Wednesday, August 6, 2008

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 legenday 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? - Michael Eisner, so, 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 back in 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, i must add.

Do we have a 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!

Artwork: copyright Disney Enterprises

Thanks to Wikipedia for the description text.


Mark said...

Wonderful piece- as always! Thank you, Alain.

Anonymous said...

shanghai disneyland...enough said.


Anonymous said...

Discovery Mountain, Beauty & The Beast, Little Mermaid, Indiana Jones Adventure, Geyser Mountain... and now Western Rivers Expedition???? Alain you are killing me!! DLP would have been the greatest Disneyland Park in the world!
I've always wanted to one day see a WRE, but am a little short on the $150M.
Where exactly would it be built? I can't quite picture it. Would they have knocked down the Chaparral Theatre?
Thanks for the great article, how about some more stories on DLP's great unbuilt attractions?

Dr Bitz said...

I think the WRE would have been a dud. If they really did the cartoony backgrounds as MD drew them in his renderings (as they did in "America Sings") where they were just painted flats, it would not have an been immersive escape as Pirates is.

It would be ok in a park without Pirates, but next to each other they seem derivative. Especially the drunken humor.

Honor Hunter said...

Yeah, not like that drunken humor in Pirates... it doesn't go over well at all on that ride, does it?

WRE would have been as elaborate, if not more so than POTC so I don't think it would have been a dud in anyway, any fashion...

Unknown said...

I propose that WRE be built exactly as Marc Davis intended it to be, the most awesome ride ever, and one sure to dethrone that upstart Potter from theme park superiority....But built it in EPCOT at the back of the American Adventure. What an appropriate setting for the most American of rides. There is empty space just sitting there, check Google Maps. And EPCOT needs something new...