Making of: The Jungle Cruise

By Keith Mahne

In a Disneyland full of Splash Mountains, Space Mountains and Big Thunder Mountains, sometimes the older, so called “classic” attractions go overlooked. One such attraction is the Jungle Cruise. By far the most campy yet humorous attraction in the parks, depending on your guide that is, the Jungle Cruise has gone through a number of enhancements and refurbishments over its history and yet still remains one of the most beloved experiences of the parks. Today, Disney Avenue has another fantastic and picture-packed Making of article all about the incredible Jungle Cruise. Continue after the page break and join us for the Making of: The Jungle Cruise

The inspiration for the Jungle Cruise came from a number of sources, the first being Walt’s interest in wildlife, demonstrated by his True-Life Adventures film series. Early Disneyland concepts were centered around a tribute to Americana and the original River of Romance had guests gliding through the Everglades and down the Suwanee.

 
 
 
By 1953, the river ride design had become a jungle boat excursion. There was talk of using live animals for the attraction, but Imagineers quickly realized that there would be little show value in animals sleeping and hiding in dens along the river.
 

 
 

Art director Harper Goff is often credited with convincing Walt that the experience of the ride could be much like the movie The African Queen.

“We learned and made the decisions as we went along,” Harper explains, “Walt wanted to use the squid from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in some sort of boat ride, but it was in bad condition and the wires that pulled the tentacles would have been hard to hide. But we had both seen The African Queen and we began to think of hippos and other animals which could be operated without wires and still have animated elements. We brought in Bob Matte, who later created the shark for Jaws, to engineer the original animals. The first ones that we tried were alligators and hippos which worked on simple animation – no kicking or swimming.”

Landscape architect Bill Evans was responsible for creating a jungle in sandy soil that was once home to acres and acres of orange groves.

“A long-time friend of mine was the head of the Caltrans landscape architecture division,” Bill remembers. “He told me one day that they were planning to extend the Santa Ana Freeway, meaning that a lot of trees would have to be removed. Normally, he told me, they just bulldoze them out, crush them up and burn them. But he kept me advised as to when the trees were scheduled to go under the axe. We were able to get quite a few trees  that way – including a lot of palm trees. The major palm trees that went into Disneyland’s jungle came from the Santa Ana Freeway.”

 
 
 
 
 
Aside from importing many actual tropical plants, Evans made wide use of “character plants” which, while not necessarily exotic, could give the appearance of exoticism in context. In a particularly well-known trick, he uprooted local orange trees and “replanted” them upside-down, growing vines on the exposed roots. Disney controls the clarity of the water (known as “turbidity”) in order to obscure from guests’ view the boat’s guidance system and undesirable items like perches and mechanized platforms of the bathing elephants and hippos. Initially, the clean water was dyed brown but after a few years the colorant was changed to a green hue and in recent years a bluish-green has been used. The water of the Jungle Cruise is approximately 5 feet deep and is part of the Park’s ‘dark’ water system which circulates southward from the northern end of Frontierland’s Rivers of America, through Fantasyland and creates the moat of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. The water’s journey continues flowing past Frontierland’s entrance and into Adventureland where it meanders alongside the Tiki Room before entering the Jungle Cruise beside the ride’s exit. The water returns to the south end of the Rivers of America via a 37″ diameter underground pipe near Tarzan’s Treehouse. Originally, the Jungle Cruise waterway was 1,920 feet in length before being slightly shortened and re-routed in 1994.
 
 
 

Bill Evans with hat
 

Although Goff and Evans can be credited with the creation and initial design of the ride, Marc Davis,

recognized for his work on venerable attractions such as the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, added his own style to the ride in later versions and Disneyland updates. The “Indian Elephant Bathing Pool” and “Rhinoceros Chasing Explorers up a Pole” were among his contributions.
 
 
 

 
 
 
Over the years, the Jungle Cruise has seen great development, alterations, and growth. Because the jungle has just been planted in 1955, a vine-covered steel structure originally made up the rain forest.
 
 
 

 
 
 
In the mid-1980s, the steel structure was removed to reveal the real jungle that had grown above it over a thirty-year period. At the same time, real orchids were reintroduced to the attraction as at some point, they had become plastic.
 
 
 

 
 
 
Back in 1955, three crocodiles would pop up out of the water just around the first bend in the river. They were located at the entrance to a tributary that actually connected the Jungle Rivers with the Rivers of America. Frontierland guests used to cross a wooden footbridge to reach the Frontierland Railroad Station. The tributary disappeared in 1962 when the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse grew in its place, but the rivers remain connected by an underground pipe as mentioned earlier.
 
 

 
 
 
At the Cambodian Ruins along the banks of the Mekong River, small monkeys originally hung from tree branches surrounding the temple. The giant monkey idol replaced a Buddha statue. In the early days, Old Smiley, the crocodile, sat on the right bank of the river, but has since moved several times.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
At the end of the ruins was a giant python hanging over the river on a tree branch. The ruins were updated in 1962 and again in 1976 when the Bengal tiger was added.
 
 
 

 
 
 
The current home of the sacred elephant bathing pool installed in 1962 was originally the home of three swimming crocodiles. The elephant pool was the first of several humorous scenes created by veteran Disney animator Marc Davis for the Jungle Cruise. Marc’s scenes, which were added to the attraction during the ’60s and 70s, appropriately added touches of whimsy to what had been a straightforward nature tour in the ’50s.
 
 
 

 
 
There was once a section of the attraction where the boat would have startled two baby rhinos, protected by their mother. That scene was replaced in 1976 with gorillas monkeying around a safari camp. Just before reaching Schweitzer Falls, we see a bull elephant on each side of the river. After the Falls, on the left of the bank we discover a pride of lions feasting on a zebra. Then the boat turns onto the Congo River where we spot two giraffes peering down from above the treetops. This is home of the African Veldt, which  was added in 1964 and expanded in 1976. Actually, the setting for the veldt was built at the same time as the elephant pool, but Imagineers were too busy with the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair to build the animals at that time.
 
 

 
 
 
 Immediately next door is a trapped safari seen clinging to a pole with a rhino about to “make his point” to the unlucky soul at the bottom. This gag, one of Marc Davis’s creations, was originally intended to be visible only to guests riding on the Disneyland Railroad.

“Walt just loved that thing,” Marc recalls. “He said, ‘Marc, that’s too good to use out there. Let’s put that in the ride.’ So that’s how the whole area…the African Veldt…evolved.”


 
 
 

 

 
 
 
Next is the hippo pool, which has remained in its original location since opening. After this the boat passes a few natives on the right bank. The dancing natives and village were added in 1957. Passing under Schweitzer Falls, we face the challenge of the rapids of Kilimanjaro.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The spine-tingling climax to the ride used to be a wayward crocodile, but was replaced by two gorillas in 1957. The gorillas went ape in 1976 to make way for a python attacking a water buffalo.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
After passing Trader Sam who has been peddling his wares since 1957, we once again reach the most dangerous part of the journey, the return to civilization and those inevitably tacky tourists. Now for a few more pictures of Walt enjoying himself:
 
 

 
 
 
Have a look at this wonderful little video of the Jungle Cruise as it existed in 1956. A very different attraction that was not yet centered around comedy though not totally humorless either:
 
 
 






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