A Bevy of Baxter – Disneyland Expansion during the Bicentennial

By EPCOT Explorer

At WED Enterprises, the 1970s were marked with an unmistakable drive of creativity that produced some of the most well known and iconic Disney experiences that still are held dear, today. This was the decade of Walt Disney World’s opening and all of the efforts to bring the fledgling resort up to operational and thematic speed. This is also the heady decade in which Walt Disney Productions would finally act upon Walt Disney’s idea for an urban community of tomorrow and produce a theme park, EPCOT Center, out of those ideas and plans. Additionally, this is also the decade when Disney looked beyond America and saw potential in building magic kingdoms around the world. Tokyo Disneyland’s creative nexus came about during EPCOT’s formal creation as a unified theme park and would go on to be a thematic entity based in the best parts of her Floridian and Californian sisters. But what of Disneyland, the original Magic Kingdom? Disneyland, too, was also the product of the driving spirit of WED’s enterprise during the mid 1970s and although what was built was slightly less than all of the plans and ideas fostered for the park, the process is astounding and a hallmark of the breadth of WED’s vision and skill. Under closer observation, Tony Baxter was instrumental in the creation of Disneyland’s efforts to expand. Join us today as we look back at Tony Baxter’s development and influence on Imagineering’s way forward in perfecting the art of the theme park experience…

Tony Baxter can be considered a product of WED’s first generation of Imagineers. Beginning his career at Disneyland as a front line cast member and working his way into Imagineering, Tony Baxter was lucky enough to be under the tutelage of Claude Coats, Marc Davis, and John Hench and absorbed their pioneering spirit into his own outlook and work for WED Enterprises. This philosophy of early WED’s character is easily seen in Baxter’s ideas for how to expand Disneyland and served as a standard of quality for how he exacted and executed his craft in all his projects. But, for the purpose of today’s article, I would like to delve into three projects. Two that never left the drawing board and one that has been build, cherished, and absorbed into the pantheon of Disney’s brand of experiences and attractions: Discovery Bay, Dumbo’s Circusland, and finally, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Discovery Bay was conceptualized to be an extension of Frontierland and to be evocative of San Francisco during the age of the gold rush. Rooted in the spirit and idea of manifest destiny and spurned on by the scientific progress made in the mid 19th century, Baxter’s version of San Francisco would have had a heavy dose of fantasy injected into it so as to feel connected to Disneyland’s other realms. As it always is with settings in a magic kingdom setting, realism gives way to idealism and fantasy lurking behind façades and just out of sight. As discussed here before, I am of the thought that Marc Davis, a senior colleague of Baxter’s, was a great proponent of this Imagineering method. Though intended to be the modus operandi of Discovery Bay, especially with its both physical and philosophical links to Frontierland, Baxter’s plans for the bay were interspersed with fantastical, yet scientifically believable, structures and environments. Realism was to be blended with fantasy to create the illusion of a working scientific vision of the 1800’s. In retrospect, the style of Discovery Bay might have been or might even be considered by our standards to be “steampunk”. Discovery Bay was, after all, to include references to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Harper Goff’s brilliantly designed Nautilus. Guests would even be given the opportunity to dine in Captain Nemo’s Grand Salon on the submarine, beneath the waves and surrounded by the plush aesthetic of wrought iron, velvet, and rivets and iron works. In addition to this, the dirigible from “Island At The Top Of The World” would be given a home in Discovery Bay and serve as one of the other visual standpoints in the area.

Further attractions in Discovery Bay would have been original and drawn from genres instead of films previously released by Disney. One with the deepest and richest conceptual past is Professor Marvel and his Gallery. Modeled after Rolly Crump’s Museum of the Weird, the eccentric and dragon breeding Professor Marvel would have hosted a revolving theater show (not unlike the Carousel of Progress) that showed off curios and antiquities and oddities from around the world over in a typical Victorian “fair and exhibition” setting. Concept art shows that the façade would have boasted an idealized seaside amusement park aesthetic…. But later concepts for the same show illustrate that the attraction was given a towering and crystalline shape. In a grand working of irony, these plans for Discovery Bay, while the most detailed out of any in the previous line of succeeding concepts and ideas for the expansion, were mothballed when Kodak signed on to sponsor EPCOT Center’s Journey into Imagination pavilion in 1977. So, not wanting to lose any of their characters or ideas, Baxter and Steve Kirk, another member of the WED team tasked with Discovery Bay, reused their rudimentary ideas for the Imagination pavilion. Professor Marvel became Dreamfinder, his roving show became a romp through the realms of abstract thought, and the score of dragons he bred coalesced around Figment, the impish and reptilian spirit of imagination. The architectural ideas for the land weren’t lost either. At this point in EPCOT Center’s development, a ecology pavilion was planned to be built of glass and steel, much in the same vein as Disocovery Bay’s crystalline tower. These ideas evolved into the design for both The Land and Journey into Imagination, along with the other idealist remnants of Discovery Bay. Though separated by space age aesthetics and EPCOT Center’s driving intent to illustrate and exhibit, the experience of Dreamfinder and Figment can be tied to the conceptual history of Disneyland’s attempt to expand Frontierland with the whimsy of fantastical place making.

 
 
 
Discovery Bay’s ancillary attractions would have contributed to the breadth of this land mixed with both fantasy and steampunk “realism”.  A shooting gallery themed to a pyrotechnic market would have aptly been named “The Fireworks Factory”.  A traditional Chinatown, as found in San Francisco, would have been situated along the Rivers of America. And a roller coaster, “The Spark Gap Electric Loop”, would have rounded out the land’s thematic attractions. A lighthouse would have been located at the entrance to Discovery Bay, heralding the spirit of discovery to grace the land and to mark serve as a visual “weenie” to draw guests into the northeastern half of Disneyland.
 
 
 


Although extravagant enough to warrant a lone position in Disneyland’s plans to expand in the 1970s, Discovery Island was paired with Dumbo’s Circusland to help flesh out the original Magic Kingdom on the eve of her 25th anniversary. Another thematic venture lead by the creative efforts of Tony Baxter, this land would serve as a bridge from Fantasyland and to the northwest portion of the Rivers of America…. Right where Discovery Bay was to turn up. An extension, but almost “subland” of Fantasyland, Circusland would have a recreation of a turn of the century circus, based on Dumbo’s adventures in the film of the same name.  Moving the Dumbo spinner out of its home in Fantasyland to be the focal point of this new land, Circusland would have recreated the excitement and attractions of the circus come to town. The Dumbo spinner itself would have been set on an elevated platform and given prominence, while a Pinocchio dark ride and Stromboli puppet show graced the plot behind the iconic spinning sky ride. Out of all these plans, the Pinocchio ride would be the only thematic entity come to pass, and would be built in Disneyland’s New Fantasyland in 1983. This part of the Circusland complex would have also been serviced by the “clown restaurant”, serving up carnival faire and offering a energetic and banner strewn experience.

Adjacent to this portion of Circusland, Mickey’s Madhouse, another dark ride, would have dominated the attraction roster. Themed to the heady days of the Disney Bros. Studio in the 1930s, this ride would have been madcap in nature and featured the 1930’s black-and-white aesthetic of Mickey Mouse shorts and been underscored by raucous ragtime melodies.

The entirety of Circusland would have been anchored by “Circus Disney” a massive E Ticket ride through of a myriad of Disney characters, music, and stories, all brought to exacting and detail driven life through advanced Audio Animatronics. Not dissimilar to the Mickey Mouse Revue in Florida’s Magic Kingdom, this musical journey would have only been enhanced by augmenting the show to progress along a track and have thrilling encounters with the characters. Press material released in the 1970s seems to indicate that the ride would have featured a new system of motion for guests. While details of this are murky, specifics about the ride are not. Guests would have been whisked through the wild animal menagerie, with the cast of the Jungle Book and then flown down the circus midway with Dumbo himself. Here, in the big top, we would have found ourselves part of the three-ring show and subject to the madcap acts and daredevil antics of The Flying Goofys.

As mentioned before, the Circusland concept was never built in Disneyland, save for the lone Pinocchio ride in 1983. However, Walt Disney World opened Storybook Circus in 2013, using much of the same thematic drive to guide the aesthetic choices made in the land. While not featuring any of the zany thematic dark rides planned for Circusland, Storybook Circus does give prominence to Dumbo, and doubles the spinning, iconic ride, while providing for the environment of the carnival in a thematic waiting area. Located where the Magic Kingdom’s Toontown used to reside, Storybook Circus repurposed “The Barnstormer”, a small kiddie coaster themed to Goofy’s farm, to a rollicking stunt show with “The Great Goofini”. While not totally echoing the spirit of Circus Disney, at least the thematic and genre sensibilities are echoed.

And finally, that brings us to the wild west and the only Baxter lead expansion initiative that was conceptualized and built during the bicentennial decade: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Born of Walt Disney World’s need to flesh out her thematic attractions during her heady first decade, and spurned on by the totally separate efforts of Marc Davis, Big Thunder’s creative history is a convoluted myriad of situations and executive decisions. Originally planned to be built in Florida, first, Tony Baxter’s wild mountain thrill ride was thematically tied to an attraction that  Marc Davis dreamed up: Thunder Mesa and the Western River Expedition. Davis’ plan was to construct a massive rock plateau and weave attractions through the scenery. Primarily, two rides were developed for this concept: a slow Audio Animatronic heavy show attraction and a thrilling mine train idea.  Davis, one of the key Imagineers behind Pirates of the Caribbean and the “characters as scenery” driven second act of the Haunted Mansion, planned to bring his brand of memorable characters and sight gags west, to Frontierland. The Western River Expedition was planned to be a meandering river voyage through the American southwest and would have played upon the western genre with a cast of Audio Animatronic cowboys, Native Americans, animals, and even cacti. But this wasn’t to come to pass. Disney World, intent on diversifying her thematic experiences quickly green lit a Space Mountain to attract thrill seekers, and also approved of a plan to bring over a version of Davis’ Pirates of the Caribbean to waylay guest complaints surrounding the fact that The Magic Kingdom lacked the highly popular and publicized Pirates ride upon opening.

With funds diverted to the Space Mountain project in Florida (and soon to be so, too, in California) and an altered facsimile of Pirates of the Caribbean,  Davis’ plan for his western river attraction faltered. However, the plans for Thunder Mesa and a runway mine train stayed in the mind of his fellow Imagineer, Tony Baxter.  While given the go ahead to develop the mine train ride for Florida, California was desperate to expand and bolster their own attraction roster. Compounding this, Frontierland’s Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland was aging and forcing a extremely high cost of maintenance. To help bring this cost down and in an attempt to keep Disneyland fresh and new, management had no trouble in persuading Tony Baxter to design Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for both coasts. Disneyland opened her version in 1979 with rockwork based off of Brice Canyon in Colorado, while Walt Disney World debuted a taller and wider rock formation in 1980. Both mountains share the same track, though aesthetic differences populate each version. For example, Tony Baxter ensured that Disneyland’s Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland would have a lasting tribute in Big Thunder with the preservation of Rainbow Ridge,  the original mining town from the 1956 attraction. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has since gone on to have been added to Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris where the Thunder Mesa concept was reevaluated to fit the whole of Frontierland and give the area a unifying backstory and aesthetic.

By dint of the creative organization that they are, Imagineering will always produce more concepts than physical products and more physical products that combine and interact and are influenced by all of the concepts that have come before them. Although an article like this can read as a winsome and wishful litany of “things we wished happened”, the importance and relevance of conceptual history lies in the details and trajectory of the ideas discussed here. Though not fully built to potential, each of Disneyland’s attempts to expand in the 1970s were all harbingers of other iconic and beloved attractions. Tony Baxter’s influence on these thematic entities is also vital as his tenure as an Imagineer was just beginning and would prove crucial to his own development and Imagineering’s way forward in perfecting the art of the theme park and thematic experience. Therefore, it can be seen that this decade was a watershed moment for all of Disney as their best ideas, both built and unbuilt, would continue to influence Disney’s products and artful creations for years to come.

 
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EPCOT Explorer has been visiting the Walt Disney World Resort since he was 2 years old and has recently just made his first visit to Disneyland. EPCOT Explorer’s first ‘Disney’ interest is the history of EPCOT Center of his youth and the brand of optimism, futurism, and culture that was originally found in the park. Other interests include the thematic interplay of design elements in Disneyland and the Magic Kingdoms that make these theme parks repositories of culture and Americana. EPCOT Explorer is also interested in the World’s Fairs for their connections to EPCOT and tiki culture, since the return of the Enchanted Tiki Room to Walt Disney World in 2011. EE’s writings often focus on the minutia of Disney’s enterprises and attempt to uncover how and why the parks function in the manner that they do. EPCOT Explorer is currently a graduate student and Teaching Assistant in History at Florida International University. EPCOTEXPLORER.TUMBLR.COM

You can find all of EPCOT Explorer’s articles here.


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The Marc Davis Disjunction: Fantasy and Reality in the Magic Kingdom

By EPCOT Explorer

When considering how a Magic Kingdom creates her environments, there are countless schemas of how the park goes about placing a guest, or a viewer, into a setting that is believable, compelling, and usually otherworldly. No matter the way an attraction positions itself and its thematics, the end result is the same: a believable place or scenario is created, implied, and enjoyed.  This is the crux of a Magic Kingdom: belief is suspended, and we, as willing participants in a fantasy, are taken to a destination usually rooted in the expected cultural conscious. This doesn’t mean the environments are conventional or expected, but they are built upon genres and a cultural wellspring. How else would we willingly accept the sudden changes of time of day, context, or environment, when stepping into a ride vehicle? An experience in the Magic Kingdom is meant to be trasnsportive and preclude some basic logic. Continue after the page break for more…

For the purposes of this article, let’s consider Marc Davis. Davis was the king of caricature characters, and was most well known for his work on the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.  Davis’ ghosts and buccaneers are instantly relatable; they wear their emotions and personalities very prominently. This isn’t to say that they aren’t realistic, but they are augmented. These characters exist under a guise thematic detail that paints a picture of reality, but are shockingly basic and even fantastic. This isn’t a bad thing, either. We widely accept that Davis created some of the more relatable and memorable characters in WED’s pantheon. However, I think many ignore why Davis’ work operates so well, and that reasoning revolves around one of Davis’ contemporaries’ work on many of the same attractions that Davis worked on.  While Davis often supplied the characters to WED, Claude Coats supplied the setting and the environment.

Claude Coats worked on the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and countless animated films, providing the setting and “backgrounds” for the narratives or experiences in question. It is Claude Coats’ contribution of setting that establishes the overall tone and mood of the production at hand. And in contrast to Marc Davis, Coats’ work was not augmented or stretched to illicit emotional responses- his work did that by nature of being wrought with texture, peppered with illusion and wrapped up in thematic detail. This is not to say that Claude Coats’ work was not over exaggerated, as some of his more sinister designs are downright warped, but they aren’t augmented to suggest more of a fantasy environment that is already implied. If anything, Davis’ caricatures do this.

So, with all of this this in mind, there is a massive disjunction concerning how a Magic Kingdom goes about placing her stories and experiences in a thematic context. This “Davis Disjunction” allows for the theme park’s setting to be as realistic as details and thematic boundaries allow, while characters and situations provide for the fantasy and “magic” that gives reasoning to the park’s moniker.  Marc Davis’ attractions all contribute to this modus operandi in some way:

The Enchanted Tiki Room, while it boasts a beautiful Polynesian façade, and even houses lifelike birds, also has a host of googly eyed Tiki statues and columns that defy the cultural aesthetic that permeates through the attraction. Of course, a greater sense of fantasy is also found in the fact that the animals and flowers inside the attraction sing and dance.

Both the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean draw guests into a vivid and realistic environment, one that could easily be mistaken for something out of real localities or situations we would expect to be confronted with when examining the horror or adventure genre. However, both experiences dwell on the characters we encounter inside. Mansion’s host of ghosts and spooks all have easily discernable features and expressions that, first, allow us, as viewers to discern if they want to harm us or delight us, and two, allow us to relate with them. This is yet another signature achievement of Davis’: His characters and his work place our emotions as tied to that is happening to the characters. Consider the finale to the Haunted Mansion- we are still in a gloomy, oppressive graveyard, gnarled trees and tombstones punctuating our line of sight (thanks to Claude Coats…) but the sheer gleeful atmosphere of Davis’ characters and gags allow for the mood the change away from the mournful setting. The same thing happens in Pirates of the Caribbean: Although we are confronted with the intricacies of curses, time travel, and the eerie charm of a Caribbean island town, most of the buccaneer’s expressions alert us to their intensions. (Not to mention that the pirates never even see us, but that’s a thematic detail for another article. ) The drunken pirate with his group of hogs never threatens us, nor presents us with a reason to doubt that he’ll ever leave the mud. The auctioneer, though menacing, is clearly a vindictive pirate, but removed from us.  These characters fit the ride and it’s Caribbean aesthetic, but their overly dramatized moods wouldn’t be a reflection of realism in the same way an audio animatronic from, say, Spaceship Earth would. (Granted, there ARE pirate molds used to populate Spaceship Earth, but their coloration is so augmented between the two attractions that the difference in mood and expression is literally world’s apart. )

And then there is Davis’ Country Bear Jamboree. Set aside in a rustic and authentic theater amongst the clapboard buildings of Frontierland, Grizzly Hall could easily be a venue for human beings to preform, yet there are large bears on stage, singing and dancing along to music. And this goes off without a hitch. We are in the American West, by all accounts. The Liberty Belle and the Rivers of America are within eyesight, both realistic and truthful to their setting in every way. Big Thunder Mountain also can be seen through the trees, and though wild and unpredictable, it has the trappings of realism about its setting and aesthetics. Yet, take a left turn into Grizzly Hall and there’s a touch of fantasy and music waiting behind those red velvet curtains. This is the true nature of the Davis Disjunction and what it is to be a participant in the Magic Kingdom: conventions are suspended and illusions and thematic boundaries are meddled with when characters and attractions are made to fit on a sliding scale of how the realism of an environment and fantasy converge.

All of this considered, it should come as no surprise that this style of Davis’ is a mainstay of how a Magic Kingdom works. Tony Baxter adapted it for many of his attractions, including the aforementioned Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and even something like Splash Mountain that plays fast and loose with realism and fantasy characters, especially when not placed in Critter Country, but in Florida’s Frontierland. One of the latest attractions out of Walt Disney Imagineering is no different. Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland has the same thematic disjunction described here and is replicated, adhered to, and perhaps even done as a tribute to Marc Davis and his brand of attractions.

Mystic Manor takes place within Mystic Point, a thematic extension of the Adventureland concept, but centered around one large attraction. The grounds for the manor house are populated with artifacts and venues that are rich in the amalgamation of cultures and aesthetics of antiquity, ripe for use in an eccentric museum’s setting, which is what the manor house is. All of Mystic Point’s structures are realistic and beautifully detailed, firmly establishing the cogent thematics of this jungle outpost serving as a professor’s residence and museum. Inside the manor, the experience is one of sight gags, fantasy, and the antics of Albert the Monkey, Lord Henry Mystic’s pet. Lord Henry Mystic is the curator of the museum and the manor house’s occupant, while Albert is the foil who opens a magic music box and sets an enchantment upon the artifacts in the museum that brings them to life.  Here again, is the Davis Disjunction at work. Both characters and many of the scenes seen on the ride are highly stylized and made to look and appear as part of the fantastical series of events we see taking place. Lord Henry is the stereotypical English adventurer/historian/professor, in both appearance and action. Albert, his adorable pet who sets the entire attraction into motion is also highly emotive, spelling out how we see or feel based on what is happening around us in Mystic Manor. These overextensions of character make the ride no less fantastic or no less artistic, much in the same way Marc Davis’ caricatures allow the thematic breadth of a ride to be realized. Mystic Manor and Albert and Henry are simply a tribute or an extension of the style of one of WED’s greatest Imagineers.

The disjunction between a realistic environment and relatable, emotive characters is a hallmark of Imagineering and the way we see our way through a Magic Kingdom. What is most astounding about this thematic method is how it has stood the test of time. Marc Davis and Claude Coats began their work in Disneyland in the 1950’s, many of their more famous attractions being created in the 1960’s and 70’s when Disneyland was rapidly expanding and Walt Disney World was first being conceptualized. And now, here we are in 2015, seeing the same sort of thematic sensibilities recreated for a totally new, original, and technologically advanced dark ride like Mystic Manor. All the more proof that although Imagineering grows and adapts, the strongest thematic traditions of the Magic Kingdom will continue to flourish.

 

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EPCOT Explorer has been visiting the Walt Disney World Resort since he was 2 years old and has recently just made his first visit to Disneyland. EPCOT Explorer’s first ‘Disney’ interest is the history of EPCOT Center of his youth and the brand of optimism, futurism, and culture that was originally found in the park. Other interests include the thematic interplay of design elements in Disneyland and the Magic Kingdoms that make these theme parks repositories of culture and Americana. EPCOT Explorer is also interested in the World’s Fairs for their connections to EPCOT and tiki culture, since the return of the Enchanted Tiki Room to Walt Disney World in 2011. EE’s writings often focus on the minutia of Disney’s enterprises and attempt to uncover how and why the parks function in the manner that they do. EPCOT Explorer is currently a graduate student and Teaching Assistant in History at Florida International University. EPCOTEXPLORER.TUMBLR.COM

You can find all of EPCOT Explorer’s articles here.




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Motion Monday: Marc Davis explaining the Haunted Mansion

By Keith Mahne

Welcome back to another Motion Monday article! This week we’ll see Marc Davis explaining the “elongating stretching room” in the Haunted Mansion for the Disneyland Tenth Anniversary Show in 1965. It’s a wonderful moment in time and a perfect fit for Disney Avenue’s Motion Monday segment! Have a look after the page break…

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Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.
 
 

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