June 29, 2015

Art for Dragon's Challenge at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Unbuilt Disney attractions. Is there anything else that creates a high level of both curiosity and frustration among fans of Imagineering and the Disney theme parks? Not for me, especially in a Disney world where good enough often passes for excellence while the competition next door is turning out world class attractions.

Western River Expedition, Westcot, Discovery Bay and countless other unrealized gems are the backbone of discussions for armchair imaginers and would-be Disney Company CEOs. These are the things of myth and legend... and some great concept art!

Over at Disney's Animal Kingdom, long before Avatar made an impact on the physical landscape, plans were well under way for Beastly Kingdom, a land full of dragons, unicorns, and other animals of mythology. Effectively, this was to be the Fantasyland of the park, bringing dark rides, family friendly attractions, and a bit of the imaginary element promised for the park and reflected in its dedication by Michael Eisner:

Welcome to a kingdom of animals... real, ancient and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn.
                          Michael D. Eisner, April 22, 1998

An intriguing entrance to the attraction.

The centerpiece attraction was to be Dragon's Challenge, a roller coaster thrill ride where guests encounter one of the largest Audio-Animatronic creatures ever built as they try to capture kingdom treasure long under guard this dangerous inhabitant.

The concept art that introduces this post supposedly shows the inside of the climax of the attraction. Honestly, there is some speculation it may not be really the work of Imagineers and instead is just the art drawn by a fan. Yet, the viewer can indeed get a better idea of the concept hat surely would have been a winner in guest satisfaction surveys. The two pieces that follow are well known paintings from Disney itself.

Will we ever see a Beastly Kingdom? Sadly, my guess is that we never will. Universal's Islands of Adventure, have very high profile thrill rides with Harry Potter and company that make good use of the dragons found in the books from which the attractions were derived. I believe its safe to say that Disney does not want to be seen as following the leader by repeating what's already been done. 

But the re-Imagining of Disney's Hollywood Studios park better be first class. The fact is, for many fans, Disney is already following the new leader. It is not going unnoticed by the Disney suits that folks are beginning to spend two or three days of their vacation at Universal instead of Walt Disney World. The lack of revenue- and the word of mouth about the great attractions found at their competition's parks- are creating issues in the House of Mouse. Nobody steals the treasure from that dragon!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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