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Behind the Ride: Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

The experience: Bringing the ride back from the dead with clever theming

The trick: Out with Jules Verne, in with Finding Nemo

Image: DisneyDisney trivia buffs and park fanatics know something about Submarine Voyage. The ride was once closed for an extended period. In September of 1998, almost 40 years after the attraction’s debut, the submarine attraction shut down. The closure was a surprise to observers, although it shouldn’t have been. Given the expensive upkeep and flaws with the existing attraction, this ride seemed like a mockery of the term, “Tomorrowland.”

Park officials couldn’t very well leave the attraction closed, though. It comprises too large a part of Tomorrowland. Instead, they plotted to re-theme the ride to the upcoming Disney animated release, Treasure Planet. When that film disappointed at the box office, executives were stymied. In the years prior to Disney’s purchase of Pixar, the two companies shared a cordial relationship, one that would ultimately save the day.

Disney approached Pixar with the idea to license the rights to Finding Nemo. Enterprising park planners saw a way to invigorate two different large, struggling buildings. The Living Seas Pavilion at Epcot was in sad shape, as was the Submarine Voyage space at Disneyland. By adding the characters from Finding Nemo to both places, Disney correctly projected that they could indoctrinate a new generation of kids into loving theme park water rides.

Image: DisneyThe Living Seas Pavilion became The Seas with Nemo & Friends. At Disneyland, the closed attraction, Submarine Voyage, became Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. The best part of the change at both parks is that Disney could employ similar technologies.

Thanks to the magic of projection screens, riders would watch the underwater adventures of Nemo, Dory, and Marlin on both attractions. In fact, alert viewers will notice that Disney even re-uses assets on these rides. On Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, you’ll see classmates of Nemo tell the teacher that their friend is missing. The identical animation footage is a part of The Seas with Nemo & Friends.

The retooled attractions re-opened within a few months of each other, which isn’t coincidental. A rare East Coast/West Coast joint project wasn’t necessarily the plan, but the needs on the two restorations were similar. The outcome is that you may watch a similar story of Nemo’s journey at Disneyland and Epcot.

Image: DisneyThe difference is in the sets. The Seas with Nemo & Friends is a true dark ride, while Submarine Voyage meshes the exploration aspects of the original attraction with the characters from Finding Nemo. Both methods are effective in entertaining children and Pixar-loving adults.

To an extent, the introduction of Nemo is a stop-gap measure to sustain a Disneyland attraction that has gotten somewhat lost in time. But who cares? Walt Disney’s idea of transporting guests on a mysterious underwater journey is still alive today thanks to a clownfish.

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