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Why For haven't the Imagineers built more rides, shows and attractions around the Disney Villains?

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Why For haven't the Imagineers built more rides, shows and attractions around the Disney Villains?

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Chris B. wrote in on September 10th to say

Hi Mr. Hill,

Great website and so appreciate how you share your Disney knowledge.

With the opening of the New Fantasyland Disney has installed a statue for Beauty and the Beast's Gaston. Disney villains have typically only been out and about for the Halloween events. Is Gaston's statue and tavern the first Disney Villain to get a permanent statue and "attraction"?

The statue outside of Gaston's Tavern in the Fantasy-
land expansion area at WDW's Magic Kingdom.

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All rights reserved

Thanks for your kind words. As for Gaston's Tavern being the first permanent Disney Villain statue / attraction ... Well, that kind of depends on how you define villain, statue and/or attraction.

After all, Monstro has been swallowing Guests at Disneyland ever since June 16, 1956. Which is when that theme park's Canal Boats of the World ride re-opened with its new Storybook Land overlay.

And those who are fans of early Disneyland concept art will no doubt recognize the below image. Which shows Monstro as the central character of his very own theme park attraction. Which drew its inspiration from the Shoot the Chutes, that early amusement park thrill ride which was originally introduced back in 1884 at Watchtower Park in Rock Island, IL.

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This proposed "Pinocchio" -themed attraction was to have first taken Guests a series of dioramas which then recreated memorable moments from that 1940 Walt Disney Productions release. Then -- as these Disneyland visitors had been towed to the top of this ride's load hill -- they were to have escaped being eaten by that whale by sliding down Monstro's tongue into a splashdown area that was supposed to be known as Pinocchio Harbor.

And Monstro wasn't the only villainous Disney character who almost made his debut at Disneyland Park's opening day back in July of '55. Check out this cool of piece of concept art for a step-down-into aquarium attraction (which was part of a suite of water-themed exhibits & rides that were originally proposed for Fantasyland. Among the other items that never to Disney's Anaheim theme park was a Donald Duck Bumper Boats ride and an Old Mill-themed ferris wheel). Where the only way you made it down below water level so that you could then see all the fishies was to enter the mouth of the crocodile from "Peter Pan."

Unfortunately neither of those two Disney Villain-ish attractions ever made it off of WED's drawing board. Mostly because -- back in the late 1950s -- Disneyland Park was still trying to recover its initial construction costs (You have to remember that -- until he bought ABC / Paramount & Western Publishing  out in the early 1960s -- Walt was still obliged to split whatever profits his theme park made with those two companies who had invested in / underwritten the costs of building this project back in 1954). So money for any additional rides, shows and attractions was kind of tight back then.

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More to the point, it was Frontierland & Tomorrowland that were perceived as lacking attractions back in the 1950s. Whereas Fantasyland was seen (by the public, anyway) as a being a hit right out of the box.  Which is why Walt chose to concentrate whatever free funds he had on expanding those parts of his theme park. While labeling Fantasyland as something that he'd eventually get around to fixing (Disney was never entirely happy with the tournament-style show building that he'd had to build to house the dark rides in this part of his theme park. Walt always felt that the exteriors of these Fantasyland attractions made it a little too obvious that Disneyland's construction budget could only go so far. Which is why Walt had been forced to abandon his original concept for Fantasyland. Which was to have this part of the Park be a picturesque recreation of a European storybook village).

Speaking of which ... When it was decided that -- on the heels of adding a second theme park to the Walt Disney World Resort (i.e. EPCOT Center, which opened in October of 1982) -- that Disneyland Park deserved a little TLC, the Imagineers dusted off Walt's picturesque-European-storybook-village idea and decided to redo Fantasyland at that theme park.

Which brings us to what some might argue is the first real Villain statue in a Disney theme park. That Evil Queen who stands in the window directly above the entrance to "Snow White's Scary Adventures."  Every minute or so, a mechanized series of drapes opens, revealing a statue of Snow White's nemesis glaring down at all of the Guests who are queuing up below.

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Interesting side note here: "Snow White's Scary Adventures" (to be specific, the revamped version of this attraction which opened on May 25, 1983 as part of Disneyland's New Fantasyland) was the first dark ride whose "Scene One" perhaps did too good a job of setting the scene for the attraction that follows.

For those of you who haven't been on Disneyland's "Snow White's Scary Adventures" for a while (or at all), let me refresh your memory as to how the queue for this attraction is set up. Before you can get to your ride vehicle, you actually pass by a Reader's Digest version of the Evil Queen's secret laboratory. And as longtime Fantasyland cast members will tell you, the skull that's on display on the Evil Queen's work table has been known to really frighten small children. Forcing many a parent at that point to turn around and carry their screaming kid backwards through this queue. Which -- on a busy summer day when the Park is especially crowded -- can really make life difficult for all of the other Guests standing in the "Snow White's Scary Adventure" queue.

In an effort to mitigate this situation / let especially-easy-to-frighten kids know as early as possible that "Snow White's Scary Adventures" really is scary, the Imagineers had a very clever idea. They put a bronze version of the poison apple that the Evil Queen tricked  Snow White into biting right outside the entrance to the Fantasyland attraction. And given that the people in line just couldn't help themselves, they just had to touch that apple ... Well, imagine their surprise when -- as soon as they touched that bronze apple -- they'd hear a crash of thunder OR the cackle of the Old Crone (i.e. the form the Evil Queen took after she drank that potion).

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And that crash of thunder / evil laugh is usually enough (all by itself) to spook skittish children. Who then turn to their parents and say "I don't want to go on this ride. It sounds like it's going to be scary." And since these kids are now culled out of the line before they then encounter the genuinely frightening portion of the queue for "Snow White's Scary Adventures" ... Well, that then significantly cuts down on the number of parents who now have to carry panicking toddlers backwards through the line for this Fantasyland attraction.

And given that this bronze touch-sensitive apple is an entirely appropriate piece of theming to be found at the entrance to this attraction ... Well, you have to admit that WDI came up with a pretty smart solution for "Snow White" 's perhaps-too-scary queue problem.

Anyway ... Getting back to answering your original "Why For" question now, Chris B. ... Once the Walt Disney Company began recognizing that there was legitimate Guest interest in the Disney Villains as characters unto themselves, in addition to Disney Consumer Products embracing this loosely grouped brand / franchise (Witness that Disney Villain Designer Collection of dolls that the Disney Store began rolling out earlier this month. The second doll in the series -- a high fashion take on the Evil Queen from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" -- hits store shelves on Tuesday), the Imagineers began toying with the idea of building some Disney Villains-themed attractions.

The Horned King AA figure that appeared in the finale of Tokyo
Disneyland's Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The first such effort -- Tokyo Disneyland's Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour (which opened in July of 1986) wasn't considered entirely successful. Perhaps because WDI chose to build the finale of this walk-thru attraction around the Horned King, the now all-but-forgotten villain who drove the story of one of Walt Disney Animation Studios' less-successful efforts, "The Black Cauldron."

And since the Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour (which closed in April of 2006 to be replaced by a Disney Princess-themed walk-thru attraction, Cinderella's Fairy Tale Hall) 's "Let's-pay-tribute-to-all-sorts-of-Disney-Villains" approach was thought to be a  bit of a bust, the Imagineers then decided to adopt a less-is-more approach. Designing a single ride around a specific Disney Villain. Take -- for example -- that Ursula the Sea Witch spinner was supposed to added to Paradise Pier as part of the expansion plan that WDI put together for the original version of Disney's California Adventure theme park.

This spinner (which -- according to at least one site plan that I've seen for this "Little Mermaid" -themed ride -- was supposed to be built in that open plot of land inside of California Screamin' near King Triton's Carousel. Maybe you know the spot that I'm talking about? It's off to the left just before the load / unload area for this coaster?) had a pretty witty design. Guests were supposed to sit in these flask & bottle-shaped ride vehicles which were designed to look as though they were being held in the Sea Witch's tentacles. And as this oversized version of Ursula began to spin around, this "Little Mermaid" -themed ride would have -- of course -- played a creepy calliope version of "Poor Unfortunate Souls."

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Speaking of California Screamin' ... As the Imagineers were prepping Version 2.0 of DCA, one of the ideas that was proposed as a way to bring more Disney characters into this then-troubled theme park was to turn this coaster into a Disney Villains-themed ride.

The way that WDI was going to do this was actually pretty clever. What the Imagineers wanted to do was create these enormous iconic props that would then represent various Disney Villains. You know, Captain Hook's hook, Maleficent's staff, the Evil Queen's crown? And then these oversized props would then be placed in and around California Screamin's ride track. So that a ride aboard the rethemed version of this DCA coaster would then be seen as a celebration of all forms of Disney villainy.

I know, I know. The core concept for this California Screamin' redo is a bit in the abstract side.  But the argument back at 1401 Flower Street was  1) people scream when they ride roller coasters AND 2) people scream when they see the Disney Villains in their various movies. So why not combine these two forms of screaming with a Disney Villains-themed coaster?

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All rights reserved

Mind you, this wasn't the first time that the Imagineers had toyed with the idea of an attraction that would incorporate some (if not all) of the Disney Villains. And -- no -- I'm not talking about Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour again. I am referring to one of the greatest ride concepts to never quite make it off of WDI's drawing boards, Villain Mountain.

I have this friend who used to work at Imagineering who -- just before he left the Company in the early 2000s -- made a point of getting color copies of all the concept art for Villain Mountain. The various show scenes that the Imagineers had dreamed up for Villain Mountain. And given the quality of the art that was churned out for this proposed Walt Disney World attraction, it's easy to see why this former Imagineers wanted to make a few copies before he headed out the door.

But you know what was particularly nifty about this flume ride (which -- at one time, anyway -- was envisioned as the replacement for the Magic Kingdom's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" attraction. Basically occupying the exact same footprint as that Fantasyland favorite)? That if you knew how Disney theme park attractions typically operated, this ride was then going to use that knowledge against you.

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To explain: The ride vehicle that was supposed to be used in WDW's "Villain Mountain" was the multi-passenger bateaux which Guests know from the multiple trips that they've already made on "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "it's a small world." Which means that -- as people stepped down into these flat-bottomed boats on "Villain Mountain" -- they immediately had certain expectations. That their bateaux -- as it moved through this show building -- would be pushed along through a trough via a combination of waters jets & belts. More to the point, that their "Disney Villains" ride vehicle would never, ever leave that trough.

Which was true. For the first half of this proposed Fantasyland addition at WDW's Magic Kingdom. But as your ride vehicle reached the top of Villain Mountain, you were to enter Maleficent's lair. And this unexpected intrusion clearly upsets the Mistress of All Evil. For -- with a wave of her magic staff -- Maleficent blasts a gaping hole in the wall directly opposite where your bateaux is now floating.

And even though you can already see into the very next show scene that you're supposed to be floating through while journeying through Villain Mountain, which lies just beyond where the AA version of Maleficent is now standing, your boat now breaks out of its nice, safe tough. And as Sleeping Beauty's nemesis laugh manically and talks about how she's now sending all to Hell, your boat now lurches dangerously toward that gaping hole in the wall as you're seemingly sucked into the abyss.

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Now at this point, it's important to remember that "Villain Mountain" was supposed to be filled with fun tributes to / cameos by various Disney Villains. So after your boat slipped through that hole which Ursula supposedly blasted in that wall at this Magical Kingdom show building ... Much in the same way that the logs used in Splash Mountain zoom through all of those over-sized thorn bushes on their way to the bottom of the briar patch, your Villain Mountain boat was to have slipped through Ursula's giant writhing tentacles.

Then -- as you splashed down at the very bottom of Villain Mountain -- for a very brief moment, you were actually supposed to think that you were in Hell as flames and eerie shadows surrounded you. But then an AA version of Hades from "Hercules" was supposed to appear. And with fire extinguisher in hand, he'd have quickly snuffed out all of the flames before then introducing himself. "Hades, Lord of the Dead. How ya doin'?" And as your bateaux floated away from this AA figure, Hades was to have called after you, offering all sorts of tempting treasures if you'd just agree to sign your soul over to him.

Doesn't that sound like  a fun ride? Ironically enough, in at least one version of the site plan that the Imagineers had put together for getting "Villain Mountain" added to WDW's Magic Kingdom, this proposed flume-type attraction was to have been the anchor of an entire Disney Villain Village. Which was to have occupied much of the same piece of property that the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland expansion is currently being built on.

Construction of the Beauty & the Beast portion of the Fantasyland expansion area at
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

"And what other rides, shops and attractions would this Disney Villains Village supposedly featured?," you ask. Well, the way I heard it, the Ursula spinner was part of the proposed line-up. As was an early, early version of Gaston's Tavern. Which -- in the end -- actually did wind up getting built at WDW's Magic Kingdom.

But that's the way things are at WDI. Ideas that are originally proposed for one specific theme park project are often resurrected for an entirely different theme park in slightly mutated form.

Still, it's kind of interesting to see Gaston's Tavern (which was originally pitched to WDW management in the mid-1990s) finally made it into the Magic Kingdom. Though -- that said -- one wonders if Disney World's Entertainment is still going forward with production of that outdoor stage show which was once such a big component of the fun that would eventually be associated with this new Fantasyland venue.

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To explain: The original version of Gaston's that the Imagineers pitched had this outdoor biergarten. Which -- while it wasn't immediately obvious -- also doubled as a stage.

Anyway ... Every day around 4 p.m., WDW's Operations Team would begin shooing Guests out of this outdoor biergarten. They'd keep it up until this open air stage was completely empty and then block this area off to public access.

And then -- right at 5 p.m. -- the magic would begin. A rather depressed looking face character version of Gaston would exit his Tavern. Nursing a beer, he'd cross over the outdoor biergarten and sit down. And Gaston would soon be joined by a downbeat face character version of Captain Hook, sipping from a flute of champagne. And then Hook would be followed by a somewhat sad-looking face character version of the Evil Queen from "Snow White." Who ... No one knows what exactly is in the goblet that this Disney Villain is holding. But it's bubbling & foaming. And the Evil Queen  is  followed by a morose-looking face character version of Maleficent, who ... Well, you get the idea.

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So eventually, this outdoor biergarten / stage is filled with Disney Villains who are all nursing drinks. You see, they've all come to Gaston's Tavern for (Wait for it) "Unhappy Hour." Over the course of this 10-to-15 minute-long show, we'll eventually discover that this is a daily ritual among the villainous characters who live & work in WDW's Magic Kingdom. They gather together each day at Gaston's to grab a quick drink before heading home. And here -- among their evil equals -- these Disney Villains finally have peers that they can commiserate with. I mean, who else in the world is going to lend a sympathetic ear when you moan about how you almost defeated Peter Pan, or tricked Snow White into eating a poison apple or convinced Briar Rose to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel.

In the original outline for the "Unhappy Hour" show at Gaston's Tavern, there was a suggestion that the Disney Villains could perform a number similar to "Cell Block Tango" in "Chicago." Where these characters -- in song -- would complain about how frustrating it was to always lose to the hear. To have good continually triumph over evil.

But then -- in a tune that was supposed to have drawn its inspiration from "Annie" 's ever-optimistic anthem, "Tomorrow," the Disney Villains was to sing about how maybe tomorrow will be the day when they finally triumph. And then -- with their thirsts quenched & their hopes renewed -- these characters were to have all raised a glass and toasted villainy.

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After that ... Well, this being a theme park and all, the Disney Villains who were taking part in this outdoor show at the biergarten portion of Gaston's Tavern were to have made themselves available to the public (albeit briefly) for photos & autographs before they then ducked backstage.

But doesn't "Unhappy Hour" sound like a fun idea for a new outdoor show at WDW's Magic Kingdom? Mind you, I have no idea if this is still in the works for the Fantasyland expansion which  is supposed to open on December 6th of this year. Near as I can figure, the current configuration of Gaston's Tavern doesn't have an outdoor biergarten that could double as a stage. But that doesn't meant that this performance space couldn't be added at some point in the future.

I mean, wouldn't it be cool if Gaston's Tavern eventually become the designated hangout for the Disney Villains? The place at the Magic Kingdom where -- whenever you dropped by there -- you'd always find a few evil characters lurking about?

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Anyway, Chris B ... That's my epic-length answer to your rather short Why For question (My apologies for this story taking more than a few days to finally get posted on JHM. But given that this column is  over 3,500 words long and I spent much of last week traveling, just finding the time necessary to type up this sucker took a lot of extra effort).

And -- with that -- I've finally delivered those 5 Why For columns I promised you guys earlier this month. I know, I know. I didn't get them all written in a week. But hopefully the stories that I've shared here have made the often-several-days-long wait worth it.

Going forward now: Given the strong response that this series of columns has gotten from JHM readers as well as from the online Disneyana fan community, I'm thinking now that Why For will become at least a twice-a-week feature here on this website.

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So if you'd like to have one of your Disney-related questions answered as part of an upcoming Why For column, please send your queries along to [email protected] and I'll then see if I can chase down an answer for you.

Your thoughts?

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  • More Why For is always adored! Thanks for the stories new and old, Jim!

  • You truly saved the best for last! Thanks, Jim. :)

  • So, you have a friend with concept art from the never-built Villain Mountain?  When will we get a look at that?  It would be interesting to see what other scenes and villains were to be included.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Sorry, Steve. But given that my former Imagineer friend basically grabbed these images without WDI management's permission, I'm really not at liberty to reproduce them here.

    But that said, Walt Disney Imagineering is a funny place. And it seems that if enough people talk about a particular project (like -- say -- Western River Expedition), the artwork and models that are associated with that particular ride, show and attraction eventually bubble.

    I mean, who knows. Maybe at some point, as a special Halloween-themed treat, D23 will put together a two day-long event much like last month's Destination D: 75 Years of Disney Animated Features. And maybe then -- at one of the panels -- they'll break out some of the pieces of artwork that I've written about today. Or -- better yet -- pull out all of the animation that had been done for Andreas Deja's version of Yzma from "Kingdom of the Sun." Wouldn't be great to finally see "Snuff Out the Light" even in rough animated form?

    Here's hoping that it actually happens some day.

  • Great article.

    I love how the Be Our Guest restaurant is shaping up, Gaston's square/Belle's village is nice, but what I'd really love is a massive Beauty & the Beast dark ride.  Couldn't help but notice that there is a lot of land behind the Gaston area, seems like a great expansion pad for a Beauty and the Beast dark ride.  With the great work done on Belle's castle, some guests might be looking for a ride instead of just a restaurant.

    Maybe a Why For column about why there is no Beauty & the Beast dark ride?

  • Just heard that Be Our Guest will be featuring alcohol on it's menu for the first time... Thoughts??? As a cast member, I'm excited by progress... but as a Disney purist, I feel it goes against Walt's imagining of the parks.... And LeFou's brew sounds gross. Just my two cents. Would LOVE to see more Villians. Great article.

  • I have to wonder if the Disney Villains show pitched several times for the Disney Afternoon would've helped get Villains Mountain made.

  • Kids are scared by the skull? That's kinda lame... I've never been scared by skulls- for one thing, they've been part of our family Halloween decorations for as long as I can remember. That, and skulls are often in cartoons- I honestly don't remember being scared by the Snow White movie.

  • Thank you so much for the very detailed answer plus. Being that I have mostly visited WDW (too many times to count) and only been to Disneyland 3 times I wasn't as familiar with the villains there. I was actually at Disneyland when you posted this response so did see the Evil Queen above the Snow White attraction.

    Villain Mountain sounds like fun. Maybe we will see it someday in some form. You never know especially since the Halloween events are so popular.

    Fingers crossed that UnHappy Hour makes it to Fantasyland. I will be there the week before the grand opening.

    Again thanks for sharing all of your knowledge. Best regards.

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