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.
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:
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.
Additional pathways on the island will be required to connect the new attraction:
Now for the actual attraction itself:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.