When Disneyland was closed – A Talk With Tony Baxter

Written by WinsomeWench. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Features, Podcasts, The Seasonpass Podcast

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Published on August 20, 2014 at 2:00 am with 25 Comments

Remember a few years back when Space Mountain was closed for its major refurbishment?  Even though I’m an adult, I felt like Disneyland was somehow incomplete because I couldn’t experience the ride for what felt like an eternity of years.  Just recently, Magic Kingdom refurbished their Fantasyland, and my heart broke in a small way for the little’s (and the big’s) whose Disney experience felt incomplete because they couldn’t go on their favorite Fantasyland ride.  Every generation of Disney fans has that disappointing moment when their favorite attraction is closed and their Disney trip feels incomplete.  Many a parent has looked in horror at the events calendar for their scheduled trip and seen that their kids’ favorite attraction is closed down, and had to sit down with them and have that uncomfortable conversation–you know, like explaining the ending of Old Yeller–about how it’s not the end of the world and that we can still have a fun trip, in spite of not being able to do the ONE THING we’ve been looking forward to all year.  Having to explain to my 6 and 8 year olds that Big Thunder Mountain was not available on our last family trip was an exercise in the ultimate of “mom seeking silver linings.”  I know, I know what you’re thinking, suck it up kid, you’re still at Disney…OH look, let’s have a Dole Whip, kids!

Doug at 3 years old with his sister at Disneyland.

Doug at 3 years old with his sister at Disneyland.

While we’re being all nostalgic, which is really kind of what a seasoned park goer’s Disney experience is about, new experiences that we often contrast to old, I remember when I was 16, in 1996, and I went on Indiana Jones for the first time.  My almost boyfriend at the time (cough, Doug Barnes, cough cough–we finalized dating terms a week later) was so excited to finally get me on the ride–it was truly beyond his scope of understanding that I hadn’t been to Disneyland since I was 8 years old.  A week before we went on the band trip to Disneyland, (Magic Music Days, anyone?) our friend, Trevor, totally blew the surprise at the end, SPOILER ALERT, of the giant rock ball rolling towards us, and the crestfallen look on Doug’s face was priceless, similar to the same face and groan he had when someone ruined the ending of Fight Club for me (no spoilers here for that one).  In the end, since I can suspend my reality expertly, it didn’t matter that I knew about the finale of Indiana Jones (but I didn’t know the technology of how they did it…I do now thanks to this talk with the legendary Tony Baxter), the ride experience was absolutely incredible, and one that Doug and I were so excited to be able to pass on to our now tall enough son last year.

I invite you to listen as Doug shares the memory of his 3 year old self (apparently he DOES remember, as it was quite scarring) in a therapeutic session with Tony Baxter, when Mr. Baxter and fellow Imagineers recreated Fantasyland into the village that many of our childhood memories are today, and had to “close” Disneyland in the process–at least to a 3 year old boy, it felt closed.  They also discuss the design process, including queue and safety videos, for Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye, and other great nostalgia that this living Disney Legend is happy to share in his third interview with the hosts of Season Pass Podcast, Robert Coker, Brent Young, Ryan Harmon, and Doug Barnes.

About WinsomeWench

Wife of Season Pass Podcast owner and producer, and co-host of Micechat podcast, Doug Barnes. Mom of three fledgling theme park and Disney enthusiasts, and supportive wife of a grown theme park and Disney geek.

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  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    Folks, this show is not to be missed. This is one of those rare behind the scenes of the magic factory opportunities that you’ll want to hear.

    Thank you for posting and for sharing the wise words of Mr. Baxter.

  • ScottOlsen

    “Every generation of Disney fans has that disappointing moment when their favorite attraction is closed and their Disney trip feels incomplete….”

    I’ve felt like that about Tomorrowland for about 20 years now.

    • http://www.seasonpasspodcast.com/ Doug Barnes

      LOL! You’ll have to wait until the next installment to hear about that. ;)

      -Doug

    • mkyears

      Lol sadly this is kind of true. Every other land makes since but when you walk into Tomorrow land it just feels like something is missing. It didn’t feel that way when I was younger.

  • SteveColorado

    Does anyone (older than 40) remember when Disneyland would be closed on Mondays or am I imagining things?

    • ScottOlsen

      They used to be closed Mondays and Tuesdays in the off season.

    • Haven

      Yes, my mother drove my grandmother and I down from Sherman Oaks one Monday to find Disneyland closed. We then headed over to Knott’s and it was closed as well! I was pre-school aged, but I remember that foiled trip! I am almost 43 now :)

    • SteveColorado

      Thanks for the replies. That was what I thought when I started going there in the late 1970s. Like others, that was what I was thinking when I saw the article but I guess some people now think that if a major ride or two is down, then the park must be dead or closed.

  • almandot

    haha i thought hey were going to be talking about when disneyland was closed 1 or 2 days a week back in the day.

  • RocketRods

    Hi. Just wanted to mention the TV special that Doug was talking about was called “Believe You Can… And You Can! (1983)” It featured the little girl from the Poltergeist movies (and Happy Days TV show) and she gets a sneak peek at the new Fantasyland. I remember recording this when I was a kid, but it ended getting lost among all our videotapes and never seen again. (Along with another TV special from 1981? called “One Man’s Dream” which was a special on Epcot). I stumbled upon it a few years back on YouTube and it looks like it’s still there (in 3 parts). Search the title and you shall find.

    Here’s what IMDB has on the film as well.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0229243/?ref_=nm_flmg_slf_3

    • RocketRods

      Found a better one.. Search “Disneyland Fantasyland TV special 1983 – Heather O’Rourke – Part 1″ There are 5 parts to the show.

      • http://www.seasonpasspodcast.com/ Doug Barnes

        LOL! Thanks RocketRods. Someone actually tweeted me the link the day the podcast went up. So I’ve been watching and reminiscing for the past few days…Thank you YouTube! I loved that show and I wish Disney would continue to create specials like this…my kids are totally missing out on the whole anticipation factor.

        Thanks again!

        -Doug

  • Timhotep

    Great interview, have loved the previous two with Tony Baxter. Quick question…what is that song playing at the end as you wrap up this podcast episode? Thanks!

  • Concieved@DL

    Very cool interview. Some of the Mr. Baxter’s insights where wonderful and amazing.

  • daveyjones

    any chance of a transcript for those who are hearing impaired?

    • WinsomeWench

      Unfortunately daveyjones, the audio file is an hour and a half, and, in my long experience, to transcribe it would take up to and plus 6 hours that I just, regrettably, don’t have at this time. If, in the future, we are able to invest in high quality speech recognition technology, and I can get the transcript edit time to under 2 minutes per audio minute of podcast, then perhaps there would be a chance for a transcript. There are 100+ shows that I’m dying to get into transcript form, but, at this time it’s just not feasible. Very sorry about that!

      ~shan

  • dreemfinder

    Great interview as always… Such a blessing to hear Tony’s insights into the WDI creative process. BTW, Tony’s ‘Legend’ ceremony was definitely not the first time Dreamfinder & Figment had appeared since being cut from the parks in 1998…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWzNjQ0zdHM

    • http://www.seasonpasspodcast.com/ Doug Barnes

      Awesome dreemfinder! Thank you so much for the kind words and the update. I thought that Dreamfinder and Figment made a couple of appearances in between the time; but whatever, it was a touching moment. ;) Thanks again.

      -Doug

  • CoreneD

    Love love love listening to Tony Baxter! The first two parts were fantastic & it was great to hear a 3rd. Look forward to more! Terrific stuff!

  • ChazM

    I respect Tony Baxter just as much as anyone else here, but one of his comments struck me as odd. Specifically, his insinuation that the Little Mermaid ride was a poor dark ride because it only recapped the events of the movie.

    For one thing, I’m not so sure that his definition of a good dark ride is completely sound. To be honest, I’ve never once actually heard any park guest use Tony’s method to grade such a ride. I’ve never once actually heard anyone say “Ugh! The Ariel ride is so poor because it focuses too much on Ariel!” The critiques I’ve heard for the Little Mermaid ride all fall back to the lack Ursula being impaled by a ship. In other words, because it wasn’t the “book report” of a ride that Tony was talking about. Similarly, the praises I’ve heard for Peter Pan’s have little to do with whether or not Peter Pan invited them on their journey to Neverland. The only people I actually know of who use this template are the Disney fans who spend a lot of time online (not a knock against those types of fans–I’m one of them) and I’m not convinced many if any of them would even think of using this rubric if they hadn’t heard it from someone else.

    Moreover, I’d argue that Disneyland goers, at least to an extent, do in fact crave the “book report” format in regards to dark rides and they are more satisfied when the story becomes a retelling of the adventures of their favorite characters. When Disneyland opened in 1955, guests were confused about why Snow White and Peter Pan didn’t appear in their rides and they were appeased when they were added in the 1983 overhaul of Fantasyland. During the recent refurbishment of Alice in Wonderland, Alice appears far more times in the ride than she did before, and as far as I’ve observed people have appreciated this change. I’d also go back to the common critique that Ursula’s demise in the ride doesn’t match her demise in the movie. I don’t notice a lot of support for Tony Baxter’s idea of a dark ride beyond cyberspace.

    Still, even if his definition is the correct definition, Ariel’s ride in DCA and New Fantasyland fits the bill. Is it about the emotions and environments of “The Little Mermaid?” I’d say so. Music is almost notorious for its emotional music. Would anyone like to remind me how the rooms for the ride were selected?

    Is it about taking the guests on their own adventure? Well, I can see where some would get hung up on this. After all, the ride is still very focused on Ariel becoming human, and no one in the ride ever explicitly states that guests are helping Ariel on her quest. Then again, when Peter Pan exclaims “Come on, everybody!” he could just be talking about the Darlings, ignoring guests entirely. I’d also add that Scuttle at the beginning and end of the ride appears to be addressing guests personally. Also, is there anything really stopping guests from feeling, should they choose to, that they are not only watching Ariel, but taking on a Sebastian-like role and helping her on her quest to make her dreams come true?

    I’ve gotten used to the online community hating on the Little Mermaid ride, but I’ll admit hearing one of my favorite imagineers speak lowly of one of my favorite DCA rides was a little disheartening.

    Unrelatedly, I love his perspective on Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland being like a dream. It’s also amusing how he commented on how it’s not good for Imagineers to go through that period where they’re not doing anything when that’s almost exactly what’s going on at Disneyland right now, at least from our perspective.

    • http://www.seasonpasspodcast.com/ Doug Barnes

      ChazM, I loved reading your post and can definitely see your point in why the Little Mermaid is an excellent dark ride. It really is a beautiful and visual experience. Though I may slightly disagree with Mermaid being “exactly’ what DCA and WDW needed, I can see where it is a magical escape from reality, which is what all these enchanting dark rides from Disney are supposed to do. I love the moment when your clamshell submerges into the sea and we have our chance to see Ariel in true-life form…it’s stunning! And there are no words that can describe the surreal encounter with Ursula. Yet overall, for me, Mermaid plays like the movie, which is always in-front of you, but you’re never truly in it. It looks phenomenal, however, lacks that immersive excitement or delivery that makes you feel like you’re a part of that world. Not to mention there is zero conflict. I had to walk away explaining to my children–”No! Ursula is not a nice person! Yes…I understand Ariel became human and we celebrated, but that’s not what they meant.” I think that’s the point Tony is making. Not only is there a story to be told, but the experience needs to make you, the rider, feel emotionally invested. In Snow White, you are lost in the woods, in Pinocchio, you are being attacked by Monstro, in Peter Pan, you are flying out of the window and over London. Also, on a different note and just my opinion, Tony created the original Mermaid ride that was supposed to be installed in Fantasyland in the early 90′s, and it never came to fruition; his vision was quite different from the Mermaid ride we know today and maybe there is some frustration deep inside. Personally, if I spent years on something so close to my heart and then 20 years later it was built in a different scenario then what I envisioned and worked so diligently hard on…I can’t lie, it would hurt.

      I know all fans of Disney will continue to dispute on what’s a great experience and what’s not, but that’s what makes it so captivating as a community. I whole-heartedly believe that Tony is a fan first, creative designer second, and like all of us, is discussing certain dislikes he has with ride design and is questioning that which doesn’t reach him emotionally. I’m not making an argument against your emotion for Tony’s words, I just really hope that you’re not truly disheartened by what he feels. He’s speaking to all of us because he loves to share what encouraged him, and is simply sharing his experience to spark thought and conversation…like the one we’re having now. ;)

      Thanks again for the wonderful post and yes, I totally agree with the perspective on Pirates…It’s escapism at its finest; a true dream.

      -Doug

      • ChazM

        That’s actually a very valid insight about Tony’s original ride for Little Mermaid, Doug.

        I do think the Mermaid ride is underrated, but I’d agree that it has a flaw or two, notably the lack of a climax. Though while even I wouldn’t say it was exactly what DCA or Magic Kingdom needed, I would say that both are better parks because of the addition nonetheless, particularly DCA. The big expansion saw several delightful new attractions, but the Toy Story and Cars attractions on their own couldn’t have transformed that park into a suitable Disneyland counterpart. DCA really needed a touch of fairy-tale and a touch of music to attain that beloved Disney magic, both of which Ariel’s attraction supplied.

        And I appreciate that you liked my comment. 100% made my day.