Disney and Universal have built many of the best theme park attractions on the planet. But some of their most famous creations could have been very different.
During the course of an attraction's development, the Imagineers at Disney and Universal's Creative team consider dozens of different concepts. Sometimes, these come very close to actually being constructed, before a sudden change of direction alters the ride or show completely. Let's take a look at 9 well-known Disney and Universal attractions, and consider what could have been if their designers had continued with the initial concepts that were put forward.
9. Dragon Challenge (Islands of Adventure)
What it was (closed in 2017): A pair of Bolliger & Mabillard inverted roller coasters that originally opened as Dueling Dragons. Although the trains now no longer "duel" due to safety concerns, the ride lives on as part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. What it could have been: The original concept for Universal Orlando's second theme park was "Cartoon World", which would have incorporated characters from a variety of different animated worlds. This was changed to Islands of Adventure after the decision was made to include an area themed around Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park, which, of course, was a live-action movie. Cartoons, of course, still feature heavily in several areas of Islands of Adventure. This includes Marvel Super Hero Island, which celebrates classic Marvel creations including Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk. But the original designs for Cartoon World featured superheroes from a different stable altogether - those of rival comic book firm DC Comics.
Chief among them was the Dark Knight, Batman himself. An entire land was to be dedicated to the character, and would be themed around his home of Gotham City. Batman vs. The Penguinwas to be a dueling suspended roller coaster, complete with special effects and pyrotechnics. Although DC Comics was dropped in favor of Marvel, the concept was eventually expanded into Dueling Dragons.
8. Jurassic Park: The Ride (Universal Studios Hollywood)
What it is: A boat ride through Jurassic Park's dinosaur exhibits which goes awry, resulting in riders being terrorized by velociraptors and a tyrannosaurus rex. What it could have been: Design and development work began in late 1990, with Gary Goddard’s Landmark Entertainment being brought into the fold early the following year. The book upon which the Jurassic Park movie was based, written by Michael Crichton, featured a lengthy sequence in which its heroes are harassed by dinosaurs as they float down what was intended to be a gentle river ride. Originally, Universal had intended to build an attraction based around the Jeep ride that would be featured heavily in the movie. However, Goddard felt that this would not work: "I noted that our T-Rex was not going to be able to chase the jeep or tear through trees and jungles," he told Inside Universal.
Instead, Goddard pushed for an attraction based on the boat ride sequence from the book. He pitched the concept to Steven Spielberg: "[I noted] that with a boat ride we could create our 'own' story that would be in the tone and character of his movie but would add its own surprises. I also said 'I don’t think we should try and recreate the movie because it will never be as good as what you will have on film.'" Spielberg agreed, and the boat ride was green-lighted. This would ensure that the attraction had a large capacity, as well as filling a glaring hole in Universal Studios Hollywood’s line-up.
That hasn't stopped the concept being revived on more than one occasion for Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure. The attraction would have been similar to Jurassic Park River Adventure, but on land. Guests would have encountered a brontosaurus and would have come under attack from a pack of velociraptors.
7. The Simpsons Ride (Universal Studios Florida)
What it is: A makeover of the former Back to the Future: The Ride, which uses motion simulators and an enormous projection screen to take riders on a tour of Krustyland with the Simpson family. What it could have been: Prior to the opening of Men in Black: Alien Attack in 2000, Universal looked at a number of different ride concepts for Universal Studios Florida. Among these were a roller coaster based on Apollo 13, various rides based on Nickelodeon characters and an entire dark ride based on long-running animated television series The Simpsons.
Universal Creative's Craig Hanna's ideas for this ride, which would have been based around the Simpson family winning a contest to come to Orlando and would have satirized the area’s theme parks, were to be revisited at a later date in The Simpsons Ride. Men in Black: Alien Attack was built instead of the dark ride concept.
The Simpsons Ride and the surrounding Springfield area are now popular fixtures at Universal Studios Florida, but the characters could also have appeared at Islands of Adventure had early plans gone ahead. The headline attraction of the Simpsons-themed area was to be a simulator ride themed around a school bus journey with Otto. Otto's Bus Ride was reputedly killed by Fox's unwillingness to license the characters at the time.
6. Pirates of the Caribbean (Disneyland)
What it is: One of the most famous dark rides of all time. Riders board boats to witness scenes of bands of pirates pillaging and generally getting up to mischief. What it could have been:Pirates of the Caribbean was originally envisioned as New Orleans-themed Blue Bayou Mart. A Madame Tussauds-style Pirate Wax Museum would have have been housed in a 70-foot deep basement.
Before his death in 1966, Walt Disney made a key decision: the ride would no longer be a walkthrough, but would now reuse a boat system, to allow for a much broader array of scenes and a high capacity. The success of It's a Small World at the New York World's Fair played no small part in this decision. Workers had already built much of the basement when the World's Fair kicked off, but now started work on a much larger ride building located outside Disneyland's berm. The basement would now serve as the grotto section of the attraction. The wax figures were no longer necessary, with Disney having also developed realistic audio-animatronic humans for the World's Fair.