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Fridays with Jim Korkis: Joe Rohde on Changes at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

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

I attended a cast member only presentation with Imagineer Joe Rohde on April 3, 2006 where he addressed some of the changes at Disney’s Animal Kingdom:

Rohde: “I’m not of the school that believes you build it, you fix it, you pour resin over it, it’s stuck in there forever, nobody touch it, nobody deal with it…that’s dead. You know? That’s like one of those dead scorpions in resin. And I’d rather have the live scorpion, but the live scorpion does things, right? And you have to deal with it alive.

“Some of that stuff is response to operational things. The Big Red thing in Kilimanjaro Safaris was an operational problem. When we opened the park, we had these gorgeous, gorgeous dead animals. There was this eviscerated zebra that lay across the lion exhibit. It was fantastic, and it just looked like it had been torn to shreds…and spread all over the place.

“Its head was over here and its body was here and one leg was over there. It was the drinker, right? So the lions would come down to drink their water out of the thing and it would look like they were eating the dead zebra and it was perfect.

“And there was this dead gazelle in the cheetah exhibit with another drinker that just looked great and they’re made of bronze. They would last a thousand years.

“Then there was Big Red, the dead elephant. Everyone thought they were real dead animals. And so they would get off the thing and go to the operators and go, “You’ve got to do something! There’s a dead animal!” No. You’re trying to unload a vehicle. “Please move on. Go see the gorillas,” you know. “Go buy a Coke. And they’re fine.”

“And thinking they were real pulled guests out of the story structure and into some real world where there’s a real dead animal. The whole poacher scene thing—not the presence of the poachers, which was always there—but the BIG story came from (CEO Michael) Eisner’s desire to ramp that up.

“He took that germ of the story and ramped it up, ramped it up and wanted us to make a big car chase, big thing out of it. Where I’m not necessarily convinced it necessarily needs to occupy that level in the type of ride that that is, and so as it changes and modifies, I think the important thing to continue to have present is the fact that these animals live in a world with us and that our attitudes towards these animals have everything to do with whether they live or die.

“I mean, we put those Discovery boats into Animal Kingdom. I thought they were great. People hated them. Hate, hate, hated these boats. You know…okay, so we took ‘em out, right? A complete failure. A total failure.

“It’s not just bad, it’s gone. They’re gone. The boats are gone, they don’t run any more. The docks sit there. The water’s empty. The boats don’t run. But what we do is continually torture ourselves to go, “Okay, okay…there has to be a way to make this work. There has to be a way to make this work, or to replace it with something that does work.’’ And that is why there is continual change, right?

“Sometimes we think it’s great and the public thinks it sucks. And sometimes you it really is bad and everyone knows it’s bad, and it still got built somehow. You know, I mean all of those things happen. And part of the reason they happen is because it is a necessary cultural by-product of a creative enterprise that it is open to change, open to suggestion, open to variation, open to radical challenges to the status quo.”

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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 new books Vault of Walt Volume 9: Halloween Edition, and Hidden Treasures of the Disney Cruise Line.


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