By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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Category — A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Test Track at Epcot

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

TEST TRACK AT EPCOT

By Jim Korkis

The Test Track attraction that replaced the original World of Motion attraction at Epcot officially opened March 1999. Test Track then was closed in 2012 for renovations, and re-opened in December 2012.

The up-to-65 mph speed track of almost a mile in length remained much the same in the 2012 renovation, with the major change being the storyline.

The changes include a pre-ride interactive design center where guests can design their own custom vehicle and a post-show state-of-the-art showroom that features high-tech games. Throughout the ride, guests see how their designs performed in each individual test.

The first version of the Test Track attraction was notorious for its many delays before opening. Among other things, the original wheels and axles on the cars could not handle the speed demands, and the original ride programming system couldn’t handle the number of cars needed for the highest capacity since each car had three on-board computers. Re-setting after a shutdown could take up to an hour. The challenges were eventually resolved and the attraction was one of the first at Disney parks to have a single rider line.

Kevin Rafferty was the Walt Disney Imagineering Senior Show Writer for the original attraction. As a young man, he worked at Disneyland’s Plaza Inn washing dishes. His dream was to be an animator, and he was a week away from an interview with Disney Feature Animation when he saw an opening in the Art Services Department at Walt Disney Imagineering, and his portfolio and prior Disney work experience were enough to get him the job.

Rafferty recalled the creation of the original attraction: “The Test Track attraction isn’t very story dependent. The story is that there are more than 15,000 parts that go into every new GM car and truck and that before they arrive in the showrooms, each and every new part has been tested…and re-tested in labs by technicians and out on test tracks by professional test drivers.

“The attraction story is basically all about this vehicle testing and that you, the guest, get to experience what it’s like to be a test driver.

“My role began from the spark of the idea before we landed on Test Track, when a core group of us were discussing what we could do to refurbish the original World of Motion attraction presented by GM that no longer wanted to sponsor the ride.

“We ran a few of our initial ideas past some GM executives and they challenged us with the thing Imagineers love to hear: ‘What if you guys started from scratch on this? What would you do?’ GM had mentioned to us that their ‘story’ is not only about manufacturing but it’s about testing.

“Then we were faced with ‘How could we make an attraction out of that?’ We immediately began talking about a test track-like ride idea and came up with the concept and logical story.

“GM invited us out on a research trip to several of their proving grounds, including their main test track facility in Milford, Michigan. After spending a day riding with professional test drivers and experiencing the rigors of their daily schedule, including driving over rough roads, braking, road handling and speeding along their four mile speed loop, our idea was validated.

“It was my job to help design and develop a logical scene-by-scene story progression throughout the attraction and then write the plaque copy and scripts for the pre-show ‘lab’ exhibits and videos, the ‘briefing room’ (with actor John Michael Higgins, playing director of operations Bill McKim) and ride narration, as well as pitching the idea’s progression to our management along the way. By the way, this also includes riding the ride a zillion times before opening to test and adjust the show and ride timing.”

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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,  The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and his 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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April 5, 2019   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Davy Crockett at Walt Disney World

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

DAVY CROCKETT AND WALT DISNEY WORLD

By Jim Korkis

Davy Crockett was a real 19th century American folk hero noted for his life as a frontiersman. In 1954, for his new weekly television show, Walt Disney dramatized the life of Crockett, who was played by actor Fess Parker.

When Disneyland opened, a Davy Crockett Museum was prominent in Frontierland, with an Alamo exhibit including life-size wax figures of Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen (portraying Crockett’s fictitious companion Georgie Russel) as a photo opportunity.

Davy Crockett’s Ranch (originally called Camp Davy Crockett) is a campground at Disneyland Paris and was the first resort to open there.

Of course, Walt Disney World is also home to Davy Crockett inspired items.

Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes debuted in Frontierland on opening day at Walt Disney World in 1971. The 35-foot long canoes travelled along the same path as other watercraft on the Rivers of America, like the long-gone Mike Fink River Keel Boats from the Disney television show about Crockett.

That trip included a glimpse of Wilson’s Cave Inn that was also inspired by Disney’s Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (1955). Each canoe required two cast members, making the attraction expensive to operate in relation to its capacity, so it closed in 1994.

Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café that opened in Frontierland in 1998 includes as among its many artifacts left in the restaurant by Bill’s famous friends Davy Crockett’s satchel and powder horn, as well as a version of Davy’s encounter with Big Foot Mason, hand written by Georgie Russel.

Across Walt Disney World, there are American Amusement Machine Association Non-Violent rated Arcade Games that use rechargeable play cards.

At Fort Wilderness Campground, Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Arcade is located near the Meadow Swimmin’ Pool while Davy Crockett’s Wilderness Arcade is over by Pioneer Hall. Both feature a variety of classic and contemporary games.

The finale of the “Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue” at Pioneer Hall includes a sketch accompanied by the famous Disney Davy Crockett theme song.

However, a hidden treasure missed by most guests is Crockett’s Tavern. Opened in 1985, it is an extension of the Trail’s End restaurant but is only open in the afternoon and early evening. It is a nostalgic full-service bar capturing the spirit of the untamed wilderness of the late 1880s and its famous namesake. It offers adult beverages like beer and wine as well as a variety of snacks like pizza, nachos, and chicken wings.

The tavern is made of natural wood and glass and while it has indoor seating, many guests prefer the outside covered porch and the oversized rustic rocking chairs.

Dale Moore, Manager of Resort Design, who was given the job for creating the tavern, was a huge Davy Disney Crockett fan, so he included a lot of “Crockettana” for observant fans. A small replica of the Gully Whumper keel boat from the TV show, and paintings of Fess Parker as Davy and Buddy Ebsen as Georgie can be found, as well as a replica of Crockett’s famous rifle, Old Betsy.

An imposingly terrifying stuffed grizzly bear stands next to a glassed-in display featuring the classic 1843 portrait of the real Davy Crockett, a coonskin cap, letters and other items.

The portrait of Andrew Jackson, who Davy served under during the Creek Wars, was painted by Priscilla Russ, a Senior Artist at WDW Marketing. She wanted to do it in dark brown sepia tones to capture a sense of the era but neither acrylics or water colors would resist fading with time.

Even her attempts experimenting with Doc Martin dyes weren’t satisfactory, so she ended up creating an ink that had a secret ingredient, coffee grounds, and her likeness of Old Hickory has stood the test of time.

*  *  *  *  *

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

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest,  The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and his 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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March 29, 2019   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Joe Rohde on the Yeti and Expedition Everest

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

THE YETI AND EXPEDITION EVEREST IN DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

When the Expedition Everest attraction opened officially at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in June 2006, the Yeti it included was the largest and most complex audio-animatronics figure ever built by Walt Disney Imagineering.

Unfortunately by 2008, the Yeti figure’s framing split and because the forty-six foot tall platform it is on was sealed within the mountain superstructure, it would be expensive and time consuming to access and repair it.

However, with a big Walt Disney World anniversary celebration coming up and with the success of Pandora drawing huge crowds to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, rumors have once again started that the attraction could be closed for a few months for a rehab and to finally fix the creature.

On April 3, 2006, while working at Walt Disney World, I was able to attend a presentation with Imagineer Joe Rohde where he talked about the new attraction and, in particular, the Yeti. Here is a short excerpt from that presentation transcribed by Wayne Campbell from my copy.

Joe Rohde:

The Yeti mandir (Hindu temple) shows the Yeti as a fierce protector of the mountain. Everywhere you look there are carvings of Yeti, so it is the Yeti mandir. This bronze of the physical Yeti is in the traditional pose of any protector spirit with his one hand up holding this mountain in his hand and the other hand is out saying, “Stay out!”

So, anyway, all of this building sets a certain tone—and that’s the mythic, mystical tone of the legend of the Yeti. The other place is The Yeti Museum. The Yeti Museum, basically, is another way of telling the story. “This is the Himalayas…they all have this legend of the Yeti…here’s what all that stuff looks like.” And then there’s the made-up stuff like the lost expedition.

The Himalayas really are a place with real bio-diversity. So it’s a place where plausibly there could be a Yeti and just because there’s really an animal doesn’t always mean you see it.

And, of course, then there’s the room where the proprietors of Himalayan Escapes—which I find to be a humorous name for a travel company where you end up escaping from the Yeti—basically disavow all that.

Finally, on the ride, you see the Yeti, guardian of the mountain, as real as we could make him be, and it is sort of both a revelation that the Yeti is real—that’s kind of a reward for your going through all the material in the queue and it is kind of the end of your mythic adventure that’s returning you back to the world of humanity—and you’re back to humanity almost like it was a dream, right? Like it almost didn’t happen, just like a fairy tale.

One of the animals that we looked at is this Szechuan golden snub-nosed monkey. They’re very, very rare. They stay in the snow all winter and they’ve adapted to this cold weather environment. And of course, they have big teeth and they’re creepy and their face is blue, which looks cold, and they’ve got hair all over and they’ve got this big mane.

So we basically took this monkey—the idea of this monkey—and we make it bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and we took some ape-like characteristics and we blended them together to get our Yeti.

There’s too much evidence for some kind of real creature for there to be no real creature behind the legend of the Yeti. The Yeti used to live in the exact same area where the giant panda now lives today. And you know, the giant panda is a prehistoric animal, it just happens to be one that’s still alive. If the panda was extinct and people said they saw pandas, we’d be treating that like the Yeti.

So the legend of the Yeti, in my opinion, is a fusion of these oral traditions because the people moved away from the place where it used to be demonstrably true. As you move away, it becomes more abstracted.

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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,  The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and his 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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March 22, 2019   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Be Our Guest

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

BE OUR GUEST IN FANTASYLAND

By Jim Korkis

The Be Our Guest Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom that opened in December 2012 was part of the larger New Fantasyland expansion and renovation of that area of the park.

When it opened, it was the only publicly accessible Magic Kingdom venue to serve wine and beer–until December 23, 2016, when other Magic Kingdom restaurants started offering the same options.

The goal in Be Our Guest was to capture the elegance and fairytale charm of Disney’s popular 1991 animated feature film Beauty and the Beast. The entrance with its cold hard stone, metal, and desaturated tones of crumbling architecture juxtaposed against beautiful landscaping, hints that this might be a time before the curse was broken as guests walk through the gates and across a stone bridge.

The lion-like figures flanking the entrance door were referred to by the Imagineer designers as “golions” referencing that they were a combination of goat and lion. The figures above the entrance door that resemble eagles with snake tails were called “sneagles”. The six stone gargoyle figures on the bridge leading to the castle were simply all given the name “Frank” in order to better identify them.

“This is a whole new level of theming for a Disney restaurant,” said Maribeth Bisienere, vice president of Food & Beverage and Merchandise for The Walt Disney Company. “More than ever, we’re using storytelling and creativity. From the moment they cross the bridge into the castle, it’s all about immersing our guests in the dining experience. Every detail is part of the story.”

Three distinctive dining areas are located within the castle: an elegant ballroom setting, the mysterious West Wing of the Beast’s castle with the enchanted rose under a glass bell jar using the Pepper’s Ghost illusion for its falling petals, and the stunning Rose Gallery with a seven foot tall wooden music box with a depiction of Belle and Beast dancing on top of it, while overhead is a dome that is an exact replica from the chapel de Saint Chapelle, the cathedral next to Notre Dame in Paris.

The centerpiece golden chandelier in the ballroom measures more than 12 feet tall and 11 feet wide. It boasts more than 84 candles and more than 100 jewels that hang down to give it added shine. The area is defined by a 20-foot high coffered ceiling painted with clouds and cherubs depicting the faces some of the Imagineers who worked on the project and a terrazzo floor. Beyond 18-foot-tall windows is the French countryside where snow falls gently against a starry night sky.

The Rose Gallery is adorned with paintings that celebrate the characters from the film, and with four tapestries inspired by background art from the film. Carved roses are featured throughout the room, along with other rose accents including the intricate tile mosaics on the floor.

The West Wing includes, over the fireplace, a portrait of the young prince in human form that has been slashed by the beast’s claws. With periodic flashes of lightning, the image in the portrait transforms from prince to Beast.

Music was integral to adding to the overall ambience. For the Ballroom, a 50-piece orchestra recorded the music from the film. In the adjacent Rose Gallery, special music box arrangements were recorded of the same pieces heard in the Ballroom, in perfect synchrony, so that guests moving from room to room hear the same tune transformed from one style to another. In the West Wing, a somber, melancholy arrangement creates a forbidding mood.

For four years, the Disney Food & Beverage team worked at creating a menu to match the environment. A team of Disney chefs, including longtime Disney Chef Roland Muller, a native of Alsace, France, developed the French-inspired dishes, creating both a quick-service menu for lunch and more elegant table-service menu for dinner.

“Our role was to finish the story,” said Walt Disney World Executive Chef Lenny DeGeorge.

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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,  The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and his 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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March 15, 2019   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Disney’s Animal Kingdom–An Unofficial History

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

YOUR PERSONAL DISNEY LIBRARY (15)

By Jim Korkis

Other than The Making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park by Melody Malmberg, released when the park first opened in 1998. and the later Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom by Alex Wright (2007), there has been up to now no book solely devoted to Walt Disney World’s fourth theme park or the many significant changes that have occurred at it over the last decade and more.

Of course, there are other books that do include a section devoted to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but this book is completely devoted to just the Animal Kingdom, and its coverage includes not only the park but also the Animal Kingdom Lodge, attractions never built, and also the recent Pandora: The World of Avatar expansion..

The book has sixteen chapters as well as a laudatory foreword by Zofia Kostyrko, an Imagineer who worked for years as part of the team that created and opened the park.

The book is very concise, with only 140 some pages devoted to the park plus an additional chapter of impressions of a variety of Disney fans who have visited it over the years.

Each section of the park, from Safari Village/Discovery Island to Camp Mickey-Minnie, is given its own chapter, and the book itself follows a loose chronological format from the beginnings of the project to its most recent additions.

Chuck Schmidt has been a newspaper journalist for decades and spent some of that time attending multiple Disney events including the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. His media credentials also gave him access to talk with many of the Imagineers and others responsible for making the Disney dream a reality.

In fact, this book in particular benefits from contributions from Imagineers instrumental in the design and construction of Animal Kingdom, including Joe Rohde, Kevin Rafferty, Zofia Kostyrko (who had previously worked with Rohde on the Adventurers Club), and Marty Sklar (a final interview just a few weeks before he died). It also benefits from zoologist Rick Barongi and horticulturalist Paul Comstock, among others, who provide insights not available elsewhere.

For instance, Kostyrko revealed that inside the small temple that’s located near the entrance of Asia (by the Rivers of Light amphitheater), the original design team placed a time capsule, filled with sketches and other memorabilia from their years of work in shaping Animal Kingdom.

A long time Disney fan, Schmidt even has his own blog devoted to Disney, and has written three other books, including one on Disneyland Paris. His reporter training provides a clear, accurate presentation of what actually exists as well as occasional insights into the reason behind that existence.

I especially appreciated his sharing the influence the late Roy E. Disney had on the development of the park. In the book, Schmidt wrote: “During opening day ceremonies, Roy E. Disney said, ‘They [Walt & Roy] would have been thrilled with what has been created here and would have thought it a wonderfully appropriate addition to their company’.”

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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,  The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and his 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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March 8, 2019   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Medfield College

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

MEDFIELD COLLEGE

By Jim Korkis

Unlike Disneyland, WDW is home to several references to Medfield College, a beloved part of Disney heritage.

Underneath the Main Street train station is a board listing the arrivals and departures of trains. One entry shows the arrival of a train from Medfield while another entry shows the departure of a train from Rutledge, home of Medfield’s traditional rival college.However, the other entries that all reference classic Disney live-action films should be a hint that Medfield is also a fictitious location that appeared in several Disney films, including The Absent Minded Professor  (1961) as well as its remake Flubber  (1997), Son of Flubber  (1963) and the “Dexter Riley” trilogy: The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes  (1969), Now You See Him, Now You Don’t  (1972) and The Strongest Man in the World  (1975).

The town of Medfield where Medfield College is located is the setting for the Disney film The Shaggy D.A.  (1976) which seems to imply that Medfield was also the location for The Shaggy Dog  (1959).

Medfield College was named after the town of Medfield, Massachusetts. Before World War II, Walt Disney came to Medfield on several occasions to visit friend Justin Dart who began the Dart Drugstore chain. Dart lived on Holiday Farm on Elm Street.

Today’s soccer fields behind the Ralph Wheelock School back then contained his private dirt air-field where supposedly Walt would land a plane on these trips. It was on these visits that Walt Disney picked up the name “Medfield” as a nice collegial setting. The cornerstone of Blake Middle School (formerly Medfield High School) has a Walt Disney quote inscribed on it: “Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children.”

The Medfield College scenes in both The Absent-Minded Professor and Son of Flubber were filmed on the campus of Pomona College in Claremont, California, as well at the Disney Studios in Burbank.

When Dexter Riley (Kurt Russell) and his friends gather outside the college’s administration building, they are at an outdoor patio near the entrance to the Disney Studios Animation Building.  The only change was lettering placed by the entrance identifying it as a Science Building.

Since 1921, Pomona College has been used as an educational institution setting in dozens of feature films, television productions and commercials. Because of the overwhelming number of requests, Pomona’s policy now limits most location filming to periods when the College is not in session, and to projects that feature “significant involvement” by Pomona alumni, trustees, faculty, staff or students.

For the 2002 revamp of the Journey into Imagination attraction at Epcot, several visual references were included that suggested that the Imagination Institute had connections with Medfield College. In the queue line are several office doors. One is for Professor Brainard from the Absent Minded Professor films while another is for Dean Higgins, the role actor Joe Flynn played in the Dexter Riley films. In the first film in the series, when Higgins is looking out his meeting room window, he is looking at the same panoramic backdrop of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank used for Walt’s filmed introductions to his television series.

In addition, the glass-fronted computer room has a sign on the door indicating “no tennis shoes allowed” referring to The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes movie, and the room also contains a Medfield College letterman’s jacket

By the way, the fight song of Medfield College which can be heard during the credit sequence of The Absent-Minded Professor was composed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.

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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,  The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and his 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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March 1, 2019   No Comments