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Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

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First up, RandomRabbit writes in with a follow-up question that relates to yesterday's "Dead Men Tell No Tales ... " column:

Jim --

Loved today's article about the "Pirates" water park. What other details do you have about this proposed project for Disney World? Is this what they're going to replace "River Country" with? I can't wait to visit this water park.

You had lots of good articles up on your site this week. Please keep up the great work.

Dear RandomRabbit --

Thanks for the kind words regarding the content that we had up on JHM this week. As for additional info on that "Pirates of the Caribbean" Water Adventure Park ... I'm afraid that what you see is what you get. At least for the time being.

To explain: Remember how I mentioned -- in yesterday's article -- that the "Pirates" water park was still in its blue sky phase? Well, "blue sky" is an in-house term that the Imagineers use when they're still knocking an idea around. Still exploring all of the inherent possibilities of a particular proposed project.

That's the current status of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" Water Adventure Park. I'm told that the Mouse House's money guys are very intrigued by the profit potential of this project. But -- that said - - they still want to hold off on approving a final construction budget until they see how "Pirates II" & "III" do at the box office in 2006. If either of these two sequels under-perform (Which -- I know -- seems unlikely. But remember what happened with those two "Matrix" sequels ) ... Well, I think you can understand why Disney might then not want to go forward with a "Pirates" themed water park project.

Mind you, one thing that I CAN tell you with a fair degree of certainty, RandomRabbit, is that this "Pirates" themed water park will NOT be "River Country" 's replacement. Yes, at first glance, it would probably make sense for the Mouse to replace the "old Swimmin' Hole" at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground with something a bit more state-of-the-art. But then you have to understand that WDW's current management has some serious logistical concerns with "River Country." Chief among these being that water park's size as well as its remote location.

To put it bluntly, "River Country" is just too small a site for what the Walt Disney Company wants to do with its "Pirates of the Caribbean" Water Adventure Park. Then -- when you add in the transportation issues ...

"What transportation issues?," you ask. Well, how many of you out there remember how truly difficult it was to get down to "River Country"? How -- even if you were staying on property -- you still had to take a bus on down to Pioneer Hall and then hike all the rest of the way to the "Old Swimmin' Hole." Or -- if you were staying at one of the Magic Kingdom Area Resorts -- you still had to take a boat over to Fort Wilderness and then walk on over to "River Country."

And if you were one of those poor unfortunate slobs who was actually staying off-property who wanted to visit "River Country" ... fuggedaboutit. First you had to park your car in a remote parking lot. THEN you had to board the bus for Pioneer Hall. THEN you had to hike over to the water park.

You see what I'm saying, RandomRabbit? The "River Country" experience wasn't at all like what WDW guests are now used to with "Typhoon Lagoon" and "Blizzard Beach." Where all the bus stops are right up close to the entrance. Where even the day visitors to these WDW water parks have an easy time of it. They just drop their cars in the parking lot and stroll right up to the entrance.

Which is why re-opening "River Country" hasn't really been all that high priority for the Walt Disney Company. The Mouse now thinks of that water park as a fairly problematic project. One where it's really hard to see how the corporation would get a good return on its investment. Were Disney to ever throw a sizable amount of dough at this Fort Wilderness institution for expansion and/or retheming.

Which is why the "Old Swimmin' Hole" remains locked up tight. Every so often, I hear rumors that Disney is thinking of re-opening "River Country" as a water park that's exclusive to guests staying at Wilderness Lodge, the Villas at Wilderness Lodge as well as Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. But then I'm told that just the cost of bringing "River Country" up to current ADA compliance would be fairly considerable. Which is why the redo of this WDW water park remains (seemingly forever) on Disney's bank burner.

Never mind the fact that a "Pirates of the Caribbean" Water Adventure Park doesn't really fit in with Fort Wilderness' America-frontier-of-the-mid-to-late-1800s theming ...

Anyway ... if I were a betting man, RandomRabbit, I'd bet that Disney will follow its old "Blizzard Beach" / "Typhoon Lagoon" battle plan. As in: If the Walt Disney Company actually does decide to build a "Pirates of the Caribbean" Water Adventure Park in Central Florida, that they'd then pick a parcel of land that's just off of an already existing on-property road. That the site that they pick will have plenty of room for a parking lot as well as the attraction's back-of-house areas.

Soooo ... Anyone out there wanna eyeball an aerial map of the Walt Disney World Resort and hazard a guess as to where on property a "Pirates of the Caribbean" Water Adventure Park might fit?

Next up, Neil B. of Watertown, MA. asks:

Jim --

I really enjoyed that "Disney Decade" article that you wrote earlier this week. I was particularly intrigued by all the attractions that were proposed for Disney-MGM that were ultimately never built. Could you someday do a story about some of them? Like that Baby Herman Runaway Buggy Ride. How was that supposed to work?

Neil B. --

Actually, you picked one of my favorites, Neil. Had it ever made it off the drawing board, "Baby Herman's Runaway Buggy Ride" would have been a whole lot of fun to ride. It's a real shame that -- due to Disney's never-ending battle with Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment over which company actually controlled the rights to the Roger Rabbit characters -- that the Imagineers never actually got the chance to build this particular attraction

"So what would have 'Baby Herman's Runaway Buggy Ride' been like to ride?," you query. Well, picture this: You're on line at Maroon Studios. Where you're supposedly about to get a tour of the set of the new Roger Rabbit / Baby Herman cartoon, "Tummy Trouble."

But -- as you make your way past Baby Herman's trailer -- you can hear that the diminutive star is inside that trailer & he's throwing a tantrum. Baby Herman is saying things like: "That sequence is far too dangerous for a star like me to perform, Raoul. You better go hire some stuntmen to take my place in that scene."

And the next thing you know, this cartoon's frantic director is walking up to you & your party in line, asking you if you'd like to take Baby Herman's place in the picture. To shoot a brief scene for the movie that's perfectly safe. That really shouldn't be any problem at all.

And -- before you really have a chance to think this question over -- you suddenly find yourself in Maroon Studios' wardrobe department. Where you're being fitted for a giant baby bonnet. And the next thing you know, you and three of your close, personal friends are being loaded into an over-sized baby buggy.

Once the lap bar comes down, Raoul shouts "Lights! Camera! Action." And -- with that -- you're suddenly whizzing around the wards of St. Nowhere Hospital, supposedly shooting a stunt sequence for "Tummy Trouble."

Below, you find images from storyboards for this proposed Disney-MGM attraction, which shows your baby buggy bouncing over beds full of patients ...


Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company

... as well as making wild turns in the hospital's corridors, where it feels like you're almost going to fall out of your ride vehicle.


Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company

And the best part of "Baby Herman's Runaway Buggy Ride" was that this proposed Disney-MGM attraction was supposed to feature image capture. Which means -- as you exited the ride -- you'd have the opportunity to buy a picture of you & your friends seated in a giant buggy. With all of you wearing baby bonnets.

Yeah, just for the retail opportunities alone, Disney desperately wanted to built this "Baby Herman" attraction as part of the Sunset Boulevard expansion project. But then Steven Spielberg started getting all snippy about what could and could not be done with the Roger Rabbit characters. Which -- in the end -- meant no "Toontown Trolley" simulator ride for Disney-MGM ...


Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company

... No "Baby Herman's Runaway Buggy Ride," no "Benny the Cab" ride ... Well, at least for Florida.

Speaking of the "Benny the Cab" ride, let me share a little story about how this attraction was originally supposed to be laid out. Back when Mickey's Toontown actually went by the name "Mickeyland."

Take a close look at this piece of concept art.


Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company

Notice that the ride vehicles for the "Benny the Cab" attraction load at ground level, but then -- via a ramp leading to the top floor of Toontown's Powerhouse -- head for the second floor. Where they then stay for the rest of the ride. Which includes a brief outdoor trip across the rooftops before your cab -- via a ramp that takes you from the top floor of the Acme Warehouse back down to ground level -- returns to the off-load area.

Wouldn't that have been fun? To have gone outside in your "Benny the Cab" ride vehicle. Not to mention motoring along on the rooftops of Toontown. But -- as you might expect -- as they began cutting back on the budget for this Disneyland expansion area, some items had to get cut.

So out went the outdoor track section of the "Benny the Cab" ride (as well as the somewhat unique idea of staging most of this attraction so that it played out on Toontown's second floor). Cut too was the "Little Mermaid" dark ride as well as the Mickeyland Opera House. Which was where the Imagineers hoped to present "Muppetvision 3-D" after Orange County residents got so upset about WDI's original proposal. Which was throw our 16th president out of the Main Street Opera House and replace "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" with this new Muppet movie.


Copyright 1989. The Walt Disney Company

Which reminds me. I really should fold this piece of concept art into my "When You Wish Upon a Frog" series over at Laughingplace.com.

And -- speaking of my long form stories -- I got this note from Ryan R. earlier this week concerning my " A Very 'Mary' Christmas" series.:

Jim,

Please don't make (your) "Mary Poppins" story become the next journey through the "Light Magic" fiasco. That one was started twice and I am still waiting to hear the end. Now, I am waiting desparately for the end of the "Mary Poppins" story and it seems to not be coming soon.

Thanks for the site

Ryan

Ryan --

You can relax. The end of that "Mary Poppins" story is nigh. Though I should warn you that this series has mutated somewhat.

As longtime JHM readers already know, I know no short stories. So what starts out as just a simple two part story sometimes turns into a three parter or a four parter. Or -- in the case of " A Very 'Mary' Christmas" -- a five part series.

Plus -- given that this series is now going to finish up in January -- my attempt at a Christmas tie-in for these "Mary Poppins" stories just doesn't make any sense anymore. Which is why I retitling the series. It's now going to be called "Mary Poppins: From the Page to the Stage." And the series' new opening installment (which may go up next Tuesday, more likely next Wednesday) will deal with Walt Disney's 22-year long effort to acquire the movie rights to the P.L. Travers books. Part II will be the original Part I of the 'Very 'Mary' Christmas" series. Part III will be a slightly rewritten version of Part II of the original version of this JHM series (Which talked about "The Poet & the Nightingale"). Part IV will deal with the Walt Disney Company's attempt in the late 1980s to get a "Mary Poppins" sequel off the ground. And Part V will talk about Cameron Mackintosh's 19-year struggle to acquire the rights to do a stage musical version of "Mary Poppins."

My goal is to have this whole "Mary Poppins" series buttoned by over the next week or two. So that there will be no loose ends when it comes to my take on the Disney / P.L. Travers / Cameron Mackintosh tale.

But wait! There's more, folks. As this new year got underway just eight days ago, I made a promise to myself: To finish up in '05. As in: All of the other series that I've left abandoned all around the Web? To finally finish them all off.

This means the long-awaited conclusions to my "Tower of Terror" series, my "Light Magic" series, even "When You Wish Upon a Frog" (That one actually kind of frightens me. Given that I figure-- what with trying to cover everything that happened between the Jim Henson Company & the Walt Disney Company from 1990 to today -- that one may need another 15-20 chapters). Not to mention buttoning up my unauthorized Disneyland history book as well as finally getting out that first issue of the JHM newsletter.

My goal is -- by the time December 31, 2005 rolls around -- that I'll go from being Jim Hill, the guy who never quite finishes the stuff he starts, to being Jim Hill, the guy who tells these really-cool-but-sometimes-really-long Disney-related stories.

I won't lie to you, folks. Getting this all done is going to take some time. As well as a lot of work on my part. So I'm afraid that I'm going to have to ask for a little more of your patience. The current plan calls for me to first wrap up the "Poppins" series, then get out the first issue of JHM newsletter, then finish up "Little Magic" (I think). And then -- after that -- the Tower of Terror series & the Muppet stuff. So -- if you can just hang in there a little while longer -- I think the wait will really be worth it.

And -- speaking of waiting -- I know that there are a number of JHM readers who are frantically waiting to hear who won this week's "Monday Mélange" trivia contest. The question was:

Who was the first Disney character to be rendered in CG? And for what film/project was this classic character computer animated?

And the answer was: Mickey Mouse, who was rendered in CG back in 1990 for Disney-MGM's "Kermit the Frog presents Muppetvision 3-D."

Given the large number of folks (73!) who entered this week's trivia contest and correctly identified the character and the film, I have randomly selected three winners. They are:

  • Mark Noack
  • Bill Sencio
  • Rob Steere

So -- if you gentleman would please send me your address information -- I'd be happy to put those bags of "Just Plain Joe Coffee" in the mail for you.

Curiously, nobody got this week's bonus question. Which was:

What's so ironic about the company that Disney hired to do the computer animation for this film/project?

And the answer is: The company that computer-animated Mickey Mouse for "Muppetvision 3-D" was Pacific Data Image, also known as PDI. What's ironic about this whole situation is that PDI would eventually be acquired by Dreamworks SKG. (They're the folks who actually produce all of Dreamworks' computer animated features like "Antz," "Shrek," Shrek II" and "Sharktale.")

So here you have the very first company to render Mickey in CG eventually turning into Disney's direct competitor in the computer animation field. That's kind of ironic, don't you think?

Anyway ... It's been a big week here at JHM. Plus we just had a big snowstorm up here in New Hampshire. So I think I'd best close now and get started shoveling that six inches of "partly cloudy" off my front deck.

"Isn't it going to be unpleasant to have to go outside, Jim," you ask, "and muck around in all that cold and snow?" Nah. I'll just consider it excellent training for next month's trip to Minneapolis. Where I'll be covering Disney's next annual meeting.

Yep. You heard right. Disney's next annual meeting is going to be held in Minnesota. On February 11th. Me personally, I figure that the only reason that Eisner chose the Minneapolis Convention Center as the venue for this year's meeting is that the one in Nome, Alaska must have already been booked. 

Ah, but a little cold & a little distance isn't going to stop JimHillMedia.com from attending this extra-special event. Our current plan is to strap on some snowshoes and mush on out to Minnesota. Where we'll bring you detailed coverage of Bob Iger's coronation ... Er ... I mean "this year's annual meeting."

Anyway ... I'll soon be bringing you details about what JHM plans to do once we get out to Minneapolis next month. But -- for now -- just like every other news organization out there that just learned yesterday what Disney had in store for this year's annual meeting, I'm now scrambling to arrange for my plane ticket as well as my hotel accomodations. Hmmn ... I wonder if I can get a direct flight into Minneapolis or if I'm going to have to make a stopover at Lake Wobegon first?

Okay. That's enough stalling on my part. I gotta go shovel the deck now. You folks have a great weekend, okay? And we'll all meet here again next week, alright?

Later,

jrh

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