The Disney Mountains
Michael Eisner at his Peak
**Warning** This is a Michael Eisner bash. If you do not want to reflect on the past and "Keep Moving Forward," I suggest you stop reading here.
This book has been mentioned before for it's preview of the New Grizzly Peak and it inspired me to pick up a copy.
I have enjoyed all the different stories about the Disney Mountains and how they came to be. Each Mountain carries it's own history and is a reflection of the ever evolving approach at WED enterprises.
One in particular really shocked me and I felt was something I needed to share with my fellow Disney Geeks. I imagine that not everyone has a copy of this book so I thought I might share a few quotes about how a certain mountain came to be...Splash Mountain.
In the summer of 1983, Tony Baxter found himself every morning sitting in his car making the long commute from his home in Anaheim Hills to WED headquarters in Glendale. The daily drive gave him plenty of time to reflect on the past and think about the future of Imagineering and the Disneyland experience.
And there was a lot to think about. First, there was the problem of what to do with Bear Country, the long underutilized and lightly trafficked "land" that was home to the Country Bear Jamboree. The musical revue starring a cast of Audio-Animatronics bruins never caught on at Disneyland as it had at in Walt Disney World.
Some of you may have heard that story before, to some this is completely new. Either way, I wanted to include it because it gives a foundation to the story.
They had a similar problem on the opposite side of the Park in Tomorrowland, where America Sings was playing to half-empty houses.
America Sings was one of the attractions to bear the personal stamp of Marc Davis, who was understandably aghast at the thought of its closure. Tony and his fellow Imagineers were just as concerned about the potential loss of the 114 Davis-designed Audio-Animatronics critters that made up the cast.
Dick Nunis, the president of Walt Disney Attractions, had been looking for something else, too: a water flume ride to take a bit of the edge off the often-brutal summer heat. For years Dick had been pressuring Imagineering to create such an attraction, arguing that every theme park had one. The Imagineers, in turn, used the exact same argument against him: all theme parks had one; therefore, Disneyland should not.
Tony Baxter then started considering ideas that would save Davis's America Sings critters, lure guests to Bear Country, and answer Dick Nunis's request. He considered the potential of an 'E' ticket attraction themed to one of the Disney Studio's greatly untapped resources, Song of the South. Since Marc had also worked on this 1946 animated-live action classic, the solution seemed like a twist of fate.
Zip-A-Dee River Run was created, a lavishly themed attraction taking guests on a journey of it's own unique story. A story that would include Brer Bear, Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit, and many other critters
Some of the characters from the film-and other designs that didn't even make it into the film-were reborn as Audio-Animatronics figures in America Sings.
Flash-back to a Saturday in 1984 when Imagineers were eager to put on a dog and pony show for newly installed CEO Michael Eisner and president Frank Wells.
Not only did Tony's reputation depend on a 'fourteen-year-old kid,' but the reputation of one of America's most beloved theme parks. Maybe it's just me, but Eisner already appears to be out of place within his first few days as the new CEO.
We had Star Tours and Zip-A-Dee River Run ready to show Michael and Frank," Tony says. "Michael brought his then-fourteen-year-old son Breck, saying, 'I bought Breck along because I'm new to this side of the business and my son is an expert on theme park rides, so I trust his opinion on what you guys have to show.' And I thought, great my life depends on a fourteen-year-old kid.
Not convinced?? Well then...
I agree with this...
Michael Eisner may have been sold on the attraction, but he wasn't sold on the name. He didn't think the teenage audience in particular would flock to something called "Zip-A-Dee River Run"
That's a nice way of putting it...
But the new executive was new to the art of Imagineering, so his own suggestion came squarely out of left field.
So what, what does that have to do with a Disneyland attraction??
The recent Touchstone release Splash had been a surprise hit for the company...
...so Michael suggested incorporating a mermaid figure of Daryl Hannah into the attraction and naming it after the movie.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Michael D. Eisner!! The rise of a man with a vision, the fall of everything else.
The Imagineers managed to convince him that theming based on the film would not be appropriate for Disneyland, but Michael was insistent about the name change.