Sunday, February 15, 2009

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!


Anonymous said...

Alain - the last two pictures are not of a "raft" ride but a boat ride that was originally intended to be the showpiece attraction of the Asia section. This was supposed to be the Asian counterpart to Kilimanjaro Safaris. If you look at the map in the second image you can see that this ride was supposed to be as large as Kilimanjaro Safaris. If you look at a GoogleEarth image from today you will see that Kilimanjaro safaris is only about half the size or less of that boat ride. The main reason for the change is not hard to guess given the policies of Eisner's second decade: it was cheaper to build KRR. The change was very unfortunate in my opinion, as Animal Kingdom was supposed to be unique in the way it integrated live animals into theme park rides, but as of today only one ride does this, and that's how it's likely to stay. On another note - the map in the second image also shows the unbuilt Excavator roller coaster of course Beastlie Kingdomme with its three attractions. Animal Kingdom is my favorite park in Orlando but this shows just how much better it could have been if it had been built properly.

Anonymous said...

Oh I made mistake in the above comment - I said Kilimanjaro Safaris is half the size of the boat ride and I meant to say that Kali River Rapids is half the size of the boat ride. Sorry for the confusion - Tasman.

Anonymous said...

sorry again but i meant to post these comments in reply to the animal kingdom photos post - Tasman

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