Home » Some Fans Call This Disney’s Best Modern Dark Ride… Here’s the Legend from the Beginning…

Some Fans Call This Disney’s Best Modern Dark Ride… Here’s the Legend from the Beginning…

“The crème-de-la-crème of the international smart set are wearing khaki this season, and the new vacation hotspot is Temple of the Forbidden Eye! Everyone’s simply agog over this new discovery by famed archaeologist Dr. Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones… They say the ancient god who presides over this miraculous temple rewards its visitors with one of three gifts: eternal youth, earthly riches, or the vision of the gods! But could there be more than meets the eye with this double-dealing deity…?”

Recently, Theme Park Tourist has been on a quest to populate our renowned In-Depth Collection with ever-expanding entries that we call Modern Marvels – fan-favorite features that dive deep into the complete stories of some of the world’s greatest living attractions. We’ve explored the design of Universal’s Islands of Adventure and its crowning Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, embarked on a Journey to the Center of the Earth that some call Disney’s best ride ever, raced through the Grid to Magic Kingdom’s future aboard TRON Light Cycle Power Run, and more. From Everest to Egypt; Tokyo’s Tower of Terror to “a great, big, beautiful tomorrow,” our growing collection is filled with must-read explorations into Imagineering masterpieces.

And yet, when it comes to exploration, there’s one Disney Parks attraction that reigns supreme…

Image: Disney

Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye remains one of the most celebrated, beloved, sensational, and daring modern dark rides on Earth nearly twenty-five years after its opening. Why? What awaits within the ancient and untouched temple of the lost god Mara? What’s so special about this one-of-a-kind Disneyland exclusive? How did it change Disney Parks forever? Might a version of this E-Ticket adventure be on the way to Walt Disney World? Like Dr. Jones himself, any discovery requires we first set off for the unknown and look back into history…


Main Street, U.S.A. Adventureland. Frontierland. Fantasyland. Tomorrowland.

Image: Disney

When Disneyland opened in 1955, it was comprised of those five, core, opening day lands. And, as you might expect, they weren’t picked by accident. Rather, Walt and his designers had very intentionally chosen the four core “lands” beyond the park’s hub, each aligned with pop culture in the 1950s. We’ve seen that time and time again with in-depth features on Tomorrowland attractions, watching as the land’s fluid form shape-shifted between generations, always reinventing itself to match whatever the most current visionary view of “tomorrow” could be.

But it’s true of the park’s more static lands, as well! Frontierland, for example, exists because – at the time of its 1950s conception – Americans were practically obsessed with glorious tales of American history. Legends of the “Old West” had created a generation whose children watched Howdy Doody and spent their summers outdoors playing “Cowboys and Indians”; families gathered around the television to watch Zorro, The Lone Ranger and Davey Crockett; a continuous lineup of Westerns lit up the silver screen at the local cinema… Frontierland was a natural reaction to pop culture in the mid-century, providing 1950s guests with the chance to step into a world they’d dreamed of.

Whose adventure?

The same is true of Adventureland! When Walt and his designers at WED Enterprises set to work encapsulating “adventure” into a living embodiment, they could’ve chosen the vast, ancient deserts of Egypt; the lost civilizations of South America; the vibrant islands of the South Seas… and yet, they decided that, in their Disneyland, “adventure” would be a jungle. Why? Pop culture, of course! 

In the 1950s, the Western world was gaining new insight into the mysterious, distant jungles of Africa, explored for the “first time” and romanticized in films like the Tarzan series, King Solomon’s Mines, The African Queen, and Disney’s own True-Life Adventures series.

The misty, mysterious jungles populated by untamable creatures and untouched “savage” civilizations piqued the interest of Americans; that was the “adventure” they longed to step into; and thus, that’s the form Adventureland took…

Image: Disney

A land of dichotomy, Adventureland was comprised of a single path with a ramshackle outpost bazaar on one side and the endless, unbreachable darkness of the misty jungle opposite. The Jungle Cruise (modeled after 1951’s The African Queen and Disney’s True-Life Adventures series) sent guests sailing through those unknowable waters aboard transit steamers with white and red striped canvases, narrowly avoiding the dangers of this beautiful and hostile lost world…

And just as Tomorrowland reformed itself in the wake of changing styles and tastes, so too did Adventureland. In 1959, Hawaii was granted statehood, becoming the fiftieth of the United States. At once, the cultural floodgates opened and a wave of Polynesia overtook the mainland; the “Tiki Craze” swept through the United States bringing floral leis, rattan furniture, Tiki torches, and bright fabrics that spread from so-called “Tiki bars” to Midwestern living rooms…

Image: Disney

And given that the word “adventure” now stirred up images of the mystic, exotic world of Polynesia, Disneyland’s Adventureland adapted. 1963’s Enchanted Tiki Room shifted a portion of Adventureland’s real estate to reflect the new South Seas style.

After Walt’s death in 1966, Disneyland paused. For more than a decade, both it and the new Magic Kingdom in Florida seemed to enter a stasis, frozen in time. While incremental “cheap and cheerful” upgrades (read: roller coasters) were added to the parks in the 1970s as low-cost crowd-pleasers, something much more damaging was happening… pop culture was moving on.

Audiences of the 1970s and ‘80s didn’t have the same connection to the “frontier” that their parents had and, predictably, the presence of a slow-moving, idling Frontierland didn’t inspire much interest; “adventure” had changed, too… and that’s primarily thanks to one legendary figure…

Cinematic thrills

Michael Eisner. (Who else were you expecting?)

When Eisner became the CEO of Disney in 1984, he was exactly what Walt Disney Productions needed to overcome the nearly two-decades of stagnation since Walt’s death. Eisner was determined to turn Disney around at its roots – its movie studio. Having come to Disney after a time as CEO of Paramount Pictures, Disney’s board (including Walt’s nephew, Roy O. Disney) expected that Eisner’s cinematic résumé would help revive Disney’s stagnant studio and return it to its former glory after 18 years of box office duds and abandoned animation.

Eisner also believed that movies would be the key to reviving Disney’s aging theme parks. It’s not as controversial as it sounds, really… After all, Disneyland had always been a place shaped by pop culture and character. Walt himself had stocked Disneyland with the stories and characters people of his time cared about… Now, Eisner suggested that the parks simply needed updated to feature the stories and characters people cared about today; that it should feature thrilling, engaging, modern rides that would capture the attention of thrillseekers and teenagers, drawing them to Disneyland with promises of popular brands.

More overtly, he suggested that Disney Parks should be places where guests could see the hottest stars and step into the cinematic worlds they’d seen on screen; that at Disneyland, guests should “ride the movies!”

The only problem is, there in the early ‘80s, Disney was not yet making any movies that people cared to see, much less ride. But someone was…


In the 1980s, George Lucas was perhaps one of the most acclaimed filmmakers and visionary creators on the planet, with Star Wars absolutely obliterating expectations on its path toward becoming the galaxy’s biggest franchise.

And as luck would have it, Lucas was already a fan of Disneyland… and he owed Michael Eisner a favor. After all, Eisner – in his former post at Paramount – had been the one to green-light Lucas’ new, first post-Star Wars film concept… Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Image: Paramount / Lucasfilm

This new film would follow a professor-turned-adventurer – Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones (played by Star Wars’ Harrison Ford) – on his quest through the Middle East in pursuit of the biblical Ark of the Covenant. Set in the 1940s, Lucas’ new-age tribute to pulp serial adventure films (like the ones that had shaped Adventureland) pit the rugged archaeologist against a group of Nazis racing to secure the Ark for Hitler’s nefarious use.

Naturally, Raiders, its iconic star Indiana Jones, and its swoon-worthy John Williams score went on to permeate pop culture just as Star Wars had, and Eisner’s personal approval of the project and Lucas’ love of Disneyland seemed to coalesce into a natural partnership.

Which is why – right from the start – Disney Imagineers were tasked with developing exciting new concepts that would bring the stories of George Lucas to Disney Parks. That, in the eyes of some fans, was a step too far. Not only would Disneyland (still in a holdover state from Walt’s era at the time) become a place to “ride the movies,” but they wouldn’t even be Disney movies! And yet, the projects pushed forward.

Image: Disney

While designers worked on a ways to transform Disneyland into a hip, cool, happening place for young people (beginning with the Videopolis dance club and its massive TVs screening top 40 hits), Lucas and Eisner tracked down another lifelong Disneyland fan who they suspected might be interested in a Lucas-led pop production. It didn’t take much convincing to secure international superstar Michael Jackson to star in a cutting edge 3D film to be shown exclusively in Disney Parks – a story we told in its own in-depth feature, Lost Legends: Captain EO.

Image: Disney / Lucasfiilm

The next year, they opened the even more ambitious Lost Legend: STAR TOURS. As we explore in that in-depth feature, Disney Imagineers brilliantly combined a long-lingering idea of a motion simulator with the world of Star Wars to create what was perhaps the park’s most popular ride to date. The ride became the go-to E-Ticket in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland when it opened in 1987. A clone of Disneyland’s STAR TOURS was fast-tracked to open at the still-new Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World, debuting there in 1989.

Another Lucas property to appear at Disney World’s new movie-themed park? The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. The 25-minute show (executive produced by Lucas himself) is a “behind-the-scenes” style stunt show ostensibly breaking down how the effects in Raiders came to be, albeit awkwardly clinging to the premise that we’re watching real reshoots of the film to this day, three sequels later.

Image: Disney

After Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, a dark prequel film centered around a Southeast Asian temple) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989, a jaunt across Europe in search of the Holy Grail), it became clear that Indy would remain a pop culture figure on par with James Bond or Han Solo, which meant his inclusion across Disney Parks was assured… and plans for Indy to come to Disneyland took a form far more ambitious than a stunt show… Read on…

Say what you will of Michael Eisner and his later tenure with Disney… in the early 1990s, no one was thinking bigger.

Just a few years into the rising “Disney Renaissance” sparked by 1989’s The Little Mermaid, Disney’s movie studios were on an all-out roll, with hit after hit after hit at the box office. Disney’s parks, too, were flourishing under Eisner’s new, modern, thrilling decrees, and the promise of the soon-to-open Disneyland Paris was destined to be Eisner’s legacy-leaver, marking him forever as the CEO who oversaw the expansion to Europe and its big-budget, master-planned, built-out resort – the grandest and most elaborate Disneyland-style park ever.

Image: Disney

And while he was dreaming big, Eisner had Imagineers sketch out some plans for a way to incorporate Indiana Jones more fully in Disneyland.

The Lost Expedition

Here’s where our conversation comes full circle…

In the 1950s, “adventure” was the unknowable expanse of Africa’s jungles… deep, dark, exotic, and unexplored, the Jungle Cruise was an embodiment of adventure.

In the 1960s, “adventure” changed to the magical, South Seas simplicity of Polynesia, and the tropical wonders of the Enchanted Tiki Room marked the change.

Image: Paramount / Lucasfilm

But in the tiny, miniscule footprint of Adventureland, things had remained approximately the same for twenty-some-odd years… Until “adventure” changed again. And now, adventure had a name: Indiana Jones.

Which is why Imagineers’ plans called for most of Adventureland to be entirely annexed to a sort of “sub-land” they called Indiana Jones and the Lost Expedition. This massive parcel of the park would’ve become an entire Indiana Jones area centered around a sunken river temple along the banks of the Jungle Cruise’s waterways.

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

Naturally, the Jungle Cruise would become absorbed into the Lost Expedition’s style and setting, with its once-pristine, candy-striped boats becoming aged, rusted, tattered steamers straight from Indy’s 1940s story. The ride would now be interwoven into the timeline and mythology of Indiana Jones, adding more mystical and sensational scenes as the rusted boats now plunged into adventure. Guests would sail past new ancient relics and through forgotten tombs in a new quest fusing the classic ride’s wildlife encounters with a new Indiana Jones style.

Image: Disney

And it wouldn’t just be absorbed conceptually; the Jungle Cruise would literally pass into the Lost Expedition’s temple – a gargantuan showbuilding featuring no less than four attractions criss-crossing one another and playing a role in the land’s new story.

Aside from the Jungle Cruise and the Disneyland Railroad, each re-routed to pass through and into the temple’s lore, this massive complex would include a mine-cart style roller coaster (modeled after Temple of Doom’s finale) and a Jeep-led dark ride through the temple’s interior, across crumbling bridges, past ancient shrines, and into molten hot lava chambers teetering along cliff’s edges.

Click and expand for a much larger and more detailed view. Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

The Lost Expedition would have been one of the largest expansions in Disneyland’s history. But as it turned out, another expansion doomed it.

When Disneyland Paris opened in 1992, it didn’t make many fans. French locals had lambasted the park from its announcement, and their feelings toward it hadn’t cooled much since its opening. With six increasingly deluxe hotels meant to support a single theme park (and just an hour from the beauty and plentiful hotels of Paris), the French resort crashed and burned, entering a financial freefall from which it’s still reeling today.

Now, the park meant to be Eisner’s legacy threatened to destroy his reputation, which sent him into survival mode. Across the company, budgets were slashed as Eisner tried to recoup the loss of the European resort. That’s why the Lost Expedition is just one of the many amazing never-built concepts cancelled directly after the opening of Disneyland Paris.

Thankfully, Imagineers rallied around the idea of bringing Indiana Jones to Disneyland, even if in a more reserved way. Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye opened at Disneyland on March 3, 1995 (just shy of the park’s 40th birthday). As with any Hollywood hit, its debut was marked with a red carpet, star-studded gala attended by Michael Eisner and George Lucas, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Carrie Fisher, Tony Danza, Dan Aykroyd, and other 1990s stars.

Luckily for them and for us, even a “downgraded” Indiana Jones attraction is still perhaps the most ambitious dark ride Disney has ever designed thanks to three key innovations…

1) A new technology

In 1995, Disney filed a patent for a brand new technology that would literally change the industry forever: the EMV, or Enhanced Motion Vehicle. Almost unbelievable, this groundbreaking design revolved around a slot-car style ride with a four-wheel array powered by a bus bar fed through a slot in the track, not unlike a heavy-duty Fantasyland dark ride. The difference, though, was that the passenger assembly (holding 12 people in three rows of four) was supported atop a hydraulic motion base, capable of pitching, bucking, and twisting. Each vehicle, in a sense, is like a miniature, open-air STAR TOURS pod, disguised until out of queuing guests line of sight as simple, rumbling, 1930s troop transports reclaimed from the “Great War.”

That meant that, aboard this unprecedented dark ride, the EMV would become an active participant in the adventure. While the ride’s wheels rode smoothly and comfortably through the dark ride, passengers seated on board would feel as if the Jeep they rode in was rumbling over rough terrain, tearing across collapsed ruins, banking around turns, teetering guests over chasms, and slamming over rubble.

Image: Disney

What’s more, each of the ride’s 17 troop transports was programmed with its own personality… Some were designed to be afraid of the dark, sputtering and stalling in dark scenes; others are programmed to be afraid of loud noises, bucking and racing away when confronted with the ride’s surprise scares. Though subtle, no two rides on Indiana Jones Adventure would be exactly the same… a kind of personalization unseen before the EMV.

2) A new main character

When Disneyland opened, the classic dark rides in its Fantasyland did something interesting: they supposed that guests would become the protagonist of its storybook tales. For example, while racing through the dark forest, riders were seeing through the eyes of Snow White; when soaring over London, we became Peter Pan. The problem is, the concept didn’t stick. Guests wondered aloud why Snow White was no where to be seen in a ride supposedly dedicated to her.

Image: Disney

Before long, mannequins of the main characters were retroactively added to those dark rides (reinforced in later renovations), subtley changing our role as guests from actors to observers; we’re racing through the Streets of London, sure, but we’re always a few steps behind Mr. Toad, merely seeing the chaos left in his wake.

Guests roles only got more “passive” thanks to the invention of the Omnimover (certainly one of Seven Modern Wonders of the Theme Park World), meaning guests merely pass through scenes that continuously loop rather than watch actions trigger specifically for them. (A style that works like magic on Haunted Mansion or Tomorrowland’s Lost Legend: Adventure Thru Inner Space, but significantly less effectively on the Little Mermaid dark rides in Florida and California).

Eisner’s new concept of “riding the movies” shifted that model. The new star? You. Combined with the precise programming of the EMV, the events that unfold on Indiana Jones Adventure don’t just happen around you or even to you… they happen because of you. 

3) A new kind of queue

The new ride designed for Disneyland would be downgraded from the grand plans for the Lost Expedition… but it would still be massive. The showbuilding needed to support such a gigantic adventure would require a large piece of real estate in the miniscule Disneyland, which is already landlocked. Lead Imagineer Tony Baxter reported that company executives initially said there was only space for the ride in a plot of land near Tomorrowland. Of course, those logistics didn’t quite work for Imagineers, meaning they needed to get creative.

Image: Open Street Maps

Indiana Jones Adventure was constructed in a reclaimed part of Disneyland’s parking lot, the Eeyore Lot. Unfortunately, that left the ride’s loading dock a quarter of a mile from the nearest pedestrian path inside the park. That’s not enough to stop Disney Imagineers, of course, who constructed one of the longest queues ever devised to carry guests out to the remote showbuilding and back… Essentially the length of Main Street, U.S.A., this disguised tunnel leads guests along the edge of the Jungle Cruise, under the Disneyland Railroad, and into the towering showbuilding visible from Downtown Disney.

Naturally, designers viewed this queue not as a barrier, but as a blank canvas… 

And that’s where our descent into the Temple of the Forbidden Eye begins. On the next page, we’ll journey through one of Disney’s most elaborate stories ever and ride through the unforgettable, Disneyland-exclusive E-Ticket that turned the park into a modern landmark. Read on…

The adventure begins…

Here is adventure. Here is romance. Here is mystery. Tropical rivers – silently flowing into the unknown. The unbelievable splendor of exotic flowers… the eerie sound of the jungle… with eyes that are always watching.” 

Walt couldn’t have known how accurate his 1955 dedication for Adventureland would become.

Image: Disney

Forty years after the park’s opening, Adventureland has been entirely overtaken by a new story. Fueled by the deeply detailed and cinematically storied lands of 1992’s Disneyland Paris (each land concealed from the others within its own berm) and Magic Kingdom’s massively-scaled New Tomorrowland (uniting each of the land’s rides, shows, and even restaurants in one overarching continuity) Imagineers have swept through Adventureland with a brave intention: constructing a new frame story around it.

Dateline: 1939. Deep within a lost tropic isle, famed archaeologist Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones had made a most remarkable discovery. Long believed to be only a myth, the ancient Temple of Mara is indeed a real place. Here, time and the elements have covered what must have taken centuries to construct. Scattered news reports coming out of this mystic and mysterious river delta in Southeast Asia note that great treasures of the unimaginable kind await in the ancient catacombs… And that’s where you and I come in.

The sensationalized news media of the era has lured the nouveau riche of European high society (that’s us) to this remote jungle outpost with promises of the wonders we’ll find there. An entire tourism community has developed in a once-sleepy blip of civilization amid the dense, endless, mysterious jungles here… And arriving now in this “Adventureland” of legend, we can see that the promise is broken.

The ramshackle bazaar of shops along the land’s pathway is bolstered by rusted panels hastily painted with shop names; the soaring Boathouse stands as the entrance to the “world famous” Jungle Cruise (intentionally playing up a roadside tourist trap style) with its once-candycane-striped boats purposefully rusted and worn, now adorned with tattered canvas and billowing steam. This is not the treasure we expected to find upon following those black and white news reels… but wait…

Image: Disney

A-ha! The centerpiece of this rusted expedition couldn’t disappoint. Looming along the water’s edge is the newfound Temple of Mara, marked by a courtyard of serpant-supported planter bowls, some teeming with overgrown vines and others with flickering flames. Overhead, scattered power-lines criss-cross the shrine, clearly erected by Dr. Jones and his team. The wires all connect to a generator on-site, humming with electrical energy. Every once in a while, it shudders and the excavation lights fizzle.

It’s almost unbelievable to imagine that – here, inside this long-lost temple – priceless treasures await. In fact, legend tells of the ancient lost god Mara who was said to grant any pilgrims to his altar one of three Gifts: timeless youth, earthly riches, or visions of the future…

But there’s a catch with this double-dealing deity…

… it’s said that any who look into the dark and corroded Eyes of Mara will forfeit their gift and instead be cursed to the Gates of Doom. Which has given the temple a catchy name in the newspapers back home: “The Temple of the Forbidden Eye.”

“A chilling tale indeed; but not chilling enough to cool the hot pursuit!” And after all, we’ve come all this way, right? Our goal is simple: travel to the so-called Chamber of Destiny at the heart of the temple where Mara will gaze into our hearts and select one of his three Gifts for us, unlocking the door into the matching Hall of Promise beyond. There, we will recieve our eternal reward… if we keep our eyes safely away from the gripping gaze of Mara.

Image: Theme Park Tourist

Stepping into the riverside temple, we get our first “look” at Mara, depicted via a recently-unearthed fresco. The ancient god carries the waters of eternal youth and a golden urn pouring out priceless coins and gems. Around his neck is an all-seeing amulet, granting the vision of the gods. But fear not – in this depiction of Mara (and all others we’ll stumble across in the temple’s corridors), his eyes are dutifully shown closed… something worth remembering.

Around the corner, the expedition winds through narrow corridors and stone obelisks with particularly gruesome fates not quite befitting the generous Mara and his priceless gifts… Perhaps there’s more than meets the eye with that superstitious fable all over the newspapers.

The queue continues through a collapsed collanade – open to the endless canopy of the jungle overhead – and descends sharply through ancient catacombs marked in Maraglyphics (the language of the temple, decipherable via handy pocket translation cards sponsored by AT&T during the ride’s early years, and by squinting now). Ever-deeper, the expedition pushes further into subterranean caverns and – in true Indy style – into progressive chambers littered with booby traps, some already triggered and others waiting for your slightest misstep.

At last, the winding tunnels deposit us into the Rotunda – a surprisingly-advanced domed chamber lit by way of ancient sun-focusing tubes that illuminate a strange mural on the dome overhead: Mara – eyes closed, of course – looming over what appears to be a suspension bridge. Around the rotunda, Mara’s followers are shown averting their gaze as they approach the massive god’s face.

Image: Disney

We’re getting closer.

Beyond the rotunda, a massive, vaulted-ceiling cathedral – clearly an ancient alter – has been repurposed with scaffolding and a movie projector to play cycling news reel footage for us as we await our date with destiny. It’s here that we meet Indy’s faithful sidekick Sallah (played, as in the film, by John Rhys-Davies) who reminds us of some key points.

“Now, my friends, one final word of advice: once you enter into the Chamber of Destiny, look not into the eyes of the idol! That would be dangerous – very dangerous. And now, my friends, your moment is drawing near! Already I am envious of the wonders that await you – if you avoid the Eyes of Mara, that is!”

It’s not too late to turn back. The Temple’s vestible is our next stop on our tour, repurposed as a loading area for us to jump aboard repurposed troop transports leftover from the Great War (that’s World War I) that will carry us to the Chamber of Destiny around the corner. As you step aboard and strap in, you may notice two very peculiar features ahead. An elegant, carved stone archway ahead seems to be of great significance, and yet another sculpture of Mara’s face adorns the arch’s keystone. However, it appears that Indy’s crew has smartly stapled a burlap cloth across the carving’s eyes as a makeshift blindfold – a final reminder of the deadly mistake we could make in the room ahead. But wait a second…

Image: Loren Javier, Flickr (license)

… doesn’t it look like that cloth has been burned?

The other notable figure is directly beneath the arch, where a “wall” has been constructed by piecing together ornate, gilded mirrors. It’s meant to be a last warning, as the mirrored wall is angled to reflect the distorted view of something we’ve been imagining since our expedition began: three doors. The Chamber of Destiny is the next stop, when one of those three doors will open for us…

Temple of the Forbidden Eye

The troop transport kicks to life, shuddering and rumbling as it powers ahead, sagging from the twelve passengers on board. Sallah’s voice crackles over the radio. “Hello? Hello, can you hear me? Uh, the brakes may be needing a little adjusting! Easy on the curves, heh heh!” With that, the Jeep lugs around the corner, our headlights flashing against the mirrored wall, then flickering out.

This is it.

Image: SoCal Attractions 360

The three doors of legend lay ahead. One displays Mara with chalices of riches overflowing, but it’s locked by a circular vault door; another is marked by the all-seeing eye of the gods, obscured by an ethereal, hazy web (as our view of the future is, as human); the last is carved with urns pouring out the waters of the Fountain of Youth, but the door is rusted, tarnished, and aged.

As one of the three begins to glow more brightly, Mara’s booming, chilling voice (reportedly provided by James Earl Jones, of Mufasa and Darth Vader fame) echoes from the walls. For example: “You have chosen wisely…” the water pouring from the vases is suddenly alive, sweeping across the archway and then pouring down the doors as a waterfall, washing away their age. “This path leads to timeless youth and beauty…”

The now-freed doors swing wide, ushering the troop transport inside. In this Hall of Promise, the walls shimmer with dancing light as if reflecting from water; around us, we hear the distant, echoing sounds of water dripping through the ancient vastness; murals between elegant columns show the ancient people of this land drinking from Mara’s Gift, remaining forever young; a hazy, otherworldly mist seems to grip the walls, and ahead, the massive, stone, twenty-five foot tall face of Mara looms. His eyes open and focus on us… oh no.

It’s too late. “NO!” he cries. At once,  his face is overcome with mold and fungus, growing instantaneously around him. His eyes turn black and endless, with deep, disfiguring fissures cracking from them. His face begins to decay and rust almost as if he’s… aging. 

Image: SoCal Theme Parks 360

(The clever trick, of course, is that all three “Gifts” of Mara deliver you along the same physical track and into the same physical room; it’s merely the work of swapped lighting, sound, and projections that create the three “tracks” of the ride. For example, when lit from the front, we see murals of the Fountain of Youth in action; when lit from behind, the scrims become invisible, revealing priceless statues and piles of treasure. In each room, looking into Mara’s eyes rescinds his gift – in the “gold” room’s Vault, he rusts; in the Observatory of the Future, his third eye becomes a raging storm.)

“You looked into my eyes… Your path now leads to the Gates of Doom!”

Rounding the corner from his face, a path forward is illumated in rich blues and hazy light – the Fountain of Youth. But that’s not our destiny anymore.

As the powerful score of John Williams trumpets to life, the Jeep is yanked to the left, bucking as it’s suddenly forced down a new pathway with the temple collapsing around us. Streaks of lightning race down the length of this shattered, splintered chamber, emanating from a single point ahead: the Gates of Doom. The Jeep looses its grip with the floor, suddenly floating helplessly through the corridor and toward the massive doorway carved with cobras, a green and blue energy swirling behind it… We’re done for.

Except… can it be? Leaning against the doors with all his might is Indiana Jones himself. He heaves against them, closing the Gates of Doom just enough to send the Jeep slamming back to Earth. “Ugh! Tourists?! Why’d it have to be tourists?! Up to the left! It’s the only way out!” The Jeep revs as it gains traction, lurching forward and up an incline. As we speed past Indy, he gives one final admonition. “You had to look, didn’t you?!”

As the Raiders score builds, the Jeep ruggedly climbs up through the darkness and – to the sounds of “The Miracle of the Ark” chorus – stages what may be the most iconic, powerful, and emotional visual reveal in any Disney dark ride: the Jeep tilts forward, providing stadium seating for a look at the heart of the temple.

Image: Disney

That mural of Mara and the bridge we saw painted on the rotunda, his followers making offerings to the massive god? It’s real. Only now, half of Mara’s sculpted face has fallen away, revealing a decaying, skeletal structure beneath. One of Mara’s eyes is gone, with a focused green light projected from within. Another troop transport just like our own inches its way across the rickety, wooden bridge, but a burst of light from Mara’s eye threatens to destroy the bridge with our fellow explorers on-board.

Seemingly also in awe of the sight, our Jeep idles forward, slamming down a set of stairs – just the effect we need to be awoken from our trance. Molten lava flows between Mara’s horrific, jagged teeth and falls into a boiling pool, simmering and steaming. Seemingly having noticed us, another green beam fires our way, striking the path ahead and causing an explosion of red-hot steam in front of us. The Jeep pulls to the left – the only path forward – teetering momentarily along the edge of the vast lava pit.

Image: Disney

Much of the rest of our adventure will take place in this massive central chamber, darting in and out of catacombs along its perimeter. For example, we now race into a glowing, bioluminscent chamber filled with rotting corpses of those who came before, tempted by Mara’s eyes. Disturbed by our speeding vehicle, the bodies fall around us, seemingly hissing through the echoing caverns.

The Jeep exits back into the central chamber but, with no discernible path forward, dips back into another cavern… It’s pitch black, but as our headlights flicker on, they reveal something we’d rather not have seen: thousands of insects crawling on the walls around us. Bursts of air signal that they’re falling from overhead, landing on top of us, as the transport shudders out of the darkness and arrives at an equally horrific sight. As the angelic choir of “The Miracle of the Ark” score returns, we align with the suspension bridge.

Image: Disney

 The transport throttles it, racing onto the uneven planks of the bridge. But there, before the massive, sixty-foot-tall, decaying face of Mara… it shudders and powers down. As the Jeep furiously tries to get its engine to turn over, the growing power of Mara’s beam blasts across the bridge, causing an explosion of flames just opposite the lava pit. Another beam strikes the two stone serpants supporting the bridge’s rope cables, and an eerie green mist begins to billow from their mouths…

The Jeep turns over and the accelerator slams as it races off the bridge and whips to the right. A cave-in has blocked the path back to the Chamber of Destiny, so it races off to the left where a round chamber is decorated with stone serpant heads… While they may look complete, one is missing. It’s simply been replaced with a hundred foot long cobra. “Snakes… you guys are on your own.” The cobra rears back, then strikes, its fangs unfurling as it hisses.

Okay… wrong way. The Jeep accelerates forward toward the bridge once again, but when a fellow Jeep pulls up on the opposite end and flashes it headlights, our transport does the courteous thing – it defaults down a new pathway. We feel it fighting back against the loss of traction as it slides down a mudslide and behind the carving of Mara’s face. It hurriedly climbs over the rubble there and lurches along a new pathway down around the bubbling edge of the lava pool. As it dips beneath the suspension bridge, another explosion of flames bursts in the lava, and a rogue eye beam strikes the rocks around a tunnel ahead. As they begin to collapse, we make it inside just in time.

Overcome with complete, deafening silence and endless darkness, the vehicle tugs right and left, weaving through the unseeable obstacles around us. Then, it comes to a well-deserved rest in the pitch black darkness of this new cavern. As dim lights appear, it becomes clear that we’re inside caverns jutting from the temple, overrun with tree roots that have cut their way through the tunnels like branches. Squeaking in the distance signals that we’re not alone… and the transport bursts forward, doing a ‘wheelie’ as it accelerates through the roots and smashes through one just as the rats crawling across it fall into the vehicle (an effect created via projection on a screen made of mist).

The transport comes to a stop as it faces a narrow corridor lined with day-glo murals of a skeleton army poised for attack. Of course, that’s not the scary part. It’s clearly nothing more than a painting. However, we’ve seen enough adventure films to know that we’re facing a booby trap.

The vehicle cautiously advances into the hallway in silence and, as if on cue, the sound of whizzing darts comes from our right, then our left. Bursts of air signal the darts just barely missing as they “thwip” through the air, the Jeep rocked back and forth as they plunge into its sides. We duck, desperate to make it out. And it appears that we have!

Image: Disney

We buck to the right and enter a new cavern. Up ahead, a single dim light from above illuminates Indy himself, hanging from a rope above us. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this… Uh oh… Back. Up. Back up!” The Jeep slowly begins to retreat as, in the distance, we see something coming… something big. A massive, enormous, rolling boulder is heading straight for us. It’s too late. After surviving all of the horrors of the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, this final trap will seal our fate forever.

(Interestingly, the Jeep doesn’t actually back up, and the rolling boulder moves at about half the speed it appears. This spectacular special effect – inspired by Baxter’s experience in a car wash – is almost unbelievably simple and relies on a moving set, a continuously-spinning boulder, and careful coordination of the EMV motion…)

But at the last moment, as the Raiders score returns, our troop transport decides to give it its all. It races forward toward the boulder. Closer and closer, strobes illuminate the rolling ball as it’s mere feet away. At the very last second, the vehicle plunges down a ten foot drop as the boulder passes inches overhead. With the triumphant score signaling our victory, a massive, resounding, echoing crash tells us that we’ve safely avoided Mara’s failsafe trap. The Jeep lumbers out of the darkness to see Indy himself, standing before the crashed, cracked, steaming boulder. He wipes his brow. “Not bad… for tourists. Next time, you wear blindfolds, okay?”

Of course, an in-depth look at a ride as visceral as Indiana Jones Adventure wouldn’t be complete without a point-of-view video to show how this ride perfectly fuses storytelling, special effects, visuals, and music to create one of the most sensational dark rides ever:

If you’re determined to figure out what makes the ride (and its surprising special effects) tick, you’ll find more on that in our Behind the Ride: Indiana Jones Adventure feature.

But that’s not quite the end of the story.

Did you know that Indiana Jones Adventure has not one, but two spiritual siblings? Or that this Disneyland exclusive is rumored to be on the way to Walt Disney World… and in a place you might not expect? On the last page, we’ll dissect where, why, and how Indiana Jones Adventure’s DNA is found in Disney Parks across the globe, and just where insiders say this E-Ticket might pop up in Florida… Read on…

Though Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye is a one-of-a-kind Disneyland exclusive, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t inspired other Disney Parks attractions around the globe… To finish up our in-depth look at this groundbreaking E-Ticket, let’s briefly look at the rides it inspired – both built and unbuilt – and consider the surprising place where some Disney Parks fans expect it to appear next… Could an Indiana Jones Adventure open at Walt Disney World soon?

Temple of the Crystal Skull

Location: Tokyo DisneySea
Opened: 2001

When Tokyo DisneySea opened in 2001, it shook fans of the themed entertainment industry to their cores. A sprawling, $4 billion theme park exceeding anything Disney had ever done before, the Oriental Land Company’s unthinkable and unprecedented park was comprised of thoughtful and massively scaled themed “ports” from around the world, representing humanity’s connection to water, how it has shaped our cultures, and the stories we tell about it.

Image: Disney

One such port is DisneySea’s Lost River Delta. Ostensibly, the land is the first full land dedicated to Indiana Jones since Disneyland’s Lost Expedition stayed lost. But in true DisneySea style, the land lacks any cartoonish allusions or overly-stylized fantasy elements. Instead, it looks, feels, and sounds like a real South American river delta. Like the Adventureland of old, this is a world split into two halves. One side of the river is a Spanish encampment where explorers and adventurers might set up shop; across the river is a jungle of ancient relics, forgotten altars, and the towering Temple of the Crystal Skull (discovered, we should note, before the controversial fourth Indiana Jones film of the same name, and in no way related to that film’s plot.)

The ride inside is technically a bolt-for-bolt replica of California’s ride (albeit, with electrically-orchestrated motion in the EMVs rather than hydraulics), but swaps the three gifts, Mara, and the lost Indian temple for a water-logged Aztec temple said to be home to the Fountain of Youth, protected by the ancient and mysterious Crystal Skull.

Image: Disney

Swap California’s fiery red palate and Mara’s crumbling visage for a misty blue temple, a swirling three-story vortex, the mosaic face of the Crystal Skull blasting energy from its eye (eh hem), a surprising smoke ring encounter to replace the never-quite-clear rat effect, and an Indian cobra for a South American python, and you get the picture. Naturally, Temple of the Crystal Skull also enhances the ride with Tokyo’s seemingly bottomless budget, meaning that the few pieces of California’s ride that amount to painted flats are replaced here with fully-carved, deeply-detailed sets. What else is new?

You can view a point-of-view video of Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull here. Pay careful attention to where Tokyo’s ride builds upon its Californian sister, and where a few extra years of research and development paid off with new effects…

While Temple of the Crystal Skull doubtlessly benefitted from the six years of innovation after the original Forbidden Eye ride opened, we still have to give California’s ride the edge. From its brilliant placement and placemaking to the jaw-dropping mythology of Mara and the three Gifts, there’s just something phenomenal about the original and the truly epic scale of the ride so brilliantly hidden from view.

“Indiana Jones Adventure – Temple de l’œil interdit”

Location: Disneyland Paris
Status: Never-built

Given that Tony Baxter – the Imagineer responsible for Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure – was made the creative lead of Disneyland Paris, it’s no surprise that Tony planned for his magnum opus to make its way to the Parisian park. Land was officially set aside for its inclusion in the park’s Adventureland (which is located in the spot traditionally occupied by Frontierland in the U.S. parks) with official sketches confirming the placement as perfectly planned.

Click and expand for a larger and more detailed view. Image: Disney

But once it was clear that Disneyland Paris wouldn’t meet its financial targets, any hopes of such an elaborate and expensive ride being handed to the fiscally frozen park were over. Instead, designers decided to pull out their ace-in-the-hole and build the ride they’d planned to hold off until a Phase II expansion – the Lost Legend: Space Mountain – De la Terre à la Lune. They correctly assumed that the French park needed an infusion of thrills to lure young Europeans to the resort.

Image: Disney

And since the park’s one-of-a-kind, fantasy-infused Space Mountain would take three years or more to construct, they hurriedly okayed a more bare-bones roller coaster for Adventureland: Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril.

A fairly standard steel roller coaster (notable for being the first coaster in Disney’s portfolio to include an inversion – in this case, a single vertical loop), Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril isn’t exactly an Imagineering masterpiece… but it did help draw new eyes toward the park and serve to whet visitors’ appetites until Space Mountain would open in 1995.

Images: Disney

The space once set aside for Indiana Jones Adventure is still available in Paris, and naturally fans the world over root for the resort to finally get the adventurous E-Ticket that’s been on the docket for twenty-five years… We’ll see…

Countdown to Extinction

Location: Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Opened: 1998

Another of those projects lost in the post-Paris wave of cancellations struck at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In order to ensure that the new animal-focused park they were designing wouldn’t be confused for a zoo (and could justify charging many times more than even the best zoo would), Disney Imagineers cooked up two original concepts – a Possibilityland: Beastly Kingdom of mythological creatures, and a Dinoland built around an active excavation site.

The latter is particularly interesting, because the Dinoland designers had in mind had almost nothing in common with the land built today. It featured two E-Ticket attractions: a rumbling roller coaster through the land’s active excavation pits…

Image: Disney

…and a family-friendly, leisurely dark ride back in time to see dinosaurs in their natural habitats.

In the post-Paris crunch, Eisner decreed that only one of the two ambitious lands could exist: either Beastly Kingdom or Dinoland. Thinking quickly, the team responsible for Dinoland allegedly offered that they could save big bucks by fusing the thrilling, pulse-pounding roller coaster with the time-traveling dark ride, meaning their Dinoland needed only one attraction.

Better yet, they could save even more money by literally re-using the EMV technology and even track layout of the new Indiana Jones Adventure, cutting costly research and development dollars in favor of simply cloning the ride hardware. (It also didn’t hurt that Jurassic Park had just become an international blockbuster, and that dinosaur merchandise is pretty much a guaranteed payday.)

Image: Disney

Concept art like the piece above even shows that – originally – Imagineers had planned for a much more elaborate version of the ride that borrowed Indy’s key visuals. (The more budget-friendly version of the ride that opened alongside Disney’s Animal Kingdom relies heavily on darkness and painted flats, meaning most guests – even those who have ridden both – don’t realize it’s a near-identical clone of Indy. The “suspension bridge” scene? It’s your encounter with the sauropod whose… head… is emenating from a glittering starfield… on a sheet of black fabric… anyway…)

Image: Disney

Obviously, Eisner selected this pared-down Dinoland to open with Animal Kingdom, so just three years after Indiana Jones Adventure’s debut, the Lost Legend: Countdown to Extinction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom cleverly re-used the ride system and even track layout to create a time-traveling adventure. The ride was re-named DINOSAUR a few years after opening to connect it to Disney’s 2000 film of the same name. 

The “Troop Transports” from the Temple of the Forbidden Eye were reconfigured into “Time Rovers;” the ascent toward Mara is a slow incline through a “Time Tunnel;” the mudslide behind Mara’s face became a loss of traction beneath a swooping pteradactyl; the boulder finale transformed into a (frustratingly hokey) static carnotaurus mannequin advancing toward guests.

Image: Rob Yeo

We gave that antagonistic carnotaurus character an “honorable mention” position on our must-read Countdown: The World’s Best Animationics simply because of the ride’s uneven tone and not-quite-finished look and feel. Of those who have ridden both, few would dare argue that DINOSAUR holds a candle to Temple of the Forbidden Eye, even if it’s a fun romp. You can see DINOSAUR in action here via our friends at SoCal Attractions 360 and their unbeatable low-light videography. Do you see how it lines up to Indy, beat-for-beat?

In fact, many Walt Disney World fans openly acknowledge the pain they feel knowing that – with a simple redress – they, too, could have a ride as epic, oversized, cinematic, and adventurous as Indiana Jones Adventure… Which might bring us to this last and most interesting rumor…

“Temple of the Copper Python”

Location: Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Status: ???

Despite Disney’s continuous reminder during Animal Kingdom’s introductory years that the park is “Nahtazū,” it does have some pretty compelling parallels. Especially in its first decade, the park featured a meager ride line-up excusable precisely because animals were meant to be the main attraction… The “natural” looking, seemingly-barrier-free habitats that the park’s animal collection call home are increasingly common in modern zoos… And most tellingly, Animal Kingdom is divided into “continents” just as so many zoos are (though, obviously, Disney’s versions are more authentically dressed than most zoos’ light theming of such areas.)

There are a few continents missing, though.

One of the most blatant? South America.

Image: Disney

Years ago, we were one of the first to speculate that it almost seemed too easy to imagine Dinoland becoming a South America region of the park, especially since a redress (however extensive) of DINOSAUR would give this South American land the Indiana Jones Adventure E-Ticket that Disney fans have been jonesing for for years. Now, rumors grow increasingly loud that Disney (who now owns Indiana Jones through their $4 billion outright purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012) is eager to activate around their newly acquired adventure hero as never before, and that ­– as we armchair-Imagineered – there might be actual evidence to suggest that it’s possible.

Image: Lucasfilm

Could DINOSAUR become a South American “Temple of the Copper Python” or other animal-infused equivalent, borrowing the Peruvian accents already designed for Tokyo DisneySea’s South American-set version of the ride? It’s just a guess, but apparently we’ve barked up the right tree before… As whispers of this potential rebirth continue, we’ll keep you up to date…

Meanwhile, don’t discount Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where some say plans for an Indiana Jones themed land are taking shape to join Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge… Wishful thinking for fans of Florida’s studio park? Given its radical rebirth, it’s hard to say. Perhaps only time will tell…


When passing through Adventureland, it’s not uncommon to see young children with eyes fixed firmly on the ground. That’s because they, too, have heard of the lost god Mara and the death that awaits those who so much as peek at his decaying, dark gaze. Like legends of old, the story of the Temple of the Forbidden Eye carries on between generations, and stands as one of the most compelling original acts ever devised by Walt Disney Imagineering.

That’s what makes Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye a true poster child of the modern E-Ticket; a living, breathing embodiment of the pinnacle of Modern Marvels. It’s an (increasingly rare) cinematic headliner without a screen in sight, brought to life through good, old-fashioned atmosphere, astounding practical effects, and a simple story that’s one of the most daringly dark in Disney’s playbook.

Haunting, action-packed, oversized, and explosive, what awaits within the Temple of the Forbidden Eye will forever remain an icon of Disney Imagineering… If there’s one thing to be learned from our descent into the hellish underworld of Mara’s catacombs, it’s the parting words displayed upon our unlikely exit:

Image: Disney

Real rewards await those who choose wisely.

If you enjoyed our detailed expedition into the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, be sure to make the jump to our In-Depth Collections page, featuring dozens of deep dives into other Modern Marvels, as well as Lost Legends, Disaster Files, and never-built Possibilitylands just waiting for exploration. Then, use the comments below to share your stories and thoughts on Indiana Jones Adventure.