If you haven't listened to the Season Pass podcast interviews (here and here) with former Imagineer Tony Baxter, there's a lot of interesting details about his career at Imagineering, as well as the planning and implementation of various attractions at Disneyland (and Walt Disney World).
Tony Baxter talks about his start at Disneyland, working as a cast member at various places in the park while taking classes when his pitch for a new attraction to WDI led to his being hired by Imagineering.
Among the more interesting things I learned:
- Swiss Family Treehouse was almost completely removed in favor of a gift shop in the Paul Pressler era. Instead, the Imagineers lobbied to save the attraction by re-theming it for the upcoming Tarzan movie. They were given a shoestring budget for the transformation, but the financial department told them later that the amount of visitorship generated by the new attraction would have allowed twice the budget for the re-do. Baxter would have liked, for one thing, to have added moving figures from the film instead of the static figures they had the budget for.
- Baxter considers adding Big Thunder Mountain to Frontierland as its shift from a 1950s sensibility about the old West (cowboys and Indians, etc.) which was no longer fit cultural modes to a more benign view of the old West and American frontier which is what exists in Frontierland today.
- He feels that the ticket system was superior to the one-price system in that 1) it made riding an E-ticket attraction more special, as most people would save their tickets for riding the various rides, 2) it controlled the wait times, because most people would only ride popular attractions once, 3) it was a more flexible system from the park's point of view, so that they could add extra tickets to the ticket book during slow times.
- Although the Eisner era is much maligned now, Baxter said the ten years from 1984 to 1995, when Eisner and Frank Wells formed a strong partnership at the top of the company, were a golden era for the company but for the theme parks as well. After Wells was killed, Eisner was surrounded by aides who were too cautious and interested in the bottom line.
- Disney executives were reluctant to add Splash Mountain because Knott's Timber Mountain Log Ride was so iconic and Disney didn't want to copy that kind of attraction. Baxter said the key was changing the focus from a realistic logging operation at Knott's to a fantasy world of Song of the South. He said that Walt Disney and Bud Hurlbut (who built Knott's Calico Mine Train Ride and the log ride) were friendly competitors who gave each other ideas and learned from visiting attractions the other had built.