(EDIT JULY 2012: New information has been discovered! This article has not been updated in the interest of full disclosure, but links have been added to a post with the updated information!)
oeneiric, platonic versions of attractions. Especially in Haunted Mansionology, there's a lot of discussion of intention - who did what, why did they do it, and what does it mean - which is usually an attempt to extrapolate out a reading of an unfinished area already in the ride or a new idea being introduced and whether it truly meshes with the creative intent of the original design team. And of course that great castle in the sky of themed design: what would it have been like if it turned out exactly as planned?
In such cases, the idea is often floated that the earliest possible incarnation of the attraction, minus of course any momentary technical imperfections, is supposed to be the "perfect" version, the version against which all others are judged. This happens a lot in film scholarship too, especially with reference to filmmakers who misbehaved or were removed from films. There is an entire restoration of a Welles film, Mr. Arkadin, based on this idea - that the earliest extant cut of any given scene is preferable over others because it's more likely that Welles edited it himself before being locked out of the cutting room. It's just one example, sure, but it's a real life example of the phenomena - the "earliest possible version" theory.
Of course this is absurd because the rides change constantly, from wear and tear or just the environment. Lights burn out and are maybe replaced with lights of not quite the exact same brightness and color. And who says there's anything to whether or not that lamp is supposed to be 60 watt or 75 watt bulb? The original construction crew probably didn't give it much thought either.
Still, I bet most of us would like to know, for example, exactly what Pirates of the Caribbean was like in 1967 when it finally opened. Did those timbers in the burning city sway just the way they do now? Should they? In other words, has the original vision of the designers been diluted over time? That's the point of it all, that the earliest versions - ones most likely to have been tinkered with by the original WED staff - can be a guide to all subsequent alterations to preserve the intended effect. And in case you think that's being extreme about things, you should know that Disney plays this game too - the type, brightness, and color of every light and lamp in every attraction is recorded on opening day and compiled into massive documents. There are binders full of reams and reams of codes explaining exactly how one figure or another was programmed. The original staff of WED was fully prepared for their creations to outlast them, and many of them have.
Perhaps today's post will be of interest, then. It is primarily composed of a set of photographs of the Walt Disney World Jungle Cruise under refurbishment in 1973. Now the Jungle Cruise really has not changed much in the past forty years, and good thing, too. Things have broken, been forgotten, been rediscovered, tinkered with, repainted, second guessed. But the biggest changes have really boiled down to the amount of foliage growth, the guests' attention span and how sarcastic the guides are.
It isn't commented on much, but the Florida Jungle Cruise was designed, from a visual perspective, nearly entirely by Marc Davis and his designs were absolutely slavishly deployed by the WED model shop. Davis had already tinkered with the Disneyland version, but that remained a show designed by committee, a group effort by different teams of designers working in 1955, 59, 62, and so on. The Florida Jungle Cruise was designed by Marc from beginning to end and so faithful to his art were the scenic artists that the attraction is one of the few places in the entire world where one can see Marc Davis rocks and waterfalls. Squint below for a rare peek at his art for Inspiration Falls sitting on the table near its model counterpart.
Or to put it another way, what is good and unique about the Florida Jungle Cruise is good because Marc Davis designed it to be that way. So the Florida jungle is an unannounced treasure - a completely intact Davis design, not substantially altered in realization, still operating after 40 years. This photo set represents some of the earliest and most extensive photo documentation I've ever seen of the ride at a time when it had not been touched basically at all since opening day - a true look at the unadulterated vision of the original design team. It's also a fascinating look "under the water" at the Jungle Cruise, something few people ever get to see.
But first, some preliminaries. Let's begin way back at... the beginning - in fact, even before then.
This piece of concept art can't exactly be said to be "rare"; it's available on a DVD you can buy at the park itself (!), but it may reasonably be said to be "uncirculated" or "under appreciated". This unidentified artist also created beautiful pieces for the Sunshine Pavilion, but unlike many early Magic Kingdom art pieces, this one is perhaps most remarkable for how closely the final product resembles it, strongly suggesting that the Jungle Cruise was amongst the earliest attractions to be designed for the park, perhaps as early as 1969 - it along with the Haunted Mansion were more or less complete very early on. Davis could have moved off Haunted Mansion directly onto the Florida Jungle Cruise in fall 1969.
The building closely resembles the original Disneyland boat house in general shape and more or less always has, but this piece is maybe is best for showing the original arrangement of drumming tikis outside the building in the sunken courtyard. Although later moved to be nearer the Tiki Room at an unknown time in the first few years, these are exactly the same "wooden" tiki figures which today squirt water. Here they are on an early list of speakers and sound effects for the ride:
Now you know: next time you're at Magic Kingdom, you can point at one of those six tikis and shout "TALKING LOGS"! For the record, we have no real proof they ever talked - only drummed.
Keep those tikis in mind; we'll come back to them later.
Another interesting thing about this piece of concept art is that although it's hard to tell, the second floor of the boathouse does seem to be intended to be appropriately sized and detailed to be used for guest queue. I've been trying to confirm for years if this was ever the case. There is this construction photo clearly showing a staircase rising to the second floor near the current loading area for the ride:
That isn't proof it ever held extended queue. It could have been storage or even a lead office. The rails on the second floor of the Jungle boathouse are realized in forced perspective scale making it a somewhat unlikely spot for guest use; it's also a tiny area which is today made even smaller by being mostly occupied by air conditioning vents and machines. But the air conditioning came later, in 1972-1973, and I'm not sure what other purpose this now long removed staircase could serve; if there were photos establishing a second staircase (one going up and another going down), it may be possible to conclusively prove that an upstairs queue was at least an idea at one point.
For what it's worth, Junior Pouchet (the J.P. of J.P. and the Silver Stars) once told me that on October 1 1971, the "Adventureland Steel Drum Band" performed on the second level of the Jungle Cruise before being relocated to the familiar Adventureland Gazebo location on October 2.
(EDIT JULY 2012: The upstairs was never used as queuing space, see new information here.)
Jumping forward a few months it becomes surprisingly easy to find shots of the Jungle Cruise that look like this:
This image was once common on postcards and Pana-Vue slides, and I'm willing to bet that this image and ones like it (showing the Giant Python figure or the Trapped Safari) was amongst the earliest promotional images shot for the park. These were probably even sold at the Preview Center. You can tell because this is a shot which has been cleverly framed to hide the fact that the ride is still under construction. There is extremely sparse vegetation and, most importantly, there's no hint of water. It would be several months before the river was filled, in all likelihood.
Here's another from the same set, showing "Salesman Sam" aka "Chief Namee" aka "Trader Sam".
Another image likely taken standing on a box in the middle of the dry river, this one is even better at showing the pre-opening state of the vegetation. The Jungle Cruise was the very first part of the entire Magic Kingdom to be landscaped so that opening day guests would not see a jungle that looks like this, and the plants on the very right have always looked to me to be either brought in just for the shot or perhaps were sitting in the riverbed awaiting installation.
By point of comparison here's a 1971 shot showing a jungle steamer headed off into the Amazon in a filled and completed river.
I have no idea why that guy is riding the boat out into the ride, by the way. Watch your head!
A few things to point out about this photo. First, it's taken from the southwest corner of the second floor of the boat house, note the little architectural detail evident at the top right. Second, it's a fantastic view, and thus possible evidence that even if it were never used as such it may have been designed with guest perspective in mind; off-stage areas in Disney theme parks are not known for their great views. Third, those familiar queue lanterns looked fantastic when they were new and their brass finish hadn't yet been rusted over. Finally, as any jungle skipper would be able to identify immediately, half of the queue is missing.
I'd like to be super super clear on this point. Below is a overhead view of the queue building as it looks today.
Above, the different phases are highlighted. The blue and yellow areas are the original construction in 1971; the red area is the queue annex built in 1972-1973. Jungle Cruise was one of a number of opening day attractions which regularly had large queues that spilled outside into the heat and sun; convention wisdom has it that WED Enterprises had not taken into account Florida's brutal weather and shade structures had to be devised. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Haunted Mansion received canopies; Jungle Cruise and Hall of Presidents had full annexes built. Mike Lee sent me this photo showing how the Jungle Cruise queue was expanded concurrently with the construction of Caribbean Plaza in 1972-1973:
In fact, from the pedestrian level the queue annex looks to be part of Caribbean Plaza. Obviously the attraction is still operating at the time this photo was taken, but at some point after this tourist snapshot was taken it closed for a full refurbishment.
(EDIT JULY 2012: This photo shows the "mystery staircase" being removed, see new information here. Also, the map above is incorrect, updated version in new post.)
That's where this photo series picks up. These photos are undated but I'll be willing to guess that they're from 1973 during an early refurbishment, probably taken by WED for reference. This is some of the very earliest photo documentation of any Walt Disney World ride I've ever seen in such an extensive way; this is very close to how the ride was intended to look in 1971.
This refurbishment seems to have accomplished several things:
- general refreshment of the show scenes
- completion of the queue annex
- removal of several figures from the Amazon
- site prep for "Year Two" additions
Here's an overhead view of the load area.
This is one of the photos that helps convince me that this was taken in 1973, by the way. In addition to showing a generally similar level of foliage growth compared to that 1971 Pana-Vue slide of the same area (above), this photo is taken from a raised perspective and an angle that would be impossible unless the queue annex were being built; the photographer is standing on it! Sadly there are no photos in this set of the queue itself; the mysteries of the time frame of the removal of those staircases and the "talking logs" continue to haunt us.
(EDIT JULY 2012: Talking Logs removed concurrent with the queue expansion, see new information.)
A great photo showing the original decoration of Marc's fascinating little shed across from the load area; a perfect overture to the mysterious fantasy to follow. This version follows his concept art closely and I find the draped mosquito netting especially to be very pictorially elegant. Later refurbishments covered this classic little house with all manner of vulgarizing props and bric-a-brac and generally did his designs few favors.
A view of one of Walt Disney World's loveliest waterfalls, currently dry for the refurbishment. I'm pretty sure the cinder block is there to anchor the outrigger canoe that usually accompanies the little house, inlet, and waterfall. These four elements comprise one of the Magic Kingdom's most pictorially elegant compositions; it still has the mysterious allure of tropical fantasy today.
The first scene, the Rain Forest, originally featured this beautiful jungle canopy constructed of welded pipes to which various artificial and real plants were attached. This cooled the river and allowed the mysterious fog effect to settle naturally over the water. The rusted superstructure was removed in 2000 and the fog effect has not worked properly since.
Now we're rounding the bend near Inspiration Falls, one of the loveliest kinetic sculptures at Walt Disney World. Hey, what are those guys doing?
This is entirely conjecture but I'm willing to bet that what we are seeing here is the removal of Davis' giant frog figures. There's always been frog sound effects in this part of the jungle but it was not until recently proven that there were once figures to go along with the sounds. The full story is at Widen Your World, but based on the evidence presented there I will say that these WED employees are standing right where a cluster of four frogs was supposed to be located.
The original Pygmy Canoes scene, this original version closely modeling Davis' concept art once again. This scene was originally the visual accent to a traveling sound effect of beating native drums from just out of sight; a scene of mystery with just a little danger. In the early 90s a more textured beach surface was added along with some skulls on spears and a silly little soup pot with a spoon. I don't know about you, but those decorations seem to hem much closer to the stereotypes of "unseen other" cultures in the third world than this original; the in your face joke of the newer version is that cannibals may be lurking nearby instead of a beautiful but eerie tableau of human culture having just fled the scene at the approach of your boat. I'll take Davis' version any day.
On to the ride's second scene, "Gorilla Area".
This distinct little rock formation may still be seen today to the left of the camp overrun with gorillas; more importantly, what can be seen in this photo is the very first of the ride's animation pits. It's still there and it is still unused. What's supposed to be there is a crocodile being pummeled repeatedly by an angry gorilla. No, seriously! The size of the pit and distance of the scene to the boats to me suggests that had the scene been budgeted and approved for Walt Disney World in 1971, that gorilla would have been smashing that crocodile's head into the water in the way depicted in the concept art, with the croc's tail flailing in the air.
A number of early documents list this scene as "In At Year #2", which would have meant that the scene was meant to be installed during the refurbishment which is being photographed here, and the existence of photographs of this pit from WED in 1972/73 does suggest that somebody was looking at this area seriously. It's possible that the rapid construction of Pirates of the Caribbean, Tom Sawyer Island, and numerous shade structures and extended queues around The Magic Kingdom absorbed the Jungle Cruise's "phase two" figure budget. Any current Imagineers looking to enhance but not detract from the Jungle Cruise would do well to look at Marc's art for the attraction as there are a number of unused and forgotten ideas that came very close to realization.
Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland did get this scene, but the gorilla mereley threatens to bean the crocodile, which is much less funny because that's the whole joke of the scene. In 2005, the crocodile figure was relocated to elsewhere in the ride and the gorilla now reaches for some bananas on a floating box, which is just stupid, if you ask me.
This angle on the Nile River scene approaching the veldt reveals interesting facets of the design of the ride; I especially like the way the giraffe's heads originally appeared to poke up above the rocks on the approach. Those rocks, by the way, are hollow and at some point were meant to feature a family of baboons:
See how the rocks are similarly shaped? These primates did make the cut during the Disneyland Jungle's 1976 refurbishment which added a number of scenes from the new Florida show, as well as at Tokyo Disneyland. Again, why these figures never materialized in Florida is a mystery. They never appeared on any figure diagrams.
This lovely view of the Veldt shows the original horizon-line effect; it is not for nothing that the Jungle Cruise is situated at the lowest elevation of any attraction in the Magic Kingdom. The lower elevation allows the attraction to sit in a sort of cater; the hills around it blocking out unwanted visual intrusions from both inside and outside the park as Magic Kingdom was built without a Disneyland-style "berm". The lowered vantage point of the boats and the raised hill of the veldt allowed a variety of vehicles, including parade floats, to pass behind this scene unobserved.
In 1988 the "back wall" was filled with plants; the construction of the Grand Floridian meant that the outside world was finally visible on the veldt.
The Trapped Safari, before the entire party got whitewashed and the scene was filled with campground clutter.
I don't think anybody here will be surprised to learn that the hippos have no bellies. This is the deepest part of the river, by the way.
On to the Native Village. Note the pleasant use of grassy banks here and in the Hippo Pool. Still present but not prominent today are those tikis poking up out of the foliage, but wait - aren't they familiar? Yes, that's right, these are the diminutive counterparts to our "TALKING LOGS", and it seems we've finally come across the native culture that produced those carvings outside the queue!
I've already talked about how Adventureland alternates between structures intended to be understood as "colonial" and those meant to be "native"; we are meant to understand those six totems outside the boathouse as having predated the construction of the outpost itself, a leftover sign of local culture. In this way the contrast between these two items would make the defining dynamic of the Jungle Cruise immediately evident on the approach - European culture's encounter and friction with natives - an encounter the colonists are doomed to lose, by the way, which we know from both history and the ride itself. Gorillas overrun the camp, the colonists are chased up a tree, attacked by villagers, and ultimately there are the Cambodian Ruins, the ultimate reminder of the transience of all conquerors of the jungle. Nature is the only winner; all others fall back.
Davis' original art and some early promotional literature tell us that the Native Village not only originally was supposed to have skulls on sticks, but that they were on fire. Weird.
(EDIT JULY 2012: they were there! See new information.)
Bet you can't guess what we'll find in the "Floating Croc Area".
Of course these figures are just a minor visual accent to one of WED's most gorgeous and haunting tableaus ever: the magnificent crumbling ruin of the Khmer empire. The small dome shaped devices surrounding the crocs create bubbles in the water and are used extensively in the Hippo Pool as well; you're supposed to imagine dozens more crocodiles underwater.
Look at how beautifully painted this is; the WED model shop really was amazing.
Since we're looking at an animation mechanism here it's worth pointing out that the Jungle Cruise figures aren't really "animatronics" so much as what is called "animation". They're run pneumatically and the illusion of life is more or less achieved entirely through actions which translate to a solenoid valve being open or closed. For example, on the veldt the value opens and closes quickly to cause ears and tails to flick. This crocodile is either rising or falling based on whether or not his mechanism is receiving compressed air.
This is the first Squirting Elephant; the caged intake valve next to him draws in water to feed Elephant Falls, Inspiration Falls and the Load Area waterfall.
This is the other elephant, but don't look at him; look past him, to the left. See that raised concrete platform at the water line along the shore? That's the location of the final never-installed scene along the river, and our final puzzle to ponder.
Now this one is even more mysterious. In some ways its' easy to figure out why the Gorilla-Bashes-a-Crocodile or the baboons never showed up: money and time became scarce, projects rolled along and the scenes work fine without them. This scene is something else, though, there's some elusive other reason why it isn't there in the ride today.
This is it. It's a parrot on a stump being leered at by crocodiles.
Again, on most early diagrams this scene is labeled "In At Year #2". It never appeared in Florida, but it did appear in Disneyland in 1976, now significantly revised by Davis. Now the crocodiles poked their heads out of the water, the parrot has become a hornbill, and the stump has become a branch over the water. Here it is along with a Pana-Vue slide of the same scene.
But why did Davis revise the scene at all? His concepts for the Gorilla vs. Croc scene and Baboon Family were faithfully created to match the concept art. It can also be pointed out that he added water buffalo to the Florida Giant python scene when it was exported to Disneyland in 1976:
Of course there's no evidence that buffalo weren't planned for Florida at one point as well; or maybe Davis was simply trying to find a new use for some old animals as water buffalo had appeared alongside the jungle river back in the late 50s. Or maybe it was to mirror his new scene at the start of the ride; in 1976 the Jungle Cruise began with predators surrounding a docile bird on a branch and ended with a predator on a branch surrounded by docile buffalo.
Actually, Davis redesigned the bird-on-a-stump gag because it had already been used. This is where things get really weird: the scene was built, but not at the Jungle Cruise. It was and still is alongside the Walt Disney World Railroad. Here's a picture I found on flickr of that scene from the 70s:
As you can see the setting has been transposed from a jungle to a swamp and been mildly restaged; still, I think this reads faster and is much funnier than the bird-on-branch incarnation from Disneyland. But what's the deal with that creature on the stump? Why, it's a frog. A frog that had recently been removed from the Jungle Cruise. Remember that picture of the WED staff lurking around the site of some former frogs above?
Davis was the show designer for the Florida Rivers of America, too, and while the river was down in 1973 to allow the installation of Tom Sawyer Island, a number of Davis gags and scenes were incorporated there and along the backside of the railroad track. To be clear: this work was happening at the exact same time as the Jungle Cruise refurbishment we've been looking at.
But seriously, why? It seems like a madly strange thing to do. Those crocodiles were made just for the scene and a few eventually made their way into Disneyland's jungle, too. Why relocate it at all and then, once you've done that, why use a figure you've just removed from the ride you relocated it from? Time and money is only the easy answer, there may yet be something else to it. I hope one day to be able to report that I know why.
The Jungle Cruise has always been about mysteries and enchantment, and I believe the Florida version of the show is a genuine classic, the best thing of its' type for emotional flow, for beauty, and artistic excellence. But the jungle does not yield her secrets easily and is all too often overlooked for her more obvious elements: silly jokes and limited believability. We need not have everything be "realistic" for it to be good; Animal Kingdom, the nearest obvious successor of the Jungle Cruise, could learn a thing or two from Davis' beautiful but patently fake primeval wilderness. I feel like I learn more every time I ride it.
And now, two smiling native boys will help you from your boat, and please watch your step.