Home » 6 Projects That Walt Disney Never Got to Finish

    6 Projects That Walt Disney Never Got to Finish

    Image © Disney

    On July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened to the public for the first time. As the happiest place on Earth prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary, Walt Disney’s legacy continues to define the direction of the various Disney theme parks across the world. Of course, no man can achieve all of his hopes and dreams, not even someone as iconic as Walt Disney. Here are half a dozen goals that Disney had that he was unable to realize in his lifetime.

    1. PROJECT X

    Image © Disney

    The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow as envisioned by Walt Disney has only kernels of similarity to the Epcot in operation today. Walt Disney’s infamous PROJECT X was his pride and joy during his last few days on Earth. Troubled by the increase in crime rate and worried for the safety of his grandchildren, Disney brought together some of his company’s finest men in an attempt to build a better tomorrow. An optimist at heart, Disney believed in that quasi-sci-fi version of the future where an idyllic utopia exists thanks to the brilliant planning of clever founders focused upon long-term infrastructure.

    As you well know, EPCOT was intended to be an operating city rather than one of the most popular attractions for theme park tourists around the world. People would inhabit the city for more than just a week’s vacation. Instead, they would work, eat and recreate in this city of the future, one Disney proudly proclaimed would be modeled after no existing city.

    Alas, the Epcot of today bears little resemblance to Walt Disney’s grand vision. Still, some of the new ideas his team crafted for the EPCOT utopia are incorporated in unlikely ways at Walt Disney World. You probably know the Peoplemover as the best ride in the park when you need to escape the sun and get off your feet for a bit. To Walt Disney, it was the primary component of a three-level hub design for an entire city’s transportation. People on the top level were expected to ride monorails and Peoplemovers to their destinations.

    If you watch this YouTube video, you will appreciate just how clever this design was, even if it never came to be. Had Walt Disney lived for a few more years, his city of tomorrow may very well have come into existence, closely resembling the ambitious ideas he announced. Don’t get me wrong, though. Test Track is still pretty great.

    2. Disney World

    Image © Disney

    With regards to this project, an entire article could be written about the chaos created by Disney’s death in 1966. His brother, Roy O. Disney, was forced to come out of retirement in order to fulfill his younger brother’s wish of a revolutionary new theme park in Florida. As homage to the incredible man with a stunning ability to create something from nothing, Roy altered one key aspect of his brother’s park plans. The name Walt was added to the original title of Disney World.

    Tragically, Walt fell a few years short of seeing his vision brought to life. Thankfully, Roy was luckier. He broke ground on opening day on October 1, 1971. Only 80 days later, he passed away. Had the park been delayed for any significant time, neither brother would have ever set foot in Walt Disney World.

    3. California Institute of the Arts

    Image via flickr by stevendamron

    The three most popular animated movies of all time with regards to worldwide box office are all Disney properties: Frozen, Toy Story 3 and The Lion King. All of them trace back to this educational facility. For example, The Lion King employed the services of more than 50 CalArts graduates. Pixar movies feature a recurring theme to honor their time at this college. A113 is a classroom number from the school that has been included as an Easter egg at some point in every Pixar title to date. Meanwhile, Frozen directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee are not only alumni but also former faculty members.

    None of these contributions to the Disney library would have been possible without Walt Disney. In 1960, he appreciated the need for a feeder system for the company’s projects. Disney negotiated a merger between the existing Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and Chouinard Art Institute under the eventual CalArts umbrella. The university’s site lists the following: “He (Disney) envisions a campus in the hills overlooking Hollywood’s Cahuenga Pass.” Alas, the groundbreaking for this endeavor would not occur until 1969 and the facility that he planned was not implemented until late in 1971, almost five years after his death. Walt Disney’s lasting contribution to the arts is a truly breathtaking achievement but not one he got to enjoy during his lifetime.

    4. Mineral King Valley Ski Resort

    Image via Flickr by Miehana

    The Matterhorn represented more than simply the first steel roller coaster to Disney. It also embodied his love of the mountains. During the 1960s when the concept of destination entertainment was still in its genesis, Walt Disney envisioned a different style of resort getaway in addition to theme parks. Believe it or not, he seriously toyed with the notion of building a ski resort in California or Colorado.

    Disney’s interest in skiing dated back to a chance meeting with champion skier, Hannes Schroll. The two men became quick friends, and a gift from Disney aided in the creation of the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort at Donner Pass. To wit, the previously named Hemlock Peak was changed to Mt. Disney to recognize the financial backing of Walt Disney.

    As a lifelong fan of winter sports, Disney even incorporated his passion into his cartoons. Schroll himself provided the yodeling in the classic Goofy short, The Art of Skiing.  In 1960, Disney was invited to participate in the 1960 Olympics. Some of the connections he made at this event emboldened him to build his own ski resort. He scouted locations in San Gorgonio, Mount Mammoth, and Aspen before eventually settling upon Mineral King Valley, close to Sequoia National Park. Planning was in the advanced stages to the point that the company gained authorization from the Forest Service and had a transportation deal with the governor of California. There was even an introductory press conference regarding the ski resort in September of 1966. Alas, Disney died less than three months later.

    There are two schools of thought as to why the project never came to fruition. Some argue that in the wake of the icon’s death, the company felt that they should not be fighting a battle on two fronts. With Walt Disney World the focus of the company, a second resort would have distracted from the primary goal. Others note that Congress decided for the company by declaring the potential land a part of Sequoia National Park, thereby preventing private ownership.

    5. Kurt Russell

    Image © Disney

    No famous person in the history of civilization has written a final phrase as inscrutable as Walt Disney’s. In case you have never heard this odd bit of trivia, it is absolutely true that the last words written by Walt Disney were, “Kurt Russell.” He scribbled the name without offering any sort of explanation. At the time of Disney’s death, Russell was only 15 years old and while he had signed an extended service contract with the company by that point, his first Disney acting job had yet to air. To a larger point, nobody’s last words should be, “Kurt Russell,” not even Goldie Hawn.

    Whatever Disney’s vision for the future of his company and Russell may have been, this brief missive did provide fascinating ramifications. The company felt the onus to go all-in on Russell as a young actor, and he rewarded them by becoming the studio’s “top star of the 1970s,” according to Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne. Russell starred in such Disney classics as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, The Strongest Dad in the World and Superdad. He also basically has a job for life with the company, as Russell’s relationship has continued in recent years with Disney projects such as Miracle and Sky High. So, no matter what Disney intended, his final note has had a lasting impact on his company’s movie division.

    6. Disneyland

    “Disneyland will never be completed as long as there is imagination left in the world.”

    The above is Walt Disney’s profound statement about the constant need to keep his theme park(s) fresh. He understood that to ensure a thriving vacation destination, a group of visionaries must constantly keep their minds open to new ideas. This philosophy explains the creation of new Disney theme parks across the world as well. It is also the onus that has crafted the culture for Imagineers. As Disneyland approaches its 60th anniversary with appropriate updates and additions, Walt Disney’s stated expectations for the future of his company continue to define its growth.