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Behind the Ride: 5 Mind-Bending Tricks Employed by the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

The Experience: A pleasantly bumpy ride on a twisting coaster

The Trick: An inventive new kind of coaster design

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

One of the many skills that differentiate Imagineers from other ride designers is their ability to think creatively. The people tasked with what would become Seven Dwarfs Mine Train knew from the beginning that this coaster would not go fast. It was replacing Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and the focus was on crafting something that the entire family would enjoy. Expedition Everest and Tower of Terror might not be for every Disney tourist, but the Seven Dwarfs ride should satisfy the young and young at heart.

Still, the one thing Disney cast members won’t accept is duplication. They demand more of themselves, and that’s why Seven Dwarfs Mine Train features a new coaster experience. Each cart twists and turns independently. Imagineers describe it as a “tilting vehicle” design, but they didn’t embark on this strategy randomly. Always emphasizing story in all phases, Disney employees recognized that transporting guests on a mine train wouldn’t deliver a smooth ride. Instead, they’d suffer through all the bumps of underground train tracks.

Transitioning that concept to an outdoor roller coaster required innovation. Imagineers discovered that they could anchor all the cars in a full mine cart together while still providing individual movement. Think of it like an airplane. Imagine if each row of seats were capable of independent motion. The plane itself goes the correct direction, but the sections can sway back and forth to add a rocking sensation that…well, it would have you reaching for the Dramamine, but you get the point.

Simply by re-thinking the need for a solid ride cart from front to back, they delivered an unprecedented ride experience. It’s also noteworthy that this isn’t something that Disney could do with a faster coaster for basically the same reason as the airplane example above. It’s only because the mine train runs at a maximum of 34 MPH that such swaying is enjoyable. A significantly higher speed combined with a rocking motion would require a barf bag.

The Experience: Dwarfs, witches, and princesses come to life

The Trick: The most advanced audio-animatronics in the history of Disney

Image: Disney

While evaluating the replacement to Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Disney execs deduced that status quo wouldn’t be acceptable for the new attraction. They’d need to push themselves with regards to bringing the tale of Snow White’s labor-intensive allies to life. Otherwise, park guests would view the new ride as a lateral move of sorts.

Imagineers went back to the drawing board and once again attacked an age-old problem. Audio-animatronics are ingrained as a key aspect of park lore, and Disney employees always feel driven to improve on the work of the innovators that came before them. In the case of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, several upgrade opportunities presented themselves. There could add a layer of intrigue by casting shadows on the walls. This tactic would make the rider feel as if they’re joining the Dwarfs on their journey. Several shiny barrels and sacks of gems would enhance the vibe of the glorified treasure hunt that drives the Dwarfs through the workday.

None of the above would matter if the Dwarfs themselves weren’t lifelike, though. The problem Disney faced is that they didn’t want to build entirely new audio-animatronics (AAs). They had a full set for the Snow White fairytale already; it’d be wasteful to dump those and start from scratch. This sense of pragmatism led to a clever design premise.

The outdated AAs could maintain utility if repositioned. Disney moved the proven, timeless AAs to a new location just before the end of the ride. To avoid concerns about the age of these character models, they employed obscured glass techniques to prevent excessive scrutiny of the not-quite-retired AAs. Through this tactic, they added a terrific set piece at a moment when people think the ride is over.

Seven Dwarfs image

Image: Disney

With the outdated AAs displayed elsewhere, Imagineers could flex their creative muscle by deploying new AAs. These stunningly life-like character models exemplify how far technology has come in the 2000s. While Disney constantly tweaks their existing attractions to keep them state-of-the-art, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train represents the first true step forward in AA technology in a generation of Disney attractions. And the results speak for themselves. The very first display has a special purpose in this regard. Doc’s jeweled glasses show off the new technology and its stunning attention to detail.

That’s not the greatest trick, though. That one is hidden in plain sight.The head of Disney’s Parks & Resorts division, Tom Staggs, had a simple request. He asked for the most life-like Dwarfs possible, and while he loved the initial results, he wanted more. He realized that a realistic fairy tale character is a bit of a misnomer, which is why he went a different way. He requested that Snow White’s worker bee buddies look like something more tangible. He asked for a set of characters that resembled something more iconic.

The next time you enjoy Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, pay attention to the look of the Dwarfs and see if they remind you of anything. They should. Disney modeled the 2014 version of the Seven Dwarfs after their original style, the one from the 1937 movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In this manner, Disney looked forward with a new attraction that is the centerpiece of New Fantasyland. In doing so, they also paid homage to the movie that started it all for the company, a fitting tribute to their founder, Walt Disney.

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