Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The second life of the Jungle Cruise Gorilla

A looong time ago - more precisely 32 years ago - guests who ride the Disneyland Jungle Cruise could watch this not-so-threatening but massive audio-animatronic gorilla standing on the banks of the "rivers of Africa".

And then, one day, the gorilla 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 this older previous tenant Gorilla 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 Bobsleds. The Matterhorn was coming down to be reinforced with steel, as it was a wood framed structure since its opening. 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 create 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 the proportions of the final generation of the simian snow men.

As there is three snow men figures in the ride, i couldn't tell you which one exactly was the former Jungle Cruise gorilla, but next time you will ride the Matterhorn bobsleds and see the abominable snow man, have a little thought for this old Jungle Cruise gorilla who was one of the first Disneyland audio-animatronics. I'm sure he will be sensitive to this attention.

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.

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