastly Kingdom.
Which unbuilt design would thrive today?
So, now that we’ve gone through the specifics of both of these legendary unbuilt Disney lands, the question is which land would have been more successful? Now, obviously personal taste plays a role in the question of which land would “win” as a fan of steampunk and Jules Verne novels would have likely preferred Discovery Bay, while fans of medieval fantasy would likely gravitate toward Beastly Kingdom. However, it’s somewhat easier to gauge which of the lands would have been more successful and still standing in its respective Disney park today.
Our apologies to the steampunk aficionados reading right now, but as cool as Discovery Bay sounds, there’s little chance it would still be in Disneyland today. The land’s themes likely would have seemed passe rather quickly, and as groundbreaking as its ride systems would have been at the time, they would have been eclipsed in less than a decade by more advanced simulator on the roller coaster systems. To us, it seems likely that these issues combined with Disneyland’s lack of available real estate would have lead to a death knell for Discovery bay by now.
On the other hand, we believe that Beastly Kingdom would still be a centerpiece of Animal Kingdom today. If anything, the land’s medieval fantasy themes feel like they’d be more relevant to today’s visitors than 1998’s thanks to the success of franchises like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. In particular, the Dragon’s Tower coasters feels like it would still be an E-Ticket favorite of fans to this day. However, we will admit it’s likely that the land would have had an IP or two integrated into it by now.
So, which of these unbuilt Disney lands would you want to spend the day in if you had the chance: Discovery Bay or Beastly Kingdom? Let is know in the comments below.