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25 Years Ago, All of These Disney Parks Projects Were Cancelled. Here’s What Could’ve Been.


With a new, budget-conscious mindset, Eisner surrounded himself with a team of cost-cutting executives who sought short-term financial reward – even at the expense of long-term growth. The outright financial freefall of Disneyland Paris kick-started an aggressive new way of thinking at the Walt Disney Company, and no ride – no matter how beloved – was safe… These are just some of the rides whose closures are directly tied to the fall of Disneyland Paris and the shifting strategies of Eisner’s Disney in the years after.

1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Submarine Voyage

Image: Disney

Location: Magic Kingdom

In the midst of Paris’ demise, Eisner and his cost-cutting brigade took a long, hard look at some of the attractions operating at Disney Parks across the globe. Their sights immediately narrowed onto the Submarine Voyage rides at both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, which took up enormous real estate, guzzled diesel fuel, and had relatively low hourly capacities for the #1 and #2 most visited theme parks in the country.

It’s bad enough that Eisner and company shut what may have been one of the most amazing classic dark rides Walt Disney World would ever host… What’s even worse is the way they did it. On September 5, 1994, Magic Kingdom’s 20,000 Leagues closed for a “temporary refurbishment.”

It never opened again.

No last rides; no last goodbyes.

Luckily, we created an in-depth entry to relive the magic of the ride from its creation to its closure – Lost Legends: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Eventually, a new park president working for a new CEO heralded the re-opening of Disneyland’s classic sub ride (albeit, with a Finding Nemo overlay), but Florida’s was shuttered, shelved, and – eventually – filled in. Today, almost all of the park’s ambitious New Fantasyland resides on what was the Submarine Lagoon.

2. The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter

Image: Disney

Location: Magic Kingdom

As we mentioned, Alien Encounter was designed to be the headlining attraction at Disneyland’s groundbreaking Tomorrowland 2055. When that new Tomorrowland was cancelled entirely, the project team working on Disney’s scariest attraction ever were told that their interstellar horror experience would get to Disneyland eventually, but that plans had changed and they’d have to plan on installing it in Florida first, since Magic Kingdom’s New Tomorrowland had snuck through construction for a 1994 opening before Eisner’s cuts.

Image: Disney

Eisner was famous for his laser-like focus on self-assigned “pet projects,” and Alien Encounter was one of the first. From his early days with Disney, Eisner had been enamored with the concept to cheaply transform a dated Disneyland ride with a modern, cutting-edge sensory thriller that would draw in teens and young adults. Ultimately, Alien Encounter terrified a generation of Disney Parks fans… but no one was more frightened of it than Eisner. He micro-managed to make the ride scarier, then less scary, nit-picking details and requiring expensive and time-consuming edits with early-90s software as he began to worry that his pet-project would be a bust.

Ultimately, he soured on the project and left it to wither. So even if it’s remembered for what it dared to do, Eisner lost interest. When Paris’s finances fell, one of Eisner’s strategies was to up per-capita spending on merchandise by loading the parks with Disney characters and gift shops, especially since the new wave of animation he himself had kicked off had restored Disney to its former glory. (This is the era when EPCOT Center became Epcot, stuffing characters into pavilions haphazardly.) Alien Encounter was among the first to fall in 2003. The cuddly Stitch from Disney’s Lilo and Stitch was at the height of his popularity, and it seemed like a no brainer…

Image: Disney

The unimaginable story of the Lost Legend: Alien Encounter and the ensuing case of the “worst attraction Disney’s ever created” (Disaster File: Stitch’s Great Escape) happen to be two of the most popular features we’ve ever offered at Theme Park Tourist, and are well worth a read.

3. EPCOT Center Originals

Image: Disney

Location: Epcot

EPCOT Center was a brave conceptual strategy – a “permanent World’s Fair” with pavilions designed by Disney to connected to larger-than-life areas of science and industry: Innovation, Communication, Ocean, Land, Imagination, Transportation, Health, Energy… The idea was brilliant, as just like a real “World’s Fair,” each pavilion would be financially supported by a mega-corporation with a stake in the industry, so Exxon would pay for the Universe of Energy pavilion, and keep it constantly stocked with up-to-date information and technologies… Right?

Problem is that, by the early ‘90s, sponsorship contracts were beginning to expire. And rather than doubling down on their investment and refreshing their pavilions the way Disney had hoped, sponsors instead were leaving. Just when they needed the sponsors most, executives at Disney found themselves responsible for paying for essential Epcot upgrades, and that was a problem.

The ‘90s, predictably, were marked by Epcot’s pavilions either getting low, low­ budget redesigns, having Disney characters thoughtlessly injected, or being bulldozed altogether in favor of new (and admittedly brainless) thrill rides that could follow Eisner’s teenage edict. Disneyland Paris, unfortunately, played a role in the closure of Lost Legends: World of Motion, Journey into Imagination, Body Wars, Horizons, and most any other "classic" educational ride leftover from EPCOT Center's opening.

4 and 5. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the Country Bear Jamboree

Image: Disney

Location: Magic Kingdom and Disneyland

So Michael Eisner figured that injecting Disney characters into the parks to sell merchandise was a viable path forward for turning around Disney’s sunken finances post-Paris. And to Eisner's thinking, no character had greater merchandising potential in the 1990s than Winnie the Pooh.

Eisner asked that a Pooh ride (and associated gift shop) find its way to both coasts.

Image: Disney

In Florida, Pooh would evict J. Thaddeus Toad from Toad Hall, bulldozing another Lost Legend: Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. There, the expanded double-tracks of Florida’s oversized Wild Ride meant that Pooh could have a dark ride and a gift shop in Fantasyland.

In California, the Country Bears were ousted for Pooh instead, building the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in a Hundred-Acre-Wood themed corner of the park's Pacific Northwest style Critter Country.

Image: Disney

The good news is that Imagineers had cleverly ensured that both Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the Country Bears both continued to coexist, even if they’re at opposite ends of the country. Whether or not Pooh’s profitability has stayed as high as it was during the 1990s, we can’t be sure.

The Big Finale

Heartbreaking as it may be to see Disney close legendary fan favorites to save money or make money, things went really, really wrong when Eisner and his pencil-pushing team – still in the trenches of Paris’ collapse and still wary of ANY large scale investments – decided to open new theme parks. On the last page, we’ll dissect the three low-budget, creatively starved Cop-Out parks Eisner and his team cobbled together, hoping to pull the proverbial wool over fans’ eyes and get away with theme park murder. Read on…

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There are 7 comments.

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".

Of course Paris led to innovation! I proudly call it the most beautiful Disneyland style park on Earth, easily beating even the original. In many pieces I've written here, I've praised Tony Baxter (a personal hero) who production-designed the whole thing. Paris is an absolute wonder! I'm not hard on it at all.

But never before in Disney Parks history has a single project been so ambitious that its failure lead to a sincere, fundamental change in executive leadership's understanding and actions. After Disneyland Paris failed to meet expectations (and by the way, 25 years later, it's *still* not financially balanced despite being the number one paid tourist attraction in Europe... think about that!), all of these projects were cancelled or closed. That's a tremendous, unimaginable impact.

The projects you listed above are great examples of Disney's low-cost efforts to "plus" to the park, and each has its own story:

- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril was rush-ordered to bring the park a new thrill ride ASAP. Imagineers had already planned to build Indiana Jones Adventure and Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune in a "Phase II" expansion of the park when it needed a boost of public awareness, but the park needed it *right away.* To compensate, Indy was designed and tossed in as a quick fix while Space Mountain could be hurried into production (in a much less ornate fashion than originally designed.) So the Indy roller coaster, while it might've been Disney's first with an inversion, is in fact the product of the cancellation of the much more elaborate Indiana Jones Adventure. The only follow-up Disney coaster that owes its existence to Temple of Peril is DisneySea's Raging Spirits.

- Walt Disney Studios Park was a contractually-obligated park that's easily Disney's least successful and lowest quality, and Lights, Motors, Action was cloned for Florida's own vacant Studio park where it's already been closed.

- The Little Mermaid ride designed for Disneyland Paris was ornate and unique, and after the park didn't meet expectations, it was cancelled... in other words, we could've put that ride on this list! The ride that eventually opened at Disney California Adventure and Magic Kingdom has very little in common with the Paris concept, which is a shame.

- Toy Story Playland was designed for Walt Disney Studios *because* the tiny park needed a "cheap and cheerful" infusion of family rides, and is now seen as a scapegoat concept that's dropped into any park that doesn't have enough to do and needs a low-budget way to get more: Hong Kong Disneyland, Shanghai Disneyland, and Disney's Hollywood Studios. It would be fair to list this as a "Cop-Out" in this feature.

In other words, don't get me wrong: I *LOVE* Disneyland Paris, and Disneyland Paris has contributed SO MUCH to Disney Parks and theme parks in general. But it's interesting to consider how different every other Disney Park on Earth would look today if it weren't built.

Oh, well, then excuse me for reading your post in the wrong way.
It is true that Disneyland Paris is not making any money right now (and for the last 25 years), but I thought you were blaming the park for every cancelled projects. Yes, some of them are cancelled because of the financial disaster that is Disneyland Paris (you mentionned Indiana Jones Adventure in you comment, wich is a good example), but not all of them.

Anyway, I know understand your point of view and I agree with you on many points. Thank you for your reply!

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.

I would love Horizons to come back, even in VR

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!


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