March 26, 2012

Disneyland's Discovery Bay: A Tale of Extinction

Long ago in a company far, far, away, there lived an incredibly talented Imagineer who had much respect and success in the Magic Kingdom. The people adored him, his mountains were beloved, and his work brought in the crowds. The rulers of the kingdom grew bitterly jealous, banishing this artist to small projects that only enhanced what was already built. Yet, the artist also became a beloved knight, protecting the legacy of King Walt to the cheering people.

In place of real rich attractions full of elaborate sets, charming characters, and special effects, there was a new emphasis: build it cheap, build it fast, and replace the art of the kingdom with a sea of television screens and cartoon characters. Besides, it would just be too embarrassing to the ruler if the subjects of the kingdom dared to compare the newer, less successful and artistic attractions to those a true Imagineer could design.

Eventually, a new king appeared on the horizon, riding the throne of the infamous King Walt, promising to reinstate the artist who trained under the masters of old. Alas, the new king also broke his promise, and the talented Imagineer was once again banished, banished until his time came to leave the kingdom he so respected, understood, and treasured.

Such is the current state of Imagineer Tony Baxter within the Walt Disney Company.

Yes, his projects demanded the accountants break loose and release the cash, but the end results were usually stunning and worth the risk. However, this is a new Disney. Tony's great projects are bound for extinction, and sadly, so is he. He is now relegated to small but noticeable projects, remaking Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, the Sleeping Beauty Castle walk through, and numerous other little things to keep him busy.

One creation of great interest remains unrealized in its original form, but pieces can be found in a kingdom far away from California.

The unbuilt Discovery Bay land for Disneyland was the pet project of this Imagineer extraordinaire. Designed to recall a turn of the century San Francisco Bay era, the centerpiece was to be the magnificent Island at the Top of the World attraction. Like too many ideas before and after, Discovery Bay was not to be. The movie on which the key attraction was based died at the theaters. As this was the new criteria for attractions even back then, Disney executives brought the project to a halt, effectively putting an end to the ambitious Disneyland addition and boat ride.

At Disney, many great stories and attractions are killed off, but many return in another manner- and a sneaky little game is played, inserting long lost and never realized scenes into other attractions. This was done with pieces of Marc Davis' Western River Expedition. Pieces of it found its way into Epcot's World of Motion as well as Spaceship Earth, and in a sense, even Disneyland Paris.
A decade and half later after the project was first shelved, Baxter revived part of his Discovery Bay project, incorporating its heart and soul into Disneyland Paris' Discoveryland. A brilliant move and a beautiful and unique addition to the already stunning European masterpiece.

Perhaps even later, the above concept had minds at Imagineering stirring as they viewed old ideas for a possible fit into Dinoland U.S.A. at Disney's Animal Kingdom. That tale hasn't come to light but is still within the realm of possibility.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)


Cory Gross said...

At first I thought you were talking about Marc Davis!

Baxter is an interesting person... Just last night I was watching the People and Places: Disneyland USA film with the audio commentary by Baxter and Leonard Maltin, and he was right in there trying to justify the cliche that "Disneyland is not a museum" and how putting Jack Sparrow everywhere was a good thing. But even he has his limits, as per his quote that the Enchanted Tiki Room should be kept at least as a museum piece.

At the very least, though, he is my hero for bearing the standard of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I would love to see Discovery Bay finally arrive in Disneyland or California Adventure. I would be content even if it simply included imports of Tokyo's 20K and Journey to the Center of the Earth and PAris' Cafe Hyperion.

Mark Taft said...

Those are great ideas, Cory!
I absolutely loved Discoveryland at DLP and would really like to see Mysterious Island at TDS for myself. So much they could do... if they wanted!

On the Tony Baxter debate- I do not like everything he has done, but his overall average has been very very impressive.

Pelter Unbleat said...

Tony Baxter has the unfortunate position of trying to be a creative person in the limelight of a Company which touts creativity but doesn't necessarily let it thrive. So yes, he'll go on and on about a pet project like Discovery Bay, an idea which it doesn't sound like anyone at Disney is still considering, and he'll also feed you the Company line about Jack Sparrow being added to Pirates. I forgive him for that sort of contradiction. It's a small price to pay to have him so prominently displayed. His enthusiasm as a figurehead is still great for Disney, and at least it's gotten us fans some things (the Lincoln redo, Sleeping Beauty Castle WalkThru), which someone with less clout would never get done. No, they're not Indiana Jones Adventures, or Journey Into Imaginations, but they are the little things that make Disneyland nice, and that's the sort of stuff that the bean counters slash at every oppurtunity. Tony, the artist, should be allowed to experiment and fail, like any of us. It's unfair to expect everything he does to be stellar, and it's important to remember how even if the WDI situation were better, it's still a group of people working together, and he's only going to have so much control.