February 1, 2010

Invasion: Dinosaurs Take Over the Disney Parks!

Walt Disney was a man fascinated by the future, but he was also passionate about what happened prior to his lifetime. It seems there wasn't a single area of popular thought and study in which Walt would choose to remain ignorant. If he was uninformed, it seemed Walt always recruited the help of the experts. He was wise and also shrewd. He had the pulse of the paying public, their tastes and habits, always at the forefront of his mind when planning his films and theme parks.

Prehistoric times seemed to capture his imagination. From Fantasia to Dinosaur, Disney films with on the subject were made with or without Walt at the helm. The same holds true for the theme parks. In each one, dinosaurs are found in various shapes, sizes, and conditions. Let's take a look back into our own Time Machine and travel from coast to coast and beyond...

1964 New York World's Fair

This one started it all. Sure, dinos had been a staple of Disney films, but it was time for the Imagineers to bring them to life in themed environments.

After being turned down by General Motors, Walt was sent to the competition to create a moving exhibition for the Ford Motor Company. Walt really wanted a big presence at the World's Fair- and with it the opportunity to showcase the Imagineers art, all the while testing the concept of a new Disneyland and how it would appeal to East Coast audiences.



The beginning of the journey in Ford vehicles Magic Skyway was through a primeval forest, complete with moving, breathing, roaring dinosaurs. Guests responded enthusiastically to the Disney attractions.


You could say the multiple Disney shows, It's A Small World, Progressland (Carousel of Progress), Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, and Magic Skyway, were the hit of the exhibition! When the Fair closed, plans were put into place to transfer the attractions to Disneyland. As for the Magic Skyway, the cars themselves didn't survive the change in locale, but the prehistoric creatures soon found a new home in Anaheim.

Disneyland

This 1966 addition to the park brought primeval life forms to the Grand Canyon diorama. Now, guests aboard the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad would end their grand circle tour of the park with a view of the peaceful Grand Canyon of today and then view Walt's dinos in all their glory. Be warned, however, that riders viewing the trains as strictly transportation may miss the creatures if they board at Main Street without completing the entire tour.



A bit of rare Imagineering art.



Guests boarding trains for a different journey also encounter a dinosaur, albeit a passive one. Over in Frontierland, the thrilling ride on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad concludes with a quick burst through a dinosaur! Sun-bleached bones make a perfect tunnel for the trains of the gold filled mountain to rush through.


This INCREDIBLE photo from Mint Crocodile.
Enlarge and save it.


At Disneyland, some dinos- and their homes- never got off the drawing boards. Tony Baxter's beautifully planned Discovery Bay included a prehistoric journey all its own. The model below even sports a brontosaurus bathing in the river on the edge of town.


Discovery Bay reached the end of its era when Disney leadership decided the Island at the Top of the World movie, the basis for a main attraction in the land, became a box office flop. Without a recognizable flagship draw,the beautifully designed expansion faded away only to survive in Disney lore and in the hearts of passionate fans.

Disney's California Adventure


Anaheim's second Disney park had its own primeval creature once upon a time. But like most of the best design elements for this park, the newest Disney dino was reserved for enhancing the shops contained within it. Dinosaur Jacks' Sunglass Shack, the pink monstrosity in Paradise Pier's Route 66 area, housed a small and limited selection of sunglasses and various sundries. It was the one distinguishing piece of California Crazy architecture to be found in the undernourished park.


Like much of California Adventure, Jack underwent his own transformation as the feminine pink and yellow tones gave way to a more masculine shade of green.

Eventually, the suits and Imagineers decided to restart the entire park with a one billion dollar makeover of its own. Dinosaur Jack faced extinction- and ultimately became a casualty of the new plans- unless Jack has his own tribute as part of Carsland's buttes and canyons.


Walt Disney World: Magic KingdomLike its older sibling on the West Coast, Florida's Magic Kingdom had its own grand circle tour on the rails but without the thrilling climax of Disneyland's Grand Canyon and Primeval World Diorama. The dinosaur was to be found on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, yet in its no skin and bones only form.


Once upon a time, a dinosaur was also found on the now extinct Timekeeper attraction in Tomorrowland. The filmed show had a very brief shot of a hungry dinosaur as we traveled back in time. It is an attraction that added much character long before the invasion of the animated type now found here.


However disappointing the lack of ancient creatures might have been for Walt Disney World's dinosaur loving guests, the following three parks on the property contained more creatures per square inch than any other Disney place in the world.


Epcot

With the creation of Epcot Center, Disney Imagineers took on a new philosophical approach in addition to embracing a new design aesthetic. The emphasis here would be on "edutainment", a Disney term coined to combine education and entertainment in a brand new dimension. Did they ever!


Here, guests would be introduced to exciting concepts in science and technology at Future World and explore nations of the globe at World Showcase.


Exxon's Universe of Energy pavilion would not only house a crew of its own primeval creatures, it would also introduce one of the most unique ride systems found in any Disney park. Long before the trackless vehicles of Tokyo Disneyland's Pooh's Hunny Hunt, stageful of guests traveled in cars guided by a single thin wire through the showrooms and its highlight, an all-too-close but ultimately safe encounter with frightful prehistoric animals.


The solar panels on the top of Energy's building help fuel the attraction, but unfortunately they also create a rather boring marque to what is a thrilling and informative evolutionary-based fantasy adventure.



In 1996, the pavilion was retooled as Ellen's Energy Adventure in an attempt to modernize it and draw in the crowds. Instead, using contemporary celebrities only dated the attraction, instantly creating a timestamp upon it. Ellen DeGeneres, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Bill Nye (the Science Guy) added a bit of fun to the proceedings but also downgraded the high capacity attraction from a must-see to an also ran. In 2004, the attraction became sponsorless when Exxon/Mobil denied renewal of its contract.

Disney-MGM Studios / Disney's Hollywood Studios


The Studios is where the older cousin to California Adventure's Dinosaur Jack makes her home. At Echo Lake, Dinosaur Gertie makes her presence known in a big, cool way. She is an eye catching location for "Ice Creams of Distinction". In a park that plays tribute to the art of film making, Gertie herself is a tribute to a 1914 animated film by Winsor McCay.

Note the two photos above. They were taken by me twenty years apart; the top one in 1989, the bottom in 2009. Each depicts background elements uniquely representing the emphasis of the Disney management at the time- the bottom photo shows the crassly out of place Sorcerer's Hat pin show as park centerpiece; the previous photo displaying appropriately in theme buildings and design elements.


Disney's Animal KingdomThe mother load for dinosaur hunters is found in Disney's fourth Florida park. At Disney's Animal Kingdom, an entire land and not just one or two attractions is devoted to the animals we love. The park's logo and signage reinforce the important role these animals play in the creation and execution of the realm. In fact, there are so many dinosaurs to be found here at Animal Kingdom, my photos below only capture a small minority of what is to be found.



Appropriately so, the OldenGate Bridge is the portal through which we pass to enter this impressive tribute to all things prehistoric. Attractions, shops, and restaurants all embrace the theme in a quicky, playful way.



The large play area, known as The Boneyard, is nearby, full of activities for those younger kids who may enjoy a bit of a break from the queues Disney parks are known for!


The playful aspect of the area continues, and as you can see below, even the corporate sponsors get in on the fun!




The area is not all fun and games, however. Dinoland U.S.A. recreates the roadside attractions of an American era mostly extinct itself. At opening, this area of the park was based primarily on the idea of an extensive scientific dig begun by a local university. A prominent research laboratory and museum were built right next to the on site student dormatories and mess halls.


Dubbed the Dino Institute, its motto is "Exploration, Excavation, Exultation"- and this is also the area's mission statement and descriptor. Dinoland is meant to be fun! And it is, but it also includes some fairly serious elements in the presentation.

In fact, a casting of Dinosaur Sue, above- from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago- graces the pathway to the land's tentpole attraction. According to many scientists in the field, Sue is the largest and most complete discovery of a Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found. Just the fact that the Walt Disney Company was able to secure such a piece tells us of its prominence in society and its influence in being master storytellers. And what an exciting story they tell with its time travel journey!


Countdown to Extinction, now renamed the generic Dinosaur to capture some interest based on the 2000 Disney movie of the same name, takes guests on an unauthorized adventure back in time to capture a dinosaur of significance.


Signage up front gives guests a very small idea of the intensity of this attraction. Based on the wildly popular ride vehicle used in Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure, your "time rover" brings the brave up close and personal with a wide variety of prehistoric creatures.

Situated inside the museum are displays and models of creatures we will encounter once traveling through time. Everything looks fairly calm to the eye- that is until the lighting changes, and visitors get a glimpse of the Disney's fictional bad guy. The carnataurus we will encounter is almost beyond description. Even in its skeletal form, the creature is huge and menacing.

At this Imagineering masterpiece, the concept of "edutainment" is played to the hilt, and with an evolution versus creation slant at its core. It starts at the entrance and ends at the exit. Here's the theory and the story: A great meteor shower will bring the end of the dinosaur era. It makes for a great premise (and climax!) for the attraction, but it discounts the idea of a great flood, which many creation believing scientists have reason to believe actually did the deed.

No matter, Countdown/Dinosaur rocks hard, really hard, providing the most intense experience in any Disney theme park! It is loud, dark, and rough. The final meeting with the flesh eating monster chasing us moves the experience far beyond the mild sightseeing tour found on Epcot's Universe of Energy or Disneyland's Primeval World.


Above photo copyright The Walt Disney Company
Who would have thought we would actually look forward to being killed by the meteor shower! The entire attraction from start to finish is so intense that after so many chase scenes, the final carnotaurus confrontation is ultimately a relief, signaling the return to the station.

Countdown could have been much higher on the fright factor. A chance meeting with a group of highly irritated raptors was once on tap, above, and it was also once envisioned as a walking tour as well, (seen below).

As mentioned earlier, the attraction's layout mirrors Indy's adventure. In place of the chamber of Mara and a fiery welcome, here riders would have been greeted by a curious brontosaurus on one side of the rickety bridge and a hungry creature on the other!

Regardless of the final design choices, this premier attraction at Dinoland U.S.A. gives dinosaur hunters more than they bargained for! It is not only frightening to us but to others as well. Countdown to Extinction/ Dinosaur is also well advertised artillery that takes a big bite out of Universal's Islands of Adventure and its Jurassic Park experience.

Although initially pleasing to the eye, Dinoland U.S.A. unfortunately has a split personality. One half of the acreage is very much a more realistic treatment of the theme, while the other is the quirky carnival titled Chester and Hester's Dinorama. The concept art shown above is pretty to view but the actual final result brings little to the table.



Midway games, a spinner ride eerily reminiscent of Fantasyland's Dumbo, and a small spinning coaster bring up the attraction count for the park making it Disney's quick answer to complaints about Animal Kingdom being a half day experience. Triceratop Spin and Primeval Whirl (a name that's a pun but also a tribute to Disneyland) round out the carnival atmosphere and games.



Lame Dumbo remake is not a winner.
  
Chester and Hester's Dinorama did have one redeeming factor: it was the temporary home of Lucky the Dinosaur, a free roaming animatronic that wandered the park with the help of his handler. Unfortunately, after a tour of California Adventure, this charming fellow was shipped off to Hong Kong to open the minimally built park.

Whether you view this addition as poorly deisgned or something to be viewed lovingly with tongue firmly in cheek, one thing is certain: Chester and Hester's Dinorama brings highly colorful- and kid friendly- dinosaurs into Disney's Animal Kingdom.


Some of the dinosaurs planned for the Animal Kingdom were extinct before birth! Initial plans for the park included the Excavator coaster. It can clearly be seen in place at the top left corner of the above concept art for The Boneyard.


It is hard to tell whether this attraction would be a fairly unthemed coaster or one that just took some design elements from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The piece directly above seems like a unique take on the dinosaur concept, but the one above that seems like a descendant of the final portion of the "Wildest Ride in the Wilderness". Perhaps more art will surface one day and give clues to what could have been.


All said, Disney's Animal Kingdom provides the most dinosaur encounters on any Disney property- and with the most variety. However, there is still one more Florida location where dinosaurs have a story to tell.


Downtown Disney



Corporate cousin of the once popular Rain Forest Cafe chain of resturants, the T-Rex Cafe arrived at Downtown Disney as the most recent dino addition to Walt Disney World.



My apologies to losing the name of the photographer who took the amazing shot above, but here is a case where the artist's illustrations do not do justice to the end result. Beautiful!


Disney dino hunters know that North America is not the only place to find these enormous beasts. Let's stop at Tokyo Disneyland as the first international hunting ground...


Tokyo Disneyland


Given that the first Asian Disney park is almost a piecemeal reproduction of its American sisters, it should come as no surprise that the dinosaurs at Tokyo Disneyland are found at the same attractions.


Here, the Western River Railroad departs only from Adventureland but still concludes with a journey through the Primeval World. And yes, the dino bone tunnel found at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad shows up here in Japan as well.

Tokyo Disney Sea



Surprisingly, from what I can find, no dinosaurs currently show up at the elegant Tokyo Disney Sea. Although Rex from Toy Story Midway Mania (above) will soon be taking up residence here, it is rather amazing that the beloved creatures do not make an appearance anywhere in the park.

Hong Kong Disneyland


Lucky the Dinosaur was one of the must see attractions at Hong Kong Disneyland in September 2005. Good thing, as this first Chinese park debuted with the fewest number of attractions ever found in a Magic Kingdom styled park since Disneyland itself. The first photo shows Lucky at the D23 convention, the second in an illustration.


Coming soon will be Rex, the plastic toy, who will make his appearance at the park's Toy Story Playland. He'll be more of a mascot than in an actual attraction, but none the less, he'll be present soon.


A planned roller coaster for the park's massive Adventureland never saw daylight. Instead this seeming combination of an off the shelf coaster with themed elements from Countdown to Extinction may surface in the future at another Disney park. Nothing ever really is wasted at Imagineering.

Disneyland Paris



Aside from the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad connection, (and I do not clearly remember if the bones are there), the only dinosaur I could think of here in Paris' beautiful Disneyland is one that is extinct. In the park's long gone but never forgotten Visionarium, our journey quickly takes us back in time. We encounter our dinosaur ever so briefly but then off we go again.

Walt Disney Studios Paris


Here at the Studios, this lackluster park does have one claim to fame: it is the only Disney park that represents the cult favorite Dinotopia.
The two photos above, courtesy Photomagique, display show elements from the Disney television series. Dinosaurs aside, the studio tram tour lacks the depth it needs as a centerpiece attraction for the park.
Toy Story Playland will appear in Paris, too, soon making its debut in the little park that hopes it can. Loveable Rex will be mostly a giant hood ornament of sorts as he sits around in an area that, much like Chester and Hester's Dinorama, will bring a few new lightly themed attractions to this needy second park.
Concluding our world tour and time travel, it is plain to see that dinosaurs of all shapes, sizes, colors and personalities have taken over Disney parks worldwide, much to the delight of guests young and old.

Drawings and schematics are highly guarded for Shanghai Disneyland and any other future plans for parks all over the world. Will the dinosaurs make the cut to the next series of additions? Who knows. Yet one thing is certain. Prehistoric creatures of all sorts draw an audience. It is a fact Walt himself knew well. Be it in film or at the parks, Disney will continue to include our prehistoric friends whenever a great concept comes along.
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Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Most photos copyright Mark Taft.

In the writing of this post, something else became extinct. My documents denoting photography credits disappeared when my laptop expired. If I have used one of your images, please let me know, and I'll gladly give you credit.

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