Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Jokers in the Wild, Part Three

In 1993 a series of changes that would alter the original Adven-
tureland forever began. Construction of the Indiana Jones Adventure, a gigantic E-Ticket designed to match Pirates of the
Caribbean in scope and size, began and shortly its’ influence would spread into the Jungle Cruise just as it required redressing and retheming of the entire land. New boats arrived, now aged and dressed to look less like tour boats and more like the homes of the skippers on board, and Harper Goff’s original candy-striped awnings were a thing of the past. Work began to add more exotic, middle eastern style facades to older structures like the Tahitian Terrace (now an ill-advised and under-utilized Aladdin tie in) and the Sunkist, I Presume juice bar. Waterfalls now graced the entranceway and the original vaguely British Colonial feeling of the smallest and simplest of Disneyland’s original lands began to be filled with Indiana Jones-looking items like weathered jeeps and canvas awnings began to appear. All would cede to the power of cross-promotion.

By late 1993 the Jungle Cruise was closed and the second dispatch structure, a maze of thatched huts, fell to make way for a two-level British Colonial structure of impressive scale and theme. Gone was the feeling of a simple switchback queue and in its’ place rose a congested, tightly themed, highly detailed scene-setting structure with a new gift shop out front. Now the story became that the Jungle Shipping Company, once a disreputable supply firm stocking the curio shop out front, began to turn profit once tourists began to arrive in the outpost region to flock to the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. The company turned from freight to tours, and now runs a lucrative if disreputable guided tour of the wilderness.

To necessitate the flow of guests into and out of the Indiana Jones attraction, an entire original bend in the river was removed, as well as a full sixteen feet of dock space for the jungle launches. Now rather than a few quick turns through the rainforest it’s a straight shot to the first show scene with the new E-Ticket itself prominently displayed along the waters’ edge. And although the cruise itself was always kind of flakey on geography, now sitting next to each other is an Indian temple and a Cambodian shrine, making for a bizarre contrast.

Less effective was a wholesale change to the Adventureland area, now affixing to it an unnecessary specific date and time period so that it could fit into the Indiana Jones film franchise. No longer would wholesale assorted exotica infused with Hollywood sensibilities be Adventureland’s trademark: now everything had to fit into Spielberg and Lucas’ films or hit the highway. The most destructive change to the Jungle itself was the imposition of this date and time on the material. No longer were sarcastic comments about Disneyland, Southern California, freeways, It’s A Small World, and other “modern” elements permitted. Skippers were given an astonishing volume of information about the attraction’s new backstory and current people and events of 1938 that were “safe” to refer to. A brand new rewritten spiel – probably the best ever devised by WDI for the Jungle – integrated traditional humor with more popular, but until then not approved, jokes.

Of course this flies in the face of the jungle’s greatest asset, the ability of the skippers to improvise along the way according to the demands of the situation. If an animal isn’t working or – worse – Schweitzer Falls isn’t running, a quick anachronistic joke can save face and help smooth over the awkward situation. Although technically such out of show jokes are not allowed, they always have been a tradition on the jungle rivers.

Across the country, there were doings over at the other Jungle Cruise in 1994. Possibly realizing that the Orlando Adventureland was even more ornate and fancifully nonspecific than the Anaheim version, the Florida jungle got a significant facelift. Although the candy striped boats would remain, the entire boathouse was signifi-

cantly redressed to give the appearance of being a functioning shipping facility, stacked with boxes, crates, and other items. A jeep outside gave the very nonspecific date of Est. 1931. Apparently written and recorded by competing teams of show designers, Orlando’s new boathouse audio loop one upped Anaheim’s sedate radio program and Indiana Jones related news broadcasts with a raucous selection of 30’s big band tunes interspersed with a seemingly endless onslaught of jokes and puns.

Other significant changes took place. The redressing was extended to the small shed across from the loading area. An original 1971 conceit – a synthetic canopy of vines for the rainforest segment of the attraction – had since been removed as the actual foliage had by then formed a true natural canopy. The African veldt – originally brilliantly designed to look boundless – had to have it’s horizon line filled in to hide the newly constructed Grand Floridian.

The area immediately after Inspiration Falls was significantly redressed. The pygmy canoes were crowded together much more haphazardly on one side of the beach and numerous set dressings such as paddles and skulls on spears were added to increase the sense of menace and of a group having had just left in a hurry.

The African Veldt itself had its lions reconfigured for less awkward staging. Perhaps most significantly, and bizarrely in that it has never been duplicated anywhere, the trapped safari tableau was restaged. Deleting all but one of the original Nubian guides, the new safari was mostly white and now climbing up to their news camera perched at the top of the tree. The animation retimed, Marc Davis’ gag of them rising sequentially after each rhino swipe was retired in favor of a sight gag of the rhino having already snagged the fellow on the bottom in the seat of his pants with his underwear exposed!

Political Correctness? Not unlikely in the mid-90’s, but then why not also redo the entire hostile natives scenario, which is frankly more offensive? Why such a specific restaging? Although the idea of a film crew escaping a rhino is perhaps more accessible to modern audiences, the reason is lost to the sands of time and the mysteries of WDI show “upgrades”.

Return next week for the final installment!

Note: Whenever possible I try to use my own photos or those from Disney-released materials, but today I ended up using two photos from Al's fantastic photo archive Disney Fans. Photos are used with permission and please give him a visit.