[Intro sound effects]>>NARRATOR: The subject of unbuilt Disney
theme park lands and attraction concepts, can range from simple ideas that never made
it off the drawing board, to ones that came about as close to production as you can get. [sound effects]
Magic Kingdom’s unbuilt Expansion known
as Thunder Mesa and The Western River Expedition attraction, is one such case, which has not
only been the inspiration for many aspects of attractions you see today, but would have
forever changed the course of the parks future. [Intro theme]
In 1967, construction began on Walt Disney
World’s Magic Kingdom. And while the park would include nearly identical
elements and attractions from its Anaheim relative, other aspects would be altered.
Such as the building of underground tunnels for cast members, which due to florida’s
high water table, would require the park itself to be built 108 feet above ground level.
But perhaps one of the biggest differences between the two parks would be the absence
of the incredibly popular Pirates of the Caribbean, with the mindset being that since Florida
was close to the real Caribbean and full of Pirate folklore, there would be little interest. [sounds effects]
Instead, a large portion of land northwest
of Frontierland was set aside for the building of a sub land called Thunder Mesa named after
what was supposed to be one of the park’s icons Thunder Mesa mountain which would have included 3 primary attractions,
including a runaway mine train coaster and canoe-themed river rapids ride, along with
scenic hiking trails and explorable areas,
But it was Thunder Mesa’s 3rd attraction that would be located in a show building hidden
by the facade inspired by Utah’s Monument Valley, that would be the lands signature
ride, and would take guests back in time to the days of the Wild West [Doc: “I apologize for the crudity of this
model, but I just…”] [Marty: “Yeah, I know, Doc, it’s not to
The ride was called The Western River Expedition, which was Designed by Walt Disney Imagineer
Marc Davis. And Like Pirates of the caribbean, which he
had also designed, it would be a boat ride attraction, only instead of pirates, it would
be full of western characters and animatronics. With the attraction being housed in not 1,
but 2 connected showbuildings, each comparable in size to Pirate’s of the Caribbean’s
main showroom, which would have resided in a massive third showbuilding underneath and
intertwined with the lands other attractions.
And would borrow many aspects of Pirates of the Caribbean’s ride design and track layout. [ride scene: “Keep a weather eye open, mates,
and hold on tight.”]
Upon entering the attraction, you would wind your way through an old mining shaft, which
lead to the first showbuilding featuring a scenic canyon sunset and the ride’s loading
dock. And after disembarking and drifting through
the western landscape, much like Pirates of the Carribbean, you would enter a rocky cave,
but instead of skeletons and old relics, the cave’s stalactites would appear to resemble
familiar Old West characters and animals.
And Upon exiting the cave, you would witness a stagecoach being robbed by bandits, which
could also be seen by passerby’s riding The Walt Disney World Railroad, as it’s
here where the train would have bisected the show building, with the other side to feature
a diorama comparable to the one found on the Disneyland Railroad. From here you would travel through an open
prairie, which would feature characters singing variations of the Western River Expedition
theme, eventually leading to the town of Dry Gulch, in which you would drift through scenes
of typical Wild West characters and scenarios. [sound effects]
From there you would come across a group performing
a Rain Dance, which would bring on rainfall accompanied by thunder and lightning.
Shortly after you would begin to climb a waterfall, and find yourself in a forrest where trees
are set ablaze from the storm.
And it’s here where the ride would reach it’s climax, as the bandits from earlier
have caught up with you. But luckily, you would escape as the boat
goes down a waterfall, and after going through another cave, would arrive back at the beginning.
[Marty: “Great Scott.”] [Doc:“I know, this is heavy.”] Construction of the ride and Thunder Mesa
itself was set to begin shortly after Magic Kingdom’s opening in 1971, and was planned
to be finished by the parks 5th year anniversary in 1976.
However, when the park opened, guests had one major complaint about Disney’s newest
theme park: Where was Pirates of the Caribbean?
So while Thunder Mesa was nearing the end of it’s pre-production, Disney put the project
on hold in order to begin immediate construction of a Magic Kingdom Pirates of the Caribbean.
And it’s interesting to note, many believe that the reason behind Magic Kingdom’s version
of Pirates lacking so many of the Disneyland counterpart’s ride elements, was to avoid
direction competition with Wilderness Expedition’s many borrowed elements.
But Despite the delay, work on the ride continued, which included possible design changes and
the revisal of certain planned portrayals of certain groups, which going into the 1970’s,
began to feel outdated and offensive. [movie scene]
But when approaching early 1974, due to the
energy crisis that had hit America, and the decline of general interest in Westerns in
both TV and film, combined with construction costs of Florida’s Pirates of the Caribbean
and the upcoming construction of Walt Disney World’s second theme park, Thunder Mesa
and it’s showcase attraction was becoming increasingly unrealistic.
However, not wanting to lose the nearly 5 years of ideas and planning, up and coming
imagineer Tony Baxter, came up with an attraction which would use elements of Thunder Mesa and
it’s runaway mine car coaster, called Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road.
And while Disney was pleased, seeing it as a cost cutting compromise, Marc Davis was
upset that The Western River Expedition had been excluded.
And while Tony Baxter attempted to rework the ride into Thunder Mountains plans, Disney
would only green light the western roller coaster, and while some planned elements would
make it into Epcot’s world of motion, Thunder Mesa and the great river expedition as originally
conceptualized, never saw the light of day.
Despite some delays, Thunder Mountain eventually debuted at Magic Kingdom in 1980, taking up
the vast majority of Thunder Mesa’s originally set aside land, with Splash Mountain taking
up the rest in 1992. And while it may be disappointing to think
about what could have been, one doesn’t have to look too hard to find Thunder Mesa
and The Western River Expedition’s influences scattered throughout Disney’s theme park
history, assuring that while unbuilt, it will never be forgotten. So what about you? If you could bring one unbuilt attraction
to life, which would it be? If you want to know more about Thunder Mesa
and it’s attractions, check out some links to some fantastic articles in the description. As always, thank you guys and gals so much
for watching, hit those like and subscribe buttons, and I’ll see you next time. https://youtu.be/lFSzgmeqN0c http://www.youtube.com/yesterworldentertainment