Not The Briar Patch!

My first ride on Splash Mountain is a great park memory for me. In fact, I’ll dare say one of my fondest. I was only 4 years old when Splash Mountain opened, so I didn’t meet the height requirements, and I had to wait a few years before our next trip to Anaheim. (I grew up and still live in Denver and trips were every few years for us.) Anticipation built, and when I turned 7 years old, I got to finally ride the most anticipated attraction of my childhood. I loved it, even the scary plummit into the briar patch.

However, to talk about Splash Mountain, we have to talk about the Carousel of Progress. I know most people wouldn’t associate either of these attractions, but without the Carousel of Progress, I’m not sure we would have Splash Mountain the way that it is currently.

The Carousel of Progress was one of the 1964’s New York World Fair attractions that WED enterprises built. After the showing in New York, Walt Disney brought the show to Disneyland in 1967. Unfortunately, as a few years passed, the show decreased in popularity. The show’s sponsor, General Electric, advised that west coast people had seen the show several times and it would be worth it to move the attraction permanently over to the newly opened Walt Disney World in Florida. In 1973, the show was moved to Walt Disney World and Imagineering started working on a new attraction for the empty building that housed Carousel of Progress.

America Sings, a tribute to American popular music opened the following year in 1974 in the old building. It featured a vast array of cartoonish animal audio animatronics (say that five times fast) and popular songs throughout the history of the United States of America. Unfortunately, much like the Carousel of Progresss, it also lost its crowd after a few years. The show became dated and was in need of some sort of refurbishment, adding in hits of the current era.

Meanwhile, Tony Baxter (the Imagineer also behind Star Tours from my previous blog) was coming up with ideas to attract more people to Bear Country. The area just outside Frontierland had been losing popularity since there wasn’t much there beyond seeing the Country Bear Jamboree. The idea came about of using characters from Song of the South, a Disney release from 1946 about stories from African American plantation workers. Using all of the animated parts of the film, they could put together a dark ride that would fit into Bear Country, soon to be renamed as Critter Country.

Imagineers were being advised to build a log flume type of ride for guests on hot summer days so the plan was to build a ride called Zip-A-Dee River Run. The name didn’t flow with Michael Eisner. He instead wanted to incorporate the name “splash” and a mermaid to promote Disney’s popular movie of the same name. (Also to toot his own horn since it was a big hit when he first came to Disney.)  Imagineers didn’t like the mermaid idea as it didn’t go with the Song of the South theme, but putting together “splash” as well as using “mountain”, since this would be another tall peak to add to Disney’s Space, Big Thunder, and Matterhorn, seemed a perfect fit.

How does all of this tie in with America Sings? With construction beginning on Splash Mountain, and budgets being pushed to the max, it was decided that to cut back on costs, they would reuse some of the animatronic figures from other rides. All the way across the park from Splash Mountain sat America Sings, which had become less and less popular by the year. The decision was made to close America Sings and bring new life to the animals in that show by bringing them into Splash Mountain. In 1988, America Sings put on its final performance and a majority of the characters were moved across the park to be fit into the story at Splash Mountain. It took Imagineers three months to re-wire all of the animatronic figures so that they would “forget” the America Sings routine and “learn” the new Splash Mountain dialogue and songs.

(The Rabbit from America Sings now is a star in Splash Mountain)

The main characters of Splash Mountain are not old skeletons from American Sings, but were newly built robots that could act out and do much more than their background counterparts, as well as be water resistent since they were so close to the boats.

Splash Mountain opened on July 17th 1989, with a televion special to showcase the attraction. (“Ernest Goes to Splash Mountain,” with Jim Varney acting as his Ernest character) The ride was advertised as having the steepest and longest log flume drop as well as having 103 animatronic creatures. The rides popularity soared and the idea to bring in to other parks was a no brainer.

(I also couldn’t help noticing this horrificly late 80’s/early 90’s advertisement. Thanks to Holly Stanton for bringing this little video to my attention. Please take a moment and laugh at how wonderfully aweful this is!)

Walt Disney World opened up their version just three years later on October 2nd, 1992, but imagineers had a problem with this version. Since there wasn’t space for a Critter Country, Splash Mountain had to be added to Frontierland, but they didn’t want to lose the mountain’s deep south origins. The solution came when the train station was moved and incorporated designs from both the South as well as the west, and Splash Mountain was painted in deeper oranges and reds instead of the browns that Disneyland’s version has.

Another version was built for Tokyo Disney in 1992, keeping more true to the original Disneyland exterior, however the interior is more closely resembling of Walt Disney World’s version.

The soundtrack has become just as popular as the attraction, being seen on many Disney park albums and becoming part of pop culture once again, over 50 years after then had originally been written for Song of the South. The songs were all recorded at Disney’s Burbank studios and a 75 person choir was brought in to record “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Da” which became a staple all over the parks.

Splash Moutain, even after 20 years of being open to the public, still draws crowds all year long. Even in the winter months, it packs them in, and don’t even think about hopping right on during the summer months. You are much better off getting a fast pass and coming back later. Its amazing how great this ride has held up and will continue to hold up as long as Disney wants Splash Mountain to still be around. The story is a classic cat and mouse chase, or should i say bear, fox, and rabbit chase, as well as being just thrilling enough to please all audiences.

I hope I can jump in line with my grand children one day and still enjoy this attraction in all its charm and thrill.

Until Next Week
Josh Taylor

(I apologize for the tardiness of this post. I have many ventures in life and had to readjust my schedule, but I’m back on track. This blog will now be only once a week EVERY WEDNESDAY, no longer will there be a post on Sunday. I apologize, but to do this blog justice and keep posts worth reading, I can only post once a week.)

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Modern Mouse Radio is a multimedia Disney fan site run by Josh Taylor and put together by a crew of amazing individuals. Check us out. You won't be disappointed.

Posted on October 13, 2011, in Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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