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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Countdown to Extinction

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

When CEO Michael Eisner had to make the decision whether to build Beastly Kingdom or DinoLand U.S.A. at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, several things influenced his decision besides his interest in dinosaurs.

In production for a release in 2000 was the Disney feature film entitled Dinosaur that combined live action backgrounds (mostly filmed in Venezuela) with CGI dinosaurs to create a “photo-realistic” appearance. The film would prominently feature an iguanodon and a carnotaurus.

The Imagineers pitched a thrill ride that would also prominently feature those two dinosaurs so it would tie in with promoting the film. It would also utilize the EMV (Enchanced Motor Vehicle) ride system developed for Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure attraction and a nearly identical track layout, so it would save construction money as the park was going way over budget.

The backstory of this was that the Dino Institute was struggling for funds, so hired Dr. Helen Marsh, who had a reputation for fund-raising for museums. Within days of her arrival, she purchased Chrono-Teck Inc. and announced they had developed a CTX (to reference Countdown to Extinction attraction name) Time Rover vehicle that could travel back in time.

This invention brought the Institute prestige and funding to build a state-of-the-art facility to assist in research and house classrooms. The “new” version of the Dino Institute was dedicated on April 22, 1978 (to reference the opening of DAK on the same date in 1998).

Dr. Marsh insisted that tours to the Cretaceous period be offered to non-professionals to help subsidize the costs of the new facility. Controller Dr. Grant Seeker informs the visitors that he intends to use the time rover to save an Iguanodon from extinction and bring it back to the Dino Institute.

Once aboard the Time Rover, riders begin a turbulent journey back to a prehistoric jungle where they encounter several dinosaurs, including a styracosaurus, alioramus, raptor, sauropod, and pterodactyls among others, and are chased by a Carnotaurus before finally rescuing an Iguanodon seconds before an asteroid hits.

Disney expected the movie Dinosaur to become another classic and attract families with younger children so significant changes were made to the attraction.

Two weeks before the movie was released, the attraction was renamed Dinosaur.

Outside of the Dino Institute, the styracosaurus standing in an infinity pool was replaced with an iguanodon in a garden and footage from the film was inserted into the pre-show.

The first time warp tunnel (where the Time Rover is “sent back into the past”) no longer used the lasers and pyro effects to blind guests. The compsognathus that jumped over the Time Rover were on a chain and pulley system and were deactivated so they just hovered in place (and were replaced by projections in 2016).

The ending was changed with a large, static, blacklit, cartoon-proportioned carnotaur head sliding toward guests on a visible rolling rig. Changes were made in the narration to make it more comedic and emphasize more urgency.

The motion of the EMVs were reduced and made less jarring so the height requirement could be lowered for younger children. The audio of the chase by the carnotaur was softened, so instead of getting ever closer, it faded off as if the dinosaur had fallen behind.

These changes did not make the attraction less scary for children, but did make it more disappointing for adults. As a result the original version, despite some similarities to the current version, is considered an entirely different ride experience.

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

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.


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