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Why For? : What happened to the Geyser Mountain ride Imagineers hoped to add to Disneyland

Jim Hill

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Why For? : What happened to the Geyser Mountain ride Imagineers hoped to add to Disneyland

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First up, DISNEYFREEK writes in to ask:


LOVE the site, man. Great work and I love reading your articles / reports. Next time I go down to the states, I'll take the (JHM) Disney tour.

I heard a rumor once regarding a geyser ride in Frontierland? Any truth to this?

Keep up the good work!

Yep, "Geyser Mountain" was a really-for-real project. A new thrill ride that the Imagineers had hoped to add to Disneyland a few years back. Out where the now-unused Big Thunder Ranch / the Festival of Fool arena stage area currently sits empty and unused.

So what exactly would this proposed new thrill ride for Frontierland have been like? Well, you know how Epcot's "Body Wars" is really just a variation on the "Star Tours" simulator attraction? Using the exact same technology to tell a somewhat different story? Well "Geyser Mountain" was supposed to have been done pretty much the same thing with "Tower of Terror"'s powered drop ride system. Only -- instead of sending Disneyland guests screaming down an elevator shaft -- GM would have its riders hurtling skyward. Supposedly powered by an unexpected geothermal eruption.

To explain: If "Geyser Mountain" had actually been built out back where Fantasyland and Frontierland meet, your adventure would have begun as you follow a trail out into a rough wilderness area that looked very much like a continuation of Big Thunder Mountain. So think lots more pine trees, scenic buttes as well as Bryce Canyon-like spires.

But bordering the queue of the attraction there would have been several steaming hot springs, many bubbling mud pots and some small sputtering geysers. So -- as you moved deeper into the woods -- you would have automatically thought: "Gee, there's a lot of geothermal activity back in this part of the wilderness. No wonder they call this area 'Geyser Mountain'."

Finally, you come to a clearing in the forest. There -- in front of you -- is a tumbledown cabin with a barn attached. And behind this ... the craggy peak of Geyser Mountain. Which would rumble ominously every now and then. And what's that you hear in the distance? Could that be ... people screaming?

Okay. Out in front of the cabin is a yard full of weird machinery. Which fills you in on a bit of the back story for this new Frontierland attraction. How the house that you're about to enter is the home of this eccentric inventor. The guy who actually built the amazing mining rig that was used to dig all those tunnels through Big Thunder Mountain (so the miners could go in and harvest all that gold).

Once you enter the inventor's house, you'll learn that -- prior to tunneling through the mountainside over at Big Thunder -- this guy tried out his new invention by digging dozens of test holes in the side of Geyser Mountain. And -- while he was testing his mining rig -- this guy discovered many strange and wondrous things under the ground.

To re-enforce this idea, the inventor's study would have been full of colorful crystals and enormous geodes that he'd recovered while tunneling under Geyser Mountain. There are also black and white photographs of some truly impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations that he must have encountered (and photographed) while exploring the underworld.

But the most intriguing (or should we say foreboding?) decoration in the inventor's study is a hand-drawn map of the interior of Geyser Mountain. Which is pinned up to one wall and clearly shows the networks of tunnels that crisscross through the mountainside. There -- at the very center of the map -- is a drawing and description of this extremely fierce, totally unpredictable but extremely powerful geyser that intermittently erupts from deep down inside the mountain.

Also on this hand-drawn map is a note that the inventor has written to himself, reminding him about a certain bridge that he'd installed at the very heart of Geyser Mountain. The note reads: "Reminder to self: Temporary bridge has been taking an awful pounding from geyser eruptions. Must remember to make repairs." The only problem is ... this note is dated back in the early 1920s.

Okay. Exiting the study, we now find ourselves in the barn. Where -- surprise, surprise -- Disney officials have recently found the amazing mining machine that our eccentric inventor used for digging all those tunnels over at Big Thunder Mountain. Now the Mouse invites us to climb on board this lethal looking machine (remember the rig that Gaeten Moliere drove around in while he was tunneling under the Earth in "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" ... well, this new Frontierland ride vehicle was supposed to look a lot like that) for a trip over, around and under Geyser Mountain.

So we do. And -- with a teeth rattling rumble -- we roar out of the barn for a trip that promises to replace BTMRR as the NEW "wildest ride in the wilderness."

Okay. So how many of you out there remember the Rainbow Caverns sequence in Frontierland's old "Mine Train through Nature's Wonderland" ride? Well, the initial portion of your trip through Geyser Mountain would have been a lot like that. Your vehicle rumbling through several very colorful sequences done with black light. Rolling by giant glowing crystals and fantastic underground waterfalls.

And -- as your ride vehicle moved further and further up the side of Geyser Mountain -- you would have encountered other little tributes to DL's "Mine Train to Nature's Wonderland" ride. Clever recreations and/or tributes to various vignettes from that late, great Frontierland attraction.

But as you reach the very top of the mountain and -- after admiring the view from up there -- begin to make your descent back to the inventor's cabin ... a recent landside has blocked our return route. The only way back down Geyser Mountain now is to go across that rickety old bridge. (Remember the one that we were shown back in the eccentric inventor's study? That one that was shown in that hand-drawn map that was pinned up on the wall? That extremely old, in-really-rough-shape bridge that was in need of repairs?)

So our mining machine slowly starts across the rickety old bridge. The ancient span of timbers creaks ominously as this heavy piece of equipment chugs across the darkened chasm. The only light in this entire area is the sunlight that's coming pouring in from above. (As further proof that this area is geologically unstable, the top of Geyser Mountain appears to have been blown off in some previous eruption. So think of this section of the ride as being set inside of the cone of some sort of dormant volcano)

As our vehicle reaches the center of the bridge, the span suddenly starts to sag in the middle. As the amazing mining machine tilts to one side, we all think we're all about to fall to our deaths. Once the bridge collapses, we'll be impaled on all those lethal looking stalagmites below. It all seems so hopeless. But then ...

What's that rumbling sound? Oh, no! This situation couldn't get worse. Or could it? Geyser Mountain is about to erupt!!

And -- with that -- seemingly heaved up off the collapsing bridge and into the air by the power of the geyser, our mining rig is thrown straight up into the sky. We literally seem to bounce up and down on top of this powerful stream of super-heated water. For just a moment, our vehicle pops out of the top of Geyser Mountain itself. We get a brief glimpse of the Rivers of America below us. The top of Splash Mountain off in the distance.

Luckily, the force of that geyser has heaved us out of the chasm, away from that collapsing bridge. We land safely on the rim of Geyser Mountain, then quickly rumble back down to the barn. We climb out of our ride vehicle and stumble into the nearby gift shop. Happy to have survived our recent brush with death.

So do you get the idea here, DISNEYFREEK? Where "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" uses powerful elevator motors to send guests hurtling toward the ground at faster-than-gravity speeds, "Geyser Mountain" would have used this same technology to send you soaring into the sky. Supposedly bouncing in a super-heated stream of water that was being expelled by this massive geyser.

Sounds like a neat ride, doesn't it? Well, the Imagineers certainly thought so. Which is why they had models made of Geyser Mountain. (I just saw one -- not too long ago -- when I was visiting friends at WDI.) Then they talked to Team Disney Anaheim reps about how this project was the obvious way to re-energize DL's tired old Frontierland. Which has gotten increasingly tame (and lame) over the past 10 years. Not to mention being a way to take the "Tower of Terror" incredibly-expensive-to-develop ride system and using that technology to create a whole new attraction for the corporation's West Coast sort for about a 1/3rd of what the original TOT attraction cost.

But -- of course -- cost ended up being a decisive factor in the Mouse's decision to ultimately hold off on adding "Geyser Mountain" to Disneyland's roster of rides. Mind you, GM did look like it was going to get greenlighted. At least for a little while.

That's why DL officials let the Imagineers do some prep work for the project. Which is why Cascade Peak (which had been a Frontierland landmark since 1960) got pulled down in October of 1998. Because WDI had hoped that -- once this aged structure was out of the way -- it would be that much easier for Walt Disney Company management to officially greenlight construction of this new DL thrill ride.

Sadly, that never happened, DISNEYFREEK. Had everything gone according to plan, "Geyser Mountain" would have been up and running at Disneyland by this past summer. It was supposed to have been the attraction that would have lured visitors away from the wonderful new theme park that had been built next to "The Happiest Place on Earth," Disney's California Adventure.

But since it turned out that DCA was going to need all the help it can get in order to lure DLR guests to come through its turnstiles, that's why the Walt Disney Company ultimately decided to bag the idea of building a "Geyser Mountain" in Anaheim and opted instead to bring a clone of that already-established-hit-thrill-ride, "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" to California Adventure instead. With the hope that a Southern California version of this Disney-MGM favorite might help DCA from going DOA.

But -- by doing that -- Disneyland officials pretty much snuffed out any chance of a version of "Geyser Mountain" will ever get built in Anaheim anytime soon. After all, you don't want to build too many attractions that use the very same technology too close together at the same time. Otherwise, they undercut the effectiveness of one another.

I mean, look what happened over at DCA when "It's Tough to Be a Bug" and "Kermit the Frog Presents Jim Henson's Muppetvision 3D" opened up on the very same day in the same park. While both of these shows -- which skillfully mix 3D film, in-theater effects and Audio Animatronics to create some memorable entertainment -- were huge hits in Central Florida at their respective theme parks (I.E. "Muppetvision" in MGM, "Tough to Be a Bug" in DAK), these two show were greeted with a collective shrug when they both opened at DCA in January 2001. Too much of a good thing. Or should I say "Too much of the same thing?"

Anyway ... with construction of "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" now nearing completion at Disney's California Adventure, it now seems quite unlikely that "Geyser Mountain" will be erupting from out behind Disneyland's Frontierland and Fantasyland area anytime soon. Which is a shame.

Mind you, this doesn't mean that this ambitious sounding thrill ride is totally dead in the water. After all, good ideas never really die at WDI. So -- with luck -- this proposed Frontierland ride could (several years down the line. Once the Mouse stops being so stingy about what the corporation is willing to spend on new theme park attractions) could be resurrected as a possible addition for WDW's Frontierland. Or DLP's Frontierland. Or TDL's Frontierland. Or even HKDL's Frontierland. You get the idea, right?

Me personally? I remain ever hopefully that -- someday, somehow -- this dynamite-sounding ride will actually make off the drawing board and out in the real world. In a theme park near you very soon.

And I'm guessing the Imagineers feel the same way too. Otherwise, why would they keep that "Geyser Mountain" model out in the open on display? If not to remind themselves that, occasionally, they can still come up with killer ideas for new Disney theme park attractions.

Now if the Mouse House managers would allow WDI to actually get around to building these things.

Next, Loose Eel Ball (Funny pseudonym there) writes in to ask:

Dear Jim:

Since your site seems to love to celebrate all the really bizarre and obscure things that the Walt Disney Company has tried to get off the ground over the years, I was wondering: What's your favorite lost cause? The Disney project that you wish with all your heart had actually been realized as it was originally planned?

Dear Loose Eel Ball:

Jeese, that's a tough question to answer. I mean, there are literally dozens of intriguing ideas that never made it off Disney's drawing boards for one reason or another. Or truly promising projects that wound up being botched for one reason or another.

Take -- for example -- Disney's live action version of "Babes in Toyland." This 1961 Walt Disney Studios release is generally regarded as one of the company's lesser features. But still, I can't help but wonder how differently this film would have turned out if the picture's original director -- veteran animator Ward Kimball -- had actually been allowed to helm the project. Sadly, Ward and Walt had a falling out just before the start of production on that picture. So Disney replaced Kimball with Jack Donohue. And the end result was one fair-to-middling film fantasy.

Given Ward's wonderfully weird wit and imagination, I'm fairly certain that any version of "Babes in Toyland" that Kimball had ended up directing would have been infinitely more entertaining that the one that we ended up with. But I guess we'll never know now.

Disney history is littered with projects like this. So you have to wonder if "The Rainbow Road to Oz" (that Oz picture that Walt tried to get off the ground in the mid-to-late 1950s, which was to have starred the Mouseketeers) would have been any good if Walt had actually put the thing into production. Or -- for that matter -- if "Return to Oz" (Walt Disney Pictures' 1984 attempt at revisiting and revitalizing the colorful world that L. Frank Baum so carefully mapped out in his series of "Oz" books. If you haven't seen this much maligned Walter Murch film for a while, make an effort to do so. Disney's "Return to Oz" doesn't deserve the reputation that it has. The movie really is quite entertaining and much more faithful to the actual style and the tone of the Baum books than its more acclaimed predecessor, MGM's 1939 Academy Award winner, "The Wizard of Oz") hadn't had $5 million cut out of its production budget just weeks before shooting was due to begin by then-Disney execs who were suddenly getting nervous about "Oz"'s enormous price tag.

Even today there are Disney projects that seemingly miss greatness by inches. I may be one of the only people on the planet who actually liked "Geppetto," that Stephen Schwartz musical that the Mouse presented on "The Wonderful World of Disney" back in May 2000. But even I admit that this made-for-TV project would undoubtedly been infinitely more entertaining if the Mouse had been able to land the actors that they originally wanted for this film.

I mean, instead of Drew Carey in the show's title role and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Blue Fairy, how about Dick Van Dyke as Geppetto and Julie Andrews as the magical creature that gave Pinocchio life. That's right. The stars of "Mary Poppins" reunited some 35 years after the fact. Wouldn't that casting coup have made "Geppetto" appointment television during the May 2000 sweeps period?

Sadly, Disney offered this role to Andrews just months after she had had that surgery that had so badly damaged her vocal cords. So Julie reluctantly had to take a pass on the project. Dick Van Dyke, however, was supposedly very interested in playing the part of Geppetto. So much so that -- for a time -- the Mouse tried to convince Dick's other famous co-star -- Mary Tyler Moore -- to come play the Blue Fairy in this made-for-TV musical.

Unfortunately, this "Dick Van Dyke" reunion (for some reason or another) fell through. Which is how we ended up with Drew Carey and Julie Louis-Dreyfus in "Geppetto." Which was a lot of fun with a number of very charming songs. But it wasn't really as good as it could have been.

Yeah, the history of Walt Disney Pictures is littered with stories like this. What if "Bedknobs & Broomsticks" had starred Julie Andrews and Ron Moody instead of Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson? What if "The Watcher in the Woods" (in its original form) hadn't been so rushed during the final phases of its production? Would this suspense thriller have been more of a success if it had just stuck with its original out-of-this-world ending.

It's so hard to choose just one story, Loose Eel. So I guess I won't.

Mind you, when it comes to choosing just one Disney history book, I never have that sort of problem. Particularly when it comes to the Disneyland Paris resort. To explain: Claire T. wrote in this week to ask:


I'm please to see that you're looking to expand your website's coverage. In particular to start doing stories about both Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. And I'll look forward to reading those articles whenever they turn up on your site.

My problem is ... I'm heading over to DLP sometime in the next few weeks. So I'd like to be able to read up on that resort. Learn more about the history of its two theme parks and their back story.

So is there a book that you could recommend me? Something that would allow me to get up to speed quickly? Or should I just wait 'til those DLP articles start popping up on JHM?

Thanks in advance for your help here, Jim. Keep up the great work at your site.

Dear Claire:

Well, those articles about Disneyland Paris SHOULD start popping up on JimHillMedia.com in a week or so. But -- until then -- if you'd really like to read a great book about Disneyland Paris, then I suggest you pick up a copy of Alain Littaya and Didier Ghez's "Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality."

This full color, 320 page volume is something that every serious Disneyana fan should have in their library. Profusely illustrated, this book is filled with dozens of never-seen-outside-of-WDI drawings and paintings which reveal many abandoned ideas for the Parisian theme park. Including a late 1920s / early 1930s version of Main Street U.S.A. where gangsters and flappers would rubbed elbows with DLP's guests.

There's lots of great stuff like that to be found in "Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality," Claire. Early concepts for the castle (including an art deco whatchamacallit -- which is topped off by a Sorcerer Mickey -- that has to be seen to be believed). Numerous peeks at Nemo's hidden base (back when the bottom floor of what-was-then-known-as Discovery Mountain would have featured a secret lagoon where a fullscale version of the Nautilus would have sat). Littaya and Ghez's book is just loaded with stuff like this.

Speaking of Didier, I just heard that Ghez is selling off some of the collector's editions of "Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality" at reduced prices. Given that this version of the book features four reproductions of concept paintings that were done for this theme park, now might be a great time to take Didier up on his offer.

For more information about how you can pick up a copy of the collector's edition of "Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality," Claire T., I suggest that you get ahold of Ghez by sending an e-mail to this address: [email protected]. He'll then pass along the particulars about how you can got about picking up an autographed copy of his great DLP book.

Trust me, Claire. This is the one you really want to read before you head out for that theme park.

Speaking of heading out ... that's it for this week, folks. I hope you enjoyed the assortment of stories that we had up on JHM over the past five. Our aim is to amuse and inform you. If we just ended up annoying you ... sorry about that. We'll try to do better next week, okay?

Til then, you take care, okay?


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