Why Star Wars Weekends?

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For some unknown reason, TWDC decided that this year, 2016, the year right after the highly anticipated Episode VII was released, there would be no more Star Wars Weekends. A sixteen year celebration of all things Star Wars, with nearly 55 celebrities who made appearances over the years, and lines of fans camped out for autograph and merchandise sessions. It is absolutely baffling that the company has come to the brilliant decision to cancel (perhaps forever?) one of the best events the parks have to offer that doesn’t take an overpriced hard ticket to attend.

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And that is what this decision seemingly comes down to…aside from the massive quantities of merchandise that the company moved during this event, there wasn’t the gross amount of monetization that was undoubtedly desired by the suits in their plush offices. From all indications, the company has been looking for a way to turn a larger profit from this event, and after 16 years, rather than charge for it, they decided to shut it down.

To be fair, the Star Wars expansion is coming, and there is massive excitement for that, but here are the reasons Star Wars Weekends should still be happening this year:

DVD/BluRay Release Hype

This is the perfect opportunity to promote the home video release of Episode VII. While the movie virtually sells itself, it never hurts to push the product in the parks with an event like this to raise the hype level. Sell the movie in the parks, and none of the profit goes to other retailers. It seems to make sense.

Lack of attractions at DHS

Disney-MGM Studios/Disney Hollywood Studios has never exactly been flush with attractions, but with the 15 attractions that were open in 2015, there are now only 11, with more closings imminent. This park needs a boost with an event like Star Wars Weekends. Of course, people are always going to show up, because they are suckers, but the company does have a responsibility to put a quality product out when they are asking guests to pay $100 per day.

This park has always been questionable as to whether it was worth an entire day, and clearly, now, it is not. The experience of packing in with 50,000 sweaty guests for 12 hours with only 11 attractions to occupy the time is not promising and is not what anyone would ever define as a “quality product.” One of those attractions is Fantasmic, a show that doesn’t count in the daily numbers because it only takes place at night. So, make that 10 attractions over 12 hours. That means each attraction needs to be capable of handling roughly 5,000 guests per hour. Based on hourly capacity numbers, there isn’t a single attraction at DHS that can funnel that amount of guests per hour. So where will people go?

An event like SWW occupies hours of guests’ days. Waiting in lines for autographs, watching the celebrities entertain at shows, and enjoying the parade. These give people additional attractions to enjoy, allowing DHS to continue to handle regular crowds, at least for several weekends in the spring.

Star Wars has never been hotter

This has been addressed before, but WDI doesn’t particularly like to strike while the iron is hot, but Star Wars is so hot right now. Old fans are back on board after living through the ill will created by the prequels, and new fans are hooked by Episode VII and Rebels. Don’t let the fire die, keep stoking it.

Introduce new Cast/Characters

With a history of bringing in celebrities to give fans access to them, SWW has been a great way to connect fans to the actors and characters they love. With a new trilogy on the horizon, and several spinoff films in the pipeline, fans will be clamoring for a chance to interact with the new characters and their offscreen personas. The fandom for Star Wars is massive and hungry. Feed them.

Tease Rebels Season 3 and Rogue One

One of the highlights of last years’ SWW was the parts connected to the new animated series, Rebels. A preview of Season 3 achieves the same kind of anticipation building that the preview of Season 2 did last year.

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Rogue One, the SW spinoff film coming in December of this year has been so incredibly secretive, perhaps even more than Episode VII. Debut a trailer at SWW, or a teaser at least. Introduce fans to their new favorite characters and the first non-episodic SW film (besides the infamous Ewok Adventures.) An exclusive trailer release during SWW would pack the park.

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Push Merchandise 

20% of the shirts on Disneystore.com are Star Wars related. More merchandise at SWW, means more money in the company’s already deep pockets. It just makes sense for a company that is clearly interested in making more and more money. Limited editions, special collections, artist signings and the like are catnip to collectors.

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Preview Star Wars Expansion

In the Disney Fan Community, SW Launch Bay is a bit of a joke. A band-aid that took the place of a beloved attraction that had, in all fairness, been reduced to a shell of its former self, a holdover from the heyday of the original studios that the company allowed to go to ruin. Turn it into a preview center that gives guests a look at the future of DHS, both SW related and Toy Story as well. A beautiful, detailed WDI model is what every Disney parks aficionado pines for. Launch Bay could be worthy of the SW name, if the company uses it correctly.

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The Shows & Parade

James Arnold Taylor, Ray Park, Warwick Davis, and Peter Mayhew have all had incredibly entertaining and well-received stage shows over the years and they routinely fill the seats in whatever venue they are booked in. These are one-of-a-kind shows that should not be put to rest. These are talented individuals who have intriguing stories to tell. Isn’t that what the company has always touted itself to be, a group of storytellers?

The parade is the best. To be fair, it is simply a parade of characters, but the detail and work these individuals have put into their costumes should be celebrated. The young padawans who get the opportunity to march in the parade are thrilled to join their sci-fi heroes off the screen, marching up Hollywood Blvd.

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Hyperspace Hoopla, while cancelled last year, was a wildly popular and well-received musical revue that drew crowds at every performance. Isn’t that the goal of an attraction, after all, to entertain large amounts of people?

With the release of Rick Rubin’s electronic album, Star Wars Headspace, SW fans have a high profile, somewhat well-reviewed album of electronic dance music. What would be better than this new album mixed with the fun of Hyperspace Hoopla? It’s synergy at its best, and for a company that lives for synergy, this is as good an opportunity as any they’re going to get, and one that could be forgiven and possibly even embraced by the Disney and SW faithful. Mad T party at Disneyland is awkward and twisted, yet still has quite a following. Bringing SW into this arena would be a better option.

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Personally, though, this decision strikes me in a negative way because of what it means to my son. For the past three years, I have been taking my son with me to Star Wars Weekends and we have built a tradition around this weekend event. He has walked in the parade as a padawan, trained with Darth Maul, been the rebel spy on Star Tours, and met Zeb & Ashoka from Clone Wars & Rebels. We have D-tech-ed ourselves in carbonite and a Rebel jumpsuit respectively.

I have been passing on a part of what shaped me as a child to my son, and this event has married my love of Star Wars with my love of Walt Disney World, and allowed me a chance to experience something with my son that can’t really be replicated anywhere else.

He and I are beyond excited about the prospect of the Star Wars area DHS has coming, and while I may not agree with all of the details (that have been released so far), I believe it will be a fantastic addition to a park that is struggling for an identity. That doesn’t excuse the fact that the company is hiding behind the construction of this new area of the park in order to justify the elimination of SWW. What construction would interfere with SWW? Watto’s Grotto? It can be moved elsewhere. The Theater in Streets of America? Relocate the shows. Star Tours and the area immediately surrounding it are currently unaffected by construction, and with the snail’s pace that WDI moves, that won’t likely change in the next year.

SWW could and should still be a reality at DHS.

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It was a difficult thing to tell my son that SWW was no more. When he asked why, I didn’t really have an answer for him. Should I tell him about the lack of monetization opportunities, the laziness of not wanting to work out the logistics, or just toe the party line and, like the company, hide behind the construction walls. This is the definition of a first world problem, I know, but that doesn’t make it any less crushing for a 7 year old.

Sorry son, sometimes the people and places you love let you down.

Weird is Good

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Unlike its largest competitor, (which may or may not be closing the gap creatively) Disney is not known for capitalizing on a property in their parks until it has proven legs. This is likely because WDW is a place that stays largely unchanged over long periods of time. Attractions are considered permanent with few exceptions. New attractions are few and far between until the past few years. This is an understandable business model when it comes to the parks, but sometimes the company needs to strike while the iron is still a bit hotter. They are devastatingly slow to introduce walk-around characters into the park, even though these are very cheap opportunities to increase guest capacity and keep queues at a manageable level, while being crowd-pleasers as well.

Consider Frozen. The highest grossing animated film of all time. 1.3 billion in world-wide box office revenue. Taking into consideration marketing and production costs, that film still made the company in the neighborhood of 1 billion dollars. It was released in 2013. 3 years later, there is no Frozen attraction in any park that is what could be considered permanent. Sing-alongs, parade floats, and character meets have been everywhere, but an actual attraction befitting a film of this cultural magnitude? No. The attraction that is coming later in 2016 (supposedly) isn’t even a new attraction. It is essentially a glorified overlay of the beloved boat ride, Maelstrom, at the Norway pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase. This, for the highest grossing animated film of all time?

Despicable Me, an average, but solid animated feature was released in 2010 to a surprising $543 million box office haul. By 2012, an attraction based on that film was opened at Universal Studios. A film that made less than half of what Frozen would eventually make had an attraction up and running in two years. Its sequel was released the same year as Frozen and nearly doubled its predecessor, and the third entry, while easily being the worst of the franchise, crushed the box office with $1.15 billion. Universal took a chance on a sleeper hit with Despicable Me, and now has a firm hold on that franchise and its marketing power in its parks.

I fundamentally disagree with Disney’s approach. Many of the attractions in Disneyland were built on films and properties that were not considered successes at the time, and were certainly not thought of as lasting, iconic characters when they were introduced (at least by the general public). Alice in Wonderland, by most standards was a commercial flop, yet it spawned not one, but two attractions at Disneyland, one of which that made its way to WDW as well. The strange characters and bizarre storyline of the film fell flat with moviegoers, but the company believed in it enough to push it into the parks into 2 attractions that are still in operation today. A film doesn’t have to be a box office sensation to warrant addition into the parks.

The questions that should be asked (among many others) regarding theme park viability are as follows:

  • Does the property (plot or characters) lend itself to an original attraction?
  • Do the characters in the property have merchandise potential?
  • Is the attraction being considered appropriate for any of the existing parks?
  • How will the attraction affect guest flow, logistics, and sight lines?
  • Is there an attraction that could be replaced by the new attraction, or is a new attraction the correct route?
  • How much will the attraction cost to build?
  • What is the projected timetable and is it too long to take advantage of the property’s early success?

Now to the point.

It is high time Disney took a gamble on an interesting, critically successful, but somewhat unproven IP in their parks again.

Gravity Falls is that IP.

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The show’s pedigree and tone is perfect for what Disney needs at this point. It has won 2 primetime Emmys and 3 Annie Awards. It enjoys an 8.9/10 rating on IMDB and currently holds Disney XD’s top seven regular animated telecasts of all time. While Disney has dominated the market for young girls with the princess and fairies franchises, and tweens have enjoyed the multitude of shows and made for TV movies, young boys and older teens have always been a difficult demographic for the company to hold on to. Adding an attraction that appeals to this group would go a long way toward reclaiming a demographic that Universal has essentially owned in the theme park market.

Some would argue that the acquisitions of Marvel and Star Wars have solidified the boy demographic, but Marvel in the parks is non-existent for the foreseeable future as Universal (there they are again) still holds the theme park rights to those characters east of the Mississippi River, and barring a massive (think billions) buyout of that contract, WDW will be Marvel-less for years to come. Star Wars is absolutely a brilliant move towards solidifying the teen market, but that will be one park, and lines there will likely stay insanely long for quite a while. It would be a smart move to spread the teen appeal around the parks a bit.

While the show has recently ended, it enjoys a massive cult following to go along with very solid critical and commercial success. There are 40 episodes of the show which means there is nearly 14.5 hours of content to pull from, and the content from this show is ridiculously rich with clever gags, memorable characters, and outrageously detailed settings.

The big question is where to put this attraction. It doesn’t belong at the Magic Kingdom or Epcot, so the natural options are Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. With the coming changes to DHS, that park will be shifting significantly and Gravity Falls seems a little bit out of place. Animal Kingdom would be a better fit, even with the addition of Pandora, the World of Avatar. DAK never got the Beastly Kingdom area of the park filled with legendary and mythical creatures that was teased in concept art, so between Pandora and the Gravity Falls creatures, that long awaited type of attraction could be fulfilled.

Currently Asia and Africa are the only continents with a presence in DAK. That should change with a land devoted to the animals of North America. While to most, this doesn’t seem all that spectacular, a focused, heavily wooded section with animals from the great Northwest would be a great addition to a park filled with people who travel from mostly equatorial countries and do not have many opportunities to experience animals of a more northern region. Imagine moose, bears, elk, foxes, wolves, and more roaming through forested lands themed to resemble mid-1800’s-era Oregon, a land that was truly still a frontier, wild and untamed but for a few brave settlers and trappers which, not so coincidentally happens to be the setting of the delightfully wacky Gravity Falls, only sometimes more modern.

The animals would be in an attraction of their own (think Pangani Trail), but that’s an article for another time.

It has been far, far too long since WDI has crafted a classic dark ride that is worthy of the name and the legacy. Some would argue that Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a dark ride, and admittedly, it does have elements of a classic Disney dark ride, and those parts are wonderful. The entire attraction is one of the best attractions (although too short) of the last 15 years from Imagineering, but it is not a pure dark ride. The last true dark ride has to be Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid in 2012, and aside from the spectacular queue, the ride itself is a below average dark ride. Too short, a simple retelling of the film, and it falls flat after the brilliant buildup of the queue, the best parts of which, most people don’t get to experience due to the lack of wait time. Had this attraction been built in the mid-to-late 90’s, it would have been massively popular, but seeing as how it took 20+ years to build and rarely has a wait, it is just a reminder of why Disney decision makers should strike early.

The attraction to be built for Gravity Falls would be an homage to the great dark rides which have been the foundation of the parks for the last 60 years, while also using advancements in technology and storytelling to deliver an all new experience. Imagine Haunted Mansion meets Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with some new twists thrown in for good measure. While most dark rides are either a floor track, or an overhead track (Peter Pan), this attraction would make use of new technology (possibly trackless) to enable the ride vehicle to move in any direction, including appearing to move up stairs, fall down holes, spin around, and even drive on the walls.

Nestled among the trees, in a clearing, is the Mystery Shack, home to Stanford Pine and summer home to Dipper and Mabel Pines. Housed within the shack is Mystery Shack Madness, Stan’s latest get rich quick scheme that he has roped his great nice and nephew into. Taking a tour of Gravity Falls on a golf cart seems like a great idea, especially when the shack has a copier that can make unlimited copies at no cost to Stan, until they realize the copies are just a bit off, and something is causing the golf carts to behave erratically, taking guests on a zany spin around Gravity Falls…and beyond. It doesn’t bother Stan though, as long as the customers keep lining up to pay. Welcome to Mystery Shack Madness.

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The attraction is a comprehensive celebration of all things Gravity Falls, incorporating elements from both seasons of the show. Guests would enter through the doors of the shack, and the queue would be a winding path through a couple of the locations on the ground floor of the Mystery Shack. The living room would be featured, with a TV running a loop of many of the shows that the characters in the show watched as well as commercials for the fictional soda Pitt Soda, a mainstay of the show. Parts of the Museum section of the shack, along with the soda machine that doubles as the entrance to the basement in the show would be seen as well. The details in the queue would be immersive like the show, which is well-known for its use of easter eggs and clues littered throughout the backgrounds of scenes.

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The load area would be in the copy room, where the machine that created an army of Dipper duplicates in the show has been enlarged by Dipper’s shrink/enlarging ray in order to create a fleet of Mystery Shack golf carts.

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(credit for this image goes to  cshep99 on DeviantArt)

Guests would board, 4-5 guests per cart, and begin their journey into the weird. Each ride vehicle would carry 4-6 guests, similar to a car from Mr. Toad or a Honeypot from Pooh. The front seat would be forward facing and the rear seat would face the back, giving the two seats a different perspective and thus, adding to the re-rideability. Certain gags and hidden easter eggs would only be visible from the back seats.

An animatronic Stan, like a carnival barker, sends them on their way into the unknown. As the cart rounds the corner, it ramps out the shack window and the adventure begins.

The first two scenes guests encounter are the lovable (and ultimately creepy) gnomes, and the giant bigfoot print from the opening sequence. From there, as will be the case between almost all rooms/scenes, a weird portal will open in the wall and the golf cart will drive through into a new scene, which could be inside or outside, day or night, or even another time. Imagine the brilliant effect from Enchanted Tales with Belle where the mirror on the wall becomes a door.

Next comes the wax museum and an encounter with the boys from Sev’ral Timez.

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Followed up by a speedy dash through another section of the Mystery Shack’s museum, and a quick corner onto the stairs to head up. This is a first in a dark ride, that the ride vehicle actually changes elevations.

The top of the stairs brings a hallway of weirdness bubbles through which carts will drive, seeing the inhabitants weird reflections in the hallway mirrors, ending in a drive through Dipper’s shrink ray, allowing the cart to pass through a keyhole and then become large again on the other side.

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In a sort of Disney park, self-depricating kind of way, the scene from Hoo-Ha’s Jamboree at Pizza Time would make use of some wacky, and somewhat creepy animatronics, chasing the guests into…

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…the giant western themed Pinball game, which is the perfect place to introduce the carts’ ability to spin, bouncing off flippers as the cart careens toward the open mouth of the skeleton cowboy…

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…that leads to Mabel & Dipper’s Room, a calm interlude for a moment, albeit a highly detailed and Easter-egg filled recreation that fans of the show will no doubt enjoy, until the cart ramps up and out of the window, through a bright light, landing in …

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…Lil’ Gideon’s Tent. The hilarious, pint sized antagonist of season one is holding court here in his church revival-esqe tent, amazing the weak minded with his metal powers, perfectly styled pompadour, and delightfully cute dimples…

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Through a flap in Gideon’s tent, riders find themselves in McGucket’s Junkyard, a twisting, turning labyrinth of Gravity Falls debris. The cart smashes through another portal…

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…and the cart is back in the woods, hurtling toward the infamous Bottomless Pit. The cart flies off the edge of the pit, and guests find themselves floating through darkness, being passed occasionally by an odd piece of Gravity Falls mythology until they are coughed back up, seemingly at the side of the pit again.

Here begins a section of the ride that allows for some re-rideability. Using a system similar to that of Tower of Terror of Star Tours, the attraction computer would select from several possible paths that the cart might take, beginning with a branch into either…

… the Alien Spaceship or Northwest Mansion.

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From either of these locations, all carts enter the Society of the Blind Eye Spin Room and could enter any of a number of combinations of the following rooms…

Manataurs, Fight Fighter, Carpet Room, Blendin’s Game, Stan’s Office, Cave of the Multi-Bear, until all guests end up facing…

…Summerween. A quick dash through the Summerween Superstore and an encounter with the candy monster is followed by a trip through…

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… the Vommiting Gnome Rainbow. Similar to the “waterfall” in Pirates of the Caribbean, guests will pass through this gross, but hilarious rainbow into..

…Mabel Land, the dream prison that Bill Cipher used to hold Mabel captive during Weirdmageddon.

After passing through this sickly sappy wonderland, guests will be faced with a dire message from a combination projection/animatronic Bill Cipher before they reach the unload. The attraction would house two tracks that are mirrored to increase guest capacity. The show building that houses the ride would be hidden behind trees and rock work.

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The attraction of course empties into the Mystery Shack Gift Shop where guests will be able to purchase such goodies as:

  • Dipper’s Pine Tree Hat
  • A series of shirts that look like Mabel’s sweaters
  • Grunkle Stan’s Shriner Hat
  • Waddles plush
  • garden gnomes (puking and non-puking versions)
  • the mysterious journals
  • remote control Mystery Shack golf cart
  • Soos’ question mark shirt
  • Kitty Fists
  • Lil Gideon talking doll
  • Society of the Blind Eye Memory ray gun
  • Pitt soda
  • other various plush and figure sets

Outside the shack, there is potential for an inside-the-parks putt-putt course themed to one particularly zany episode of the show, which would be rife with gags, animatronics, and classic miniature golf gameplay.

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Also hidden in the woods would be an interactive mailbox like the one Dipper and Mabel encounter. Guests could ask it questions and get strange responses. A small detail like this, similar to Push, the (now gone) Talking Trashcan are always fan favorites.

The possibilities for this property in the parks are virtually endless, just as the show explored so many strange and wonderful subjects during its run. The creator has an exceptionally quirky, but relatively family-friendly sense of humor, and an attraction of this nature would heighten the experience of every guest who experienced it.

Perhaps it is too much of a niche kind of show and wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but it is no stranger than Alice in Wonderland, a now-beloved film and set of attractions and characters that at first befuddled audiences and critics alike. Gravity Falls has a cultural impact beyond its two season run and the Disney parks are the perfect location for the series’ life to continue.

Come on Disney, get weird.

World Showcase: Russia

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While our countries’ history together is not a smooth one, we have enjoyed a fairly good relationship for the past 20 years or so, and with it being such a large and diverse country nearly spanning an entire continent, the opportunities for spectacular dining, entertainment, and attractions are varied and exciting.

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This is a country with a history as rich and diverse as any on the planet. Politics aside, the possibilities for dining, shopping, and even attractions are as wide-ranging as the massive country itself. From beautiful natural vistas, to ancient cultural centers bustling with people and filled with extravagant architectural wonders.

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Dining:

Quick Service – Pirozhki generic word for individual-sized baked or fried buns stuffed with a variety of fillings. These treats are mouth watering delights that are perfect for carrying around World Showcase. They can be filled with meats, or vegetables, or fruits for dessert.

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Bar – Veselo – meaning “fun” or at least as close as we can get in English. A vodka bar. would there be anything else in Russia? Caviar would also be served to those who want a high end experience.

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Table Service – Sem’ya – Meaning “family” it would be a traditional, family style Russian dining experience.

Kotleta  Mint_bread_kvas

Pelmeni_Russian  Shashlik

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Pavilion Design:

With the beautiful and iconic architecture present in the Russian cities, the pavilion, much like others in World Showcase, would be a compilation of various landmarks from cities across the land.

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The natural beauty of Russia also has a place in the pavilion as well. The Lena River and the Lena Pillars in particular would be a stunning backdrop while also serving as a berm to help soften the transitions between the pavilions on either side. WDI’s recent developments with rock work (Carsland) have shown what they are capable of, and this would be another fantastic opportunity to create some stunning work.

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Attraction:

The Quest for the Blue Eye – a race against rival treasure hunters across the vastness of Siberia to recover the Blue Eye of Siberia, a legendary sapphire embedded in the bottom of the oldest and deepest lake in the world. Travelers come face to face with bears, a blizzard, forests and mountain terrain. Close encounters with the Transiberian Railway and a flash of danger from a forest fire would keep the excitement at a high level, while also showing off Russia’s landscape. Guests travel in “Jumpers” an updated time rover type ride vehicle from Dinosaur & Indiana Jones with the advancement of multiple tracks and the ability to spin around and drive in reverse. Each vehicle also includes a “driver” who appears to control the speed and direction of the vehicle, selected by load team. The experience would be a race between two of these vehicles. In many ways, this would be an amalgam of several existing attractions being taken to the next technological level. A dramatic conclusion with a drop into a massive Siberian crater would thrill (and possibly terrify) all guests.

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Miscellaneous:

Stacking Matryoshka dolls would play a large part in the entertainment of the pavilion. Large, costumed characters would interact with crowds with merchandising opportunities abounding from Disney versions of characters in stacking doll form.

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Entertainment:

Perhaps a ballet/dance show in the Red Square area would draw in visitors to the pavilion, as dance is a large part of the entertainment offerings from Russia.

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This. Imagine this, except with Illuminations in the background. What more could you want from a World Showcase pavilion?

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The Great Movie Ride?

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Is it? I think at one time it was. That time was 1989. The park was freshly opened and the Great Movie Ride was essentially the park’s signature attraction. The park was in fact a working studio, and was dedicated to preserving this idea of a Hollywood that never was through a look into both the past and future of filmmaking. The movies in the GMR were considered classics and widely recognized.

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There were always problems, though. The Wizard of Oz section was costly and was never finished. The Fantasia segment was a placeholder and it shows. A lot of the ride is blank, black walls. The final scene is a movie montage that was supposed to be surrounded by animatronics of the featured stars. Budget cuts doomed this attraction from really being what it could/should have been. Another issue was rights to films and characters featured. Disney wanted the attraction to really be “great” movies so it bought the rights to these films for use in the GMR, even though they aren’t really Disney movies.

Flash forward to today. Like it or not, some of the movies in the attraction are unknown to audiences. The building itself is hidden behind the giant Sorcerer Mickey hat, possibly because the owners wanted a bigger share of all the merchandise with their building on it. The studio no longer has ties to MGM, the company that lent its name and many of its properties to the park in the park’s early days. The Disney film brand is established enough now to make this attraction its own. To preserve its history and celebrate the history of filmmaking still, but with the films inside being owned by the Disney Company themselves.

I believe it is time for an overhaul of this attraction.

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Let’s start with the exterior.

The Mann’s Chinese Theater is a classic, iconic Hollywood theater and was a great choice…until greed set in. It also forces the Disney company to rely on the legacy and image of a building owned by another group altogether. Because the park is supposed to celebrate the Hollywood that never really was, I propose that the entire facade be transformed into a new movie theater. An exterior that hearkens back to the glory days of old Hollywood without tying itself to one particular theater. An amalgam of theaters from the time period.

Of course, in order to do this, the hat has to disappear, and with no issues from the Chinese theater owners, Disney will be free to do so. The redux of DCA’s Buena Vista Street with its Carthay Circle and beautifully rendered homages to early Hollywood has proven that people enjoy this type of tribute and environment. Many argue that this re-theming, while without a headline attraction (with the exception of Red Car), is the strongest new element of the park. DHS has the potenial to do the same thing with this attraction facade.

In place of the hat, perhaps a beautiful water feature? A fountain maybe. Those are always nice.

The name should change as well. I’ve never been a huge fan of The Great Movie Ride as an attraction title anyway. It always felt a bit lazy and obvious. What is this ride? Oh, it’s a ride where you see great movies. I get it. Here is what I’m thinking:

ThroughtheMoviesI can imagine as you pull away from the load area, the Cast Member on your ride vehicle says, “…now, come with me as we take an exciting ride…through the movies!” Corny maybe, but fitting for the time period that’s being evoked.

As I stated above, the ride should be a ride chronologically through the movies, rather than being genre based as it is now. This is debatable, but I like the idea of progressing through Disney’s history as a film company starting all the way back with Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit. Everything in this first section will be black and white and shades of gray.

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The attraction will utilize more of the wall space and both sides of the track now instead of forcing the rider to look at vignettes behind scrims. Immerse the rider in the film environments like most classic dark rides do and provide visual elements all around the rider for the re-ride factor. The host will still spout off facts, only the focus is on the company that Walt built from Kansas City to LA.

Next comes Mickey. We will see him in his early days, from Plane Crazy, Steamboat Willie, etc. Here is where we see the transition from black and white to color, just as we did in Mickey’s shorts.

Following Mickey, we will enter an area that is a tribute to what I believe is one of the under appreciated treasures in Disney history, and that is the Silly Symphonies. These experimental short films paved the road for many features that came after them. They were a chance for animators and filmmakers to flex their creativity and explore the possibilities in their medium. I think with the diverse subject matter of the shorts and the visuals they contain, this section could be a dynamic and exciting experience and also introduce a new generation to these historically important films.

The next section of the attraction is a natural progression from the short films of early Disney Studios. Full length animation. Beginning with Snow White and Pinocchio, this area will be a tribute to some of the classic old animated films that the company was built on.

Some of the later classics will be included as well, like Lady & the Tramp, Cinderella, Peter Pan, and 101 Dalmations.

From here, we start to get into live action , but without completely leaving animation behind. I know it is controversial, but frankly, there is already an entire attraction built around Song of the South, so why not include it here and speak to its historical significance and the context in which it was created?

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This area will also feature Zorro and Davy Crockett.

The Love Bug.

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

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Treasure Island.

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Pete’s Dragon.

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Mary Poppins. This is one of the few films that remains from the original attraction, but I believe that the importance of this film warrants a larger display than the simple Mary floating over the rooftops. Perhaps a kind of montage of moments from the film? Keep the floating, add the carousel, kite flying, cleaning the nursery.

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The Disney Company has gone out of their way to acquire properties that they feel are both timeless, quality entertainment and profitable for years to come. It’s time they celebrated these additions to their catalog, beginning with Star Wars. It might be difficult to choose just one moment, but there is the option, like with Mary Poppins, to create a diorama of multiple scenes. Being crushed in the trash compactor, Luke dangling from Cloud City while Vader looms over him, Jabba’s palace interior. This is a beloved and iconic film, and belongs in the attraction, especially now that Disney owns the rights.

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Following SW, we stay in the Lucasfilm family and we see Indiana Jones. This scene can essentially stay untouched.

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While it wasn’t necessarily a critical success, Tron has accumulated a cult following through the years  and has spawned a recent sequel. Regardless of opinions about the story or sequel, there is no disputing the technological advances the film presented in computer graphics and 3D modeling. The historical significance in regards to technology and something that hadn’t been seen before, in addition to its following, merits it a place in this attraction.

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The 1990’s follows with Roger Rabbit, Dick Tracey, Newsies, Tombstone, and The Rocketeer. Roger Rabbit and Tombstone were the only real commercial successes, but each of the others serves as an example of genre films and have had some cult success as well. Newsies in particular has now seen renewed exposure from the success of the Broadway musical. These might not be considered “great” movies by critics and in the eyes of history, but in Disney’s live action library, they hold significance.

Following these films will be a few newer, but ultimately very popular movies. Enchanted, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Muppets.

The final scene will be realized in the way in which it was rumored to have originally been envisioned. A montage as it is now, except with only Disney-related properties featured, will still be the main focus, but the curtains around the room will reveal the AA of dozens of famous actors and characters from “great” (aka profitable or historically significant) Disney movies. This montage will focus on the most successful and lasting properties of Disney’s vast library. The great animated films of the 2nd golden age, Miyazaki’s films, and newer movies such as The Avengers and Alice in Wonderland, will grace the screen with other current work like Wreck-it Ralph, Princess and the Frog, and Frozen. This montage can and should be updated frequently. It is a movie for goodness sake. How difficult can it be?

Like it or not many of these movies, while perhaps not cinematic masterpieces, have settled in peoples minds as favorites and more importantly to the company, have made a TON of money. Alice in Wonderland was panned by many critics, but the film made a billion dollars. The PotC films have brought in boatloads of cash as well. That’s an amount of money that cannot be ignored.

The interactive storyline of the GMR can still remain intact. Currently, the host leaves either in the Western or Gangster scene and returns at Indy. Essentially, the same effect can be achieved with either the Zorro scene with a bandit or the Treasure Island scene, with a pirate.  While not absolutely necessary, that element is enjoyable to many, so it can remain.

The most exciting new feature will be at the exit of the attraction. It will be reworked so that guests exit into a gallery of sorts where a display will be set up of all the extremely talented artists who are doing versions of these movie posters and additional character art that is sold various places in limited quantities. Mondo, the art wing of Alamo Drafthouse, the boutique theater chain from Austin, Texas will partner with Disney to produce prints and other goods featuring the work of the highly talented artists who they work with regularly and discover even more. This art will be for sale here. Both original pieces and prints.

Artists like Eric Tan, Amy Mebberson, James Silvani, Josh Gilbert, Olly Moss, Ollie Boyd, Tom Whalen, and Dave Perillo. These artists need to be featured and celebrated Some have worked for Disney in the past and others are simply fans.

So much disgusting goodness right there. The money would be pouring in. Prints like these from Mondo sell out in minutes. Guests from other countries and others who couldn’t get their hands on the original print runs would leap at the opportunity to purchase these incredible pieces of art. I, for one, am grateful for artists like these who use their amazing talents to reinterpret a subject that I love.

Many people will be quick to point out the problems with the movies I chose, and that’s fine. There might be some I forgot, or something that should be included. It can change, but they don’t have to live up to this subjective definition of “great” that has been present in the attraction since opening day. Sure, most of the currently included films can be agreed upon, but not all of them. That is why I believe that the focus should shift to movies that are under the Disney Company’s banner. The library is there, including newly acquired licenses, and it is time that Disney began leveraging them better.

Let’s take a ride…Through the Movies.

*A movie like The Avengers (or any of the recent Marvel releases) should be included, but due to the theme park rights being held by Universal Studios currently, there is only so much they can do. That does need to be worked out though, btw. When Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out and makes another billion dollars, just pay Uni the money they want. Bring it home where it belongs.

World Showcase: Brazil

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This seems like a no-brainer if you have ever visited WDW and seen those excited groups of brightly colored shirts led by an outstretched arm holding a matching flag.

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With a population of 198.7 million people, Brazil is the fifth most populated country in the world, and I’m pretty sure most of them have made a journey to WDW at some point in their lives. Admittedly, I am not an expert on Brazil, nor have I ever visited, but I hope to one day and in this post I hope to make a case for its inclusion in the permanent world’s fair that is World Showcase. I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies or mistakes.

The style of the pavilion will be shaped by both the diverse architecture of the vibrant cities and the exotic Amazon basin environment. The Christ the Redeemer, while perhaps a polarizing symbol, is nevertheless as iconic to Brazil as the Eiffel Tower is to France, and so will have a prominent position overlooking the pavilion.

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Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Porto Alegre, and of course, Rio de Janeiro all provide diverse and interesting offerings that would make for an exciting and show-stopping destination around the lagoon.

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Dining:

Table Service – Encanto (meaning “charm”)- In the united states, the Brazilian steakhouse has become a fixture in most major cities and is a popular dining experience. A rodizio style offering would enhance the fine dining offering in World Showcase in a different and crowd-pleasing way.

Counter Service – Salgadinhos (traditional salty snacks)-would be the counter service option, specializing in small savoury snacks, similar to Spanish tapas. In Brazil, these are mostly sold in corner shops and a staple at working class and lower middle-class familiar celebrations. There are many types of pastries:

  • Pão de queijo (cheese bun, literally “cheese bread”), a typical Brazilian snack, is a small, soft roll made of manioc flour, eggs, milk, and minas cheese.
  • Coxinha is a chicken croquette shaped like a chicken thigh.
  • Kibe/Quibe: extremely popular, it corresponds to the Lebanese dish kibbeh and was brought to mainstream Brazilian culture by Syrian and Lebanese immigrants. It can be served baked, fried, or raw.
  • Esfiha: pies/cakes with fillings like beef, mutton, cheese curd, or seasoned vegetables.
  • Pastéis are pastries with a wide variety of fillings. Different shapes are used to tell apart the different flavours, the two most common shapes being half-moon (cheese) and square (meat). Size, flavour, and shape may vary greatly.
  • Empadas are snacks that resemble pot pies in a small scale. Filled with a mix of palm hearts, peas, flour and chicken or shrimp.

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Entertainment

At the heart of the Brazil pavilion will be a daily celebration of Carnivale, the yearly celebration of debauchery. Of course, Epcot’s version will be more family friendly, but an extravagant street party still. Funky and festive mini parade floats filled with costumed performers will transform the pavilion’s streets into a wild and expressive celebration.

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Theatro Municipal – movie about Brazil is housed inside (there are actually 2 different theaters with this name in Brazil, either would be a beautiful addition)

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While a movie might not be the best choice in World Showcase due to the majority of current attractions being similar, an interactive movie experience is perfect for this pavilion. Audience participation and on stage performers (from Carnivale) will put on a show/tour of the country to dazzle the viewers. A blend of music and comedy should delight those looking to sample the colorful flavors that the South American country has to offer.

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The second option would be a boat ride through the Amazon basin. This is a bit similar to the Jungle Cruise, so there will have to be significant differences to make people feel as though that classic attraction is not simply duplicated here, but with the diverse landscapes the country has to offer and the huge waterfalls, a float through Brazil would be as much of a draw as the Maelstrom, if not more.

Perhaps the guest is floating along the famous river on a giant lily pad which the region is famous for. A message of ecology and conservation mixed with a showcase of the scenery the country has to offer could be a stunning boat ride that hearkens back to the original message of Epcot Center.

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With animals like the capybara, poison dart frogs, jaguars, rheas, sloths, and the Amazon River dolphin, the wildlife of the area provides a chance for some fantastic audio animatronics along the ride path (not to mention plush sales).

The South American team led by Walt Disney himself spent time in Brazil and there is plenty of art and inspiration to be found in their work as well. While The Three Caballeros have their home in Mexico, Saludos Amigos could find its place here, especially with the Brazillian parrot Jose Carioca (cigar and all!) and his segment Aquarela do Brasil.

The architecture of this country, specifically Brasilia, the planned capital city, just scream opening day Epcot and would help bring back some of that futurism and optimism that have faded over the park’s life. You can’t looked at these images without some inkling of Epcot Center springing into the back of your mind. The same spirit dwells here as that place had from opening day.

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This major player on the world’s stage and economy must have a corporate sponsor who would be willing to foot at least a portion of the bill. The tourism groups alone prove that Brazil loves travel, and it’s clear that people from the actual World Showcase countries love to visit their doppelgangers at the park. A stunning country with the potential for an exquisite pavilion.

World Showcase: Series Preface

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Let me begin by saying that I love World Showcase, at least most of it. The leisurely stroll along the promenade is one of the simple, unhurried pleasures of the entire Walt Disney World property. Few experiences share that same relaxed quality. The railroad outside Germany. The gondolas moored on the lagoon outside Italy. The museum in the back of Japan. These are the small pleasures of World Showcase.

There are some issues of course. The movies are dated. The lack of attractions outside of films is seriously lacking. The African Outpost is embarrassing when viewed next to the unbuilt Africa pavilion. The biggest issue is that since Norway opened in 1988 there have been exactly ZERO new pavilions, despite the empty pads that were clearly designed for the expansion of the park. Whether it’s a lack of funding or a sponsorship issue, or perhaps just a satisfaction with the status quo, Disney has never expanded this area of the most innovative and interesting theme park built since Disneyland.

There is so much to fix in the park as a whole, so many missed opportunities, but there needs to be movement, growth, development. Anything, really.

I believe that it is time for the anticipated and blatantly dangled expansion of Epcot to happen. In this series, I will suggest and argue for the countries that I believe will benefit the park, the company, and the countries themselves.

25 years? Really? Too long.

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Western River Expedition

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The timing is not right, and there are dozens of other, more pressing issues (TOMORROWLAND), but I have been putting a lot of thought into how the legendary Marc Davis’ attraction could finally be realized at WDW.

Here we go:

The space exists in Frontierland, or at least it appears to.

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Now, don’t take what I am about to say the wrong way, but the Riverboat is a little stale. I think it has its charms and could be really good if some of the original effects were returned to the woods along the banks and some additional story elements added. I know people like it because it is a break from the madness that the park can become, but it needs a scenery upgrade and part of what I propose with WRE would certainly address that. As a side note, a Riverboat show would be a welcome entertainment offering at various points through the day. Bring back Princess and the Frog, maybe, or go with something entirely fresh.

There are a lot of trees lining the Rivers of America and they are great, but that is a lot of real estate as well that could be put to good use.

Here’s what the attraction would look like put in place in relation to the surrounding attractions:

AttractionRelationAnd here’s what it would look like overlaid on an actual photo for some perspective:

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With this new area of the park, a bridge will have to be put in place to access the back section of Tom Sawyer Island from the Big Thunder area in order to allow foot traffic to get to the new attraction. The bridge will be exceptionally themed as a rock bridge like the beautiful natural arches in Bryce Canyon, UT. This will also, I believe, increase interest in the island itself and may well be a good excuse for some needed TLC out there. The rafts may become obsolete, but some will still enjoy the experience.

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Additional pathways on the island will be required to connect the new attraction:

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Logo:

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Now for the actual attraction itself:

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While Davis’ version was actually 3 separate attractions combined, this is simply one, large attraction, a dark boat ride that takes guests on a journey through the American west, both real and fictionalized.

Essentially, there will be 3 sections with some overlap between them. A cowboy section, tall tales, and animals of the west. Many of the scenes and vignettes will be the same as those designed by Marc Davis in the late 60’s and 70’s.

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Effects have advanced and AA figures are more impressive than ever, so the attraction has the potential to be one of the best ever crafted. The exterior will have rockwork on par with that of DCA’s new Carsland area, with a plateau that is accessible for guests who would like to view stunning vistas of the park. I also like the idea of a restaurant on the top edge of the plateau, overlooking the Rivers of America and Frontierland. I visited a restaurant similar to this when I visited the Grand Canyon years ago. Along with the restaurant, you will see the return of the Mile Long Bar from Frontierland’s past.

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The WDW Railroad will have some changes as well, adding a new tunnel through the attraction, in which riders will view the original WRE model built by Marc Davis and WED so many years ago. There will also be a couple sections of the tunnel that offer views into the attraction, sometimes making the riders part of the attraction itself.

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Ridethrough:

After boarding your raft, you will float down the river, passing some small introductory scenes of prairie animals to the right as a narrator imparts some nuggets of western wisdom on you to begin your ride. The next scene, on both sides of the raft is that of 49ers, panning for gold. Each scene is separated from the next by clever use of rock work arches, closer to the use of bridges in POTC, rather than opening and closing doors in other dark rides.

The first major scene is around the next bend as you pass the bear taking your picture. The raft will enter a western town, including the general store, bank, jail, saloon, and horse corral. You will experience several gags and a shootout in front of the saloon. At the end of town the raft curls around the corral and the town is experienced a second time, only in reverse and with other gags, some of which play off those that were seen on the front side. The town kook and his elixir cart guide you on your way.

Upon leaving town, you find yourself farther out in the wilds with a cowboy campfire around which both cowboys and horses can be seen and heard singing the attraction theme song. No western waterway would be complete without the vultures that you see perched above you as you turn the corner and head on your way. Perhaps they forewarn you of what’s to come?

A wagon train on the right and an Indian village on the left are the next scenes, seemingly peaceful. After leaving them, you happen upon a group of bandits, clearly lying in wait, possibly for the wagon train…or is it for you? The next section serves as a bit of a transition for the attraction, as we see some AA burros climbing a trail and Marc Davis’ fantastic singing cacti on our right.

Next we enter the realm of historical characters. Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, and Annie Oakley are all represented here. The wagon train makes a second appearance here, this time circled up for the evening in  protective preparation for a dangerous evening. In what will be an effects heavy scene, we are next treated to the thundering sounds of a buffalo stampede, raising dust all around.

This is followed by a train robbery scene in which the bandits from earlier have successfully captured their prey. I like the idea of a couple of loose storylines that run through. Both POTC and Haunted Mansion employ this kind of technique. Story if you want it, but not so rigid that you have to follow it.

The James Gang, Zorro, Lone Ranger & Tonto, Davey Crockett, and Mike Fink all round out this segment of the attraction. Fink and Crockett will occupy the same area with their natural connection, and one of the old keel boats will be pressed into service once again as a prop.

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Here, the attraction does something that few other dark rides attempt. It goes outside, and it offers two possible paths. On the first, you will encounter Casey Jones, the legendary train engineer and his powerful locomotive. You may also catch a glimpse of the WDW Railroad on the tracks overhead.

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The second path leads to two of America’s most beloved tall tale heroes: John Henry battling the steam engine, and Paul Bunyan, of course with Babe, the blue ox in tow. Paul will be a towering figure, although he is currently resting with his mighty axe wedged in the ground, having just finished digging some canyon or another. John Henry will be scene emerging victoriously from the rock wall, hammer in hand.

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The river converges again at this point, and you will run into Pecos Bill lassoing a twister and Slewfoot Sue riding a catfish as you reenter the show building. Johnny Appleseed rounds out the tall tale portion of the attraction, complete with his own song and his lovely apple orchards stretching off into the distance. (Note: Only in the Appleseed scene and Crockett scene, will the song alter, as these two popular melodies are woven into the theme.)

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The final stretch is a tribute to the animals of the west with some nods to those from Mine Train thru Nature’s Wonderland in Disneyland. Antelope, bighorn sheep, buffalo, wild stallions and prairie dogs will lead you back in from your journey. The attraction closes with the coyote choir howling their rendition of the theme.

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The final scene is that of the fabled jackalope who bids you a fond farewell and invites you to visit again. It is here where you realize that he is the narrator who guided you along the way, the spirit of the west. In an inspired return to his Disney roots, the jackalope will be voice by Kurt Russell.

Upon disembarking, you will find yourself outside the mercantile where you can purchase the required merchandise…plush jackalopes, attraction music, toothpick holders, and other western gear.

Also, for those who know, you will find the AA figure of Hoot Gibson, voiced by Bill Murray, regaling guests with hilarious anecdotes and tales of the wild west.

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WDW press release (with story that is, of course, entirely unnecessary):

Frontierland- The world famous explorer and adventurer, Davis Marcs has forged new ground in the wilds of Frontierland. After extensive searching, Marcs has found the plot of land where he has decided to finally settle down and live out the rest of his days. Those days will not be without adventure, however, as Davis has founded the Western River Expedition company, designed to give visitors a taste of the real, wild west. Having tamed bears, battled pirates, cruised jungles, and even investigated ghosts, Marcs says he was interested in setting his sites on the American west and helping its citizens, and those of the rest of the world remember the greatness of the frontier. Frontierland welcomes its newest resident with open arms. Come join us as we take a Western River Expedition!

Western River Expedition is the single greatest unrealized attraction in WDW history. It not only should happen, but it deserves to happen.