10 Ways Disney Parks Bowdlerized Their Own Rides (And Your Childhood)
I See What They Did There
We all know Disney has a nagging tendency to cover up its faults. Some are good — for example, the embarrassingly racist Song of the South is no longer for sale in the parks or online – and some are not so good – helicoptering anyone with injuries off Disney property as quickly as possible so as to avoid having to say anyone ever died on grounds.
The theme parks have always been a push-and-pull between the twinkling nostalgia of the past and the domineering pull of the ugly present. Let’s not equivocate: the parks have always been a money-grubbing entity. But recent changes such as adding Johnny Depp into the Pirates ride have made that grubbing front-and-center, as opposed to a background only cynics wanted to delve into.
Over the years, your favorite rides have undergone some changes. Some were to make the parks less rape-y. Good! Some were to appease boring parents. Bad! And some called into question why the parks ever had the original way of things in the first place. Let’s get to it.
10: Snow White
Snow White was one of the original rides that opened Magic Kingdom, and remained pretty much its storied self for almost forty years, a position it held proudly because of its vaunted place as Walt Disney’s first feature-length film. Originally called “Snow White’s Adventures,” the park was persuaded to add “Scary” in there after parents complained the ride was spooking their precious kidlets. The ride, intending to make you feel like the titular princess, faces down the queen-hag in her skeleton-filled dungeon, hurtles frantically through the dark and claustrophobic woods, and follows along to a stormy cliff where the queen originally threw a big diamond down on your car, and apparently succeeded if the sparkling lights were any indication. Then the ride ended. With you dead.
Listen, it wasn’t for everyone. Disney renovated the ride to have the witch’s rock-throwing shenanigans backfire, so she then fell off the cliff. Then you proceed past the happy prince and princess. But not content to wholly eradicate the Grimms tale broodiness, they added the queen menacingly popping out above the door as you exit, scaring kid and adult alike, if my mother’s shriek is any credible memory. Snow White appeared nowhere in the ride until 1994, when she was added in to allow kids to recognize her and decrease the scare factor.
Even that was too scary, in the end, so now guests are bade goodbye by a waving Dopey.
And it actually doesn’t matter at all, since the ride is going the way of the dodo next year to make way for a Princess Meet and Greet Hall. (Goody! Disney didn’t have nearly enough places to meet the princesses!) Snow White will be represented in a new roller-coaster of the dwarves’ diamond mines, located next door.
9: 20000 Leagues Under the Sea
A ride I remember only vaguely from when I was younger, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea mimicked a deep sea diving adventure in the heart of Magic Kingdom. It was replaced when Disney thought that might make Fantasyland too appealing to boys. (Not really true, but I just think it’s weird how skewed Fantasyland is toward cotton candy pink. Young boys and non-princess-loving girls are underserved at Disney!)
Anyway, the ride was one of the first ever Disney rides, opening in 1971 to great acclaim. It was a technological marvel, with its subs descending under water, equipped with top-of-the-line machinery, to give riders a look at the local flotsam and jetsam.
It just…didn’t stay so top-of-the-line.
The ride was a pain to maintain and repair, costing six figures to keep in shape every year. The subs broke down, sprung leaks, overheated; the lagoon got slimy and required constant chlorine infusions and cleaning; the wildlife kept dying. All the maintenance problems exposed the park to the lawsuit-happy among us, including one woman who sued because she claimed the descent into the 14-foot lake gave her the bends.
So the park staff hated it, the business department hated it, and the legal department hated it. Not exactly a seat-gripper to axe it. They’d underestimated the popularity of the ride, though, and when it closed abruptly in 1994, the force of the objections took Disney by surprise.
So they pretended it was a temporary closing for appearances, opened it up briefly once more, then closed it for good in 1995.
8: Golden Dreams (California)
In your “I can’t believe this ever existed” news, when Disneyland opened their California Adventure park next door to the mainstay, they included a pavilion with a show inside called “Golden Dreams,” which starred Whoopi Goldberg and was dedicated to…the historical genocides and injustices done in California over the years.
The film begins with the Native American Chumash tribe chilling and enjoying their maize. Then the Spanish show up and, well, you know what happens from there. But I gotta say I wasn’t expecting Whoopi Goldberg to lead me through the captivity and murder of Indian natives as part of a Disney ride.
From there, things only get brighter as the racism against Chinese immigrants is shown over the years. There’s also a tribute to the very serious problem of Japanese mail order brides in California? I don’t know. This includes a scene where a bride-to-be and her husband are bombarded with garbage.
Of course, the end of it lets us know everything’s great now, we’ve got computers and other great things to distract us from all the horrible shit we used to do.
Don’t forget to check out the Indiana Jones ride and get some funnel cake!
I’ll grant that this show had some balls on it, but nobody really wants that kind of downer at a theme park – it closed in 2008 and was replaced by a Little Mermaid show. One that did not address the colonialist and assimilationist connotations to the story, I’m afraid.
1995-2003. R.I.P. the most horrifying ride that Disney ever produced. In fact, many of the positive reviews of this ride expressed awe that Disney could pull off such a subtle, scary, adult experience in the parks that didn’t involve – shudder – Pleasure Island.
The Alien ride (or the Extraterrorestrial Alien Encounter) involved weaving staff members and pre-taped sequences and theater show all together for a deeply immersive experience. The storyline’s standard, blah blah, there’s the greedy corporation who has some new transportation technology and they accidentally transport the alien into the showroom – but the theater part was the real above-and-beyond. Audiences sat in harnessed seats in total darkness once the show got underway, and stayed in darkness for about 10 minutes while special effects scared the bejeezus out of every man, woman, and child. Blood dripping on foreheads, alien tentacles all over your body – not a Disney experience as you’d normally think of one.
So of course it had to be squashed by the parent brigade.
After near-immediate complaints waged on for years, and one of the actors involved with the show didn’t help matters by being convicted of soliciting child pornography (thanks a lot, Jeffrey Jones), the ride closed for good in 2003. It was replaced by a ride dedicated to probably the worst Disney movie I have ever seen, Lilo and Stitch. Suffice to say Stitch’s Great Escape! didn’t pack quite the petrifying punch of Extraterrorestrial.
Raise a glass.
6: Universal Dr. Doom ride
Okay, okay, it’s not Disney, but this change made me a little sad. When Islands of Adventure first opened, their Dr. Doom high-tower ride was one of the most striking features in the park. Riders shot up in cars on what was essentially a professional version of the fair ride. On the ground in front of the tower were body outlines drawn in chalk.
Someone eventually realized that didn’t instill a lot of confidence in their safety record, I guess, so those were swiftly painted over.
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