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The Disneyland expansion plan that never happened

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.

The Disneyland expansion plan that never happened

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Danni T writes in to say:

You've been posting an awful lot of Disney World stories lately. Isn't it time that you wrote something about Disneyland again? Maybe do another one of those stories where you talk about rides, shows or attractions that never got built?

Ask and ye shall receive.

The history of the Disney theme parks is littered with rides, shows and attractions that never quite made it off the drawing board. Once promising projects that -- because they didn't have a strong enough patron in Disney management -- never got greenlit.

Copyright 1981 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

I recently came across a Disneyland development plan circa 1982. Which was this very interesting time in WED history, given that work was just then winding down on both EPCOT Center and Tokyo Disneyland. And unless some new project came along ASAP, a lot of Imagineers would soon have to be let go.

So with the hope that -- if they could just convince Walt Disney Productions management that one or two of their new ride concepts were viable, WED would then be able to avoid a massive lay-off -- the Imagineers put together this enormous three ring binder that was literally chock full of proposals for new shows & attractions for that theme park. And among the ideas that were proposed for Disneyland over 25 years ago now were:

  • Removing the Primeval World portion of the Disneyland Railroad. And then using all of those AA dinosaurs that used to be found there as part of a new time travel-based boat ride for the park. Which was to have been housed in an enormous show building that would have been built where Big Thunder Ranch is located today

  • Shutting down one of the two theaters found inside of Country Bear Playhouse. Then removing all of the Audio Animatronic bears and replacing them with that robotic version of Mark Twain that the Imagineers had created for Epcot's "American Adventure" show. With the idea of then using this AA figure to present a condensed version of Hal Holbrook's acclaimed one man show, Mark Twain Tonight.

Copyright 1982 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

  • An entirely new "land" for that Park which was to have been called World Holiday Land. Located outside the berm just beyond New Orleans Square, this Disneyland expansion area was to have advantage of all of the development that WED had done on World Showcase. A miniature version of Europe, World Holiday Land was to have included a Bavarian-themed skiiing attraction, a dark ride celebrating Scandinavian folklore, a widescreen theater which was to have shown the "Impressions de France" film from the French pavilion at Epcot's World Showcase plus a Medieval English jousting ride.
  • Tomorrowland was to have gotten a new Tron-themed shooting gallery, while "Mission to Mars" and "America Sings" were targeted for closure. Especially "America Sings," given that it never really fit the theming of this part of the Park.

  • Fantasyland was to have gotten not one but two new "Mary Poppins" -themed attractions. A marquee spinner-type ride similar to "Dumbo the Flying Elephant" and the Astrobitor as well as an E Ticket capable of handling 2600 Guests an hour which would have then exited into a major new retail area.

What fascinating about this 1982 plan is that it was to have addressed many of the problems that Disneyland still has today. Take -- for example -- the congestion that you typically encounter on Main Street USA right after the fireworks are over and/or after a parade has just run through that theme park. The Imagineers hoped to eliminate all that by building two arcades that were to have run along the backside of all the shops found in this part of Disneyland.

Copyright 1972 Disneyland, Inc. All Rights Reserved

And to address the fact that far too few Disneyland Guests were making the trek out to what-was-then-known-as Bear Country, the Imagineers proposed adding a flume ride to this part of the Park. Mind you, back then, the name of this proposed attraction was the Moonshine Express. And it was to have made use of the sort of bateaux that you find in "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "it's a small world." And -- over the course of this 10 minute-long boat ride -- you were to have gone over a 10 foot tall waterfall, an 8 foot tall waterfall and -- finally -- a 14 foot tall waterfall.

This three ring binder was just full of ideas that -- to my knowledge -- never ever made it past the talking phase. A "Black Hole Shootout" attraction proposed as a possible replacement for "Adventures through Inner Space." Replacing all of the bad taxidermy found in the Grand Canyon portion of the Disneyland Railroad with far more realistic looking Audio Animatronic animals. Shifting the load / unload area for the Tom Sawyer Rafts up to where the Canoes loading area is currently located, then redressing the Hungry Bear so that this riverside restaurant could then be known as Aunt Polly's. Thereby creating a mini-Mark Twain themed land within Disneyland's borders.

Just some of the bullet points featured in this book are tantalizing:

  • Move Pony Farm to make room for Lost Continent
  • Move America Sings to Florida
  • Add Steakhouse to New Orleans Square

Copyright 1981 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

"So why wasn't any of this plan put in the works?," you ask. Well, if you know your Disney Company history, you know that -- almosy immediately after EPCOT Center opened in October of 1982 -- Mouse House management got tripped up by a variety of problems. Among them EPCOT failing to meet its attendance projections, which then lead to a drop in Disney's stock price and left the company vulnerable to greenmailers. Long story short, the folks who in charge of Walt Disney Productions in 1982 were eventually forced out. And when Michael Eisner & Frank Wells took control of the Company in October of 1984, they weren't interested in looking at three ring binders that were full of old ideas. Disney's new management team only wanted to hear new ideas.

Of course, some of these concepts -- in slightly mutated forms -- were eventually floated by Frank & Michael. But as for that carefully put-together plan, the one that was supposed to have transformed Disneyland into a theme park that could comfortably handle 17 million Guests each year ... That never happened.

Anyway ... That's a brief overview of the contents of that most amazing book. Maybe someday I'll circle back and do a more detailed series of stories on some of the concepts that can found in that three ring binder. But -- for now ... Well, here's hoping that this week's "Why For" column satisfied all of you JHM readers who were hungering for a new Disneyland-related story.

Your thoughts?

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  • I'd love to see some parts of these ring binders!!  Is there anything specific that you can post Jim?

  • Great article!  However, I've edited one sentence for you...

    "Maybe someday I'll circle back and do a more detailed series of stories on some of the concepts that can found in that three ring binder RIGHT AFTER I FINISH THE STAR TOURS SERIES."  How's that?  ;)

  • Finsih that which you start, Jim.  You've opened a fairly good can of worms now and if you don't take care of 'em this one is gonna come crawling after you.

  • That was intriguing, thanks!

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