We all know and love the Disney Parks, movies, characters, and all the dreams that Walt left us. But there were many ideas and concepts that Walt and his Imagineers conceived over the years that never made it past the drawing board. I want to explore some of these dreams that we never could experience, but let’s take a quick look back at how Disneyland came about.
Walt Disney was always a go-getter and workaholic. He immersed himself completely in everything he did, which is why his product is the standard everyone else tries to copy. He always believed in giving the public more than they expected, quality was number one. He understood that people will always return for that reason. It was this work ethic that the idea of a “Disneyland” came about. Walt struggled for a time until the phenomenal success of the first full length cartoon feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” which debuted on December 21, 1937 at the Carthay Circle Theater. It was this success that Walt took his Studio from 2719 Hyperion Ave. into a newly constructed modern facility in Burbank, moving in August 1939.
Despite the work, Walt always found time for his daughters, Sharon and Diane. He would take them on weekends to different amusement parks and carnivals. But he found them dirty, and is some respects, dangerous. And worse, he usually sat on the sidelines while his daughters had the fun. He always dreamed of a place where parents and children could have fun together. In fact his idea came while sitting in Griffith Park with his daughters that he would build such a place.
After moving into the new studios, Walt received many letters from children asking “Where does Mickey Mouse live?” and “Can we visit him?” At the time, many Hollywood studios were conducting public tours, showcasing the facilities. Walt liked the idea, but thought it would be boring just seeing a bunch of animators at their drawing tables. But it set him to thinking that people would like to see real movie sets and actors. In 1948 Walt sent out a memo to his staff about an idea of a “Mickey Mouse Park.” He always wanted a place for his employees to eat lunch, maybe play softball and enjoy a quiet setting during their lunch and break times. He visited many other parks for ideas, such as Efteling Park in the Netherlands, Tivoli Gardens in Denmark and Children’s Fairyland in the USA. Although Walt’s original dream of a “Mickey Mouse Park” on that 8 acre lot at his studios never materialized, it did morph into the Disneyland we know today.
The original plan of Disneyland is totally different than what is today. One of Walt’s original Imagineers was Harper Goff, an artist working for Warner Bros Studios. He was hired to design the new “Park” for Walt. The first “Dream” design had a Water Mill, old Mining town, a small Indian village of tepees, a paddle boat steamer and a bandstand. There was also to be two “Village.s” One would have a Main St. similar to the current Main St. USA and a small western town. There would also be statues of Disney Characters, a Model of Geppetto’s workshop and one of Walt’s must-haves, a small scale steam train.
But as more ideas and concepts developed, Walt decided that the name “Mickey Mouse Park” was too constricting. What started out as a home for Mickey just grew beyond that concept. Walt now called his project “Disneylandia” Walt also wanted visitors to combine education with fun. He did not just want another “carnival” with cheap thrill rides. By this time, the idea grew to include full sized buildings, including an Opera House. It was here the seeds of the audio-animatronic technology began. Walt was going to have a small “Dancing Figure” (using one of entertainer Buddy Ebsen dance routines) at the Opera house, and using the same crude technology, a Barbershop Quartet would perform “Down by the old Mill Stream” There were also plans for a fairground with a carousel, a petting zoo, bird sanctuary and a canal boat ride.
As the original planned “Mickey Mouse Park” grew exponentially, so did the costs. Walt could not get any bank to fund the project, so he made a deal with the TV network ABC, proposing a weekly series with the name, “Disneylandia.” Only ABC thought the name to “exotic.” That is when Walt decided on “Disneyland.” Here in the early stages of planning, Disneyland was to have several “themed” lands. One was a pirate land guests would walk through. (This of course, developed into the Pirates of the Caribbean later on) and a Lilliputian Land, complete with miniature buildings. Other walk through lands would have been Alice in Wonderland and tales from Mother Goose. And prominent in the park would be his beloved characters.
Before Disneyland finally opened on July 15, 1955 the pre-promotional advertisement’s that Walt and Roy took out paraded a Spaceship to the Moon, The Rivers of Romance, and a True Life Adventureland. Also toted was a baseball diamond, a grassy area for kids to play on and a picnic area. None of these “Dreams” were there on opening day. Disney’s television series “Davy Crockett” was immensely popular during the time and Walt added the “Frontierland” area to the park. In this land, Walt had planned a Frontierland Wax Museum, but again this Dream did not come about, because at the time, the new “Audio-animatronic” figures became advanced enough to be utilized. The proposed “World of Tomorrow” was re-named to the familiar “Tomorrowland” The man responsible for much of the look of Disneyland was John Hench. John started out as a story artist at Disney; in fact he was with the company for more than 65 years, involved in the development of almost every animated feature and those of the Theme parks.
One of the early attractions planned for Tomorrowland was an attraction called “Mathmagicland.” Taken from a Donald Duck cartoon short, “Donald in Mathmagicland,” it was to show the importance of math and numbers. Guests would learn how important math was in daily life. Another attraction that was similar to the Astro Jets was called “Orbitron,” but Johns’ plan never was developed. Another attraction that was planned but never was built was similar to Dumbo and the Magic Carpets of Aladdin. It was a carousel type ride with rocket ships, housed in a dark building. This gave rise to later plans by Hench, namely Space Mountain.
Other Dream attractions that never developed were Walt’s original idea for the Matterhorn Bobsleds. Walt loved this attraction. The mountain was to be a recreation of the Matterhorn from the movie “Third Man on the Mountain.” The movie was filmed in the village of Zermatt, Switzerland, where Walt often took ski trips. The attraction was initially going to be a toboggan ride down a small hill of dirt between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland called Holiday Hill. Walt wanted actual toboggans free styling down through the mountain on actual ice. But his Imagineers talked him out of it, citing much safety and logistically issues and we now have the metal tube tracks on the present Matterhorn.
Most important to Walt was showcasing his characters. There were of course plans for attractions featuring his stars. One such area was designed by Bill Justice, animator turned Imagineer. Bill who created Chip n’ Dale planned that section for the chipmunks’, but again another Dream that never materialized. Bill also was involved in an early version of the Dumbo attraction. This version would have audio-animatronic elephants portraying the elephant pyramid and Dumbo would be flying around the attraction. Everyone knows Pinocchio’s Daring Journey Dark ride, but this attraction did not start out the way we know it today. One concept was for a boat ride that would take guests through the belly of Monstro. Throughout the ride would be figures of Geppetto and Pinocchio. The ride would then turn into a maelstrom, and finally guests would exit out Monstro’s mouth. And like many of the attractions today, they would enter a Piazza/gift shop called “Pinocchio Square”
Another proposed attraction in Fantasyland was a lagoon filled with tropical fish, in effect a huge aquarium. Guests would enter the gaping mouth of an enormous crocodile, “Tick-Toc”, Captain Hook’s antagonist located on the shore. They would enter the “Belly” of the creature, and once inside there would be windows all around to view the fish. But the idea was abandoned; it was just not exciting enough. The present day “Storybook Land Canal Boat” ride which was to be part of “”Lilliputianland” was inspired by the miniature Dutch village “Madurodam” in the Netherlands. The original attraction was called “Canal boats of the World” and the miniature buildings were going to be constructed Full scale. But many problems surfaced, notably time and money and the buildings were left as they were on opening day. But the guests loved the concept and a giant was planned to sleep amount the miniatures, giving it perspective, but this again never came about. Later the name was changed to the “Storybook Land Canal Boats”.
Other notable plan for non-Disney character attractions was the “Land of Oz” themed area. Walt purchased the right to the “Wizard of Oz” books and others by L. Frank Baum. This land was to include characters from that timeless film. Also in Storybook Land an attraction called “Rock Candy Mountain Ride” was planned. Imagineer Claude Coats envisioned the original design. The problem was when John Hench and his team made a model of the mountain; they made it out of real candy, marshmallows and chocolate. But without air conditioning, it began to melt and smell bad. Although the real mountain would have been other materials, Walt was turned off by this, and the mountain was considered too “sickly” and was never pursued further.
As you can see, the imagination, plans and concepts for Disneyland were many, and who knows if any of these ever made it to fruition, just how popular they could have become. But I believe Walt said it best…”Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” In part two of my article, we will explore many other “Dreams” that over the years never did make it to the public.