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This past Thursday, Six Flags Over Georgia had a genuinely
festive feel. A Dixieland band played while specially invited guests enjoyed a
picnic lunch inside of this closed-to-the-public theme park.
“And what was the special occasion?,” you ask. Well, a quick
look at the centerpieces on the picnic tables will probably give you a clue.
Photo by Papa Razzi
Yep, it was press preview day for the recently rehabbed
Monster Plantation. Now officially renamed Monster Mansion, this SFOG favorite
was still a day or so from its official re-opening. But the folks at Six Flags
were so proud of the work that had been done to date that they invited
reporters in to check this newly enhanced attraction.
Now I know that it may be hard for those who haven’t ever
visited Six Flags Over Georgia and/or lived in this part of the country, but
people around here just love “Monster Mansion.” They take great pride in the
idea that this regional theme park has a Disney-quality dark with its very own
catchy theme song.
Speaking of which, as part of the press preview,
SFOG officials arranged for a group of local third graders to come in and
perform the “Monster Mansion” theme song. Which – given that each of these kids
also brought along their very own monster puppet to perform with – was kind of
a cute number.
And once that was done, it was time for the speeches. Gary
Goddard’s opening remarks was particularly touching. Given that he paid tribute to the
late Al Bertino, the Imagineering legend (Best known to Disneyana fans as the
inspiration for Big Al in “The Country Bear Jamboree”) who actually got Gary
the “Monster Plantation” ‘s gig back in 1981.
You see, back in the late 1970s / early 1980s, Six Flags
officials approached Al about coming to work for their company and possibly
creating a couple of Disney-style ride for their theme parks. But Bertino (who
had been retired from WED for several years at this point) demurred. Saying
that he couldn’t possibly do all of that work on his on … But – that said – Al did
know of one young artist & designer that that he’d worked with at Walt
Disney Imagineering that Bertino might be willing to partner with on a project
Thanks to Al Bertino’s generosity (as well as the extremely
positive reception that “Monster Plantation” got when it initially opened back
in 1981), Gary Goddard’s post-Disney career was made. And it was clear – from Gary’s
kind words this past Thursday – that he remains grateful to this legendary
gag man & Imagineer for suggesting that the Six Flags corporation
take a chance on a then-young kid like Goddard.
Then Gary went on to talk about how odd it was – nearly 30
years after the fact – to return to “Monster Plantation” … er … “Monster
Mansion.” To revisit the attraction that he and his team put together in one
very intense nine month period. More importantly, how thrilled he was that Six
Flags guests had so enthusiastically embraced the dark ride that he & Al
Bertino & character designer Phil Mendez had put together way back when.
As part of his remarks, Goddard talked about “Monster
Mansion” ‘s origins. How Al had initially come up with the idea for the ride
while playing with his granddaughter. This cute little girl turned to Bertino
with a grimace on her face and said “I’m a big scary monster.” And – in that instance
– Al saw this mix of sweet and scary in his granddaughter and thought: “Cute
monsters. That’s an idea for a ride.”
Speaking of monster faces … As kind of a tribute to Al
Bertino’s granddaughter (i.e. the real inspiration for “Monster Mansion”),
folks who ride through this revamped Six Flags attraction are now invited to
make their very best monster face. Which
will then be captured by the Mansion’s newest resident – monster cameraman
Papa Razzi – and made available for purchase in this attraction’s new retail
area, the MonStore.
But now that the ribbon was cut and the speeches were done,
it was time to climb into the boats …
… and travel into the Mansion and see what the crew from
Gary Goddard Entertainment had actually accomplished.
Longtime fans of “Monster Mansion” just marveled at the
restoration work that had been done. From the bright new backdrops (which had
been painted by a veteran Disney artist who’d worked on “Pocahontas”) to the theatrical
lighting that’s now in place throughout this 25,000 square-foot show building, the
Mansion & its monsters have never looked better.
But in addition to preserving & restoring what had
originally made “Monster Mansion” so popular with Six Flags fans, Goddard and
his team also attempted to enhance the show. From that new state-of-the-art
sound system to those new 4D effects that have been installed in this dark
ride, there’s dozens of great new little touches that really up the quality of
And nowhere is this more apparent that in “Monster Mansion” ‘s
not-too-scary marsh sequence. With its new mist curtain entrance (Which
features this projection of a giant monster who first talks with the Guests and
then swallows their boat) as well as the fog that shrouds everything in this
portion of the attraction, it’s a genuinely eerie area now. A vast improvement
over what you used to find in this part of that Six Flags Over Georgia dark
Mind you, for theme park history aficionados, the real treat
of this “Monster Mansion” redo may be found in this attraction’s post-show retail
area. For fully a third of the MonStore has been turned into this “Monster Plantation”
mini-museum. Which features original concept drawings from the attraction that
Goddard pulled out of his corporate archives …
… not to mention some of the one-inch-to-one-foot scale maquette
that Gary & Al & Phil had created back in 1980 to sell the folks at Six
Flags on the idea of turning that theme park’s “Tales of the Okefenokee” dark
ride into a monster-themed attraction.
That’s the last little bit of this story that Disney theme
fans may find intriguing. That – from 1967 to 1980 – Six Flags Over Georgia had
a boat-based attraction that took Guests past scenes which depicted memorable moments from Joel
Chandler Harris’ "Uncle Remus" stories.
Yep, more than two decades before Disney theme visitors were
screaming their way down Chickapen Hill on Splash Mountain, SFOG Guests were
floating through “Tales of the Okefenokee” and scoping out these elaborate scenes
filled with robot figures that had been designed by Sid & Marty Krofft (You
know? The guys behind “H.R. Pufnstuf” and “Sigmund & The Sea Monsters”?).
And while this dark ride may not have had the rich score of
Disney’s “Song of the South” to draw upon, “Tales of the Okefenokee” did have
its own somewhat memorable theme song. Which talked about how – when Mr. “ … Rabbit
plays his little jokey -- he will fool Mr. Fox and Mr. Bear.”
Anyway … The “Monster Mansion” mini-museum in Six Flags Over
Georgia’s MonStore does touch on the history of “Tales of the Okefenokee.”
Which is yet another reason that – should you find yourself in this part of the
country this summer – you should definitely make a point of dropping by this
regional theme park and then check out this restored / enhanced attraction.
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