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A special Thursday 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 Thursday edition of Why For

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First, Hankipoo writes in to ask about Epcot's proposed U.S.S.R. pavilion:


I have really been enjoying all of the Disney theme park stories that you've been posting on the site lately (More importantly, I like that you've finally stopped carping about "Cars"). So I was wondering what you could tell JHM readers about that Soviet pavilion that was supposed to have been added to World Showcase back during the Disney Decade.

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company



Dear Hankipoo,

To be honest, there's really not a lot to tell about the U.S.S.R. pavilion that was proposed for Epcot back in the late 1980s / early 1990s. According to press releases from that era that I've got on file, This World Showcase addition was to have featured a widescreen film tentatively titled "Let the Bells for Freedom Ring." Which was to have detailed the many changes that have happened in this part of the world over the past 100 years.

The Imagineers also planned on installing a family-friendly dark ride at the U.S.S.R. pavilion ...

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

... One that would have taken Epcot visitors past stylized recreations of memorable moments from Russian folklore ... 

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

Where (borrowing a page from "it's a small world") all of the characters that were to have appeared in this attraction would have been modeled after wooden folk art dolls.

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

As to the ride vehicle that you would have ridden through this World Showcase attraction on ... You can actually see it in the lower right-hand corner of the above image capture.

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

That's right. You were supposed to have zoomed through this proposed U.S.S.R. attraction aboard a magical flying sleigh. Which (I'd imagine) would have made this dark ride very popular with WDW guests during the holiday season.

Unfortunately, given that many of the reforms that occurred under Mikhail Gorbachev seem to have eroded and/or evaporated completely while Vladimir Putin has been president of the Russian Federation, it's looking less and less likely that this proposed World Showcase addition (Which was originally supposed to have begun back construction in 1997, with the completed pavilion opening to the public sometime in 1999) will ever make it off the drawing board.

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

Which is a real shame. Given that -- even today -- a Russian-themed pavilion is still the top choice whenever Epcot visitors are asked about what they'd like to see added to World Showcase. Or so my sources at WDW Guest Relations tell me.

Next up, Lynne G. writes in to say:

I just don't get all of the fuss about this proposed retheming of Disneyland's Tom Sawyer Island. Hong Kong Disneyland has a Tarzan-themed island in its Adventureland section whiich seems quite popular with guests visiting that theme park.

Copyright 2005 Disney Enterprises, Inc. 

Just like at the original Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland uses rafts to get guests back and forth across the Rivers of Adventure. And they seem to handle the crowds waiting in line just fine.

So again I ask: Why all the fuss about changing Tom Sawyer Island over to a new pirate-themed attraction?  

Copyright 2004 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Dear Lynne G.

The basic problem here is that many West Coast-based Disneyland fans have very fond memories of the times that they spent on Tom Sawyer Island as kids. Which is why they don't really want to see Injun Joe's Cave rethemed around the "Pirates of the Caribbean" mythology.

Mind you, the folks who are doing most of the complaining here are typically people who haven't been out to the island for years now. But -- because this Disneyland attraction that they don't visit anymore is still a treasured piece of their past -- they want Tom Sawyer Island to remain just as it was. Untouched & pristene. 

But the sad fact of the matter is that -- due to a decade or more of delayed maintenance and budget cut-backs -- Tom Sawyer Island is in pretty sorry shape right about now. Which is why the idea of the Walt Disney Company spending any money on this 50-year-old attraction (Be it "Pirates" retheming and/or just on general upkeep) should be applauded and encouraged. Not derailed by Disneyana fans who just don't like the idea of anything changing at that Anaheim theme park

Me myself, I call this sort of behavior "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" syndrome. Where Disneyana fans will scream bloody murder whenever this Main Street U.S.A. mainstay is threatened with closure. Every time this rumor make the rounds, these well-intentioned weenies write letters, set up online petitions, even pepper Guest Relations with annoying phone calls. Doing everything except what really needs to be done. Which is actually attending performances of "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln."

Let's face facts, folks. One of the reasons that the Imagineers are seriously toying with retheming Tom Sawyer Island is that attendance levels for this New Orleans Square attraction have been steadily falling for more than a decade now. The current theme of the island just doesn't appeal to your typical Southern Californian tourist. Which is why it might be interesting to see what impact a "Pirates" themed overlay might have on increasing the island's overall appeal.  

FYI: That's the latest word on the Tom Sawyer Island redo. Given the incredibly short time frame that we're talking about now (I.E. We've got less than seven months now 'til "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" holds its world premiere at the park), what the Imagineers are now talking about is a "Haunted Mansion Holiday" -style retheming. You know? Lots of temporary props and scenic elements scattered around the island next summer.

And if that version of Tom Sawyer Island proves to be popular with Disneyland visitors ... Well then, over 2008 and 2009, the island will then be completely rethemed. Only -- in this case -- WDI will be working with a more-than-adequate budget as well as much-more-realistic construction schedule.

Speaking of construction schedules ... A pal at Imagineering just gave me a peek at the next five years' worth of projects for Hong Kong Disneyland. After HKDL's version of  "it's a small world" opens in Fantasyland in late 2007 / early 2008, most of this theme park's future expansion will then be confined to Adventureland.

Well, perhaps "confined" isn't exactly the right word to use in this situation. Given that the Imagineers are planning on busting through the berm in order to facilitate guest access to that theme park's three huge expansion pads.

What area am I talking about? Well, if you'll look closely at the map below ...

Photo courtesy of Google Images

... You can clearly see where the Imagineers plan on building a walkway that will then take Hong Kong Disneyland guests under the train tracks and into this future expansion area.

Okay. Maybe you can't clearly see that walkway. Let me throw in a close-up of the area that I'm talking about. Do you now see those two thin grey lines that are crossing the train tracks?

Photo courtesy of Google Images

This is where the walkway into the Adventureland expansion area will supposedly go. And -- if you look at this overview of the current footprint of Hong Kong Disneyland ...

Photo courtesy of Google Images

... You'll see that we're talking about a huge piece of property. One that's big enough to hold a "Great White Hunter" version of the Haunted Mansion, a "Pirates of the Caribbean" themed redo of Splash Mountain as well as a clone of that popular new Tokyo DisneySea coaster, "Raging Spirits."

FYI: Hong Kong Disneyland isn't the only Disney theme park that may soon be getting a carbon copy of this recent Lost River Delta addition. The Imagineers have also reportedly been toying with adding "Raging Spirits" to the Adventureland section of WDW's Magic Kingdom. Since it's been more than a decade now since Disney World's signature theme park last got a new thrill ride.

And speaking of the Magic Kingdom ... Dozens of folks wrote in last week about Jeff Lange's recent "When it comes to the Haunted Mansion, theming is a matter of grave importance" photo essay. Not just because they really enjoyed that piece. But also because they wanted to point out a very important part of the pet cemetery at WDW's Haunted Mansion that they thought Mr. Lange had left out. 

Here (courtesy of loyal JHM reader Epcot lives) is the item that everyone was talking about ...

Photo courtesy of Epcot Lives

... the graveside statue that pays tribute to that long-closed Fantasyland favorite, "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride."

Anyway ... That concludes this week's addition of "Why For." As for why I felt that I had to move this typically-Fridays-only feature up a day or so this week ... Well, you might to drop by the site tomorrow afternoon. Especially all of your baby boomers out there. As I pay tribute to a very special pop culture-related anniversary.

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  • If I had to wager a guess about this pop culture-related anniversary... well, Friday is the 52nd anniversary of the Japanese release of Gojira (also known as Godzilla)...
  • "Me myself, I call this sort of behavior 'Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln' syndrome. Where Disneyana fans will scream bloody murder whenever this Main Street U.S.A. mainstay is threatened with closure. Every time this rumor make the rounds, these well-intentioned weenies write letters, set up online petitions, even pepper Guest Relations with annoying phone calls. Doing everything except what really needs to be done. Which is actually attending performances of 'Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.'"
    ....Wait, I'm confused on the whole denominational difference, here:  Are we Dweebs or Weenies?  Which ones are Cars fans?  ;)

    Seriously, YOU may call it "Mr. Lincoln Syndrome", but we choose to look at the bigger picture and call it "Pressler Formula".  And the problem is, Disney -doesn't-, because they never connected Paul with it by name, and they think that axeing "attractions that don't carry their weight" in favor of ephemeral movie-pimping is just a good idea Somebody-or-Other came up with.
    And the problem with Pressler Formula, back when it really -was- the Pressler Formula, was that every exec had their own ruler for what attraction "wasn't carrying its weight".  Meaning, that the exec in charge could axe any Walt-era attraction that he felt was looking at him crosseyed, and for no other rationale than that he'd thought up some new promotional synergy on his lunch hour.
    (Just listen to the ten minutes of almost homicidal bile against the old show that constitutes the "Tiki Room: New Management" script...Scary stuff.  0_0 )  In short, we're going to the attractions, we just have no way if we're going to it -enough- to suit one unnamed power-that-be.  How do we every know?
    I'm aware as anyone that kids may not remember Swiss Family Robinson, but I do know it has a lot more Imagineered atmosphere in that section of the park than a flop animated movie with Phil Collins songs that an exec thought might sell three more DVD's.  Take a youngster through Tom's Island or the Robinson's house, and it might spark a rental when they get home.

    We're not "dweebs" kicking and screaming that someone took out Push the Trashcan (there, was that Jim-Hill-ish enough of a cheap shot at imaginary targets?), we like to think that we're watchdogging to try and keep a sad time in Disney history from coming back, for those who DON'T look at the past, and are therefore doomed to repeat it:
    "I was silent when they came to rehab Hall of Presidents..."  :)
  • "Hong Kong Disneyland has a Tarzan-themed island in its Adventureland section whiich seems quite popular with guests visiting that theme park."
    "Why all the fuss about changing Tom Sawyer Island over to a new pirate-themed attraction?"  
    My thoughts before reading Jim's answer were that HKDL never had a Swiss Family Robinson treehouse...if they did, I bet some people would be complaining if they turned it into Tarzan's treehouse.  
    What if in the next few decades they turn Cinderella's carousel into Rapunzel's carousel, or make Snow White's Adventures into The Frog Princess' Adventures?  I don't mind a mix between old and new movie attractions, but the Disney management/Imagineers shouldn't feel the need to do what they did to Mr. Toad to make way for Pooh.  Why not build another land (eventually) and, instead of "killing" attractions based on old movies, build newer attractions in this new land...just an idea...

    "a "Pirates of the Caribbean" themed redo of Splash Mountain"
    That kind of makes sense...POTC already has water and drops, and Disney disowned SOTS, so why not combine them?  

    "The Imagineers have also reportedly been toying with adding "Raging Spirits" to the Adventureland section of WDW's Magic Kingdom."
    Yay, but where would they put it?  They're not going to take out any attractions to put it in (when and if), are they?  (I guess I have Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln syndrome...)  I like the more Disney-themed rides, unless they're ones Walt created (POTC, Jungle Cruise, etc.), but I guess I'll take anything new.

    I'm going to wait to see what the baby-boomer anniversary is until tomorrow, but my guess is that it has something to do with "The Mickey Mouse Club".  Or "Disneyland".

    Great edition of "Why For"!
  • I have not been on "Raging Spirits" but I have been on an off-the-shelf version of the ride (it's a pretty standard coaster- Disney just added the theming to it Tokyo) in Kentucky and it is absolutely BRUTAL.  Headbanging on the order of "Flashback" at Magic Mountain.  If it is built, they MUST ditch the loop and make this a lapbar-only ride.  Trust me on this one...
  • I hope they don't build "Raging Spirits" everyone I know who has been on it and its counterpart "Indiana Jones" at DLP hated the ride. I think it would be a huge flop here.
  • Well, Jim,  if you're thinking that "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln" is due to be trashed because it's not as popular as Space Mountain, why not take out ALL the stuff that kids don't like because it makes them think of homework? Ewww, Abe Lincoln, I don't wanna see that, I had to study about him in school! And Epcot - all those buildings from different countries and that cultural appreciation junk  - that's geography, hurl! I mean come on. The Lincoln exhibit doesn't take up that much space and it's a vital part of the park's history. It marked an innovation in audio-animatronics that Walt pioneered. I see nothing wrong with respecting that and leaving the attraction in place. Plus I doubt it's that unpopular. When I visited its counterpart, the Hall of Presidents at WDW, that attraction was packed. And I have no prob with being called a "weenie", since after all, that was Walt's word for a visually stunning park attraction. Ironic, no?
  • blackcauldron85:

    "The Imagineers have also reportedly been toying with adding "Raging Spirits" to the Adventureland section of WDW's Magic Kingdom."
    Yay, but where would they put it?

    Click on this Google Maps Link:

    Look at how much room is out there behind Pirates and Jungle Cruise.  Fire Mountain/Villain Mountain/Etc. was earmarked to be built out here years ago.  Trust me, there is PLENTY of room there :)  There would probably be a HUGE underground queue, a la DL's Indy.  I'm not a huge fan of this coaster, though.  The DLP Indy coaster is truly one of the most painful coasters I've ever been on.  Be careful what you wish for -- there are far better ideas floating around than a painfully painfully painfully PAINFUL (do you get that it's painful) coaster!
  • blackcauldron85 said:
    "'Hong Kong Disneyland has a Tarzan-themed island in its Adventureland section whiich seems quite popular with guests visiting that theme park.
    'Why all the fuss about changing Tom Sawyer Island over to a new pirate-themed attraction?'
    My thoughts before reading Jim's answer were that HKDL never had a Swiss Family Robinson treehouse...if they did, I bet some people would be complaining if they turned it into Tarzan's treehouse."
    Seems to be a HK combinarion of why Tokyo's "Tower of Terror" isn't Twilight Zone-themed (A: People in Tokyo don't watch TZ), and what, as long as we're making up neat-o new "syndrome" names, we may call Robin Hood and Alice Syndrome:
    Meaning, the new park gets an overabundance of movie-promotion for whatever movie the studio happened to be pushing at the time it was built--DL was pushing Alice (and Mr. Toad), WDW was selling Robin Hood, MGM was half Roger Rabbit, AK was half Tarzan, and parents at All-Star Movies keep having to tell their kids "No, y'see, those whales and toy soldiers are from 'Fantasia 2000'...We'll rent it when we get home."  
    And, HKDL's Adventureland was mapped out when they were still pushing Tarzan as a hot item....Pity the park that would've been built when they were promoting "Chicken Little".  :)
    (Bringing us back to all the rehabs that were planned when they still had Davey Jones on the brain.)
  • Jim - thanks as always... but I must make two comments.
    1) it's not simply a disney dweeb problem where they don't want change. That's the public face. You said yourself in a previous article the logistics of rafts and the hoards of people trying to get on would be a  huge issue. and that's THE difference between a Tarzan island in HKD running just fine and a Sparrow-themed island in Disneyland with the massive amounts of locals

    2) You said
    "Let's face facts, folks. One of the reasons that the Imagineers are seriously toying with retheming Tom Sawyer Island is that attendance levels for this New Orleans Square attraction have been steadily falling for more than a decade now.   "

    Um - last I checked TSI, and Rivers of America with it's two boats, was part of Frontierland. - and this is exactly where I argue some things about this go away from the larger-scale ideas of theming at the park. Now - it will mix views of the caribbean and golden horshoe..
  • I would go to Tom Sawyer's Island if they fixed the place (AND FIXED FORT WILDERNESS)! Putting Pirates on the island doesn't fix it, it just changes the theme. That is what Disney likes to do. Let TSI go to hell, no one goes there (because we let it go to hell), lets replace it. OR Great Moments with Mr Lincoln has a GREAT show, but we ruin it with STUPID new technology that HAS NOTHING to do with the attraction itself, no one goes to it (because we ruined it), lets replace it.
    Does anyone else see a trend?
    I'm not opposed to the TSI retheming per se (the existing theme is REALLY weak), but it doesn't fit with the surrounding area. Does anyone else see a problem with the Mark Twain paddle wheeler traveling around a Caribbean island?!?
  • First - I consider myself a Disneyland purist and so I do raise a stink when things like the Pirates update happens but calling "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" syndrom is a bit of a stretch cause I really didn't give 2 damns when that attraction left.  The same goes for Tom Sawyer Is. as well.  It's true, I haven't been there in years nor do I know anyone that's been there in years and when I have kids I'll surely take them to see whatever it becomes but does it seriously need to be themed after Pirates?  I thought this new Pixar aquisition was suppose to be a boom in creativity not "new methods in franchising."  Don't get me wrong.  I like the Pirates movies and all and can't wait for the 3rd one but what the hell happened to originality?  New Orleans doesn't need to become Pirates of the Carribean Land.  Things aren't THAT bad.

    Second - "Does anyone else see a problem with the Mark Twain paddle wheeler traveling around a Caribbean island?!?"      Yes . . . but what about the Columbia?

    Third - "these well-intentioned weenies?!?"   Watch it, Hill.  It's bad form to call someone "well-intentioned" and then rip on them for doing so.  Especially in the same sentence.
  • First, please stop package-dealing purists who favor intelligent Disney Imagineering with Puritans who dogmatically stick to what's traditional for tradition's sake. Tom Sawyer Island attendance is down (if it is) because the park has abandoned the concept completely. Not because it's not a good idea. I've been several times recently but they don't even open Fort Wilderness, the fire's been extinguished and the politically correct police have taken over and eradicated any reference to hostile Indians. So please stop shoving Pirates down our throats and pitching a false alternative. It isn't Pirates versus Tom Sawyer. It's quality against abandonment and Disney ought to reclaim the Island according to the original respect for Frontierland's historical philosophy.

    Second, I highly doubt Disney seriously considered an EPCOT Pavilion for the Union of Soviet Socalist Republics as you claim. The Soviet Union was a worse dictatorship than Nazi Germany and a post-1989 Pavilion might have accounted for Russia not the Soviet Union which slaughtered millions of innocent people. You throw around those terms, i.e., Soviet and USSR, like they mean nothing. If Disney DID plan a USSR pavilion, which does not match what you describe, that's despicable. But I doubt it would have been approved until after the communist dictatorship had fallen. Yes, communist China has its pavilion and I think that's deplorable, too, (I know I'm in the minority), but red China has (for now) supposedly eased up on restrictions it enforces more than the Soviets ever did. Please clarify that Disey planned a Soviet pavilion--or a Russian pavilion.
  • Not sure where your Epcot connections are coming from, but whenever the question of wished-for new Epcot pavilions comes up on the DIS discussion groups, a Russian/Soviet pavilion doesn't even register. People talk about Australia, India, Egypt, Ireland, Greece, etc but seldom if ever about Russia.

    The question of a restaurant is also interesting. I'm not the most well-traveled guy but I've been to a lot of ethnic restaurants, and I''m pretty sure I've never even heard of a Russian restaurant in the US. Doesn't mean they don't exist but it does mean it would make no sense to put one in Epcot.
  • I think jedited makes the best point here. Let's call this one "Tiki Room Syndrome." Disneyland let the Island go to hell, took out everything that was fun, and closed the rest as a standing eyesore. So, attendance drops. Imagine that.

    But what if they were to do a solid rehab and take Tom Sawyer Island back to it's original glory with some new surprises thrown in. You know, like they did with the Tiki Room? That attraction that's been packing them in again?

    Over here on the East Coast, we have a similar problem with World Showcase. None of the pavilions have been updated since they were opened back in 1982. When you watch the 360-degree movies, it's like time-warping back into the 70s. There are only two actual rides in all of World Showcase. People go there to eat, which is great, but I like to go on rides, too. I'd wish Disney would brush up what they already have (new 360-degree movies would be a good start) and then build some new rides (not just "attractions"), like that Rhine river ride that was proposed for Germany.

    And while they're at it, they can build some new rides (we've got enough stage shows, thank you) in MGM, too -- but what would really be novel is for them to do it WITHOUT taking out something that's already there.
  • I'm all for updating the park and I'm all for the "Pirates" redo of TSI, but I think these "updates and rethemes" should looked at on a case-by case basis.  I mean look ast TSI today, it is in serious need of an update, and therfore should be spruced up. If in addition to the fix-up the park feels more people will be drawn to this area and have a more pleasureable park experience as a Pirate island - bring it on!

    On the other hand, while I enjoy the Winnie the Pooh ride that open a few years go (mainly for the acid trip Pooh take along the way) I would still like to be able to visit the County Bears Jamboree. Same thing with Mr. Toad's wild ride in WDW.  I'm glad it's still around in DL, but half the fun of seeing the new dark rides is taking kids on the old rides to see how they evolved. I mean with out Mr. Toad there would certainly be no Roger Rabbit cab ride in ToonTown.

    With the Finding Nemo submarine ride comming in 2007, I'm glad the Imaganeers are rumored to be including one of the old ships to give a little homage to the original 20,000 league ride.

    The way I see it, it basically comes down to this: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it is broke, a fresh coat of paint or a new character addition may all that may be needed to breath new life into a favorite attraction rather then shutting it down or totally retheming it entirely.
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