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5 Cancelled Disney Projects Brought Back From the Dead

Western River Expedition becomes The Great Movie Ride ... sort of

 nick99nack, Flickr (license)

Image: nick99nack, Flickr (license)

Often considered to be the greatest attraction Disney never built, the Western River Expedition was intended to be Walt Disney World’s answer to Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean — arguably the greatest theme park attraction in history.

It included everything: a lengthy boat sequence, a roller coaster that went backwards at times, a western motif, and so on. Beloved Imagineer Marc Davis threw everything at his disposal into the designs for this attraction, and it was so ambitious, Disney quickly realized it could never be built.

But elements of Western River Expedition have since found their way into countless Disney rides and shows. In fact, most of Walt Disney World’s Frontierland was directly inspired by concept art for this lone experience.

Interestingly, one sequence, which featured guests narrowly escaping a bank robbery and a Wild West shootout, eventually made an appearance as a key element of Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ famed attraction, the Great Movie Ride — showing just how far and how long Western River Expedition’s legacy has extended.

Imagineers still love the work that was done on this attraction concept, and aspects of Western River Expedition will continue to seep into Disney’s future attractions. 

Disney’s America becomes Disney’s California Adventure

 mtl_shag, Flickr (license)

Image: mtl_shag, Flickr (license)

The Walt Disney Company of the 1990s was utterly fearless and completely ambitious. They viewed the world’s entertainment attention span as rightfully theirs, and they vowed to do whatever it took to capture it.

That meant everything from buying the ABC television network to rehabilitating its anemic animation studio. But, it also meant expanding the theme park roster — and its geographic footprint.

Disney planned its attack on two fronts. One would be a smaller-scale regional entertainment chain known as DisneyQuest, using virtual reality and personal computing to create a kind of Disneyfied arcade. The other would be building a full-sized theme park somewhere that wasn’t Orlando or Anaheim.

The original idea was a new park in Virginia called Disney’s America, celebrating the history of the United States from its founding and expansion to the present. It featured everything from shows and exhibits about Native Americans and the Civil War to a roller coaster themed to the industrial revolution.

Eventually, local protests in Virginia scared Disney off from building the park there, but rather than simply throwing the plans away, Disney decided to rethink the main theme. What if instead of celebrating the entire United States of America, they just chose one state?

Thus, Disney’s California Adventure was born, and many of its rides — from Soarin’ over California to Grizzly River Run — came from attractions that were originally designed for Disney’s America. Eventually, Disney’s California Adventure was reimagined into a celebration of Walt Disney’s vision of California rather than the state itself. But, that bit of Disney’s America is still hiding in its DNA somewhere.

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