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Unhappily Ever After? The Last Days of Snow White at Walt Disney World

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by , 05-16-2012 at 08:42 PM


The past week was spent touring around Central Florida. It has been an amazing experience and I want to thank everybody who came out for one of my talks in support of Walt and the Promise of Progress City. You saw the extended version of those talks in last week’s column: Walt Disney's Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow. I had a blast.

I also want to send a special shout out to all of the podcasters, webmasters, and traditional media types who generously gave me their time. The incredible week was topped off with a speaking gig at Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale last Friday as part of their Creative Inspiration series.

And the fun continues. This weekend is the MiceChat Gumball Rally on Saturday and a very special book signing at the Walt Disney Barn in Griffith Park on Sunday, May 20 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. I hope you will be able to join me at the birthplace of Imagineering and Disneyland. If you have never been to the Barn then you owe yourself the visit. Over the years, the volunteer crew have continued to ‘plus’ the environment and have turned it into a loving tribute to Walt, the Man.



While I was in Florida, I took a trip to the Magic Kingdom specifically to pay my last respects to the soon to be removed Snow White’s Scary Adventures attraction. After 41 years, Snow White and her mighty little troop are being evicted by a coup made up of Snow White’s fellow princesses who were jealous she got so much space. They will replace the Snow White ride with a princess meet and greet. Once again, our fair maiden has been banished outside of the Castle walls to fend for herself while trying to share space with seven men of varying temperaments. They'll take up residence in a small mine ride in the new Fantasyland expansion. Maybe it is all for the better. Maybe not.



interesting shot with the work lights on

I like the Florida version of Snow White. The rooms seemed huge compared to the attraction in Anaheim. In Florida, they had enough room to tell the complete story. The attraction was made for bigger crowds and the three-row ore cars featured seating where the back row was higher than the front row. I do not know if this really mattered, but I always thought it was pretty cool.


Not a long wait, but a great people eater

As my ore car made that final turn toward the exit doors, I tipped my hat toward the ear waving Dopey on the bridge one last time and realized that an era had ended. It is up to Werner Weiss and Yesterland to write a proper obituary. I am grateful that I can still visit Snow White in Disneyland.


As I was walking away, I was reminded that this type of dark ride was another Disney innovation. In 1955, the combination of story, space, and black lights (Ultraviolet) was as revolutionary as Audio-Animatronics and motion vehicles would become in later years. In the mid 1950s, black light was a novelty. Walt’s Imagineers were at the forefront using black light in their arsenal of presentation technologies to aide in the storytelling process.

Prior to the opening of Disneyland, the use of black light in rides was sporadic and usually reserved for scenes meant to scare. Imagineer Claude Coats noted, “Skeletons rattled around, but there was never a theme or a story to be told.” Imagineer Bill Martin described these early rides “like the Tunnel of Love, for instance, where boats followed each other through a canal...that was a dark ride. When we went back East to visit all those amusement parks, all we saw were the ‘iron rides’ and midway attractions, but no dark rides like we were planning, using “black light.”

Coats summed the Disney innovations, “The big improvement we made over what had been done before was the way we left people with a little two-minute experience within a certain story that they had known from our animated films. Now they got to see it in a more dimensional way, and these were interesting ways of doing it. In a very small space you can make things look larger, using forced perspective in paintings.” Coats added that “black light is a better illusion than it would be if it were painted like a mural in incandescent light. The rides wouldn’t be nearly as good if they were incandescent, regular light, because they’re not large enough.”

“The opening and closing scenes in the dark rides are incandescent light instead of black light, for instance,” said Imagineer Tony Baxter. “We felt that lighting them that way would segue more effectively from the real world into the fantasy world.”

With the exception of Peter Pan, each of the Fantasyland dark rides is driven by the dramatic and evil elements within the films. As you are being chased by the villain or your own folly, the walls appear to get progressively tighter and tighter. The only relief comes when we are released into the sunlight. Coats recalled, “At that time, most of the little scare rides (at other parks) had very little mood or storytelling qualities. Ken Anderson’s storyboards had shown that Peter Pan or Snow White could be told in, not quite a story, but at least a mood that gave you more than you had if you just went through and saw scary things.”

Ken Anderson suggested, “One thing we intended was that everybody on the ride would understand that they were Snow White. As you rode the attraction you were taking Snow White’s place...you were the girl that was being threatened.”

Martin noted, “Ours were the first dark rides as such. It’s my feeling that our first three rides in 1955 (Snow White, Peter Pan, and Mr. Toad) were original and kind of breakthrough.”

The original version of Snow White’s Scary Adventures opened on July 17, 1955. Ken Anderson had worked on the original 1937 film and he was put in charge of the Disneyland project. He said, “There wasn’t a lot of pre-planning and artwork done on this ride. We mostly just went down to Disneyland and built it.” Bill Martin did the track layout and most of the sets were just painted flats with the exceptions of a Witch holding the apple, some of the scary trees, and the “Falling Boulders” scene at the end.

The original thirteen mine cars ran on a single rail guide track and were built by Arrow Development. They were meant to look like they were hand carved by the dwarfs. There was no lap bar, just a rope that hooked across the door of the vehicle.

Even in those days, parents would complain and Coats said, “We got some letters about the witch scene in that ride. Walt never seemed to mind. He thought that children would sometimes have to learn that things were scary, you know.”

The Snow White attraction changed substantially when Fantasyland was reopened May 25, 1983. The exterior changed from a two-dimensional tournament tent facade to a fully realized three-dimensional German Gothic manor. The scary apple that was activated by touch, the Evil Queen peering down from the upper window (an effect inspired by the Magic Kingdom), and a dungeon laboratory scene was added to the queue. Baxter said, “We knew from Florida that we needed a way to discourage people with little kids who get scared, before they get on the ride. Now we never get complaints about Snow White ride being too frightening, because those people are weeded out by the scary pre-show area.”

The Imagineers expanded the show building and extended the track 100 feet. One major concession was the rider’s point of view. As you recall, you were meant to play the role of Snow White. But Ken Anderson said, “Nobody got it. Nobody actually figured that they were Snow White. They just wondered where the hell Snow White was. One of the biggest reason we had for redoing it in 1983 was to put Snow White in there...which we did.”

The loading area now features a three dimensional Seven Dwarfs cottage with a chimney that is designed to hide a support pillar. Once again, you enter the Dwarfs cottage in incandescent light but that quickly changes to black light once you leave the safety of the room. One thing that has not changed is the abrupt ending. Over the past couple of years, the attraction has been upgraded with additional light effects. Snow White remains a splendid way to spend a couple of minutes with the film that saved Walt’s studio.


Alas, Snow White's days in Florida are behind her. But what do you smart readers think? Is there a role for the classic Disney stories in the modern parks? Is a Princess meet and greet a suitable replacement for a classic dark ride? Would love to hear your thoughts.


Sam Gennawey is an urban planner, historian, and author.

If you enjoy reading SAMLAND, you'll love his book. Walt and the Promise of Progress City is a detailed look into how Walt Disney envisioned the future of communities. Along the way, we explore many facets of a fascinating man.



Follow Samland on Facebook and Twitter.


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Updated 05-17-2012 at 09:59 AM by SAMLAND (Corrected data mistake.)

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  1. ttintagel's Avatar
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    I'm so glad I got to ride a few times last summer. I went on four times, and each time I shared a car with people my age doing the same thing: paying our last respects.

    At that time, it already looked like they had stopped doing any maintenance. Everything looked a bit grubby. But it was still magical, more so than any shake-your-guts-up "thrill" ride.
  2. mratigan's Avatar
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    Thanks Sam
    i thank that it is ok take snow white out because they are going to have the mine coaster so then that film will be present.
  3. Dustysage's Avatar
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    First, thank you for the tribute to the Snow White ride at Disney World.

    It seems that the Florida parks don't really understand the value of simple old dark rides like Snow White. Not only are they classics which tie older and younger generations together, creating memories and unified histories, but they keep older properties alive for younger generations to discover for themselves.

    The saving grace here is that the Seven Dwarfs mine ride should be a fun little attraction and we assume displays many of the characters from the old dark ride. It will also be an attraction which plays to boys a bit better than the old Snow White ride. Though it is unlikely that a coaster type ride system can match the ride capacity of the older dark ride.

    So, I'm going to give Disney a pass here and say that it's OK for them to replace Snow White with the Seven Dwarfs. They kept the characters from an old attraction and found a new way to use them. That's clever thinking.

    However, slapping a meet and greet inside of a former dark ride space is the worst of what they do at WDW these days. I don't like the idea of the walk-around characters becoming 'attractions' at the end of long indoor queues. Characters should be part of the environment. There is much joy in turning a corner and finding a character walking down a path, or riding the Tea Cups, or standing by her wishing well. Someday, I hope that WDW rediscovers that not everything needs to be about efficiency, show is VERY important too.

    Don't eat the apple Snow White, it's poison.
  4. indianajack's Avatar
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    I'm very sad and disappointed to find another classic dark ride get ripped out from WDW. The mine ride might turn out to be nice, but I'll miss this great and immersive storytelling ride. It would be easier to accept taking out Snow White if it were being replaced by another classic style dark ride, and not a meet and greet. MK has tons of room for a dedicated meet and greet someplace else in Fantasyland, why take out another ride? The bean-counters strike again.
  5. rstar's Avatar
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    What comes to my mind is the culture of what people expect in Florida. It seems that the "Thrill Ride" is more expected there. I could be wrong, but with the competition heating up out there, the sleeply little dark ride doesn't have a chance anymore. What use to wow people from the 1950's to the 1970's just isn't the same for the 21st century. Yes, I think the loss of the ride is a shame, and I'd rather see it stay. But if ridership was down, I don't blame them for making this move.
  6. Showoffca's Avatar
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    The evil Queen in the tower was not inspired by Disneyland Paris, but Walt Disney World's version. Disneyland's "new" Fantasyland opened in 1984 - Disneyland Paris opened in 1992.
  7. SAMLAND's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Showoffca
    The evil Queen in the tower was not inspired by Disneyland Paris, but Walt Disney World's version. Disneyland's "new" Fantasyland opened in 1984 - Disneyland Paris opened in 1992.
    I stand corrected. I looked through my files and found the Tony Baxter sketch that suggested the gag.

    Thank you.
  8. Disneylandfan85's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Showoffca
    The evil Queen in the tower was not inspired by Disneyland Paris, but Walt Disney World's version. Disneyland's "new" Fantasyland opened in 1984 - Disneyland Paris opened in 1992.
    Actually, the new Fantasyland opened in 1983.

    In any case, it's unfortunate that the Florida ride is going to close, since that ride, like the one in California, has been around since day one. On the other hand, I suppose it could've been worse. Better it close in Florida than in California, which is at least the first version still in existence and has its own exterior to boot.
  9. SpectroMan's Avatar
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    Was just about to say what Showoffca said.

    Thank you for the nice tribute. I find the WDW version of this ride is far superior to Disneyland's, which makes it even more of a shame that they're removing it. And with Disneyland's shorter track length, we can't even take some of the old props and install them. Really sad. I do hope it's really true that the track layout is being preserved for future dark rides - but if I go see the meet & greet this Fall and find a flat surface on the floor, I'll know it isn't happening.
  10. pmaljr's Avatar
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    I hope I like the new ride. Otherwise, this will be a disaster of a move as far as I'm concerned. They should at least put another dark ride in instead of wasting that space with a Santa Clause style meet and greet. I would be a fan of putting in the Pinocchio ride from California.
  11. sixalex's Avatar
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    I could wax cynical about the "Meet & Greet" mentality. It is a bit too much of a commercial for product and too little an artistic expression.

    Uncle Walt, a premier capitalist, always found a way to balance the money and art aspects of any attraction.

    The new Mine Car Ride looks awesome and should be a lot of fun. However, it will not be a ride that can be enjoyed by everyone. Snow White's Scary Adventure is/was a ride that Grandparents could take the little ones on and they could enjoy together. (Yes, I know it is "scary", but I also believe kids like to be and should be scared a little, especially in a "safe" setting.)

    How many elderly grandma types will be able to share the Mine Car Ride with a grandchild who does not measure up to the height requirement?

    Was there not room to maintain both rides?

    Meet and Greets can happen anywhere in the parks. The Boardroom folks want to regulate the experience to get the maximum exposure and thus the maximum promotion for all things Princess-y. But when is enough, enough?

    It is still DISNEYworld and not BOARDMEMBER/STOCKHOLDERworld right?
  12. TodAZ1's Avatar
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    For me, like many here, it's not so much that they're taking out a 41 year old attraction. I mean, they are just moving the Snow White characters to a new attraction. Great! Good deal for all. But, to replace SWSA with a character Meet & Greet is just inane thinking. Did they even possibly think to put in another dark ride in that space using a different character? Lion King? Poppins? Hell, why not a Cinderella attraction in Cinderella's Castle? What a concept.

    Bit by bit, WDW is just losing all credibility for me. Thank GOD for Disneyland!!!
  13. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SAMLAND
    I stand corrected. I looked through my files and found the Tony Baxter sketch that suggested the gag.

    Thank you.
    Hello Sam, The Disneyland New Fantasyland actually opened in 1983 and not 1984, as someone mentioned. You were right that VP Tony Baxter did come up with the evil Queen in the tower window idea for Snow White in Disneyland first. A lot of the overall DL New Fantasyland design was duplicated in Euro Disneyland for 1992's opening. In 1994, element from Disneyland and Euro Disneyland were used to redue Walt Disney Worlds Snow White attraction, including the evil Queen in the tower. Tokyo Disneyland did get the first version of Pinocchio which was intended for Disneyland, but sent to TDL instead for their early 1983 opening, while they completed the rest of DL's New Fantasyland which would open later in 83. I'm not very excited when it comes to the concept of Princess Meet and Greets, except for what they displace like Carnation Plaza Gardens at Disneyland. What a shame.
    Updated 05-17-2012 at 01:26 PM by DisWedWay
  14. Country Bear's Avatar
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    I must agree with most everyone's comments in this discussion. While I am very excited for the new Snow White coaster idea, I really feel strongly that the Magic Kingdom required a couple of more dark rides to maintain any real connection to the Disney folklore that is fairytales. Disney owns this reputation worldwide, yet it seems like it just doesn't matter for the Florida Project. I have always been stumped by how few dark rides there are in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom. It always seems like there is something missing...something like....a fantasyland. Fantasyland is supposed to be about fantasies and much of the current Fantasyland is more about realities. I see very promising changes coming to this area after decades of neglect, but I think something will still be missing. While I love meeting a princess, I do not leave with the feeling that I want to meet that princess again and again everytime I visit the park. Attractions hold a different kind of draw and magnetism and I bet Disney also knows that they can't advertise a new Princess meet & greet as a new attraction that you simply must come and experience because that would fall flat pretty quickly. But a ride where you experience your own little adventure, live your own fantasy....now this is what memories are made of. Repeatable memories. I suspect (and have for some years now) that Team Disney Florida believes they need to have 24 rides in the park in total and not one more. If you want to add a new ride, you are going to have to tear one out to accomodate that. I fear one day they will tear out the Pirates of the Caribbean and replace it with a Dumbo spinner. It will be cheaper to maintain and really, a rides, a rides, a ride. We have 24 of them and that's how many we're always going to have. Sounds like a Fantasyland built for an accountant who doesn't spend money as opposed to a theme park Guest, who does.
  15. scotnca's Avatar
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    WDI should take a chance and finally update the Disneyland Snow White "mystery" attraction and clear up what happens to Snow White!
    Move the props and characters from Florida to Anaheim!
    Make it clearer and show children and adults what happpens and the complete stort finally!
  16. konekobus's Avatar
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    You guys don't have to be concerned about a people eater and family darkride being removed. The Little Mermaid is going to be a darkride. So there will still be a Snow White attraction, and there will still be a darkride, both more suited for contemporary tastes.
  17. wdwprince's Avatar
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    Another vote for keeping the classic Snow White ride. Would have been awesome to have the Mine Coaster along side it to really flesh out the story of Snow White.
    Screw Meet and Greets. i agree with the post above that they shouldn't be attractions.
  18. Timekeeper's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scotnca
    WDI should take a chance and finally update the Disneyland Snow White "mystery" attraction and clear up what happens to Snow White!
    Move the props and characters from Florida to Anaheim!
    Make it clearer and show children and adults what happpens and the complete stort finally!
    I know, but then there's the room for it...Where are they going to put the ending? Because the SW building in DL is just next door to Pinocchio. I would see them maybe moving a section of the exterior so as to accommodate an ending, but it would cost money just to fix the building to make space for said ending; I'm sure they are thinking about it, but I think that would be on the backburner (or 'Blue Sky' Phase, so to speak) for the bigger projects to come to DL.

    But I'm digressing, I have got to say, WDW has/soon to be "Had" the best version of SW, especially the ending with not just the kissing scene, but also the scene with the Prince taking SW to his Castle. I also agree it's a big mistake to just limit the building of new attractions to a certain number when you could so much more. And one more thing, I think it's a waste that they are building a princess meet'n'greet when they should know that a meet'n'greet really does not count as a attraction. Thus, I hope they announce a new dark ride after the Fantasyland Expansion.


    Timekeeper
  19. Susan Hughes's Avatar
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    Bad news for Orlando. But hopefully good news for Anaheim. Snow White's Scary Adventures at Disneyland doesn't even have Snow White in it. I found that pretty odd. So maybe some of the props will find their way out west.
  20. michael darling's Avatar
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    If the lines at Peter Pan's Flight are any indication: dark rides are still desired. Not just thrill rides. I agree with installing Pinocchio in Snow White's place....at least it will fit with the restaurant across the way, and tie in with Peter Pan and IASW. In fact, with all the next gen queues being added, a Pinocchio queue would actually be something I imagine to be interesting. After all, Jiminy Cricket is classic, and we don't see enough of him. With the expansion, it would've been nice to see areas developed, such as around the Tea Cups....little fairy tale zones....that framed and themed each attraction so you are submerged in the story.
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