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Why For did Rocky the Rhino wind up getting cut out of Disney's "The Jungle Book" ?

Jim Hill

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Why For did Rocky the Rhino wind up getting cut out of Disney's "The Jungle Book" ?

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First up is Miss Bebe Gunn, who writes to ask:

Dear Jim -

I really enjoyed the story you did earlier this week about Walt Disney and Richard Nixon's friendship ("You Ain't Never Had a Friend Like ... Richard Nixon?!"). But -- based on what veteran EPCOT Center cast members have told me -- Nixon wasn't all that popular with the guys over at WED. Particularly Ward Kimball.

If the story that I've heard is correct, Kimball actually cast our 37th President as a used car salesman in the old "World of Motion" ride. Is this true?

Dear Bebe -

Well, it's true that Ward Kimball was not exactly a Richard Nixon fan. And -- given Kimball's infamously subversive nature -- I'm sure that it would have given Ward great pleasure to cast "Tricky Dick" as a used car salesman in Future World's "World of Motion" ride.

Unfortunately, even though Kimball was the lead designer on this particular EPCOT Center attraction (which put him in the ideal position to slip a joke at Nixon's expense into "World of Motion"), there was just no way that then-Disney Chairman Card Walker was going to let that happen. Card was extremely conservative (the standing joke about Walker was that his political leanings were " ... just to the right of Attila the Hun"). So if he ever got wind of Ward doing something like this, first Card would have fired Kimball, then he would have pulled that gag right out of the show.

Which -- given that Kimball was determined to poke some fun at "Tricky Dick" in this EPCOT Center show -- is why Ward was forced to be somewhat sly.

What do I mean by "sly?" Well, to avoid having Walker's wrath ran down on him, Kimball would have to slip his Nixon gag in some place where it could be seen (and appreciated) by Disney insiders ... but not be out in the open and/or so obvious that Card Walker or his minions would find out about it.

So I don't honestly think that Ward Kimball would have dared to go ahead with putting a Nixon joke in "World of Motion" if a surprise cost-cutting measure by Disney management hadn't presented Ward with a unique opportunity.

You see, EPCOT Center was only supposed to cost $800 million. But -- as the construction costs of the project began to soar seriously north of that number -- Card Walker decreed that the Imagineers working on this theme park had to cut corners wherever they could.

One of the cost cutting measures that the heads of WED proposed was -- rather than sculpt new faces for every AA figures to be used in the Park -- was that Disney could recycle a few of the "heads" that the Imagineers had created for earlier AA figures. Re-using some of the faces that Disney Legend Blaine Gibson had created for "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "The Hall of Presidents" so that they could be used for background characters in "Spaceship Earth," "American Adventure," and "World of Motion."

So where exactly were these recycled AA figure faces used? Well, do you know that scene in "Spaceship Earth" where the Pharaoh is dictating a letter to his scribe? The very next time you roll through that attraction, take a close look at that bald, portly eunuch that stands watch over the throne room. His face comes from the William Howard Taft AA figure used in WDW's "The Hall of Presidents."

Further on up in "The Ball," you'll also get to glimpse another recycled president. You know that scene that's set inside the medieval monastery? The one where the monk is painstakingly copying an illuminated manuscript by hand? That brother who's fast asleep on the other side of the desk is wearing Woodrow Wilson's face.

So when Ward heard that the Imagineers were now expected to recycle the facial sculpts that had been used in WDW's "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Hall of Presidents" AA figures in order to keep EPCOT construction costs down, Kimball realized that his chance to twit Nixon has finally arrived. The question now was ... how to slip the gag into the show without Card Walker noticing?

After carefully reviewing every scene in the show, Kimball finally found what he was looking for in "World of Motion"'s Babylonian throne room sequence. Do you remember those three hopeful inventors who stood before the smiling and nodding king? In particular the AA figure with the thick black beard who was clutching a triangle shaped wheel? That character was wearing Richard Nixon's face.

Why did Kimball cast Nixon as a failed inventor of the wheel? Well, it wasn't exactly a used car salesman. But -- to Ward's warped way of thinking -- it was pretty close.

And what's the deal with that thick black beard? Well, that hairy chin served a twofold purpose. For one, it kept Card Walker from ever finding out that Kimball had used the former president as part of a gag in the "World of Motion" ride.

As for the other reason ... well, to really appreciate that part of the beard gag, you have to remember that many people believe that the main reason that Nixon lost the 1960 Presidential election to John F. Kennedy was because his 5 o'clock shadow had been so heavy during the televised presidential debates.

So what better way to send up "Tricky Dick"'s 5 o'clock shadow problem than to give the Nixon-faced AA figure in "World of Motion" a really heavy beard?

So -- to finally answer your question, Bebe -- no, Nixon wasn't a used car salesman in that old EPCOT Center show. But a failed Babylonian inventor ... sure.

Next, Queen Louise swings in to ask:

Dear Jim -

I saw "Jungle Book 2" this past weekend (My eyes! My eyes! They still burn! AIEEE!) and noticed a bunch of dancing rhinos on one of the movie's production numbers.

Didn't I hear somewhere that the original animated feature of this Rudyard Kipling classic was supposed to have a rhino in it too? I remember something about Walt himself cutting this sequence out of the movie because it was too slapsticky ... or something like that.

You ever heard anything about a rhino character getting cut out of the original "Jungle Book"?

Dear Queen Louise -

Yeah, I've heard about Rocky the Rhino, the nearsighted rhino who was slated to have a run-in with Mowgli and Baloo. Rocky was supposed to be the featured player in a high energy slapstick chase sequence which was supposed to have occurred in the movie right after King Louie's palace came crashing down.

Rocky's sequence for "The Jungle Book" actually got fairly far along in the production process before Walt decided to axe it. How far along? Detailed storyboards for the scene were created. And Disney Studios had even gone so far as to hire an actor to provide the voice for the short-sighted, short tempered rhino: singer/comic performer Frankie Fontaine (best known to Jackie Gleason fans as the man who did Crazy Guggenheim).

You wanna see what Rocky was supposed to look like? Go pick up a copy of Bob Thomas' "Building A Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire" (Hyperion Press, 1998). Then take a peek at that great picture of Walt and Roy the back cover. Just behind the Disney brothers is a Rocky the Rhinoceros storyboard.

Or -- if you'd prefer to see a picture of Rocky with the rest of the cast for Disney's "The Jungle Book" -- go chase down a copy of Don Hahn's "Disney's Animation Magic: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at how an Animated Film is Made" (Disney Press, 1996). On Page 9 on that book, right under the title "Act 1 - The Idea" is a size comparison chart of the entire original cast of this animated feature. And there -- right between the vulture and the baby elephant -- is beady eyed, slack jawed old Rocky the Rhino.

So why did Disney decide to cut this particular sequence out of the picture? Floyd Norman -- animation legend, recent Winsor McCay life-time achievement award recipient and all-around nice guy -- told me that Walt "just didn't find the business (that Disney's animators had come up with for this 'Jungle Book' character) very funny." I've also heard that Disney decided to cut this slapstick-heavy scene because it came right on the heels of the King Louie palace sequence. Walt reportedly thought that it was bad movie making to put two high energy comedy sequences back to back.

So -- even though Frankie Fontaine had already recorded Rocky's voice, and the "Jungle Book" production had already cut together a leica reel of all the storyboards to be used in this sequence -- once Uncle Walt said that the rhino scene was out, that scene was out. No questions asked.

Still, wouldn't it be cool someday if -- as they're prepping the next DVD version of the original "Jungle Book" -- that someone at Buena Vista Home Entertainment would go digging around the Animation Research Library and unearth that Rocky the Rhino leica reel? That way, we could all get a sense of what this Crazy Guggenheim-like creature would have looked like in action.

One last bit of Rocky the Rhino trivia for all you animation history buffs out there (courtesy of Mr. Norman): Legendary animator Milt Kahl was the artist who was supposed to animate Rocky. It was only after the rhinocero's big scene got cut out of the picture that Milt got assigned to Shere Khan. So pretty much by default, Kahl ended up working on "Jungle Book"'s main villain, the character that many animation fans consider to be Milt's finest work.

Isn't it funny how things work out sometimes?

Finally, Brad G. writes in to ask:

Jim -

What ideas are the Imagineers kicking around for the 5th DW theme park?

Dear Brad -

Jeese, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But -- given that attendance levels at all of Disney World's theme parks have been down since 9/11 -- all talk of adding a fifth theme park to the Central Florida resort has been tabled. At least for the foreseeable future.

These days, most of the emphasis is being placed on creating ways to compel guests to return to the previously existing WDW theme parks. This is why the Mouse has suddenly become so gung-ho about adding high profile attractions to the Parks like Epcot's "Mission: Space" and Animal Kingdom's soon-to-be-officially-announced "Forbidden Mountain." Mickey's doing everything he can in order to get us all to book another Disney World vacation.

So when will Disney start to get serious about adding another theme park to the WDW resort? Tell you what, Brad. Drop me a line after the Mouse finally takes Disney's Pop Century Resort out of mothballs. Once Mickey has enough customers booking Disney World vacations that they can fill all 5,760 of those hotel rooms on a regular basis ... then I'll give my friends in Imagineering a call and see what's going on with WDW's 5th theme park.

But for right now, it's all Disney can do to keep the parks it already has in Orlando open. As I previously mentioned in this week's "Project Gemini" story: if the upcoming war with Iraq has a prolonged negative impact on WDW's attendance levels, the Mouse is supposedly giving semi-serious thought to shutting down each of its Central Florida theme park for at least one day every week. Doing everything they can contain costs 'til the conflict is over and the tourists start flocking back to Florida.

So -- at least for the foreseeable future, Brad -- you can just put on hold any thoughts of visiting "Disney Seas Florida" or any of the other theme parks that the Imagineers have previously proposed for that parcel of land directly across from the Epcot entrance ramps on World Rive hold. 'Cause nothing's going to get built there 'til attendance levels and on-property hotel occupancy rebound big time.

Okay. That's it for this week, kids. And -- since it appears that Darkbeer and Lord Niekon will hunt me down and shoot me like a dawg if I don't finally get the revamped version of "Remembering Light Magic" underway ASAP -- look for Part One of that series to turn up on the site first thing Monday morning.

Or maybe Tuesday. (Just kidding. Monday morning. Swear to God, Okay?)

Have a great weekend,

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