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Why For? : Baxter in 20K, Tiki Room Jokes, Haunter Hollywood Hotel, Disney TV Special, Project Gemini and a Mea Culpa

Why For? : Baxter in 20K, Tiki Room Jokes, Haunter Hollywood Hotel, Disney TV Special, Project Gemini and a Mea Culpa

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First, an apology.

You know, in yesterday's review of Carlene Thie's "Disneyland Under Construction" books, I'm afraid that I may have come down a bit too hard on Ms. Thie. Or -- at the very least -- criticized things that I didn't really know about.

For example: In yesterday's article, I chided Carlene for getting the freeway that ran past Disneyland wrong. In a caption in her "Disney's Early Years Through the Eyes of a Photographer," she identified this highway as the 101 rather than the I-5. Well, as several veteran Southern Californians have since pointed out to me, prior to 1964 (when the State of California suddenly decided to renumber a great number of its roadways), that highway really was designated as the 101. NOT the I-5.

So that was my mistake. NOT Ms. Thie's.

And then -- as for getting the name of the place where her own grandmother worked (I.E. Cat Foot Cove instead of Catfish Cove) wrong in "A Photgrapher's Life with Disney Under Construction" -- well, I've since learned that this was an error on the printer's part, rather than by Carlene.

So let me now extend a sincere apology to Ms. Thie for criticizing things that I didn't really know about. More to the point, let me again state that I still think that Carlene's "Disneyland Under Construction" books (which feature the amazing photographs of her late grandfather, Mell Kilpatrick) are still well worth purchasing. So go out now and snap up a set today! And -- just to show that there are no hard feelings between myself and Ms. Thie (more importantly, to prove that Carlene is a really class act) look for an in-depth interview with this author to turn up on JimHillMedia,com in the not-so-distant future. Where she'll discuss what went into the creation of her next "Disneyland Under Construction" book, "Disneyland: The Beginning."

Okay. That's enough with the mea culpas for today. Let's get started with answering your questions, shall we?

First up. Eric P. drops by with a "20K" related question:

Hi,

I was wondering if you could confirm something I realized for the first time a few days ago. Being an old fan of WDW's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and who never tires of seeing it again on home video, this was always my favorite line of the attraction ever since I was a kid.

CAPTAIN NEMO: Mr. Baxter, if you think you're seeing mermaids and sea monsters, you've been submerged too long!

Was this a deliberate in-joke about Imagineer Tony Baxter, since it's my understanding that he was responsible for "20,000 Leagues" at WDW?

Eric P.

Eric,

Yep. The "Mr. Baxter" that Captain Nemo talks with as part of the audio for this late, lamented WDW attraction really was a none-too-subtle tribute to the veteran Imagineer. Of course, back when the soundtrack for the Magic Kingdom's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" ride was being recorded, Tony was really just starting out in his career at WED.

In fact, the very first time that Tony ever took a trip to the field to oversee the installation of a Disney theme park attraction was back in 1970. When he went down to Orlando to supervise the latter part of construction and the final detail work on WDW's "20K" ride.

Given the extreme dedication that Baxter had shown on this assignment (I.E. spending weeks working in the wilting Central Florida heat and humidity to make sure that each concrete piece of coral, each plastic fish was in its proper place), it only made sense to the Imagineers who were in charge of the "20,000 Leagues" ride that they should pay tribute to Tony's extra effort.

Which is how that originally un-named crew member on the "20K" soundtrack eventually became known as "Mr. Baxter."

And -- speaking of soundtracks for Disney theme park attractions -- Jeremy H. writes in with a few questions about Disneyland's "Enchanted Tiki Room":

Jim,

I love the site and appreciate the candid "Why For" responses to ... questions. But now I have some questions ... about "Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room" at Disneyland.

1) During the "Enchanted Tiki" room dialogue, there is a large amount of banter going on between the four masters of ceremonies in the center of the theatre. One part has been especially bothering me. It is when Fritz responds to Pierre.

PIERRE: My profile may not be marvelous, but my (voice) is out of this world.

FRITZ: Jawohl, but the trouble is it's not far enough out of this world. Isn't that right, Herr Smith? Oh ho, I see. Smith has no hair.

Who is Fritz referring to? An Imagineer?

2) Why was the show whittled down from its original running time? As a young child, I remember a musical sequence featuring classical music and the "Enchanted Fountain." And it seems like every time I go into the attraction and listen to the show, I seem to remember dialogue/lyrics that are no longer there. I do have sound clips confirming that the show used to be longer, but I wanted to be sure.

That's all for now. Thanks!

Jeremy H.

Jeremy:

The "Herr Smith has no hair" gag is strictly that: a gag. This joke wasn't aimed at anyone in particular (hence the use of the name "Smith," which is a pretty common last name here in the States). Nor (to the best of my knowledge, anyway) was this jape referencing any balding Imagineer who may have worked on the "Tiki Room" show.

Remember what Sigmund Freud once said, Jeremy. "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Well, sometimes the jokes in Disney theme park attractions don't have any secondary meaning either. Sometimes they're just ... well, jokes.

Now -- as for your questions regarding cuts that may or may not have been made to Disneyland's "Enchanted Tiki Room" show -- THAT I can confirm. In an effort to cut back on the number of guest walk-outs that this once-beloved now-fairly-slow-moving Adventureland attraction had been experiencing, the Imagineers opted to lop the "Offenbach" sequence out of the show in the mid-1990s. Thereby shaving nearly two minutes off of "Tiki"'s 17-minute running time.

Sadly, this somewhat clumsy bit of cutting didn't actually cut down on the number of guest walk-outs that the "Enchanted Tiki Room" had been experiencing. Which is why the Imagineers continue to toy with the idea of changing out and/or updating this aged Adventureland attraction.

"Just how aged?" you ask. Well, the Disneyland version of "The Enchanted Tiki Room" will actually celebrate its 40th anniversary sometime later this month. The once state-of-the-art show (Disneyland press releases from the 1960s used to boast that the electronics equipment that was used to make the Tiki birds talk is the same technology that guided the Polaris missiles) opened back on June 23rd, 1963.

As for what the future holds for DL's "Enchanted Tiki Room" ... well, there are a number of rumors coming out of WDI these days. One story has it that the Imagineers -- in the not-so-distant future -- may opt to radically revamp this Adventureland attraction by folding Lilo & Stitch into the mix. I.E. Creating audio animatronic versions of the title characters of Disney's 2002 animated release and having Lilo and Stitch host a new Hawaiian-themed version of "The Enchanted Tiki Room."

There's also reportedly been some talk of WDI going back to Walt's original concept for the Tiki Bird show. Which was to have these 1960s era AA figures serve as the overhead entertainment for an in-park Polynesian-themed restaurant. I've also heard some Imagineers say that they'd love to just tear down the "Enchanted Tiki Room" show building as well as the "Aladdin's Oasis" restaurant facility (formerly the "Tahitian Terrace") that's located right next door to make room for a Disneyland version of that Tokyo Disney Sea show, "The Magic Lamp Theater."

But -- as of right now -- the smart money is on DL's "Enchanted Tiki Room" to stay just as it is. At least until the Disneyland Resort is finished with its 50th anniversary celebration in January 2006. After that ... well, Piere, Fritz, Jose and Michael may finally be forced to fly the coop.

Which would be kind of sad, don't you think?

Anyway ... Next, Andrew M. writes in to ask:

I keep hearing and reading that at one point Imagineers actually considered having a legitimate guest resort in or around the Tower of Terror attraction at Disney-MGM Studios. How close did this project actually come to fruition? What kinds of plans were on the drawing boards and what unique ideas would have made this a great resort?

Andrew M.

As strange as this may sound, Andrew, it was reportedly Michael Eisner himself who came up with the idea of having WDW guests actually stay inside of the Tower of Tower. (Keep in mind, though, that Eisner was always coming up with somewhat lame-brained concepts for new Disney World resorts. How many of you out there recall when Uncle Michael actually suggested that the Walt Disney Company build a hotel that was shaped like Mickey Mouse? Talk about your cheesy ideas ... Anywho ...)

As I understand it: The way that Eisner allegedly initially envisioned this project (which was then just called the "Haunted Hollywood Hotel" and/or "The Hollywood Horror Hotel" -- way before the whole "Twilight Zone" mythos got folded into the project) was that it would be the most exclusive of the Disney World resorts. The number of rooms that were available for guests to stay in would be extremely limited. Some versions of the proposed hotel's floor plans only showed 10 rooms for WDW guests to stay in. Still other versions of the project (I believe) put the hotel's room count at 50. But never any higher than that.

So what would WDW guests have gotten as part of their high priced stay at this highly themed hotel (FYI: The projected cost of renting rooms at this proposed WDW resort ranged from $500 to $1500 a night)? To put it bluntly, it would have been like you were staying inside the Haunted Mansion.

By that I mean ... ghostly faces were supposed to have appeared in your bathroom mirror. Room service carts -- seemingly pushed along by unseen spirits -- would have wandered through the hotel's corridors. And -- of course -- every trip up and/or down in elevator would have been a thrill unto itself. And let's not forget about that exclusive backdoor access to the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park that the hotel would have offered its guests.

Sadly, this pretty snazzy sounding project got tripped up by two fairly important factors.

COST: No matter how aggressively Disney's accountanteers massaged the project's numbers and/or bumped up the room count, they couldn't make the "Haunted Hollywood Hotel" / "Hollywood Horror Hotel" financially viable. Given the resort's projected construction costs (what with all the built-in illusions that were supposed to be an essential part of the resort's appeal, initial budget projections put the HHH at costing something in the neighborhood of a $100 million to build. Mind you, this didn't include the $75-$90 million that the Imagineers expected to pour into the construction of the Tower of Terror itself. That initial $100 million was just to cover the resort and its tricked-up hotel rooms), there was just no way that this proposed WDW resort was financially feasible. Even if the hotel was sold out for a solid decade, with guests paying top dollar to occupy ever single room, there was just no way that this proposed resort would ever come close to covering its construction or operations costs.

THE LEGAL ASPECTS: To put it bluntly, Disney's attorneys were scared absolutely sh*tless with the idea that the Walt Disney World Resort might actually go forward with construction of a horror themed, extremely tricked-up, illusion-filled hotel. "What if someone staying at this place were to become so frightened by an illusion that they suddenly keeled over and died?" the lawyers supposedly asked. "The Walt Disney Company could be considered responsible for their death. We could be opening ourselves up to tremendous liability." To counteract this, WDW resort executives reportedly toyed with the idea of having each guest -- as they arrived at the "Haunted Hollywood Hotel" / "Hollywood Horror Hotel" -- sign a waiver stating that they would not hold the Mouse responsible for any scare-related mishaps that might occur during their stay at the resort.

Luckily for Disney's attorneys, Eisner eventually lost enthusiasm for his idea of having guest stay (or -- more importantly -- having guests pay through the nose for the privilege of staying) inside a tricked-up illusion-filled horror-themed hotel. Which is why this concept eventually ended up in WDI's "Discard" pile.

Though I have heard that -- when Disneyland Resort executives initially proposed adding a "Tower of Terror" clone to DCA's assortment of attractions -- that the idea of building a smallish horror-themed hotel in the Timon parking lot (which was to have faced out toward the corner of Harbor and Katella appearing as if this new Disneyland resort was the only part of the Hollywood Tower Hotel that had not been damaged by that infamous lightning strike back in 1939) was briefly toyed with. Before (of course) the old concerns about construction and operations costs as well as legal liability were raised yet again. Which resulted in the Imagineers once again abandoning this intriguing idea.

Ah well ... it would have been cool if they'd actually built this thing. I don't know how many of us would have actually been able to afford to stay at the place. But the "Haunted Hollywood Hotel" / "Hollywood Horror Hotel" still sounds like it would have been a fun place to stay, doesn't it?

Next, Chris chimes in with a music-related question:

Jim -

I came across your website several months ago and have become a devoted reader since the, There is a question that has stumped every person I have asked them, and I am thinking that perhaps you may be able to solve this mystery.

In the late 1970s or early 1980s there was a Disney made-for-TV special about a family traveling to WDW. Featured in this movie is a song that goes something like this:

"We're on the road,
On the way,
To a magical holiday,
Bye-bye blues.
Excuse our dust,
It's Disney World
Or bust!"

If you can solve this long time riddle, I would be most appreciative.

Regards,

Chris

Sad as it is to say, Chris, I actually DO know where this song came from. Which clearly indicates to me that -- someday very soon -- I really need to get a life.

This particular song was sung as the opening number for a 1982 CBS television special, "Kraft Salutes Walt Disney World's 10th Anniversary." This program starred Mouse House movie vets Dean Jones and Michelle Lee (who both can currently be seen on the recently released collector's edition DVD of "The Love Bug" which I STILL haven't be able to find in any stores ... on the East OR the West Coast ... but I digress...) as well as Dana Plato, Ricky Schroeder and Eileen Brennan as members of the Lane family. At the start of the show, these performers were singing as they packed up the family station wagon for a trip down to WDW. Hence the "Disney World or bust" line.

An interesting side note: Were you to watch the "Kraft Salutes Walt Disney World's 10th Anniversary" special today, you might be intrigued to see who CBS hired to provide comic relief for the program. Check out the wiry guy playing that bumbling-but-well-meaning Disney World cast member. (One of the running gags of the show is that -- no matter where the Lange family goes on Disney World property as part of their vacation -- this guy keeps popping up. Checking their bags at the Contemporary Hotel, selling balloons at the Magic Kingdom, etc.) It's Michael Keaton. AKA "Batman" / "Beetlejuice."

Pretty weird, huh?

And finally, Scott Mills chimes in with a question about "Project Gemini."

Hi Jim

First I just wanted to say how much I enjoy the site. It's great having a place to find out what really goes on behind the scenes.

Anyway, on to my question - I was scouring through the "Project Gemini" scenarios and one thing caught my eye - the fact that there is a proposed "Little Mermaid" overlay of The Living Seas. It seems to me that the more logical theme would now come from "Finding Nemo," especially since this weekend it experienced the largest opening of any Disney / Pixar film (somewhere north of $70 million, if I'm right).

Now, of course, the Project Gemini plans were drawn up well before anyone knew that "Nemo" would be a hit, so hopefully the Imagineers will re-think this idea. Somehow I've got this image of going down (in) the Hydrolators to Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" stuck in my head. Also, they should replace the Hydrolator "windows" with video screens that would show various "Nemo" characters pass by as we go down (something similar to what you see in the closing credits).

Thanks again for the great work you do.

Scott M.
Los Angeles

Scott:

It's funny that you should bring this up. For -- just last week, as Michael Eisner was speaking at the Bernstein's Strategic Decisions Conference in New York -- Disney's CEO revealed that a "Finding Nemo" attraction would soon be going into the "Living Seas" pavilion at WDW's Epcot.

Now where this gets interesting is that -- as of March of this year -- this new "Finding Nemo" attraction was initially supposed to make its debut at DCA as part of the Pixar-ization of that theme park's Pacific Wharf section. Mind you, that's still going to happen (in addition to clones of this "Finding Nemo" attraction going into Tokyo Disney Seas and the Walt Disney Studios theme park in Paris). But as of last week, this new WDI-designed attraction will be making its world premiere on the East Coast. NOT the West Coast.

So why did Eisner decide to ditch the "Little Mermaid"-themed redo of Epcot's "The Living Seas?" To be honest, I'm not sure, Scott.

Mind you, it's not that Uncle Mikey hasn't done something like this before. Some of you JHM readers may recall when the show that was originally supposed to have been presented inside of the "Tree of Life" at WDW's Animal Kingdom theme park was themed around the "Lion King" characters.

Well, that DAK show was all ready to go ... until Eisner had one of his brainstorms. Coming back from an early work-in-progress screening of Pixar's "A Bug's Life," Michael reportedly had an epiphany: "Wait a minute! Bugs live in trees!"

And that my friends, is how Flik and Hopper ended up as the stars of the "It's Tough to Be a Bug" show at DAK's "Tree of Life." Strange but true.

Okay, that's it for this week, gang. Now that I've finally got unpacked from last week's trip, I should be able to start churning out some halfway decent stories about Nancy's and my California Adventure starting next week. Which (hopefully) will make for some interesting reading.

Til then ... well, all you dads out there have a happy Father's Day, okay? And I'll talk to you next week.

jrh

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