Right out the gate, Dinoland was somewhat of an oddity at Animal Kingdom. Despite similar scope and equally embedded storytelling, Disney's recreation of Diggs County simply didn't fit among the park's Africa and Asia. And though it opened with Countdown to Extinction as its single ride, Dinoland would subtly – but substantially – change. Here are the three ingredients that make up today's Dinoland... and why each failed to become the hit Disney hoped...
Imagineers sold executives on the idea of Dinoland hinging on the EMV, the ride system that had catapulted Disneyland into the modern “Ride the Movies” movement with the world-class, ultra-beloved, fantastically fun Modern Marvel: Indiana Jones Adventure. Of course having the EMV at Disney World would be a win, and the idea of an off-roading safari through a jungle of dinosaurs isn’t at all a bad concept.
But look… anyone who’s read our in-depth look at the Lost Legend: Countdown to Extinction knows that Disney’s plans for an Indiana-Jones-equivalent prehistoric safari quickly encountered some cut corners. Don’t misunderstand: Dinoland’s dark ride lives up to its (laughably bad) tagline – “It’s fast. It’s a blast. It’s in the past.” – but it’s also severely uneven, hampered by continuous re-writes to fix its narrative problems, broken figures, large expanses of darkness, laughably cheesy effects, and an uneven tone that underwrites it all.
In isolation? It’s a fun ride. But in 1998, positioning an ultra-intense, dark, terrifying, loud, rough, scary attraction as one of two rides at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? It was… a choice.
And that choice was made all the more odd when, in 2000, the ride was briefly closed and then reopened as DINOSAUR, ostensibly tying it to the now-completely-forgotten film that helped greenlight the land. Combined with the changes made to “lessen” the ride’s intensity at that time and the many effects that have flickered out of existence since, Dinosaur is rough in more ways than one.
And frankly, it’s never been able to overcome the simple, foundational hurdle that it’s just not Indiana Jones Adventure. For Disney Parks aficionados, it’s practically mean that Disney World is this close to having a duplicate of one of the best dark rides ever designed, right down to the rides’ nearly-identical layouts. So yes, Dinosaur is “good.” If you didn’t know Indiana Jones Adventure existed (which of course, most Disney World guests do not), you might even think it’s “really good.” But it’s not Indiana Jones Adventure.
2. Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama
Dinoland opened alongside Animal Kingdom in 1998. In 2000, Countdown to Extinction became the increasingly-uneven Dinosaur. Meanwhile, attendance at the new theme park allegedly wasn’t keeping up pace. Part of the problem? While guests reportedly liked Disney’s Animal Kingdom, it simply didn’t have enough to do. And, like… yeah… Three years into existing, Animal Kingdom offered just three noteworthy rides: Kilimanjaro Safaris, DINOSAUR, and Kali River Rapids.
Disney has faced this problem many times. Today, the popular solution is Toy Story Land, a veritable panacea for parks that just don’t have enough to do. It’s an easy, quick, relatively inexpensive way to inject “cheap and cheerful” family attractions into the park with a universally-recognized IP and off-the-shelf rides. That’s why almost every Disney Resort on Earth has a Toy Story Land. Even before Woody and Buzz began literally reigning over carnival rides, Disney California Adventure’s quick fix solution was 2002’s “a bug’s land,” an (arguably more charming than Toy Story Land) attempt to miniaturize guests and inject some family flat ride capacity into an underbuilt park.
It’s somewhat curious that Animal Kingdom didn’t opt for “a bug’s land” behind the Tree of Life in its own quick-fix push to add family capacity to the park. Instead, in 2002, it debuted Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama. Building off of the land’s existing mythology and doubling down on that clever case study of the land’s thematic message, Dino-Rama was… well… another choice.
Look, we spent a good chunk of our Declassified Disaster: DINOLAND feature defending Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama and how it really does fit into that deeply layered and embedded story that permeates through Dinoland. It is a fitting representation of a roadside attraction anchored by the dino-Dumbo TriceraTop Spin carnival ride and the practically-mobile Primeval Whirl wild mouse coaster that looks like it just unfolded from a tractor-trailer. And fittingly, Disney Imagineers expanded Chester & Hester’s “blacktop” parking lot and set up their prehistoric county fair there.
But even if we can narratively excuse Dino-Rama, there’s just no denying that it only added to the “differentness” of Dinoland. To travel from the foot of Expedition Everest and the mystical, reflective, and otherworldly Serka Zong into… a top-40-hits fun fair of clanging carnival games and whizzing roller coasters…
And given that most guests don’t look at lands like puzzles to be solved, you can see why the narrative of Dinoland grew increasingly negative. Casual guests and fans alike took Dino-Rama at face value (which is fair!) and decreed that Disney had cheaped out. Now, Dolly Parton is fond of saying “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap,” and that’s true of Dino-Rama – where extensive placemaking sold the illusion of a roadside carnival. But at the end of the day, it was a relatively “cheap and cheerful” solution to the problem.
3. Primeval Whirl
Speaking of problems, Dino-Rama’s roller coaster – Primeval Whirl – has been one in its own right. Just as it’s odd that Disney opted to build Dino-Rama instead of merely duplicating California Adventure’s “a bug’s land” that was in production at the same time, they made another curious choice in Primeval Whirl. Animal Kingdom’s coaster was built by French ride manufacturer Reverchon rather than the tried-and-true Mack Rides who built California Adventure’s Mulholland Madness (today, Goofy’s Sky School) at the same time. It was, to put it lightly, a bad decision.
In 2001 – a year before Primeval Whirl opened – Twister at Lightwater Valley in the U.K. (a Reverchon coaster of the same model as Primeval Whirl) experienced a two-train collision, with a 20-year old rider dying of head trauma.
In 2007, a Disney Cast Member died after allegedly falling off of a platform on Primeval Whirl.
In 2011, another Cast Member died after allegedly suffering a traumatic head injury while working on the ride.
In 2015, a Lightwater Valley worker was reportedly flung 40-feet into the air after being struck by a vehicle on the same Twister coaster that caused a death in 2001
In 2019, a young boy fell from Lightwater Valley’s Twister coaster and was airlifted to a hospital in critical condition.
Three weeks later – on June 17, 2019, Primeval Whirl officially switched to “seasonal” status – a common death knell for Disney Parks rides, and unlike rides hidden away in showbuildings, a quiet coaster in a blacktop parking lot sure doesn’t look great… In any case, “seasonal” status suggested that Primeval Whirl would only open during the busiest weeks of the summer and winter seasons and otherwise remain standing but not operating.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic suggested that “busy weeks of the summer and winter seasons” might be a thing of the past entirely… We have yet to recognize the full, decade-long ramifications of the potentially crippling effects of the 2020 pandemic on the slate of projects across Disney and Universal Parks… But we do know that Primeval Whirl will never re-open. On July 16, 2020, Disney officials confirmed that the coaster was closed for good.
It’s unlikely that Disney is in any rush to remove the steel ride… Such an expense would be ludicrous amid the reported $900 million in capital cuts to Parks projects. Plus, if Disney did remove Primeval Whirl, Dino-Rama would look even more pathetic than it already does, making the “parking lot” look even more like an empty expanse, and with a single spinning dino-Dumbo as its only visual point of interest. Yikes. So what, exactly is left of Dinoland, U.S.A.?
Primeval Whirl? Deleted.
So maybe it's time we chalk Dinoland up to a lost cause and shift our focus to a much more fun conversation: what could be? Our dreams finish up on the next page.