Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How Marc Davis legendary " Western River Expedition " attraction was almost built at Disneyland Paris



If you're a true Disney theme park fan, you've certainly heard before about this Marc Davis legendary attraction project "Western River Expedition". What you don't know is how this attraction was almost built in early 1990's at Disneyland Paris Frontierland. I will explain to you in details why and how, but first, for those of you who don't know Marc's original project, here is a short description of it, and if you want to know more about this concept, you will find a full information HERE and also in the excellent Jim Hill ten parts article HERE.



The Western River Adventure attraction was a Marc Davis project originally designed for Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom. Marc designed the attraction and characters in the form of drawings and models over a five-year period. Although the attraction had a significant cost, Disney executives such as Dick Irvine and Roy Disney both liked the idea when presented with Davis' concepts.




Originally, this flume ride attraction was located both inside, outside, and around an architectural feature in Frontierland known as Thunder Mesa mountain. Guests would have enter a cave marked "Western River Shipping & Navigation Co" which led to a canyon in perpetual "twilight" lighting. After boarding in a boat - similar to the boats of Pirates of Caribbean although with a different theming, of course - the boat would have glided softly in the canyon where was located the different scenes. The ride's narrator, Hoot Gibson (an audio-animatronic owl) would have explained first the ride's safety instructions.

Western River Expedition was an Audio-Animatronic delight with dozens of new AA figures, and certainly as many as in Pirates of Caribbean. Just like in POTC Marc Davis designed scenes where humour was always present. Potential scenes included:

A stage coach robbery




Banditos where even their horses had bandanas across their faces!



An Indian (Native American) rain dance that causes it to rain



Other gag scenes with desert animals, cactus, buffaloes, bear...





A western town called Dry Gulch with scenes showing a cowboy on horseback on the roof of the town's saloon - and 10 characters, including a bartender ( who is trying to shoot the cowboy and his mount off the roof ), saloon girls, and other cowboys hooting and hollering, and more...





...And a waterfall-drop finale.

If built, it would have been one of the most complex and expensive Disney attractions of its time, housed in one of the largest show buildings (a large warehouse that stores the interior of the attraction) ever created by the WDI. Its projected expense is one reason it was never built. The attraction, would have also shared the show building with a "runaway" mine train themed roller coaster. Other features of the pavilion-style WRE would have included hiking trails atop the mesa, a Pueblo Indian village, and a pack mule attraction.

The Western River Expedition was supposed to be Walt Disney World's answer to Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean. When plans were being made for the Magic Kingdom, Imagineers had no plans to replicate "Pirates" for the Magic Kingdom. It was believed by many Imagineers at the time that Florida residents were too accustomed to pirates, as pirates are a part Florida's local legend and lore. Disney management thought that cowboys and Indians would be more surprising and exciting to Florida residents.

However, when the Magic Kingdom opened, the most common complaint from guests were "Where are the Pirates?" Disney hastily built a second Pirates of the Caribbean in the Magic Kingdom, thus scrapping plans for the Western River Expedition because much of the budget planned to build the Western River Expedition was used in building Pirates of the Caribbean for the Magic Kingdom. Years later, there was the possibility that the Western River Expedition would be built, however various problems plagued the attractions development, and instead, over the course of many years, two complex attractions- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain - each both using elements and inspiration from the Western River Expedition, now occupy the land originally placed aside for the Western River Expedition.

Western River Expedition is something of a legend among Disney Imagineers, especially to those who admire the work of Disney legend Marc Davis and parts of the ride was slipped into other attractions like Epcot's World of Motion.

Let's come back now to Disneyland Paris. Soon after the park opening in 1992, new attractions to increase the park capacity were needed, and as quick as possible. Each land show producer and their team were asked to propose new projects, and here is where the Western River Expedition attraction project makes its comeback.

For Jeff Burke, show producer of DLP's Frontierland, the unique landscape theming of the land was perfect to introduce WRE. You see, at DLP Frontierland don't have all this greenery you can find in the U.S parks with a Tom Sawyer island at the center of the river. In Paris, we have instead Big Thunder Mountain island in the middle of the Rivers of the far west, and a vegetation coming more from the desert - cactus, etc...than from the banks of the Mississipi river. In two words, Paris Frontierland has a more "dry" vegetation. And when you'll know that Marc Davis WRE had a kind of red "canyon" exterior theming, you will understand why DLP's Frontierland would have been ( and still is ) the perfect Frontierland to build Marc's attraction.

So, back in 1993, the imagineers bring out again Marc's artwork and WRE models and thought that the best place to build the attraction in Frontierland would have been in the land available behind the train station - exactly where rumors since the last 10 years keep saying that the park is going to build here Splash Mountain anytime soon. Although it's true that a Splash Mountain attraction was also envisioned by the imagineers at this same location, the first one who almost did it was definitely Western River Expedition.

The location would have been perfect, and the imagineers really thought that this time , that was it, Marc Davis legendary project was finally going to be build!

So, what happenned? Well, what happened is that somebody called Michael Eisner - remember this man who was the CEO of the Walt Disney Company before he became anchorman of his own show on a cable network? - came and had a look to all the different projects. And once again the "cost" curse of Western River Expedition burried the project... Eisner asked for the cost of it - and it's true that WRE is really an expensive attraction, let's say probably not less than 150 M $ - and that was really too much for Michael.

Goodbye Western River Expedition and welcome......nothing as in Frontierland no attractions were built since 1993 at the exception of the Fort scenes. Instead, Indiana Jones and the temple of peril, Casey Jr, Story Book Land, Les Mystères du Nautilus and Space Mountain were built, all successful attractions.

Is there any chance to see a Western River Expedition in the future at DLP's Frontierland? Mmmmh, although the land is still available, i would not bet too much on it. It's a pity, because every guest will love it, but, hey, if you are an Arab Prince who have 150 M $ and don't know what to do with them, please call DLP executives and tell them you're ready to fund a WRE project. Marc Davis - from where he is now, will bless you till the end of your life!


Thanks to leave a comment or discuss this article on D&M english forum on Mice Chat

Artwork: copyright Disney Enterprises

Thanks to Wikipedia for the description text.

15 comments:

Hani El-Masri said...

You don't need to be an Arab prince, $150 Million is not such a big deal for the Disney Company (almost what they spent on Toontown in the early 90s) Its the political will and the EGO of new generation designers at Imagineering: Why would they follow the designs of Marc Davis when they can come up with their own? And who, at the helm, would have enough passion to order this done especially after they successfully gotten rid of all the last of the old guard, ending with Marty Sklar?

Anonymous said...

We know what a positive effect Pirates of the Carribean, Big Thunder and Spalsh Mountain have had on the Disney Parks with show influences by Mark. Hong Kong Disneyland has none of these and they are well missed in many ways. The Western River Ride would be a "Great" addition to Paris Disneyland and Thunder Mesa.

DisWedWay said...

Mark's Jungle Cruise is also missing from Paris Disneyland, and the Western River Ride would be the obviouse replacement and addition since so many of it's elements are there now in Thunder Mesa. Show Producer Jeff Burke was right in presenting it for his land."Quality is long remembered after the price is forgotten!"

Hani El-Masri said...

... And Jeffrey Burke is long gone from WDI ! We are still in a continuous friendship, but there is no more Jeff Burkes in Imagineering, today...

Anonymous said...

"The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price has faded from memory."
Aldo Gucci

welcome_to_my_deathlist said...

that is all well and good and a nice museum piece...and i'll be the first to bow before marc davis (back in 1997, i flew to london from germany just to see him and alice at an artwork signing), but does anyone really believe that a western themed land will excite any young person today? i don't think we'll ever again see a "land" that is not tied in with a hit movie.

Hani El-Masri said...

Good design has no age. My son's favorite ride was (and still is) Pirates of the Caribbean, another Marc Davis creation, and he was upset when he heard Disneyland was planning to tailor it to the new Johnny Depp movies. Also, isn't any themed park about nostalgia anyway?

DisWedWay said...

Disney's "Tombstone" with Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc holiday, was a very good Western and has become a cult western classic. If Disney had submitted it to the Academy, it was said that it would have won some nominations and possible Academy awards. Disney's Alamo gets better ever time my jr.cousins watch it. Love Davey Crockett played by Billy Bob Thorton and his fiddle scene. Happens my jr. cousin plays the fiddle also and can do the "Dequello de Crockett" number. Disney's "Open Range" followed in the footsteps of "Lonesome Dove" with Robert Duval, Annette Benning, and Kevin Costner. Costner had also done his own version of "Wyatt Earp" at the same time Disney was making theirs. Dennis Quade had to dance around the Holiday role Val Kilmer portrayed, but I will give him nods for his acting. I hope Disney continues to make Westerns that can be adapted to the theme parks. I know a lot of kids in Montanna and "horse country" through out the US that would love it.

Anonymous said...

I heard they were doing a "New Version" of a Westernland for Hong Kong Disneylnd which is not related to any movie, but Marc Davis would get a good laugh at those crazy bears.

Anonymous said...

I understand that this proposed ride is expensive, but so is Splash Mountain. I bet this ride will also be around 150 M to built, because it's a huge E-Ticket attraction. So, what's the difference in building Western River Expedition or Splash Mountain? DLP needs another E-Ticket ride and this is a very good condidate. It's not been built anywhere else, so it will be unique to Paris. Then again, I would also jump in the air if we ever get a Jungle Cruise, for that matter.

RobbieM said...

sounds like it would have been agreat ride but I'm afraid I can't see Disney every building it now. Lets face it cowboys just aren't as big a part of our collective culture as they were back in the 50's, 60's or even 70's. Fronierland was built in the era of TV westerns (Davey Crocket, Wagon train, Rawhide etc) & I doubt if even Uncle Walt would have put it in Disneyland today. Much as I'd love to ride this ride I think if people were going to pony up that ammount of money for a new ride in DLP it would be more marketable to go for an Indiana Jones Adventure or some other thril ride - my ideal would be to add Journey to the Centre of the Earth from Disneysea to Discovery land but I guess that has as much chance of being built as WRE!

DisWedWay said...

Alain, until Jerry Bruckheimer made a movie based on the Disneyland Pirates of the Carribean attraction with Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, who was interested in playing pirates or ever thought it would be a hit? For Disney he has a 4th and 5th edition planned now. Steven Spielberg revived the Disney Zorrow classic with his film and it was Bill Clinton's favorite movie. Back in 1972 there was a Western produced that many including Clint Eastwood, regard as one of the top 10 Underrated alltime great Westerns with a great cast. Clint later hired many of those actors to play in his films. That film was "The Culpepper Cattle Company"and was associate produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Paris Disneyland's Thunder Mesa already has quite a few legendary tales and characters to draw from, and they do have the Best Big Thunder of 4, to base a Disney movie on as they did Pirates. This PDL Phantom Manor would be tied into the Thunder Mesa Lore and would be better than the first using Disneylands. I would bet if Jerry would produce this movie, you would see as much revived Western interest as he got with Pirates, and the Western River Ride addition would be a "Boot Kickin" attraction there..I'm sure Johnny Depp would love to play one of the Thunder Mesa Gang. Perhaps the long time Disney stars of Tombstone, Open Range and their other recent Westerns could take a pull of the cork at Thunder Mesa. Billy Bob Thorton was in Tombstone and The Alamo. Maybe even Clint would be in interested in a Manor of speaking.

Anonymous said...

If they can get three new attractions on one piece of land then it would easily be worth the $150 million. For example a water ride, a train ride and a walk-through attraction, all sharing the same real estate. Much in the same way that Mine Train thru Nature's Wonderland shared real estate with Pack Mules, several types of watercraft share the Rivers of America, or the Submarines, Autopia, Monorail and Peoplemover all in the same basic area. This would be a great addition to any Disney park and they could get 3 attractions out of it plus a restaurant, a gift shop and even a show theater, if these were all part of the design to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Aldo Gucci will be watching.

DisWedWay said...

I sure hope they don't do Splash Mountain In Thunder Mesa. I would rather see the Western River Ride or even a Knotts Bud Hurlbut type mining and Log Ride to match the existing quality of the land. Show producer Jeff Burke would approve I'm sure.