Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jokers in the Wild, Part Two

The final evolution for the Jungle Cruise took place in 1971 with the opening of Orlando’s Magic Kingdom. Of the original roster of Magic Kingdom attractions, The Jungle Cruise is one of the most complex, and the ride was reconceived from the ground up in order to place it firmly in the company of such modern marvels as The Haunted Mansion and The Hall of Presidents. It can be considered the “final” shape of the attraction and all subsequent versions have been either modifications or lifts from it.

Blessed with unlimited space and no restrictions, Imagineers this time sidestepped the rather abrupt opening of the California version by designing entirely new scenes leading up to the first major tableau, the Great African Veldt, and dispersing the major set pieces more evenly through the attraction. Guests now first visited giant but harmless butterflies in a misty rain forest, then stopped to admire beautiful volcanic waterfalls to set the right tone of tropical whimsy, but immediately thereafter sailed through a shaded, narrow waterway towards ominously abandoned native canoes before encountering their first animal: a giant python. Subsequent animals encountered become larger and larger until, for the first time, the foliage parts and the veldt rolls into view, complete with lions in a brand new cave.

Walt Disney World's original veldt; notice the "boundless horizon" effect, since filled in due to devolpment.

Elements that worked were kept, often expanded – as in the case of a gigantic new Schweitzer Falls, which dumped almost twice the amount of water its’ predecessor did, and was placed midway through the attraction. The major departure from the California original was the reconfiguration of the mysterious Cambodian ruins to an interior show scene with a menacing, foreboding exterior of fallen columns. Although the reconfiguration of the Cambodian Ruins into an interior space seems obvious, the method used is brilliant: instead of merely enclosing the existing configuration into what would essentially be a diorama, the space was laid out as a tight circle. The constant leftward passage of the boat makes seeing what is around each corner impossible, allowing for the kind of cinematic reveal perfected in an attraction like The Haunted Mansion, but now in the much more open and free unit of the jungle boat. A small rightward turn on the start and end of the almost-circle makes it possible to perfectly reveal a menacing Bengal tiger and the elephant bathing pool.

Marc Davis designed new scenes for this version including a base camp overrun by gorillas, a gorilla batting at a crocodile, a bird on a branch being menaced by crocodiles, a brand new Trader Sam, abandoned pygmy war canoes, and others.

In 1976 as many successful elements of the Florida redesign as possible were wedged into the California space, including the gorilla vs. crocodile and crocodiles vs. bird tableaus that were cut from the Florida show for budgetary reasons. The Giant Python, now with water buffalo that were never installed at Florida, made his appearance after the Rapids of Kilimanjaro. The Gorilla Base Camp replaced one of the few remaining opening day figures, mother rhino with babies. The Lions in their cave looked incredibly cramped, but overall the changes only improved the original attraction. And this is the way both versions would remain, despite some changes in the landscape plan, until 1994.

The difference a designer makes: Jungle Cruise character design before and after Marc Davis.

Return next week for Part Three and more photos!