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20,000 Leagues

“We had a very big investment in Europe, and it's difficult to deal with. I don't know whether a private company can ever spend this kind of money."

These words, spoken by Disney's then-CEO Michael Eisner in January 1994, signaled the beginning of the end. EuroDisneyland (now Disneyland Paris) had opened to a resounding financial thud in 1992; overbuilt and undervalued by locals, hemmoraging money and embroiled in cultural controversy. After a period of growth, innovation, and sincere progress at Disney Parks across the globe, the outright financial failure of the Parisian park shook Eisner to his core. From that moment on, he systematically downsized or outright dropped any large-scale expansions happening at Disney Parks.

Across the world, budgets were slashed, maintenance was cut, and Eisner surrounded himself with penny-pinching executives who shaped Disney Parks, presiding over what many argue is the worst period in the parks’ history.

Of course, any Disney Parks fan will tell you that Disneyland Paris is an icon; a Mecca for themed entertainment enthusiasts. Somehow balancing the intimacy and detail of Disneyland with the scale and grandeur of Magic Kingdom, the Parisian park is – by far – the most beautiful Disneyland-style park on Earth.

Image: Disney

But we can’t help but feel that Paris’ much-touted 25th Anniversary celebration in summer 2017 was bittersweet… Because as we celebrated 25 years of Disneyland Paris, fans were also mourning the many projects, plans, and parks that were cancelled about 25 years ago because of it. Let’s take a look at the Cancellations, Closures, and Cop-Outs that emerged out of the French financial failure…

CANCELLATIONS

Michael Eisner’s first years with Disney had been marked by triumph after triumph as the new, young, vibrant CEO successfully turned around the company’s sagging live action films and rejuvenated its long-abandoned animation studios. Most bravely, though, Eisner set out to update and upgrade Disney’s theme parks that had stagnated in the 15 years since Walt’s death. He had ambitious and extravagant plans for exciting, cinematic expansions, new lands, and ambitious new parks. And when Paris plummeted, so did any hopes of these cancelled projects that never saw the light of day.

1. Tomorrowland 2055

Image: Disney

Location: Disneyland

By the early 1990s, the Tomorrowland Walt and his team had developed in 1967 was looking distinctly dated. Films like Blade Runner, Alien, and even Star Wars had recast the future in Americans’ pop culture consciousness into a dark, industrial world of glowing computer terminals, hissing steam, interstellar battles, and gritty urban landscapes. Walt’s optimistic, pastel “World on the Move” was moving out.

In its place would’ve risen Tomorrowland 2055, an ambitious intergalactic sci-fi space port of alien languages, neon signs, landed space crafts, and more, all wrapped into a single continuity connected to an alien race known as the Lightkeepers. We walked the road to this impossible tomorrow in a standalone, in-depth feature – Possibilityland: Tomorrowland 2055.

Image: Disney

A precursor to the comic book pulp serial New Tomorrowland that opened at Magic Kingdom in 1994, Disneyland’s new, custom-built Tomorrowland 2055 would’ve also marked the debut of Disney’s edgiest attraction ever, a Lost Legend: The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter (which will show up later on our list).

With Paris’ bank account tumbling, Eisner placed a stop order on Tomorrowland 2055 and instead decreed that Disneyland’s much-needed Tomorrowland renovation would need to be cheap. We’re talking dirt-cheap. We chronicled the unfortunate fall of the park’s Tomorrowland in its own in-depth entry, Disaster Files: The Rocket Rods and New Tomorrowland ’98, but in short, Disney Imagineers were forced to make due with a frazzled prototype thrill ride, a new 3D film, a copy of Epcot’s Innoventions, and lots and lots of brown paint to create a poor man’s version of Paris’ bronze-and-gold Discoveryland,  “double-dipping” by re-using Paris’ design and development funds.

2. Beastly Kingdom

Location: Disney's Animal Kingdom

When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, it represented a rare victory in an era of cost cutting. The park was a triumph of themed entertainment, immersing guests into habitable, real worlds with unique animal experiences. One thing it did not have? Rides. The park opened with only four – two transportation rides, the terrifying Countdown to Extinction, and the headlining Kilimanjaro Safaris.

The solution to that problem was an incredible planned land that would’ve been an icon of Disney World on the scale and scope of Cars Land or the Star Wars lands. Beastly Kingdom would’ve brought mythological creatures to life in a park determined to showcase animals “real, ancient, and imagined.” A realm of dragons, unicorns, sea serpents, and dancing hippos, the unbelievable land would’ve been the envy of the industry.

Image: Disney

However, tightened budgets post-Paris meant that Beastly Kingdom would have to wait until a “Phase II” expansion of the park… And the closer it got to the park’s opening, the clearer it was that this Kingdom would never come. That’s when Imagineers – tired of Eisner’s cost cutting – left Disney behind and took their plans for Beastly Kingdom up the road… Would you believe that Disney Imagineers designed the best themed land Universal Orlando ever had? We chronicled the uncanny connection between Beastly Kingdom and Universal Orlando in its own in-depth, full feature, Lost Legends: The Lost Continent.

3 and 4. DisneySea California and WestCOT

Image: Disney

Location: California

In the early 1990s, Disney announced a brand new theme park coming to Southern California: DisneySea. That’s right – it was official. Disney would purchase property in Long Beach (including the docked Queen Mary) and construct a nautical theme park at a new resort called Port Disney.

Image: Disney

Meanwhile, back in Anaheim, the space once home to Disneyland’s parking lot would become yet another theme park. WestCOT would take the grand concepts of EPCOT Center and give them a Southern Californian twist, leaving behind the harsh concrete and divided country of the ‘80s in favor of a lush, glowing, natural 21st century Future World and a World Showcase made up of the “four corners of the globe,” united.

But as budgets ballooned and Paris fell, Eisner stalled. He insisted that only one of the two parks would come to fruition, pitting Long Beach and Anaheim against one another to see who could deliver the best tax package and infrastructure plan. Anaheim won, but even then, WestCOT’s budget got bigger and bigger as locals fought against the mega-resort to be built in their backyards. "I don't even know if there's going to be WestCOT. We're at a real crossroads," Eisner said at the time.

Image: Disney

Ultimately, Disney cancelled WestCOT, too. An emergency meeting of the penny-pinching executives Eisner had surrounded himself with post-Paris led to a simple idea: since Disneyland was often just a single stop on the average family trip to California, the only way to keep people on-property longer was to give them the experience of all that California had to offer without leaving Disneyland. We told the rest of the story WestCOT’s cancellation and the resulting park’s embarrassing debut and billion-dollar transformation in Disaster Files: Disney’s California Adventure – a must-read for theme park fans.

5. Indiana Jones and the Lost Expedition

Image: Disney

Location: Disneyland

In the early 1990s, Eisner’s radical plan was in action. He was determined to turn Disney Parks into exciting, engaging, current places where guests of all ages – even teenagers! – could find something to do. His landmark partnership with George Lucas had already opened Lost Legends: Captain EO and the original STAR TOURS, but the opportunity to bring Indiana Jones into Disney Parks was even more ambitious.

Click and expand for a more detailed view. Image: Disney

In fact, the plan was that half of Disneyland’s Adventureland would be annexed to Dr. Jones, becoming a “sub-land” called Indiana Jones and the Lost Expedition. An enormous portion of the land would take place inside of a massive volcanic river temple showbuilding, where no less than four attractions would interact and intersect: an indoor mine-cart roller coaster (as in the finale of Temple of Doom), a thrilling dark-ride using groundbreaking Enhanced Motion Vehicles (EMVs), plus a re-routed Disneyland Railroad and Jungle Cruise, both absorbed into Indy's time period and setting as they passed through the temple.

Click and expand for more detailed view. Image: Disney

With Paris down the drains, the budget was slashed and the Lost Expedition was doomed to remain buried. Though the larger-than-life Indiana Jones land was forgotten, a single element – the EMV dark rde – did go forward. Lucky for us, even the "downsized" element of such an ambitious project remains one of the most grand, elaborate, oversized, and downright adventurous rides Disney's ever designed. Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye is such an Imagineering marvel, it's hard to imagine what an objectively better Indiana Jones ride could even look like.

But That’s Not All

While it may be shocking to see the ambitious, almost-built projects Disney was this close to green-lighting, at least we never knew, loved, and grew-attached to these cancelled plans. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the rides that closed because of the financial strain Paris’ failure put on the company and the changing strategies and mindsets that strain inspired… Read on, as we see the heartbreaking closures of Lost Legends instigated by Disneyland Paris.

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Comments

I always wonder....would the UK have been a better choice of location for a park in Europe? Was the UK considered?

By time they'd done any narrowing down, the choice was between two sites in Spain and two in France. Ultimately, France offered the better financial package of tax credits and write-offs, and had a more central location in Europe. The selling point was that Marne-la-Valleé was close to Paris, and within a 4-hour drive of almost 70 million people and a 2-hour flight of 300 million. I suspect UK sites probably were in the initial list of over 1,000 that Dick Nunis came up with, but France's central location, connection to the rest of Europe, and all the available space so near to an international city, Paris nabbed the deal!

I would love Horizons to come back, even in VR

You also forgot to mention when President of The Walt Disney Company Frank Wells died in a helicopter crash when returning from skiing in 1994.

Wow, you guys are really hard on Disneyland Paris.
The Parisian park also helped other Disney Parks around the world!

- "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril" was the first coaster with an inversion in a Disney Park. This was asked by Disneyland Paris in 1993 and was supposed to be opened for only a few years because The Walt Disney Company thought that a looping in a Disney Park would never work. "Rock'n'Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith", "California Screamin'" and other Disney-Coasters are here because Indiana Jones was a success.
- Without the Walt Disney Studios Park, "Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show" would never have existed in Florida.
- "The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Undersea Adventure" was designed for Disneyland Paris and was supposed to open just a few years after the grand opening of the park in 1992!
- "Toy Story Playland" was designed for the Walt Disney Studios Park and is now exported in many other Disney Parks around the world.

The list could go on and on. Of course, we can't compare just a few experiences to a whole park, but Disneyland Paris is not the only reason of the "heartbreaking closures of Lost Legends instigated by Disneyland Paris".

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