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Let's take a trip to "The Island at the Top of the World"

Jim Hill

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Let's take a trip to "The Island at the Top of the World"

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Barry S. dropped me a line yesterday to say:

"Jeff Lange's 'Circusland' story last Friday was just great. I love it when JHM posts articles about attractions that the Imagineers never got around to building. Can you please do another story about Discovery Bay?"

Okay, Barry. How about an article about the attraction that was supposed to be the centerpiece of this proposed Disneyland addition, the "Island at the Top of the World"?

Copyright 1976 Walt Disney Productions

In an October 12, 1976 WED memo, this attraction was described as:

" ... the focal point for Discovery Bay. The magnificent airship, Hyperion, beckons guests into this ariel voyage of discovery set in an icy realm at the Top of the World.

(Hyperion Hangar)

The guests enter the massive hangar building and as they pass through, they see the airship in preparation for its historic voyage. Engines are being primed, cargo loaded, and gas pumped into the huge balloon. The passengers move up into the confined loading platform. Here they are grouped and await the opening of the platform doors. The Captain welcomes the passengers as they board the Hyperion -- and soon the voyage begins.


Amid the sounds of cold engines and some obviously disturbed chickens, the balloon ascends into a blazing sunset. As the glow fades, a surrealistic lighting effect becomes prominent. The Captains begins to recount the numerous legends regarding the Aurora Borealis, but is interrupted by heavy air turbulence. The First Mate's report indicates that the safest air zone to be right at surface level.

Far below, the outline of ice formations can be seen floating on the dark waters, as the vast ship tips forward and begins to descend. Gradually, the ice flows expand in size, until the shadow of the airship can be seen against the snow banks, pursuing some apparently frightened reindeer.

The balloon continues downward until it is moving amongst the great fields of ice. It is here eye-to-eye contact is made with the animals of this frozen world.

A great field of arctic hares, a polar bear family, seals, walrus, and a snow leopard regard our presence with varying degrees of suspicion. All the while a never-ending procession of whales continues forward toward a great wall of ice. Cut into this wall is a narrow gorge through which the whales continue to pass.

The storms have hampered our planned flight above the ice wall. Therefore, progress will have to continue somewhat cautiously through this narrow channel. The ship is engulfed by the walls of ice -- but before long, the gorge opens into a large crystal labyrinth. Tinkling sounds accompany shattering ice crystals. The Captain gives the order to "Shut down engines!" Even the slightest vibration may set nature in motion. Deep within the grotto lies the seaward gate of the lost civilization of Astragard. Dominating the entrance is a temple of ice -- apparently conceived to pay homage to the great sea beasts (providers of both food and material for these ancients). Huge icycle-draped whale bones frame the eerie scene ... "The Temple of the Whales! According to Captain Brieux, it served as the seaward gate to the Island at the Top of the World ... how strange! It's now only a frozen testimonial to ... nature's ... Good Lord... !"

The Captain is interrupted by an unprovoked attack of whales leaping out of the waters below. "Start up the engines -- pull her up!" The aircraft pulls away just in time, for the commotion has caused the delicate ice crystals to shatter.

Directly ahead lie the ruins of the ancient city of Astragard. Here, amid volcanic-tempered pools, a great people once thrived -- but as the warmth failed, the surrounding ice took a firm grip on the city. The people of Astragard fled Southward, and with them came tales of fantastic beasts that lived in this land. Captain Brieux, who charted this expedition, claimed to have seen several of these creatures -- but was not able to verify his sightings. To this day, only these stone images remain as ... "Captain! The thermal gauge indicates an unusual temperate zone directly ahead."

The Captain is at a loss for words, but the report is confirmed as the Hyperion glides out over a melted ice brink and into a lush Eden-like garden, basking in the warmth of a huge volcanically-fed altar stone.

"The great Temple of Astragard -- for centuries buried and protected by a mantle of ice. The flaring of the Temple altars has once again allowed the grounds to break free to the Artic skies."

In the Temple garden, the Hyperion discovers living creatures rivaling the most exotic creations of man's fantasies. It is not long before the temperatures on board the Hyperion begins to rise and with this comes the warning that too long a stay could cause the airship to rise up out of control and become lost above in the churning storms.

The Captain ignores the warnings and in the interest of science proceeds deeper into the Temple ruins. He is fascinated with the possibility of capturing one of these creatures.

The passengers get their first glimpse of the Temple interior -- the huge stone dieties, and the flaming altars. The temperatures continue to rise. Basking in the warmth are an incredible array of life forms -- even more exotic than in the previous garden. Suddenly the Hyperion lurches upward and into a spiral.

"Keep her down! Keep her down!"

"She won't come around, Sir! She's rising fast!"

Cold air rsuhes into the ship as it is buffeted to and fro, finally disappearing into the clouds. The passengers are cautioned to remain seated and the airship enters the driving storm. This begins a visual and physical sequence of increased speed and buffeting activity, climaxed in the eye of a vast electrical storm. As the turbulent cloud and wind assault begins to fade, the Captain regains control of the airship and it's not long before the familiar landmarks of Discovery Bay can be seen silhouetted in the moonlight.

The passengers disembark amid the confusion of an airport arrival. They pass a news photographer who is patiently trying to pose the Captain and his newly-acquired friend ... a very strange mascot!"

Sounds like a pretty amazing attraction, don't you think? But how exactly would the "Island at the Top of the World" ride have worked? Well, your ride vehicle (which was to have been a recreation of the Hyperion's wooden cabin) would have traveled from an overhead track. Sort of like an inverted form of the monorail.

This proposed Disneyland addition (which was initially budgeted to cost $17 million. Almost as much as the entire theme park cost back in 1955) was to have been housed inside one of the largest show buildings that the Imagineers had ever had built. And was to have cleverly mixed film elements, miniature sets, full-sized props as well as Audio Animatronic figures to create a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

"So why didn't this proposed attraction ever get built?," you ask. Because the "Island at the Top of the World" movie performed so poorly at the box office when it was released to theaters in December of 1974. Which pretty much doomed the Imagineers' plans to ever add this "land" to the "Happiest Place on Earth."

But -- even so -- the guys at WDI refused to give up this idea. Even going so far as to include a restaurant that was themed around the "Island" mythology (With a full-sized version of the Hyperion airship dangling overhead) at the centerpiece of Discoveryland at Euro Disneyland's Magic Kingdom.

Which is why many Disneyana fans still hold out hope that someday this proposed Disneyland addition -- with its amazing signature attraction -- will rise up along the Rivers of America. So that they can then climb aboard the Hyperion and journey up into the Arctic to see for themselves "The Island at the Top of the World."

Photo by Jim Hill

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