Day 365: The Ghosts Of Disney Past

originally published December 30, 2012

Eleven years ago today, I was in Disneyland. I found I had just as much fun as a 27-year-old with two kids as I’d had when I was six, despite now knowing the true cost of a Churro on the grounds (I think it was something like $45).Yesterday I unearthed a relic of Disneyland’s past. Today I thought it might be fun to queue up for a few more.

The PeopleMover was a big attraction in Tomorrowland when it opened in July of 1967. Its name summed up its purpose admirably – these were little cars on a track, and they moved people. Think roller coaster, but with no inclines, no sharp turns, and speed that would ruffle nary a stray hair. The PeopleMover was presented as the public transport of the future. The cars never stopped; you stepped on or off the ride via a giant rotating platform at the station. But it was all very safe.

Almost. There was a tunnel on the ride, and about a month after the launch of the PeopleMover, some 17-year-old tried to jump from one car to another in the tunnel. He was killed in the process, much like the 18-year-old who tried it in 1980. The ride closed in 1995. And despite a grass-roots effort to get it re-opened (seriously, this is the cause some folks have chosen to dedicate themselves to), it won’t – partly because of schmucks like these who have forced stricter safety regulations to be put into place.

In 1971, Disneyland opened up the Enchanted Tiki Room, a ten-minute animatronic show. It was revamped in 1998 to include The Lion King’s Zazu and Aladdin’s Iago (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, just like in the movie). The show lasted until January 12, 2011, when a small fire broke out and severely burned the Iago figure. Maybe someone just couldn’t stand Gottfried’s voice. Maybe they’d been burned by Aflac Insurance. Either way, the ride was once again remodeled and re-opened closer to its original format.

Disneyland was a haven for animatronic singing animals. In June of 1974 they opened up America Sings, in which guests could enjoy a bunch of songs they wouldn’t otherwise voluntarily sit through, sung by robot creatures. If hearing “Pop Goes The Weasel”, “Sweet Adeline” and “Polly Wolly Doodle” sounds more fun than riding the Matterhorn to you, well you’re probably a figment of somebody’s imagination because there’s no way you actually exist.

The audience seating section rotated through four different theatres which depicted Americana scenes (populated by robot pigs, geese, etc). Nine days after this attraction opened, an employee was crushed to death between a rotating wall and a stationary wall mid-ride. Despite the clear element of danger – which, of course, included the inevitable robot uprising – the ride kept operating until 1988 when it closed down for being tremendously boring. Most of the robot animals were moved into the bowels of the Splash Mountain ride, where they now embrace good ol’ fashioned racism from the Disney movie Song Of The South.

This one gave me nightmares.

The idea behind the Adventure Through Inner Space ride was that guests would be shrunk to microscopic size to learn about the world of really small stuff. The above photo comes from the queuing area. I remember my dad pointing at these little action figure-size riders moving through the glass tube, and telling me we’d be shrunk just like them. Being a dumb six-year-old, I believed him. This scared the sweet sacred fuck out of me.

I remember reaching the point of the ride where the ‘shrinking’ stopped, at the wall of an atom’s nucleus. The scientist-narrator told us we would go no further, lest we “go on shrinking… forever!”

Yes, this ride spooked me. As did the episode of Mork And Mindy in which Mork shrank to nothing and reappeared in some weird medieval land in which humor was illegal. I never got to face my fear, as this ride was turned into Star Tours after its closure in 1985. I could look up that Mork And Mindy episode, but screw that – I want to sleep tonight.

And speaking of shrinking, 1994 saw a return to the theme with the only Disney attraction ever to feature Rick Moranis (probably): Honey I Shrunk The Audience. At the time, Moranis’s ‘Honey I Shrunk’ movies were a big box-office draw, and this ride was their obligatory tie-in. It was a 3D motion simulator, complete with little enhancements to bring the audience into the story, like stuff brushing against the back of your legs as a bunch of mice escape on the screen. That’s an audience scream you don’t forget.

This ride was such a hit, it was duplicated in Epcot, in Disneyland Paris, and Disneyland Tokyo. By 2010, no one knew who Rick Moranis was, and the rides were closed permanently all over the globe.

Not so much a memory from my own childhood Disney adventures, Mulholland Madness opened up in the California Adventure Park across the street. I took my own kids on this one (possibly eleven years ago to the day). It was a ‘wild mouse’ roller coaster, which means small cars and a greater emphasis on lateral G-forces, without a lot of ups and downs. The ride was intended as a tribute to Mulholland Drive. That’s the Los Angeles road, not the 2001 David Lynch film – though that would have been brilliantly un-Disney-like.

This ride got a lot of criticism as an ‘off-the-shelf’ ride that can be found with a myriad of themes at amusement parks all over the world, unlike Disney’s other coasters of note: Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain Railroad, and the Matterhorn. But people loved this thing. As I recall (and I rode it within its first year of operation, so this may have changed), it was deceptively smooth and a lot of laughs. In their 2010 effort to ‘Disnefy’ the California Adventure Park, it was shut down and reopened as Goofy’s Sky School.

I wonder, if they yank out the California theme and replace it with a Disney theme, why bother having two parks?

I’d like to see all these rides brought back to life in some weird Retro-Disney Park. The idea would be a complete bomb once the kids of yore got their one-time nostalgia fix, but it would make for a memorable weekend.

And I think I’m ready to shrink again. I think I’m ready to face my nightmares.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s