One of the great concepts that Walt Disney Imagineering employs is its steadfast commitment to never throw out a good idea. Even if now isn’t the time for said idea, or if the finished product grows beyond the auspices of the original concept, Disney refuses to ever put a useful thought into the trash.
Throughout the years, some of Disney’s best attractions have come from that refusal to give up on anything. Walt Disney’s original vision for an adventure safari turned into the Jungle Cruise originally, but the company circled back to Walt’s idea when they eventually built Kilimanjaro Safaris. Good ideas don’t die at the Walt Disney Company, they simply go into hibernation.
With that in mind, Disney has put together some amazing concepts and projects over the years that, for one reason or another, have never actually come to fruition. But, just because those ideas never made it from page to stage doesn’t mean they should be forgotten forever.
Here are a handful of Walt Disney Imagineering concepts that the company should consider dusting off, sharpening up, and building into reality today.
Way back in 1991, before Disney’s California Adventure was even a glimmer in Michael Eisner’s eye, the Walt Disney Company announced plans to bring its revolutionary EPCOT Center park out west, gifting unto the world a reimagination known as WestCOT.
At its core, WestCOT was a bigger and better version of EPCOT, featuring SpaceStation Earth — a larger iteration of Florida’s beloved Spaceship Earth — as well as plussed recreations of Horizons, Journey into Imagination, and other EPCOT classics. Additionally, a reformatted version of World Showcase would have made the trek west as well.
Ultimately, the project was cancelled when it was revealed to be far too costly for the company to stomach. In addition to the exorbitant costs associated with building a brand new park, the massive footprint would have required Disney to acquire significant land in Anaheim — something that wasn’t feasible at the time. So, the project was shelved, and Disney’s California Adventure was built in its place.
Nowadays, the Epcot we know and love is very different than the EPCOT Center of old. However, it serves a very helpful purpose to Walt Disney World, as it has since become the de facto festival ground and the perfect place to celebrate artistic human pleasures. The Flower and Garden Festival, the Arts Festival, and the Food and Wine Festival all have established Epcot’s place as the central spot to stimulate the five senses. Epcot has largely replaced the cold technological aspects of humanity with the warm feeling of eating food and looking at beautiful things.
Why shouldn’t there be a WestCOT built on those same ideas? If you were building Epcot anew in 2018, you probably wouldn’t build it the same you did 30 years ago, and WestCOT would give Southern California that same anthropological celebration space with a modern technological underpinning. And, with Disney now among one of the most wealthy companies on the planet, acquiring land likely wouldn’t be as unreasonable as it seemed a couple of decades ago.
Tony Baxter’s “Jolly Holiday”
If you were to create an inner-circle of Disney Imagineers, Tony Baxter almost certainly would be front and center. The brilliant mind behind Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, and countless other iconic attractions, Baxter is Imagineering royalty if ever there was such a thing.
But, Imagineers aren’t born into the world of attraction design — they study it, practice it, and work to improve their craft every day. Back when he was still a student, Baxter created a concept pitch for a Mary Poppins attraction that is as magical and magnificent a ride concept as you will ever see. It wasn’t enough to get him hired (that came later), but looking through it now, it’s hard to imagine why.
In Baxter’s pitch, guests would board carousel horses that would begin by rotating around a hub like a normal carousel, before breaking free and floating through show scenes much like in the original Jolly Holiday sequence of the classic film.
The idea is brilliant, and the scene is utterly iconic. So, why doens’t this attraction exist today?
There have been rumors that Disney is considering bringing a Poppins attraction into the UK pavilion at Epcot, specifically to align with the debut of Mary Poppins Returns this year. But, the scale of that rumored attraction doesn’t even come close to Baxter’s original vision. Why not?
Few mid-century films have reverberated through time quite like Mary Poppins, and if Disney wanted to demonstrate its unequaled ability to craft attractions with heart and charm, revisiting Baxter’s vision would be a brilliant idea. That it would bring a forthcoming film into the parks as well would just be icing on the cake.
Mineral King Ski Resort
In the mid-1960s, Walt Disney was nearing the end of his life, but he still wanted to make a lasting impact on the country he loved so much. One project he was working on became the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow — later, Epcot. The other was the Mineral King Ski Resort — something that was very much on the opposite end of the technological spectrum.
The resort was to be an entire village in the California mountains. Guests would park at a garage down in the valley before a Disney-constructed train would take them up to the resort, where they’d stay in picturesque alpine lodgings while roaming the snow covered streets. There’d be movie theaters and tennis courts and all the things guests would want on vacation — and the whole thing would be centered around a gorgeous and challenging ski mountain.
Environmental concerns eventually led to the project’s cancelation, along with a lack of focus on the idea after Walt Disney’s passing. But now, ironically, it might be the perfect time to resurface this idea.
Yes, environmental issues have never been greater, but a fully-modern and completely green ski resort and mountain vacation village is a genuinely contemporary idea. The lack of cars, as well as modern green energy technologies, could make a Mineral King Ski Resort one of the most environmentally friendly resorts on the planet. And, giving one of the biggest companies in the world a real reason to care about protecting our planet’s climate would be an added bonus.
Furthermore, with Disney’s vacation portfolio expanding to include resorts in Hawaii, Vero Beach, and Hilton Head Island — as well as the Disney Cruise Line — a winter vacation paradise would extend that portfolio.
Ultimately, Disney’s vacation destinations have proven to all be fantastic. Who wouldn’t want one more?
Western River Expedition
Another member of that Imagineering inner circle would of course be Marc Davis, an original Disney favorite who worked on everything from the character design of Snow White to the nuclear family at the heart of Carousel of Progress.
Within Imagineering, Davis was as hallowed a figure as can be, and his magnum opus was an attraction concept called Western River Expedition — a ride so beloved that, while it has never been built, it has seen its DNA transferred into nearly every square inch of Frontierland.
Conceived to be Walt Disney World’s answer to Pirates of the Caribbean, the Western River Expedition was a long flume ride on the same scale as Pirates. The difference, of course, was that it instead told the story of the expansion of the Western United States, as homesteaders and cowboys spread out toward the Pacific Ocean. Featuring a boatload of effects, dozens of show scenes, and multiple technological advancements, the ride’s cost grew so large that it was inevitably nixed — and in its place, Walt Disney World built its own version of the Pirates of the Caribbean.
But now, it’s 2018 — and there’s no reason not to take that original idea out of the mothballs and put it back into the sun.
Disney’s technological achievements are so vast that an updated version of this ride using the trackless vehicles used on some of Disney’s non-US attractions would be utterly magical. One of the great letdowns of Na’vi River Journey at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is its short length. An expanded version, featuring Davis’ original western story, would get even more massive crowds. Something in line with Shanghai Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean would be perfect, and it would fit in well between Frontierland and Adventureland.
Ultimately, Disney is in a peculiar position. While we’re all waiting to see what Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is really like, they must begin planning for a post-Star Wars world. What might that world look like? And what surprises do they have in store for us?
At Disney, good ideas never die. They only go into hibernation. Which ideas will wake up next?