Friday, March 29, 2013

The second life of the Jungle Cruise Gorillas

A looong time ago - more precisely 31 years ago - guests who ride the Disneyland Jungle Cruise could watch two not-so-threatening but massive audio-animatronics gorillas standing and observing you, from the banks of the "rivers of Africa".

And then, one day, the gorillas disappeared, vanished! Though, that was not without any reason. For the Imagineers, back in 1977-78, it was time for a major refurbishment of the attraction and legendary imagineer Mark Davis worked on the upgrading of this Disneyland Jungle Cruise - that was after WDW had opened with their improved show. Part of Mark's new show for Disneyland included the Gorilla Camp with the tents, overturned jeep and the family of gorillas unpacking and turning the camp inside out. That's when these older previous tenant Gorillas vacated the Disneyland Jungle Cruise.

But as they say at WDI, "good ideas never die", and as we will see, audio-animatronics too. Reemploying animation figures is common at Walt Disney imagineering, some of the AA from Natures Wonderland are now part of Big Thunder, and almost all America Sings audio-animatronics are in Splash Mountain.

Approximately at the same time, in 1978, the imagineers were also working on another major refurbishment of another Disneyland attraction: the Matterhorn. The Matterhorn was coming down to be reinforced with steel, as it was a wood framed structure since the beginning. The new Bobsleds were being added along with new track, and better brakes too for the splash down. It was also decided to put some show in the interior mostly for the Skyway buckets that passed through the Matterhorn more slowly. The Bobsleds of course at speed could see the new icy interiors and crystals as well as what is now a very famous Disneyland figure: the abominable snowman.

Steve Kirk, imagineer extraordinaire who will be later the show producer in chief for Tokyo Disney Sea worked on the design of it - i should say them as there is three "abominable snowmen" in the ride. The design of these Snow Men was based on Steve's artwork - the one above - which was a composite of several different contemporary depictions and his own warped imagination.

Sculptor Blaine Gibson will then sculpt the snowman mask, and the imagineers team with Legend and Matterhorn creator Fred Joerger added the interior with the new Ice Crystals. Now, and as i suppose you've already guessed the end of the story, yes, the old Jungle Cruise audio-animatronic gorilla put on a new suit in 1978, and is now living a second life in the role of the Matterhorn's abominable snowman!

Transforming ex gorillas into Snow Men had to have been purely for economic reasons and probably dictated also the proportions of the final generation of the simian snow men.

As there is three Abominable snow men figures in the ride, i couldn't tell you which ones exactly are the former Jungle Cruise gorillas, but next time you will ride the Matterhorn bobsleds and see the abominable snow man, have a little thought for these old Jungle Cruise gorillas, who were some of the first Disneyland audio-animatronics. I'm sure they will be sensitive to this attention, and watch out for that third abominable snowman as he may be the real one.

Many thanks to Davelandweb for the Jungle Cruise gorilla picture. Dave have an unbelievably good web site about the Jungle Cruise, with more pictures you can ever dreamed of. Be sure to have a look at it, it's HERE.

Steve Kirk's artwork and abominable snowman pictures: copyright Disney.

Some of the pictures are coming from Jason Surrell fantastic book "The Disney Mountains", full of WDI artwork. You can find it on from only $8.90!


Pelter Unbleat said...

Where did you get this story? I'm not sure that there's any real truth to it. From an aesthetic purpose, there's no real similarity between the gorillas and the Abominable Snowman. They are completely different heads and hands, and the body also is very different. Even the motion of the figures is different. As recycling goes, it's possible that a plastic body form, possibly an arm or chest might have made it's way to the Snowman figure, not to mention the metal interior workings, but that's all pretty generic stuff- not enough that I would ever say that one figure became another, much less be able to prove. Sorry, but I cry "myth".

Alain Littaye said...

Pelter, yes, the story is true, but what happened - as it happen sometime when WDI wants to recycle audio-animatronics is that they keep only the mechanical "skeleton" and then dress it differently and of course re-program it to have different movements. They did it brilliantly with the AA animals of America Sings which are used in the Disneyland version of Splash Mountain, for instance. But yes, the story is true and was told to me by good friends imagineers who were working at WDI at that time.

Anonymous said...

Alain and Pelter, This accounting of the Jungle Cruise Gorilla is true and I worked on both show upgrades while it was being done. At WED Imagineering back in those days, nothing ever got thrown away. If it was decided the item likes Flying Saucers or Natures Wonderland Trains could not be re-used they had to be destroyed. I couldn't even get a retired Bobsled for my living room to watch TV in, as they were destroyed. If you remove the Gorilla's new white fur coat for his new job in the Matterhorn, you will find him underneath. If he's not underneath, I promise I will take his place with a pay upgrade, as my Docter says bananas have too much sugar for me.

Pelter Unbleat said...

I stand corrected. I didn't deny that it could have been true, however Alain's original story didn't really cite any evidence. Glad to hear it's true.

Pelter Unbleat said...

Alain I have to say that the transition that the America Sings figures made to Splash Mountain is not at all the same. That was just a matter of changing their clothes for the most part. Some animals did get a whole new skull and skin etc...for example a generic rabbit or fox, becoming Brer Rabbit or Brer Fox, but for the most part, it's not hard to see the similarity in figures from America Sings to Splash Mountain.