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The Big One That Got Away: Madison's Dive

Jim Hill

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The Big One That Got Away: Madison's Dive

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So what's your favorite club at Walt Disney World's Pleasure Island?

Me? Though I do enjoy an occasional visit to the Comedy Warehouse, I have to admit that I'm mostly an Adventurer's Club fan. I mean, I can't tell you the number of times that I've found myself in the Library, watching as Professor Otis Wren, Hathaway Browne and Emil Bleehall all compete for the Blanderdash Cup.

One of my favorite moments in that particular Adventurer's Club show comes when Professor Wren is spinning out his fish tale. When Otis comes to the part in his story where his boat is destroyed by a typhoon, the ship-in-the-bottle that's on the bar directly behind this performer suddenly sinks. It's a bit of stage business that never fails to get a laugh out of audiences attending the Balderdash Cup.

But me? I can't help but look at that sinking ship-in-a-bottle bit and get a little wistful. Why for? Because I can't help but think: "Wouldn't that effect have played better in the Pleasure Island Club that the Imagineers had originally intended it for, Madison's Dive?"

What's that? You've never heard of Madison's Dive? The nightclub that was originally announced for Disney's World's Pleasure Island but ultimately never built. The one that was supposed to have been loaded with all these salty old sailors who would win spin out these amazing yarns. The club that was to have had a sunken bar that featured a window that looked directly out into the depths of Lake Buena Vista. Where -- every so often -- a real live mermaid would have swum by the window.

Yeah, Madison's Dive would have been a pretty amazing addition to PI's line-up. So why -- after announcing such a wonderful sounding establishment as part of Pleasure Island's initial line-up -- didn't the Imagineers actually go forward with construction of this club.

Because ... well ... Pleasure Island went over budget. WAY over budget. How over budget? Over 150%, according to one WDI memo that I've seen. This Walt Disney World nightclub project got totally out of control during its initial design phase. With the Imagineers adding all sorts of bells and whistles, with the hope that this new WDW nightclub complex would eventually prove to be a bigger draw with tourists than the already opened Rosie O'Grady's Goodtime Emporium in downtown Orlando.

And -- once Disney management got wind of how far out of control (financially, that is) the Pleasure Island project was -- they immediately asked the Imagineers to make some concessions. To rein this WDW project in.

Sadly, one of the things that eventually fell by the wayside was Madison's Dive. After carefully review their plans for Disney World's new nightclub complex, the Imagineers felt that -- given that PI already had one nightclub which would be loaded with story tellers and special effects (AKA The Adventurer's Club) -- there was no need to Pleasure Island to repeat itself. Which is why Madison's Dive eventually got deep sixed.

Now ... where this gets interesting is Madison's Dive was actually Michael Eisner's favorite nightclub out of all those that were proposed for Pleasure Island. Why for? Well, you have to understand that Disney's CEO had a thing for mermaids. Particular Madison, the mermaid character that was featured so prominently in the 1984 Touchstone Pictures' release, "Splash."

Why did Michael have a thing for Madison? Well, you have understand that -- when Eisner first came on board at the Walt Disney Company in September 1984 -- "Splash" was the biggest hit that the Mouse House had had in years, grossing over $69 million during its initial domestic run.

And -- given that Michael had come to Walt Disney Studios from Paramount Pictures (AKA Hollywood's home of the sequel. Witness "Grease II," "Beverly Hills Cop II," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Star Trek II, III and IV") -- Eisner was determined that Disney should soon get in the sequel business as well.

So one of the very first things that Michael did -- as soon as he arrived at the Mouse House -- was immediately put a sequel in the works for the studio's highest grossing animated film. Which -- at that time -- was Walt Disney Productions' 1977 release, "The Rescuers." Eisner then also ordered that Disney hire a few screenwriters to get started on a script for a "Splash" sequel.

The only problem was ... no one -- outside of Michael, that is -- was all that eager to do a "Splash" sequel. Not the film's director, Ron Howard. Not the movie's stars, Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. These folks all wanted to move onto new projects, rather than revisit the characters that they'd created for the popular fantasy romance.

Still, Eisner persisted. And -- when he couldn't get any of the film's creative team to return -- Michael opted to have his "Splash" sequel produced as a TV movie instead. "Splash, Too" (With Todd Waring in the Tom Hanks role and Amy Yasbeck slipping into Daryl Hannah's tail) aired as a two part installment of ABC's "Disney Sunday Night Movie" program back on May 1st and 8th, 1988. (Here's an intriguing bit of trivia for all you Disneyana fans. "Splash, Too" was the first movie ever to be filmed at the then-new Disney-MGM Studio complex.)

Anyway ... Back in the mid-1980s, Eisner truly seemed desperate to find ways to shoehorn "Splash"'s characters into other Disney projects. Even going so far as to suggest that the Imagineers who were then working on Disneyland's still-in-the-planning-stages "Splash Mountain" project to find a way for Madison to make a cameo appearance among all those critters from "Song of the South."

Obviously, the guys at WDI chose to ignore this particular request from Disney's CEO. But the Imagineers never forgot that Michael Eisner really did seem obsessed with the Madison character from "Splash." Which was why -- as they were putting together their plans for Pleasure Island -- the folks who working on this WDW nightclub project thought: "If we really want to make sure that Michael will greenlight PI, we should make sure that at least one of these nightclubs prominently features the mermaid from 'Splash.'"

Which is why -- of course -- Madison's Dive ended up as one of the most prominent featured clubs in the original site plan for Disney World's Pleasure Island. Concept art that I've seen shows that this particular nightclub was to have been built on a pier that would have jutted out into Lake Buena Vista between the Adventurer's Club and the XZFR Rockin' Rollerdrome.

But -- as the costs of actually constructing Pleasure Island began spiraling out of control (more importantly, given that the "Splash, Too" TV movie had turned out to be such a dud) -- Michael Eisner began losing his enthusiasm for the whole "Madison's Dive" nightclub idea. And -- given that this PI club (what with its special built-out-on-a-pier locations as well as all of its below-the-waterline special effects) was going to be the most expensive one of the bunch to complete -- that's why "Madison's Dive" was the first nightclub to get cut as Pleasure Island went under the budgetary knife.

But even so, there were Imagineers assigned to the PI project who just loved the whole idea of "Madison's Dive." Which was why -- even after this nightclub got cut -- they tried to shoehorn little bits and pieces of this nautically themed nightspot into the Adventurer's Club.

Which is why that ship-in-the-bottle gag (a bit of business that was originally written for one of the shows that was to have to been presented nightly at "Madison's Dive") wound up being part of Professor Otis Wren's fish tale in his portion of the Balderdash Cup competition. As sort of a sly WDI tribute to the nightclub that never quite made it off the drawing board.

So what do you think of this fishy tale? Your thoughts?

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