By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.



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Category — A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Missing Mountains of Walt Disney World

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE NEVER-BUILT MOUNTAINS OF DISNEY WORLD

By Jim Korkis

Walt Disney World is famous for its many mountains: at Magic Kingdom, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain and at Disney’s Animal Kingdom the Forbidden Mountain.

However, over the decades, other mountains were planned for the WDW parks as well, including having a Matterhorn bobsled ride similar to the one at Disneyland for a proposed Switzerland pavilion at World Showcase near the Italy pavilion. The real Matterhorn is located between Italy and Switzerland.

Another mountain that was proposed was Mount Fuji for the back of the Japan pavilion where a roller coaster would have raced around the outside and inside of the iconic mountain. Fuji film was ready to sponsor the attraction but Disney already had an existing sponsorship agreement with rival film company Kodak.

Fire Mountain was planned for Adventureland in the area between the Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain attractions. Fire Mountain was to be a gigantic, forbidding volcano with guests soaring around and through this erupting menace.

It was originally considered to be built in Fantasyland but was felt that it would blend in more appropriately with the theme of Adventureland and the volcanoes of the Pacific Rim. In fact, there was even discussion to expand the entire area into a subdivision called Volcania.

The twist on being just another roller coaster was to have a unique switch in the middle of the ride. Guests would board the vehicles with the track railing underneath them as in a traditional coaster but as the ride progressed, the track would shift to being above them. This switch would give the guests a more up close experience as they dangled over the bubbling lava that was threatening to erupt. The track would switch back before the end of the attraction.

Disney even floated a balloon high in the air to mark the top of the peak of the mountain to see if it could be seen on Main Street USA. While it was not visible to guests in that location, it was clearly visible to guests at the Polynesian Resort.

Eventually, it was decided that such a massive investment might not translate into the extra attendance needed to compensate for the expenditure.

Bald Mountain (from the Disney animated feature film Fantasia (1940) that was the home of the demon Chernabog) would have been in Fantasyland on the location of the closed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction. Plans were even discussed to make this part of the park a section themed to the Disney villains who were not just popular as characters but were generating a new lucrative merchandise franchise for the company.

In ride vehicles modeled after Hades’ River Styx boats from the Disney animated feature film Hercules (1997), guests would take a harrowing water journey where they inadvertently interrupted a meeting. The notorious Disney villain characters were deciding who was the most evil of the group to lead them in taking over the Magic Kingdom.

Once discovered, it was a wild race to escape the villains trying to prevent the guests from revealing their sinister plans and ending with a massive water flume plunge down the side of the mountain.

One of the reasons this particular attraction was never built was that the idea of constructing a fifth WDW theme park based on villains was being considered and so the idea was withdrawn in order to be included in the park proposal that never materialized into actuality.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Gremlin Trouble! The Cursed Roald Dahl Film Disney Never MadeSecret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

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April 21, 2017   1 Comment

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Casey’s Corner

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

CASEY’S CORNER AT THE MAGIC KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

When Disneyland opened in July 1955, at the end of Main Street just at the beginning of the Hub was a quick service food and beverage restaurant called the Refreshment Corner, sponsored by Coca-Cola. It was so popular and beloved that when the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, a similar shop was put in the same location on the end of Main Street, also sponsored by Coke.

Originally, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola were served at both Disney theme parks, but in 1982, Coke made arrangements to become the sole provider and has remained so for over the last thirty-five years.

When Disneyland Paris opened in 1992, the traditional shop was instead dubbed Casey’s Corner, referencing the 1888 poem “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Thayer about the fictional over-confident ballplayer for the Mudville team who famously struck out. Disney even made an animated cartoon based on the poem as part of the compilation feature Make Mine Music (1946).

(c) Disney

The Casey’s Corner concept for the venue that sold soda and hot dogs was brought to Florida with the renovation of the northwest block of Main Street and the opening of the revised shop on May 27, 1995. The outdoor sign even incorporated the 1888 date of the Thayer poem in the baseball since it also aligned with the turn-of-the-century theme to Main Street.

Every detail in the newly rehabbed restaurant was to help reinforce the connection, from the Cast Member vintage baseball player costumes (with umpire style aprons) to the “Enter” and “Exit” signs made to look like baseballs and the vintage baseball and Coca-Cola memorabilia displayed throughout the space. Classic Coke light fixture chandeliers decorate the interior.

Many of the props on display, including jugs of Coca-Cola syrup and baseball team mugs, trading cards and pennants, are authentic antiques from around the turn of the 20th century.

One of the framed photos on the wall depicts a team wearing jerseys representing more than one team and even women players poorly disguised as men. These people are the Imagineering team who worked on the Casey’s Corner (and Main Street Athletic Club) project in 1995.

In addition to Coca-Cola products, the location also serves traditional hot dogs (a popular treat at baseball games) and gourmet designer dogs like chili dogs, Chicago-style dogs, and BBQ pork slaw dogs at a premium price. Also available are corn dog nuggets, French fries, cotton candy, ballpark nachos and Cracker Jacks, just as someone might find at a ball game concession stand.

Originally, there was a big screen running a loop of excerpts from Disney animated cartoons that were sports oriented and with bleacher seating for people to watch and eat.

In 2014, that screen and bleachers were eliminated in order to expand the indoor eating area with more traditional seating. At the same time, the outdoor eating area doubled its size, with new walkways and red and white umbrellas representing the colors of Coke.

Outside, two fiberglass lifesize statues of old-time baseball players provide a photo opportunity. Also outside, just like at Disneyland, is a piano where a performer occasionally tickles the ivory keys and entertains the guests with ragtime music and familiar Disney tunes.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Gremlin Trouble! The Cursed Roald Dahl Film Disney Never MadeSecret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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April 14, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Boneyard

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE BONEYARD AT DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

The Boneyard is the interactive playground area in Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the entrance to Dinoland USA. It is meant to resemble a paleontological dig site, but is often just referred to as “the sandbox”. It is not real sand in the area, but a tiny gravel material called Texas grit. The flooring is a spongy mat-like material.

Although primarily meant for younger children, the location provides insights and delights for guests of all ages. It is littered with not just some fun objects for children to explore but clues as to how the dinosaurs lived and died, as well as additional information about the battles between parts of Dinoland USA’s back story, the irreverent intern students and their more stodgy professors–who in their own way are “dinosaurs” when it comes to new ideas.

For children, there are the bones of prehistoric creatures like a Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops skulls and a Columbian Wooly Mammoth waiting to be uncovered, a fossilized bone xylophone to play called the XyloBone, various debris spill chutes that can be used as slides, dinosaur footprints, that emit a roar when stepped on, scaffolding, rope ladders, netting, tunnels, a fossil-filled maze and much more. Opening doors and lids provide an unexpected surprise as well.

The two sides of the Boneyard are linked by the OldenGate Bridge (a pun on the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge), the gateway structure built out of the giant skeleton of a 50-foot-tall, 80-foot-long brachiosaurus at the entrance to this land. A nearby plaque states: “This replica fossil is cast from the bones discovered in Colorado in 1900. The original is now in the Field Museum in Chicago.”

Before Disney’s Animal Kingdom even opened, the Disney Company and McDonald’s, who was the original sponsor of the Dinoland area, partnered with the Field Museum to offer the winning bid on what was at the time the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever unearthed. The cleaned and restored skeleton, dubbed “Sue,” is now on display at the Museum. Two casts were also made from the original skeleton. One toured the world as part of a McDonald’s promotion and the other is in Dinoland U.S.A.

There is only one entrance/exit to the area, so parents can keep better control of where their children are in the multi-storied enclosed half acre. Even the walls display different layers, or “strata”, of earth that over the centuries buried the remains of these prehistoric creatures.

The generational conflict between the academic-minded professors Dr. Bernard Dunn, Dr. Shirley Woo, Dr. Eugene McGee and Dr. Tina Lee of the fictional Dino Institute with their traditional but often outdated information about dinosaurs and the youthful graduate students including the newest interns Mark Rios, Jenny Weinstein and Sam Gonzales with a sometimes more radical perspective based on recent research is in evidence all throughout the area.

Various handwritten corrections and responses are posted prominently on the various signage, bulletin boards and more offering alternate possibilities for the different findings. Clearly, the knowledge about dinosaurs has always been incomplete and even today is constantly evolving.

There are other more visible signs of student rebellion including a wall of excavation tools where a pick has been deliberately hung in the space clearly identified for small spades.

To add to the reality of the area, casts were taken from real dinosaur bones found in places like Utah’s Dinosaur National Park and then reproduced using a plastic-cement material that looks and feels real.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Gremlin Trouble! The Cursed Roald Dahl Film Disney Never MadeSecret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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April 7, 2017   2 Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Beastly Kingdom

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

BEFORE PANDORA: THE BEASTLY KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

The original concept for Disney’s Animal Kingdom was based on animals: real, imaginary and extinct. Extinct animals would be represented in a section devoted to dinosaurs. Real animals would be represented throughout the park including attractions showcasing them.

Imaginary and mythical creatures, like unicorns, dragons, sea monsters and more, were to be housed in a land known as the Beastly Kingdom (and in some planning documents: “Beastlie Kingdomme”).

The marketing material crafted for this land stated: “Beastly Kingdom is the realm of make believe animals, animals that don’t really exist, out of legends, out of fairy tales, out of storybooks. Like our legends and fair tales about imaginary animals, this land is divided into realms of good and realms of evil.”

The silhouette of a winged dragon appears in the center the DAK’s logo that also features real and extinct animals.

Unfortunately time and budget constraints did not allow the development of the land in time for park open.

Instead, Camp Minnie-Mickey was quickly built as a temporary placeholder, until Spring 2003 when the Beastly Kingdom would be finally built, so that young guests could interact with the traditional Disney animated characters.

After the opening of DAK, while guest surveys showed that guests were enthusiastically supportive of a Beastly Kingdom, financial reports indicated that attendance would not grow enough to justify the expense of its construction. In fact, the opening of DAK dropped the attendance nearly ten percent on average at the other three WDW parks

In 2000, Imagineer Joe Rohde, who was responsible for the concept of a Beastly Kingdom, publicly admitted that he was doubtful such an area would ever be built now. In September 2011, Disney announced it was partnering with filmmaker James Cameron to build a land themed to his Avatar film series in that same location.

Remnants of the concept besides the logo remain in DAK today including a parking lot named “unicorn”, a dragon head atop the entrance ticket booth, and for a while, a cave along Discovery River that housed the roar of a fire breathing dragon and a brief burst of a propane flame. For the opening of the park, McDonalds included in one of its Happy Meals, a purple winged dragon to represent that uncompleted area.

The entrance to Beastly Kingdom would be over a bridge guarded by a troll. The legendary realm would have been divided into two sections: one celebrating good creatures and another showcasing evil, dangerous creatures.

The evil side would have been dominated by the Dragon Tower, a charred and ruined castle home to a fire-breathing, jewel-encrusted dragon (the largest audio-animatronics figure to have been built at that time) who guarded a massive treasure. Bats who lived there as well planned to steal these riches and enlisted the help of the guests in their robbery plans.

Guests would be aboard a suspended inverted roller coaster to create the feeling of flying along with the bats on the heist. A climatic confrontation with the dragon would have left the guests feeling the heat as its fiery breath came much too close.

Also in this section would be a waterfront eatery called the Loch Ness Terrace with periodic visits from the fabled sea serpent-like creature.

The good side would include the Quest of the Unicorn, an adventure through a maze of medieval mythological creatures to find the unicorn’s hidden grotto in the center. In addition, a musical boat ride entitled Fantasia Gardens based on the mythological scenes in the Disney animated feature film Fantasia (1940) would be included.

With the opening of Expedition Everest, DAK introduced its first mythological presence into the park, the legendary Yeti who terrorizes riders at the peak of the roller coaster attraction.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Gremlin Trouble! The Cursed Roald Dahl Film Disney Never MadeSecret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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March 31, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Disney’s Dinosaurs

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

DISNEY’S DINOSAURS

By Jim Korkis

Disney has been bringing audio-animatronics dinosaurs to startling, realistic life since the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair and the primeval world there that Imagineers like Claude Coats created for the Ford Motor Skyway pavilion.

Those prehistoric re-creations were so impressive that they were brought back to Disneyland and installed in 1966 as the finale of the Grand Canyon Diorama tunnel on the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad.

However, with new advances in technology, Imagineers wanted to experiment with pushing the boundaries.

While the Animal Kingdom attraction Countdown to Extinction (later renamed DINOSAUR) was loosely inspired by the in-development at the time Walt Disney Feature Animation computer animated feature Dinosaur (2000), the Imagineers had great leeway in developing the time traveling experience and the twenty-one dinosaurs that guests would encounter on the ride.

“We cast it the way, we would cast a movie,” said WDI show producer Anne Malmlund. “You need a hero and you need a villain.”

The villain was the same villain from the movie, a terrifying Carnotaurus which was thirty-three feet long when finally built. A complete skeleton of the prehistoric monster had recently been uncovered in Argentina giving show designer Paul Torrigino a good reference model. However, he was faced with the challenges of what the skin texture might be like or even the color of that skin.

He chose a dusty red, the color of clay, in order to make the animal seem more menacing as well as to contrast it with the lush green Cretaceous forest. A partial skin impression found with the fossil bones showed that the skin seemed to be a rough hide covered with bumps and knobs.

So Torrigino made them bumpier and knobbier because he needed exaggerated features since the vehicles would be moving by so quickly that guests wouldn’t be able to discern any texture at all unless it was highly prominent.

“We wanted to use science and art and drama to create a world our guests could believe in,” Torrigino said.

Imagineers consulted paleontologists, studied countless books and more to make sure the shapes, sizes, movement, skin texture and coloration were as authentic, and dramatic, as possible. Even Imagineer Joe Rohde would drop by to offer his suggestions.

Tujunga’s Plastic shop in California developed a new combination of silicone and spandex that enhanced the lifelike look and movement of the dinosaurs for the attraction.

The new system of skin-on-plates, modeled on human ribs, made the dinosaur movement more fluid and believable. The industrial strength snaps on the skin hook onto bands of metal that are the foundational structure of the animal which included a new underlying armature. The heavy skin could weigh up to 500 pounds.

The Imagineers first mocked up the movement on computers. A small model raptor was then built to test these ideas and it contained powerful new chips to control a range of subtle movements.

These figures included some of the largest audio-animatronics figures ever produced. The heads of the Iguanodon and Saltasaurus were so huge that they scraped the tops of the ceiling of the cavernous warehouse in Tujunga, California where they were built.

It took eight to ten hours of programming for every second of animation per dinosaur. Each dinosaur represented about 14,000 hours of effort by WDI or roughly seven years.

At the first formal review and with appropriate dramatic lighting, CEO Michael Eisner who worried about the investment of time and money was visibly moved. “It’s the first time I’ve been sorry they are extinct,” he said.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and The Vault of Walt: Volume 4, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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March 24, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Festival of the Lion King

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE FESTIVAL OF THE LION KING

By Jim Korkis

Because of the construction of the upcoming Pandora: The World of Avatar (to open May 27. 2017), the Festival of the Lion King stage show was relocated from Camp Minnie-Mickey where it premiered April 22, 1998 to the new Harambe Theater in the Africa section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom beginning June 2014.

This popular musical show is unique because, unlike most of the other Disney entertainment shows, it does not tell an abbreviated version of the famous animated feature’s plot. Instead, this theatrical experience is a tune-filled tribal celebration with audience participation and some unexpected surprises.

In order to accommodate the number of performances, there are three full casts, plus understudies, and all of them must be brought up to speed periodically with paid “pick up” rehearsals during the year to keep the show sharp. In addition, there is the large behind-the-scenes technical staff handling costuming, lighting, props, sound, and more.

The Festival of the Lion King was a last-minute placeholder for an area that itself was a last-minute addition when plans for a Beastly Kingdom section for the park were halted. Putting on a temporary show was cheaper than investing in building a ride attraction, quicker to create, and was also easier to change once a decision was made about exactly what the area should be.

Since its premiere in 1998, this joyous celebration has become the longest-running stage show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom with enthusiastic guests returning multiple times. The show was designed by Walt Disney World Creative Entertainment, but the performance venue was created by Walt Disney Imagineering.

The theater environment suggests an African savannah where an extraordinary group of humans and animals adorned in decorative feathers and ornate beads on 136 costumes have gathered to present a musical revue.

The action-packed The Festival of the Lion King is hosted by four human performers with Swahili names attired as traditional African tribal leaders: Kiume (“masculine and strong”), Nakawa (“good-looking”), Kibibi (“princess”), and Zawadi (“the gift”). They instruct the guests on how to participate with the performers several times during the show.

It wouldn’t be a true party without some of the cast from the original film! A twelve-foot-high animated Simba stands on Pride Rock keeping time to the pounding rhythm with his feet while interacting with the audience.

Lovable Pumbaa claims his tiny feet keep him confined to the massive Warthog float. However, his companion Timon gleefully struts to the center platform leading the audience in a vocal competition during the song The Lion Sleep Tonight. Since the beginning of 2009, Timon has sported an articulated head that allows his mouth to move when he is talking and his eyes to blink.

The impressive floats that serve as intriguing set pieces are actually recycled from The Lion King Celebration parade that ran at Disneyland from 1994-1997.

Along with performers in African tribal robes and various animal costumes, the center stage spotlights several specialty acts, include a group of zany, bouncing acrobats, tribal stilt walkers precariously navigating the area, a death defying fire juggler and a breathtaking high wire aerialist who soars high above the audience. Each increasingly amazing routine is choreographed to a memorable song from the classic movie.

A beloved audience favorite is the flexible gymnasts in yellow-orange skintight costumes called the Tumble Monkeys. These mischievous and energetic creatures wildly swing and flip on the overhead rings and bars as the hapless Timon tries to sing. Their extensive training includes not only the skillful and fast-moving routine itself but insight into how to move and think like a monkey, including grooming audience members in the front row.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and The Vault of Walt: Volume 4, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

Follow yourfirstvisit.net on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter or Pinterest!!

March 17, 2017   No Comments