Saturday, July 07, 2012

Three Jungle Cruise Mysteries

Photo Credit: Ryan Rewasiewicz via ImagineeringDisney
 (This post is an addendum to The Jungle Cruise: The Early Years, which has been updated to link to this new information)

Some people spend all their time finding ways to cure ailments or finding new atoms or researching their ancestors. Me, I just came off a multi-year quest devoted to a staircase near the Jungle Cruise boathouse. That's just how I roll.

Remember the mysterious Jungle Cruise steps I spoke about at such great length last summer? I may finally have all of the information in place to answer with some accuracy this longstanding Jungle Cruise mystery. So to refresh your memory, here's a photo of the steps barely visible at the back of this photo, which rose to the Jungle Cruise's second story near the load point:

The question is whether or not this second level of the queue building was either intended for or, moreover, actually used for guest queue. This is our first mystery.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's look closely at that rear staircase. The absolute best view we have of it unfortunately comes to us from a 1974 Walt Disney World souvenir film, which is ironic in that this particular architectural feature didn't even make it into 1974, having been removed during the 1973 queue rebuild concurrent with Pirates of the Caribbean's construction. This footage was likely shot in 1971 and 1972 as part of the rushes for "The Magic of Walt Disney World". Here it is, visible to the left:

Yes, so, I've proved again and again that the stairs existed. But these steps aren't the only lingering Jungle Cruise mystery: check out this home movie from December, 1972. Once again it's 8mm so the quality isn't so hot, but it provides, amongst other things, a very good overview of something I previously hadn't been able to find: a view of the front of the Jungle Cruise entrance complex prior to 1973.

And here is a reverse view of the area where the photographer was standing from a 1972 paperback souvenir guide:

See the shadows on the ground at the bottom left? Those are shadows of the drumming Tiki Gods seen above. The lady in the red plaid blouse in the upper film frames is probably standing about where the person all in red is standing in the bottom promotional image. Those Tikis Gods are our second mystery.

This 1972 home movie demonstrates two things I had previously not suspected: that the entire front section of the Jungle Cruise queue was added in 1973 and that the original sloped entryway to the Jungle Cruise courtyard from the western approach was dramatically wider, with a far gentler slope, than the current "staircase" arrangement:

Hat tip to EpcotExplorer
Here's a map showing what was added in 1973. The original building is in blue, and the additions in red:

So what we're looking at is a 100% increase in queue space over the estimated requirements of 1971. The revelation that the northernmost section is "new" changes the assumptions we can make about why the arrangement of the courtyard changed and, especially, that longstanding question about why and when the "drumming tikis" migrated West; up the hill to their current location. From the photos above it's pretty easy to estimate how the Tikis were initially situated in the direct center of a pretty open courtyard with a wide, long ramp:

The tikis would of course been placed in such a way to cause as minor a traffic disturbance as possible, but you can only push them around in the above simulation so much and still it's obvious to see how the mere construction of the forward-facing queue extension required not only the reconstruction of the hill into more compact steps but pushed the tikis out of the already-crowded courtyard in 1973.

Until additional evidence appears, this is the most logical answer to our second mystery: the Tikis moved because the forward-facing part of the Jungle Cruise queue expansion and the new narrower, steeper steps which replaced the original gradual slope would have required them to be moved anyway and it made more sense to get them out of a congested courtyard.

Today the courtyard is very close to something like this:

Let's take a second look at that 8mm composite:

Besides the very interesting original signs, this shows something even better. Remember that this is December 1972, at the peak of the busy season. Walt Disney World has been open for 14 months and a new round of construction is sweeping the park to bring air conditioned shade structures to such popular attractions as Haunted Mansion and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

That sea of humanity outside the Jungle Cruise? That's the line for Adventureland's only E-Ticket attraction. The line is so huge it's spilled out beyond the official boundaries of the queue and is filling part of the courtyard. Yet there's clearly nobody in the upstairs part of the queue! And my longstanding question bites the dust. If Disney isn't using that space for queue with a line like this, then they never did. That upstairs section was purely decorative and the stairs were removed because they were in the way of perfectly good queuing space.

Just for, you know, fun, here's two other Magic Kingdom E-Ticket press photos with opening year out-of-control lines visible:

And everyone had fun in the sun that day
So that is a lot of questions that 4-second little clip of home movies answered. But wait, it resolved a third question!

In the months leading up to pre-opening, WED promoted the Jungle Cruise heavily in local publications such as Orlando-land and The Orlando Sentinel, and they tended to circulate a press blurb that was pretty standardized and even ended up, in part, in the Tropical Serenade pre-show. You can read the whole thing at Widen Your World, but here's a relevant snippet:
"Amid all the excitement, there are the sounds of the jungle animals, including the noisy but unseen claw and fang combat of two ferocious jungle cats.  Nearby, natives rise from the undergrowth, threatening with spears poised, while back around the last bend painted warriors continue the ritual of their ceremonial dances near burning skulls, swaying to the mysterious throbbing of tribal drums."
That description is pretty accurate except for the burning skulls. Yet Marc Davis' concept art of the Jungle Cruise, art which was otherwise realized very faithfully for this ride, included clusters of skulls impaled on spears and set ablaze:

The fact that this single detail is apparently missing draws attention to itself. Were there ever burning skulls in the Jungle Cruise?

It's pretty hard to see exactly clearly, so I'll let the grainy film footage speak for itself:

That looks like a regular torch to me. Pretty hard to tell if there was ever a skull component to it. Wait, I'll bet the promotional Pana-Vue slides will help us out:

Case closed!

This article was updated September 15, 2013