Friday, April 12, 2019

Five Batshit Crazy Rides

Okay everybody, put on your silly hats, because today we're all about really weird rides.

As a Disney World-obsessed child growing up on the other side of the country, although Disney was a major influence on my interests, the fact is that it was not an everyday, every week, or even every-year thing. Just as big of an influence on me, in those multi-year stretches between the family vacations, were less-ambitious examples of theming: malls, miniature golf courses, oddball restaurants, and regional amusement parks. So while the obsession really took hold between the ages of eight and ten or so, the fact is that I have more, and stronger childhood memories of something like Lake Compounce or Riverside Park or Lake George than I do Walt Disney World.

On this blog, we spend a lot of time talking about the prime cuts: the Disneys and Universals of the world, which offer beautifully, fully realized environments. But just as compelling to me are the lesser steaks, the parks that operate on smaller budgets and milder ambitions, that make do with less. They may not be as rich and juicy, but there's a lot of flavor to chew on in places like Knobels, or The Enchanted Forest, or Silver Dollar City.

Which is maybe a longwinded way of saying: I love Pirates of the Caribbean, but I love the weird shit too, and there is simply not enough of it on this blog. And while these five examples may not per se be on the same level as a handmade mini golf course in Michigan, they aren't exactly on the Disney or Universal or Efteling level either. What they are is truly, truly bizarre, sometimes ambitious, fascinating, and, yes... batshit crazy.

Mammut Tree, Conny Land, Switzerland

We'll start with something fairly mild. As the park says, "to conquer this tree, you need nerves of steel"!

A landmark in Conny Land, the Mammut Tree looks like a gigantic redwood with its top blown off. On the ground level, pedestrians can walk around and through the root system of the tree. In the air, a cable car takes riders through a hole in its top. Looks harmless, right?

Except! when the car passes through the terrifying Mammut Tree, doors close around the car and it's trapped and, then... well maybe you should just watch the video, but there's wind, sparks, fireballs, and... yodeling.



Conny Land has other oddities, like a shuttle coaster that stops you upside down and a Universe of Energy-inflected dinosaur dark ride, but it's the weird, inexplicable "mammoth tree" that captures my heart. It's like a non-sequitir given physical form.

Gremlins Invasion, Warner Brothers Movie World, Germany

When I was about ten years old, Gremlins was one of my favorite things in the world. It's the perfect "starter" scary movie - crazy, a little gory if you're ten, suspenseful, and sweet. It's gone on to be recognized as something of a classic in years since, but in the depths of the 90s with the world having moved on all I could do is rent the thing and keep spreading the word and wondering if I was the only one who loved this movie as much as I did.

Suffice to say, had I had access to this attraction as a ten year old, Gremlins Invasion / The Great Gremlins Adventure would maybe be my favorite ride ever.

The premise begins with absolute lunacy and only gets weirder from there. Passing through a receptionist office and into a screening room at "Warner Brothers Studio", visitors are treated to a collection of bloopers from films past and present hosted by... Sandra Bullock? Okay...

After several minutes of this, we suddenly cut to the set of ALF, where ALF is chasing the household cat under a sink. He's then attacked by the Gremlins, who electrocute the cameraman shooting the television program. As ALF encourages viewers to flee, the projector breaks and the famous "film break" segment of Gremlins 2 plays. An employee rushes into the theater to hurry the audience to a load area where the ride operator has been killed by the Gremlins, but no worry - ALF and Gizmo are at the ride controls!

Some context here. There were two versions of this attraction, one in Australia and one in Germany. The Australia version featured Beetlejuice, which I suppose makes some sense as that character was then at the height of his popularity and was also a fourth-wall breaking, horror comedy kind of character. If you squint a little, you can see why somebody would make the connection.

Meanwhile, over in Germany, ALF had been something of a cultural phenomenon, and he took a much larger role in the German edition of the attraction, piloting the vehicles through the Warner Brothers Film Archive and appearing in the pre show. While touring a film archive under attack by Gremlins while Beetlejuice appears and cracks wise is plenty bizarre in itself, the inclusion of ALF as a major character elevates the simply weird into the truly sublime.


You wanna know what? This ride is pretty good. It uses entirely dimensional sets, it has decent gags, and it's perfect for the Gremlins - attacking a movie studio and re-enacting scenes from Singing in the Rain and The Adventures of Robin Hood. There's a decent Pepper's Ghost gag where ALF and Gizmo electrocute a number of Gremlins, and another moment where the ride vehicles pass each other and trailing behind the second vehicle is a ride car filled with Gremlins. The finale where ALF arrives in a fire truck has never made much sense, but if you've gotten this far into the ride, what do you honestly expect? The Gremlins pack themselves into boxes, the film archive burns, and the perfect late 80s pop culture dream state ends.

In the past ten years, Gremlins Invasion has graduated from obscurity to minor infamy due to the ever-vigilant novelty consuming nature of social media, but right there at the intersection of crazy and possibly good sits a ride starring Sandra Bullock and ALF that was torn down for a Van Helsing coaster. It is, in its' own small way, perfect.

Donkey's Sherry, Shima Spain Village, Japan

This one only exists thanks to the diligence of park designer Dave Cobb, who knew weird when he saw it back in the 90s. Donkey's Sherry is vastly bizarre and makes one wonder what other strange rides once existed across the globe that were never documented and since have been lost.

A fever dream starring anthropomorphic donkeys, rather than the cute Disney-style characters you may expect, this is entirely "musician of Bremen" style donkeys, upright animals wearing clothes. As the ride begins, the donkeys are manufacturing the sherry, crushing grapes in huge wooden vats, drinking the sherry, dancing in the town square, getting drunk.... and then things get weird.


The absolute masterstroke of Donkey's Sherry, if it can be said to have one, is after all of the escalating insanity with executioners, conquistadors, and a burning city, is the puzzling final scene, where we are left to wonder if the whole thing was the drunken hallucination of an animal. Honestly, we're left to wonder if it wasn't a drunken hallucination of *ourselves*, but no matter. there may be plenty of questionable in Donkey's Sherry, but find me another ride that wordlessly suggests a twist ending with nary a bit of narration.

Looney Tunes Adventure, Warner Brothers Movie World, Germany

Here I go picking on poor Movie World Germany again. For what it's worth, this park has a really interesting history which predates its Warner Brothers branding in the 90s, and Warner did a lot of interesting things with it when they bought it. It was the only place in the world with a rapids ride themed after The Never-ending Story, a stunt show based on Police Academy, and a Batman Returns motion simulator. It was.... very odd.

Much like Gremlins Invasion, Looney Tunes Adventure was a copy of a similar ride originally built at Movie World Gold Coast in Australia. In both attractions, we enter the Looney Tunes Studio where a pre-show room has an actor interacting with animated figures of the Looney Tunes characters. It seems we're just in time to participate in the filming of their newest picture, to be set in, depending on one's location, either the outback or the Black Forest of Bavaria. So off we go into the ride and board a boat...




Where even to begin? The animatronics were designed by Sally Corporation, and honestly with the exception of Bugs, who's very difficult to translate into three dimensions, I think they're pretty good. But mein gott, this ride is just strange. The juxtaposition of the Looney Tunes, faithfully realized in three dimensions, with realistically created trees, rocks, and Bavarian architecture is just strange. But what pushes the whole thing from peculiar to haunting is the fact that there is absolutely no musical soundtrack during the ride! The Looney Tunes act out their comedy at the sluggish pace provided by mid-range animatronics circa 1996, viewed from a slow moving boat, and scored to a backdrop of birdsong and croaking frogs. The result is queerly suspenseful, but strangely compelling, in a mirror-world kind of way.

Oh, and another thing. I gave a simplified version of the actual story in the description above, because it was already confusing enough that their was a somewhat similar but also very different Looney Tunes Adventure in Australia. In the pre-show, you see, we're welcomed to "Hollywood" (the sign is on the mural in the background) and told that Bugs Bunny has gone to Germany to scout new film locations! In order to make the film, we must, and I kid you not, dig a hole through the earth to Germany. Speedy Gonzales asks if he can get good tacos in Germany, and no, I didn't just make that up. So we're led to the set of an old Science Fiction film, where Marvin the Martian is at the controls, and we ride his gigantic drill, Flight to the Moon style with televisions and a shaking floor, to the Black Forest. This is why Bugs says "Welcome to Germany!" when we see him in the first scene.

So at the Looney Tunes Adventure at Movie World Germany, we're transported to Hollywood for a pre-show, then through back immediately to Germany in the most bizarre way possible. Here's a video with both of the pre-show rooms, and a better view of the baby dragon encountered at the finale:


What can I say? It's strange, very strange, and I wish like hell I could have seen it. I'm sure the same kid who would ride El Rio del Tiempo six times and who grew up to write this blog would have loved every strange moment of it.

(Thanks very much to this blog post and this wiki article for helping make sense of blurry videos in other languages!)

Hollywood Tour, Phantasialand, Germany

I don't know what it is about Germany that just breeds crazy rides, but I'm well aware that 4 of the 5 on this list are located in Germany or Switzerland - and I didn't even get into Europa Park! This is also the only true knockoff on this list, but boy howdy, it's a dilly.

Phantasialand is honestly a very well realized park, with compelling rides and far, far above average textures and theming. One simply has to look at the facade and queue of their enclosed drop tower, Mystery Castle, to see that they're working at a much higher level than their competitors. Their version of Main Street is a lushly realized vision of Berlin at the height of its pre-WWI spendor. They have a very interesting Chinese variation of the Haunted Mansion, one of the most inspired such "reinterpretations" in the world. Oh, and there's Hollywood Tour, which is honestly insane.

To get on this ride you climb up! up! up! many staircases until you reach a barely decorated loading room where an animatronic of a director holding a martini - who may or may not be Alfred Hitchcock - addresses you. Then you board a boat, drop into a cavern, and...



The type of internet commentator who likes to shriek that any less than perfectly realistic animatronic is "creepy" will have a field day here, but really, those are the cheap shots. This ride is almost perversely strange, and the low budget figures are just part of it. It's the whole thing, the strange music, the slow pace of the boats, the reckless and entirely bizarre idea to replicate a mashup of the Great Movie Ride and the Universal Studios Tram Tour as an animatronic boat ride...

I love, for instance, that it recreates the Jaws scene at the Tram Tour in bizarrely specific detail - including the now-removed fishing guy in a boat who's pulled underwater. The entrance from The Great Movie Ride is there, as is Wizard of Oz, but in other cases they're riffing and coming up with their own weird versions of iconic scenes, like Frankenstein or an unspecified giant spider movie. The whole thing builds up to an experience that's appropriately named... it's oneiric, half remembered, hallucinated.

It's a mutt, but I love mutt rides - after all, the Disney and Universal park franchises now have options all over the world, but there's only one Hollywood Dream.

What's your favorite batshit crazy ride from outside the world of the billion-dollar attractions? Leave the details in the comments, and if you enjoy reading about Theme Park design, check out our archives here. Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 25, 2019

Caribbean Plaza: The Sound of the Sun

(It's BGM catch-up month here at Passport to Dreams, with two shorter posts this month to get a record of the remaining fully identified original loops online!)

Caribbean Plaza had its signature attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean, ready in December 1973 but didn't really mostly come online until April 1974, when all of its shops and snack bar were operational. At some point in that few-month period, a new piece of BGM arrived.

And so from December 1973 until July 3, 2006, Caribbean Plaza echoed with steel drums. Although highly atmospheric, much of the steel drum music begins to sound the same after enough time, and for years it was thought that the same steel drum music had been playing in the Plaza since it opened.

Thankfully a few years ago Mike Lee came forward with a 1991 live recording of Caribbean Plaza, which he identified as the music he had heard playing in the Plaza when he was a child. Since many of the original 70s BGM pieces survived until the early 90s, this was entirely credible as the original Caribbean Plaza loop.

Interestingly, it turned out to be merely the first 9 of 12 tracks of a single vintage album, played entirely in album order. Given our educated guess back in 2013 that the original Main Street BGM was simply one album played entirely in album order, this definitely fit an established pattern.

Caribbean Plaza Area Music (1973 - 1993)Running time: approx. 30:00 
01. Sixty-Nine
02. Patsy
03. Coc-che-ohco
04. Erica
05. Landlord
06. Mamma, this is Ma's
07. Mambo Lake
08. Love in the Mist
09. Linstead Market 
All tracks are sourced from the 1967 album Trinidad: The Sound of the Sun by the Westland Steel Band. Thanks to Michael Sweeney for identifying the tracks.

The Westland Steel Band LP has cycled through various owners over the years, and currently can be legally streamed through YouTube. I've created a playlist of the full Caribbean Plaza loop:


20 years later, Disney was modernizing Magic Kingdom's sound system and many old Jack Wagner loops, stored and delivered on magnetic tape, were being phased out and replaced with new ones as the new, CD-based delivery systems came online. Down the street, Adventureland Veranda's languid tropical strings were replaced with upbeat drumming from an endless loop of a single CD released by Balafon Marimba Ensemble. When Caribbean Plaza got its CD player, WDI imported a track from the then-new Disneyland Paris.

Caribbean Plaza Area Music (1993 - 2006)Running time: approx. 60:00 
01. Fire Down Below [3]
02. Grass Skirt [3]
03. Trinidad Girl [4]
04. Mary Ann [3]
05. Spear Dance [3]
06. Grenadine Jump-Up [1]
07. Zulu Chant [3]
08. Badjan Mambo [1]
09. La Paloma [3]
10. Soca Batiste [Edited: 00:00 - ~05:39] [2]
11. Jungle [3]
12. Calypso Non-Stop [Edited: 00:00 - ~07:00] [2]
13. Native Mambo [3]
14. Beef Island Merengue [1]
15. Spur Dance [Edited] [3]

[1] Bomba!: Monitor Presents Music of the Caribbean by Various Artists (Monitor Records, MFS 355)
[2] Steel Band: Antigua & Trinidad by Various Artists (PlayaSound)
[3] Steel Band Music of the Caribbean by Various Artists (Legacy International)
[4] Steel Bands Carnival by Various Artists (PlayaSound)
Notes: Playlist based on 2009 live recording of El Pirata y el Perico by Horizons and compiled by wedroy1923 with assistance from eyore, Filmographik, and needmagic.



One of the goals of the area music conversion in the 90s was to get more music playing in more places of the park, and to get more consistency across the musical signatures of the various areas. As a result the new loop played in areas which previously did not have music, such as the snack stand complex across from Pirates of the Caribbean. This allowed the 1993 loop to survive the area's switch to Pirates of the Caribbean movie music in July 2006 and be recorded and documented in 2009.

Speaking of the Pirates franchise movie score BGM, the history of that version is an interesting story in of itself. While it overtook the steel drumming in 2006, it's gone through multiple versions and locations over the years.

While the hour-long length of the thing strongly suggests it was created for Magic Kingdom from the start, the movie score music was actually used at Disneyland in the attraction's foyer area, displacing the iconic Pirate's Overture for at least a few weeks before being removed. The movie score music actually stuck at Magic Kingdom, where it very soon began to feel at home amongst the sun-washed plaster walls. The original version of the loop was retired in 2007 when the score for the third film, At World's End, was made available, replacing several redundant cues and greatly improving the variety of the loop.

El Pirata Y El Perico was given a mild facelift in 2011 and re-christened "Tortuga Tavern", at which time the 1993 steel drum loop was removed and replaced with a new loop of nautical and ocean-going music. Interestingly, as of Summer 2018 this Tortuga Tavern music now appears to play in the main corridor of Caribbean Plaza, with the movie score being relegated to the extended queue outside of the attraction.

I'm sure kids born in the early 2000s will one day be nostalgic for the Jack Sparrow music, which did indeed lend a sleepy area of Magic Kingdom a certain gravitas. My nostalgic preference is for the sound of the steel drumming music, but there's honestly nothing inherently wrong with any of these choices; what should the 16th-century Caribbean "sound" like anyway?

Miss the original Pirates of the Caribbean? Take a listen to my restored soundtrack of the 70s version here.
Want more theme park music? Check out the Passport to Dreams Park Music Hub!

DEAR READERS: Starting in 2019, Passport to Dreams will be going off its monthly update routine, to focus on providing more of the long-form writing this site excels at as well as clear time for larger projects that need to get finished. If you'd like to get updated on when new posts arrive, please follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Thanks for your support!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Musically Setting the Stage

(It's BGM catch-up month here at Passport to Dreams, with two shorter posts this month to get a record of the remaining fully identified original loops online!)

The Main Entrance music at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom is one of those few that average people get pretty emotional over. Specialist news websites report when it has been changed, and a quick search shows these pieces of music are among the most frequently reposted on sites like Tumblr and YouTube. There's just something about it.

What is that exactly? Is it the upbeat orchestrations? The sweeping feeling? Or is it simply the act of being there, hearing the music again?

But if you stop and think for a moment, there's absolutely no hard and fast rule that Disney was absolutely going to play upbeat Disney music just outside its gates - in fact, there was no rules about the music that was going to be played at all. And yet many of the choices made by Jack Wagner back in 1971 and 1972 have remained fairly consistent as various versions of in-park music have come and gone, and the Main Entrance music hasn't ever strayed too far from that original musical template. So let's take a look at those early entrance loops.

Two versions of them circulate through collector's circles, a short version and a long version. In most cases, I would be inclined to believe that the short version is simply an incomplete recording of the long version, as is the case with several shorter versions of the Skyway Music in circulation. But in this case the track order of each is significantly different.

Also, the run time of the short version is about 44 minutes, and as we have already established on this site, most of the really early Magic Kingdom loops run about as long. Therefore, in the lack of other compelling evidence, I'm inclined to treat this shorter version of the Main Entrance music as the original version, which was later padded out to one hour in the mid-70s when other loops such as Main Street and Frontierland were also altered.

And oh yes, since we're talking about Walt Disney World here, it's worth remembering that this music played at both the Transportation and Ticket Center and the Magic Kingdom.

Transportation and Ticket Center / Magic Kingdom Turnstiles
Short Version, (1972 - 1975) 
01. Me Ol'Bamboo [3]
02. Mickey Mouse Club March [4]
03. Whistle While You Work / Heigh Ho [4]
04. Pop! Goes the Weasel [4]
05. Parade of the Wooden Soliders [4]
06. Step in Time [6]
07. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious [6]
08. The Work Song [6]
09. Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? [8]
10. Winnie the Pooh (Songs from Winnie the Pooh) [8]
11. The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers (Songs from Winnine the Pooh) [8]
12. Colonel Hathi's March [2]
13. The Bare Necessities [2]
14. Disney Medley No. 1 [2]
15. Disney Medley No. 2 [2]
16. March of the Cards [2]
17. it's a small world [2]
18. When You Wish Upon a Star [1]
19. A Marching Band (We're the Mouseketeers) [8]
20. A Wonderful Day Like Today [2]
21. A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes [6]
22. Roses of Success [3]
23. Trotter's Mile [3]
24. it's a small world (Choral Version) [5]
25. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah [1]
26. Chim Chim Cher-ee (Unknown Source)
27. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious [Mary Poppins Medley] [8]

We know for sure this has to have been installed in 1972 because the WDW Band record wasn't available until then. And then, here's the version that played until it was replaced by the Disneyland Paris main entrance music in late 1991:

Transportation and Ticket Center / Magic Kingdom Turnstiles
(1975 - 1991) 
01. Mickey Mouse Club March [4]
02. Whistle While You Work / Heigh Ho [4]
03. Parade of the Wooden Soldiers [4]
04. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (Mary Poppins Medley) [8]
05. Winnie the Pooh (Songs from Winnie the Pooh) [8]
06. Wonderful Thing About Tiggers (Songs from Winnie the Pooh) [8]
07. Disney Medley No. 1 [2]
08. March of the Cards [2]
09. it's a small world [2]
10. When You Wish Upon a Star [1]
11. it's a small world (Choral Version) [5]
12. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah [1]
13. Chim Chim Cher-ee (Unknown Source)
14. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (Mary Poppins Medley) [8]
15. Me Ol'Bamboo [3]
16. Mickey Mouse Club March [4]
17. Pop! Goes the Weasel [4]
18. Step in Time [6]
19. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious [6]
20. The Work Song [6]
21. Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? [8]
22. Winnie the Pooh (Songs from Winnie the Pooh) [8]
23. Colonel Hathi's March [2]
24. Bare Necessities [2]
25. Disney Medley No. 1 [2]
26. Disney Medley No. 2 [2]
27. A Marching Band (We're the Mouseketeers) [8]
28. A Wonderful Day Like Today [2]
29. A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes [6]
30. When You Wish Upon a Star [1]
31. Roses of Success [3]
32. Trotter's Mile [3]
33. Hip Hip Pooh-ray! (Songs from Winnie the Pooh) [8]
34. Little Wooden Head [7]
35. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah [1]
36. Circus Parade (Unknown Source) 
[1] Academy Award Songs [Vol 1. and Vol. 2] by Frank Chacksfield and His Orchestra (Decca, 1959) 
[2] Disneyland Band by Disneyland Band (Buena Vista Records, 1969)
[3] Fantasmagorical Themes from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Irwin Kostal and His Orchestra (United Artists Records, 1968)
[4] Hi-Fi Music for Children: From 2 to 92 by Russ Garcia and His Orchestra (Liberty, 1957)
[5] It's a Small World (Especially at Christmas) by Disneyland Boys Choir (Buena Vista Records)
[6] March Along with Mary Poppins by Members of the Famed U.C.L.A. Band (Disneyland, 1965)
[7] Pinocchio: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Disneyland, 1963)
[8] Walt Disney World Band by Walt Disney World Band (Buena Vista Records, 1972)


This longer loop, at least, also played outside of Disneyland's main entrance during the same era.

I feel like I haul this observation out every time we look at an old Jack Wagner loop, but isn't it delightful how absolutely odd this thing is? Jack seems to have begun with the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Band LPs as his basic sound, then branched out to Russ Garcia's extremely oddball Hi-Fi Music for Children and Irwin Kostal's Fantasmagorical Themes from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

I've recently discovered that many of today's Disney fans don't know about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but the capsule version is that it was a 1968 attempt to create a Disney-style movie launched by the creators of the James Bond franchise. They were through in their poaching of the talent that made Mary Poppins sing, including the Sherman Brothers, Irwin Kostal, and Dick van Dyke. The Disney Studio, which prized loyalty over all else (and still does), rankled at the insubordination represented by the Shermans' departure. So it's very amusing to see that music from that film used to play outside of Disneyland and Magic Kingdom - a modern equivalent might be if the soundtrack to Anastasia played somewhere at WDW.

EPCOT may have legendary entrance music, and the Studios parks have famous movie themes, but nothing quite replaces that emotional feeling of standing in front of the train station and hearing a beloved Disney song drifting on the breeze. Despite all of my hemming and hawing on this site over total musical obscurities, that it's that emotional connection that Disney really invented and perfected in the middle of the 20th century. It's things like this that are why we're here.

Want more theme park music? Check out the Passport to Dreams Park Music Hub!

DEAR READERS: Starting in 2019, Passport to Dreams will be going off its monthly update routine, to focus on providing more of the long-form writing this site excels at as well as clear time for larger projects that need to get finished. If you'd like to get updated directly when new posts arrive, please follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Thanks for your support!