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A special go-to-the-mall & under-the-sea & behind-the-scenes & up-in-the-air edition of Why For

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.

A special go-to-the-mall & under-the-sea & behind-the-scenes & up-in-the-air edition of Why For

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First up, Tyler P. writes in to ask about:

Jim --

While my family and I were down at Disney World last week, we spent an hour or so exploring Celebration. Which was kind of fun, except for the lack of places to shop. It took us less than 30 minutes to visit all of the stores along Market Street.

Given how stunted this planned community's retail center seems, I kept thinking that this wasn't how it was originally supposed to be. Wasn't Celebration supposed to have some sort of Disney-designed mega-mall located right nearby? I distinctly remembering hearing about something like that back in the early 1990s as part of the "Disney Decade" announcement. Since JHM seems to specialize in stories about things that Disney never built, I was wondering if you had any info to share about this particular project?

Tyler P.

Dear Tyler P.

Yes, Celebration was originally supposed to have had its very own mega-mall built right nearby: Celebration Center. And this project would have been huge. At full build-out, this enormous complex was supposed to have featured 2 million square feet of retail space.

Mind you, Celebration Center wasn't going to offer your typical warm, fuzzy Disney shopping experience. As designed by noted architect Helmut Jahn, this enormous retail complex was supposed to have been sleek & modern.

Copyright 1991 The Walt Disney Company

Of course, recognizing that the kiddies would really get bored if Mom & Dad were to spend an entire day in Orlando shopping, Jahn wanted Celebration Center to feature this enormous ferris wheel.

Me personally, I don't know if that ferris wheel would have been such a hot idea. After all, if you're a kid ... What could be worse than having to waste a day of your family's WDW vacation on shopping? Well ... How about if this place (where you really didn't want to be ) then had a ride that was just tall enough to allow you to see the places where you really did want to be (I.E. The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon) looming off in the distance. Talk about your cruel & unusual punishments.

Copyright 1991 The Walt Disney Company

As for the rest of the complex, Disney envisioned Celebration Center as being this international shopping district. Which would feature flagship stores for noted European & Asian retailers like  Harrods or Mistsukoshi.

In the end, the sheer ambition of Celebration Center ultimately did the project in. Given what the Walt Disney Company was going to have to spend in order to turn Helmut Jahn's sleek, modernistic dream into a reality ... That -- plus (just about this same time) the Florida Mall announced that it was about to undergo a major expansion. This news -- coupled with the revamping of Orlando's Fashion Square Mall and the announcement of the Mall at Millenia project ... seems to have given the Mouse second thoughts about the whole mega-mall plan.

Which is why the residents of Celebration still have to leave their perfectly groomed planned community if they want to do any serious shopping these days. Because yet another "Disney Decade" project failed to make it off the drawing board.

And speaking of things that didn't it off the drawing board, Melissa B. writes in to say:

Dear Mr. Hill --

I just discovered your website. I've never before come across such a treasure trove of stories about Disney theme park attractions that never got built. Where do you get all of your information?

One story of yours ("The Big One That Got Away: Madison's Dive") really fascinated me. Given that I (just Mr. Eisner) am a big fan of "Splash", I was wondering: Is there artwork out there that would show what this proposed Pleasure Island nightclub would have looked like?

I've spent the past few days reading through all of your old stories. It's been so much fun trying to catch up on everything I've missed. Please keep up the great work.

Sincerely yours,

Melissa B.

Dear Melissa B.

Thanks for your kind words about the site. Now, regarding "Madison's Dive" ... To be honest, the only images that were ever released to the public of this proposed Pleasure Island nightclub appeared in the early, early press kits for this project. We're talking 1986, 1987 here (Almost 20 years ago).

Now -- if you look at this black & white photograph of a Pleasure Island concept painting (which gives you an aerial view of what the Imagineers originally hopes WDW's night-time entertainment district would look like) -- virtually at the dead center of this image ...

Copyright 1987 The Walt Disney Company

... you'll spy "Madison's Dive." Here. Let me throw in a close-up of this proposed PI addition. So that you can then get a better sense of the exterior of this nightclub would have looked like.

Copyright 1987 The Walt Disney Company

Now what's kind of cool about the marquee that the Imagineers had wanted to build for "Madison's Dive" was that it was supposed to have featured an over-sized mechanical version of Darryl Hannah. Which would have flicked her mermaid tail up & down, up & down ... With the hope that this kinetic device might then draw the attention of people walking through Pleasure Island. Make them that much more compelled to go check out that particular nightclub.

Unfortunately, as PI's construction costs continued to spiral out of control (When work on WDW's night-time entertainment district was finally completed, this project had come in a staggering 300% over-budget), "Madison's Dive" was one of the first things to get cut.

But the guys from WDI ... They never forgot about that sexy mermaid with the swishy tail that they had intended to install as part of the marquee for "Madison's Dive." So when word came down from Burbank that Eisner wanted a store built at PI that was themed around the Jessica Rabbit character from the 1988 Touchstone Pictures release, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" ... Well, the Imagineers knew just what they wanted to do.

So -- instead of a blonde mermaid that flicked her tail -- Pleasure Island got an enormous curvy redhead who slowly swung one leg back and forth. Which ultimately achieved the same effect. As least as far as the men who visited PI were concerned.

Anyway ... Next up, BlackCherryVanillaCoke writes in to ask about a certain piece of backstage property at Disneyland.

Jim --

As a cast member at Disneyland, I'm always fascinated by these stories about these new "lands" (Like International Street, Liberty Street, Edison Square, Chinatown and Hollywoodland) ...

Early concept section for Disneyland's Hollywoodland
Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

... that the Imagineers have wanted to build between Main Street U.S.A. and Tomorrowland over the years. Given how little actual room there is back there (You should how we have to struggle in order to get all the units from the 50th anniversary parade properly parked back here), I just can't believe that Disney would have ever been able to get a decent "land" built on this tiny bit of real estate. Yet for decades now, this particular piece of proprerty has continually been in play.

Speaking of which, a friend of mine recently observed a survey team backstage at Main Street U.S.A. These guys supposedly spent hours on both the Adventureland and Tomorrowland sides to the street carefully measuring things.

So does a WDI survey team backstage at Main Street U.S.A. mean that there's yet another new "land" in the works for this part of Disneyland? And if so, where are we going to park the parade floats after they build this thing?

Dear BlackCherryVanillaCoke --

Actually, based on what I've been hearing, those 50th anniversary parade floats can continue to be parked just where they've been parked for the past 30 years. The reason that those survey teams have been poking around the backstage areas along Main Street U.S.A. is that ... Well, the Imagineers may be revisiting an idea that was first proposed for this Anaheim theme park back in the 1970s. Which involves building enclosed walkways on both the Tomorrowland & Adventureland sides of the street. Which would then (in theory) improve guest traffic flow at Disneyland on those busy summer nights and/or over the holiday season.

I mean, anyone who's ever been to "The Happiest Place on Earth" on a hot July night will tell you that this place is anything but happy right after the fireworks go off. How you can literally stand body-to-body for 10 minutes or more as Main Street U.S.A. gets ungridlocked. As Disneyland cast members -- as they frantically wave those flashlights -- struggle to get tens of thousands of people on the move again.

Of course, given that there's currently only one way in and out of the park for day visitors at Disneyland (For the moment, let's forget the monorail to the Disneyland Hotel, okay?), this has always been the place where congestion is at its worse at the Anaheim theme park. Where tempers inevitably flare because some poor slob in the crowd is tired of having strollers bang into the back of his legs.

This is why this walkways (Which -- in some version of this plan -- are also called arcades) keep getting proposed for construction at Disneyland. The Imagineers keep talking up how much more pleasant a visit to the company's first theme park would be if each & every guest didn't have to be funneled down Main Street U.S.A. If there were also designated over-flow areas out behind Tomorrowland and Adventureland which could then be used to handle the crowds.

Mind you, not everyone at Disneyland is all that enthusiastic about the idea of these enclosed walkways finally being built. I hear that the people in charge of the Emporium are particularly incensed that a certain portion of their possible customers might soon be able to slip out of the theme park without first being tempted to purchase an over-priced Disneyland t-shirt or coffee mug.

"But why -- after all these years -- is this idea now suddenly gaining momentum?," you ask. Well, after dealing with all the crowd-control nightmares that "Remember ... Dreams Come True" caused last summer. And the marathon-length lines that the Anaheim theme park has begun experiencing in the wake of this week's re-opening of the Johnny Depp-utized version of "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Now add to that the enormous crowds that are expected to come to Anaheim next year to experience the "Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage." Plus the people who will be coming back to Disneyland just to see the Will Turner & Elizabeth Swann AA figures that are scheduled to be installed in "Pirates" next spring.

Then add to that the control-control issues that will inevitably erupt when Disneyland gets its all-new edition of "Fantasmic!" as well as the fireworks show that's going to replace "Remember ... Dreams Come True" ... And ... Well, it looks like the Main Street U.S.A. area is going to be severely congested for at least the next five years. Which is why Disneyland could use these enclosed walkways sooner rather than later.

"Is there any other reason that the Imagineers are pushing for this particular project now?," you continue. Well, yes. There is the John Lasseter / Bob Iger factor. There's a belief at WDI that these two guys actually "get it." That not everything at Disneyland has to make money. That things can be built & installed at the Anaheim just because they're aesthetically pleasing and/or because they improve the guest's experience.

Mind you, there are no guarantees that Lasseter & Iger will continue to "get it." That they -- just like Eisner did -- may eventually be seduced by the bottom line. Always see things in a "How much is this going to cost us and how much do we stand to make" sort of way. Which is why -- once again -- the guys at WDI are trying to ram the Disneyland-enclosed-walkways project through.

Mind you, there's absolutely no guarantee that this project will ever be greenlit. After all, the Liberty & Discovery Arcades have been successfully moving guests around the congestion in the Main Street U.S.A. area at Disneyland Paris for nearly 14 years now ... And yet Disney Company executives have (to date) shown no real inclination to ship this obviously-successful concept stateside.

Ah, but that the nature of the Imagineer, folks. You carefully nurse along and safeguard an idea. With the hope that someday the right executive will suddenly take a liking to your idea. Which is how notions that are scribbled on napkins eventually become fully-funded realities.

Of course, sometimes ideas undergo intriguing changes on their trips from the drawing board into reality ... Which brings us to our final question of the day. Where CrazyQuilt asks me about the Tokyo DisneySea version of the Tower of Terror. He writes:

Jim -- 

Is what I'm hearing about the TDS version of TOT true? That this version of the attraction won't make any reference to the "Twilight Zone" TV show? How is this new thrill ride ever going to thrill anyone if it doesn't set the stage properly by first having Rod Serling establish the premise of the show? Without Serling and all of those "Twilight Zone" trappings, it would seem to me that Disney's Tower of Terror just then becomes your average freefall attraction. The sort of thing that you can find at virtually any amusement park.

I thought that the Oriental Land Company was all about doing things right. Insisting that the attractions that are built for their two Disney theme parks are even better than the U.S.A. originals. So what's the point of building a brand-new Tower of Terror if you don't include Rod Serling and all that "Twilight Zone" stuff. Rod is god, you understand.

If you could explain why Tokyo DisneySea is "Twilight Zone" -free (Was it money-related? Was the Oriental Land Company unwilling to acquire the Japanese rights for use of this TV show in their theme parks?), I'd really appreciate it.

Thanks for all the great stories.


Dear KrazyQuilt --

Relax. There's no sinister conspiracy behind the Imagineers' decision to make the Tokyo DisneySea edition of "Tower of Terror" "Twilight Zone" free. To be honest, this decision was made because ... Well, Japanese theme park goers aren't all that familiar with this 1960s era TV show. More importantly, Rod Serling isn't an instantly recognizable cultural icon in Japan the way he is here in the U.S.

Which is why the guys at WDI eventually decided to create another mythology for TDS's TOT. One that's built around eccentric billionaire Harrison Hightower and the mysterious artifact that seems to have done him in ... 

I know, I know. It may seem like heresay to some of you "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" fans to think that a version of this attraction could ever be built without Rod Serling and his clipped narration succinctly setting the stage for the thrills & chills that follow.

But what you folks need to understand is that Disney-MGM's "Tower of Terror" project had been in development for a number of years before Mouse House attorneys were finally able to make a deal with Carol Serling (I.E. Rod's widow). Which then allowed the Imagineers to begin weaving elements from the classic 1960s TV series into the attraction.

Up until that point, the "Tower of Terror" was pretty much just as KrazyQuilt described it: Just another version of Freefall. Only this time around, the modern amusement park favorite would be found inside of an old abandoned Hollywood hotel ...  

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

... Only guests wouldn't to experience the terrors to be found in that tower ...

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

... until they'd spent some time wandering the corridors of this long-empty building. Where (it's been said) a famous Hollywood director -- who'd lost his home, his wife and (eventually) his mind because he wasn't able to successfully make the transition from directing silent films to talkies -- still wander the halls. Seeking to get his revenge on those fickle film-goers who turned their backs on him.

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

Back in those days, the climax of the "Tower of Terror" was supposed to come as your service elevator reached the very top of the shaft at the Hollywood Hotel. Once there, you were supposed to look up through the wire mesh that cover the ceiling of the elevator and then spy this insane old movie director sawing through the cables. As he yelled "Cut!" ... The last strand of cable was supposed to snap. And your service elevator was then supposed to plunge down into the darkness of the basement.

There are still those at Walt Disney Imagineering who believe that the storyline that was originally proposed for the "Tower of Terror" was actually much stronger than the one that piggy-backed on the mythology of "The Twilight Zone."

Me? I have to admit that I find that first storyline rather intriguing. But -- that said -- I also recognize that, by attaching the "Twilight Zone" name to "The Tower of Terror," that did give this MGM addition instant name recognition. So -- in the end -- acquiring those rights from Rod Serling's widow was probably a very smart way to go.

But even so, given how strong the Harrison Hightower mythology is, I have no doubt that TDS' version of TOT will be a huge success when this new thrill ride finally opens at that theme park in early September.

And speaking of which ... This is already a pretty huge edition of "Why For." Which is why I think I'll close now and start getting ready for next week here at JHM. Where we're going to have even more stories about "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." So be sure to come on by to learn about how Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Gore Verbinski conspired to turn "The Curse of the Black Pearl" (which was originally intended to just be a stand-alone film) into the first installment of a full-blown trilogy.

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  • The trouble with the TOT is...it doesn't take the time to set up the premise properly. I loved the look of the thing, the idea behind it, and good ol' Rod Serling on that TV screen, his ever-present cigarette digitally removed from his fingers (thus making them look a bit weird). But it was so RUSHED. Didn't even Eisner complain about that? And I remember reading that Walt used to really blow his stack if anybody speeded up the rides - he saw them as storytelling devices and he knew how important pacing was. IMO, the guys from Pixar ought to do two things at least for the theme parks: strengthen the story behind rides like the Tower, and  for heaven's sake update The Haunted Mansion. Take out the lame graveyard scene that didn't scare me even as a kid, put in some digital effects and holographs. Walt never intended for his rides to be museum pieces that must never be touched. He'd have redone the Mansion as soon as new technology gave him the opportunity to improve it - or as he always put it, "plus it".
  • "Cut!"
    Okay, that's priceless.
  • I adore Rod Serling, but to be honest, I think the only thing younger visitors recognize from TOT is the Twilight Zone music.  (Younger being tweens and such.)
  • "a famous Hollywood director -- who'd lost his home, his wife and (eventually) his mind because he wasn't able to successfully make the transition from directing silent films to talkies -- still wander the halls. Seeking to get his revenge on those fickle film-goers who turned their backs on him."

    This actually sounds pretty cool. Especially because the Tower sits at the end of "Sunset Boulevard.
  • I've always wondered why the Tower of Terror building is so big; is this old story line part of the reason for it's size? Or does the building really need to be that big?
  • As I recall, most of the building houses the gigantic elevator engines. Since these devices must lift and pull the elevators up and down at faster than gravity speeds safely and repeatedly, they needed to be huge. Also, there's a lot of cooling and whatnot that needs to be applied to these engines.

    That whole director yelling, "Cut!" sounds pretty cool. But I still love the preshow and setup we have now. Little things, like the way lighting flashes on the TV match the storm going on outside the window, and Rod Sterlings voice leaping from the small TV speakers to fill the room with a booming, "The Twilight Zone," are all part of what makes this my favorite ride in all of Disney World.
  • The engines that pull the cables for the elevator are on one floor, way at the top of the building.  The rest of it is for the show.  And the four shafts.
  • Hi Jim:

    Through your article I've read you've mentioned about the new edtion of Fantamic! at Disneyland. Could you reveal more information about this? When will it come?  By searching your archives I've only found out that you have mentioned about a different version of Fantasmic at MGM studios to celebrate the holloween. Thanks.
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  • Wow! That ride sounds really great!

    Mind you I still will love the MGM version better. The twilight zone always creeped me out as a kid.

    I also had this amazing idea that before you drop in the tower it took you outside through the grounds and over the building on a rollercoaster ride.. then you go up the tower and drop. Not really my idea.. except that it came to me in a dream. I woke up extremely upset it wasnt real, and extremely happy that I just invented my own Disney Attraction update. hahaha
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