Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Today in WDW History: Splash Mountain Turns 20

July 17th is a pretty big day in Disney History.  This post is going to be focused on the 20th Anniversary of Splash Mountain opening in the Magic Kingdom.  But I wouldn't be a respectable Disney Enthusiast if I didn't mention the 57th Anniversary of Disneyland opening in California on this day in 1955.  It was, after all, the park that started it all.  I've always been more partial towards WDW, mostly due to geography, but one definite thing that California will always have over Florida is that it's the park that Walt actually stepped foot in.  And that's pretty huge, if I do say so myself.

Now, on to that 52-foot drop into the Briar Patch...


Splash Mountain is one of those attractions that holds a special place in my heart, mainly because it's part of an actual "Disney Memory" I have.  What I mean by that is, I actually have memory of the experience.  Not memory based of pictures or videos, but a crystal clear recollection of that moment in time when I was at the Magic Kingdom.

It was Spring of 1993, roughly 9 months after the attraction had opened, I was 13-years-old and my brother was 11 at the time.  It was the first time we had ever been able to experience Extra Magic Hours.  Back then it was a separately ticketed event known as E-Ride Night, where about 5,000 guests were admitted and could enjoy three hours in an almost empty park.  It was amazing!  My brother and I rode Splash Mountain at least ten times in a row.  If I'm not mistaken, I believe it had rained that afternoon making the park even a little bit more sparse.  We honestly felt like the only people in the Magic Kingdom.  It definitely ranks up there in my Top 10 Disney Moments.

The back story of the attraction itself is based on the characters, stories, and songs from the 1946 Disney film Song of the South.  It tells the story of the adventures of Br'er Rabbit, a mischievous rabbit that leaves his home in the briar patch to look for his "laughing place."  Unfortunately for him, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear, the antagonists of this story, are determined to catch and eat him.

The idea for Splash Mountain was originally conceived in the summer of 1983 by Imagineer Tony Baxter while stuck in rush hour traffic on his way to work.  However the rest of the Imagineers were initially unenthusiastic about it, insisting that log flumes were too ordinary a theme park attraction to include in Disneyland.  While trying to solve the problems of including a log flume Baxter thought of Song of the South.  He and his team developed the concept of The Zip-a-Dee River Run, which would incorporate scenes from Song of the South.  The name was later changed to Splash Mountain after then-CEO Michael Eisner's mostly-ignored suggestion that the attraction be used to help market the film Splash. (I think we can all agree that's a pretty dumb idea, however the name they settled on is much better)  At the time it was built, Splash Mountain in California was one of the most expensive projects created by WDI at a cost of $75 million.  It was also opened on July 17th, three years prior to it's Florida counterpart.

Back at Walt Disney World in Florida, Splash Mountain is located in Frontierland, across from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Riders board eight-passenger logs, seated two by two. Following a January 2011 renovation, the logs were equipped with lap bars for safety reasons.  The log departs the loading area, where Br'er Frog provides introductory narration.  The log ascends two dual-chain lifts before floating gently through scenery designed to evoke the feeling of a river in the Southern United States, particularly Georgia, where Song of the South was based.  The homes of the three main characters and aged farm equipment are incorporated into the landscape, along with an instrumental version of "How Do You Do?" emanating from hidden speakers along the waterway.

After a short drop down "Slippin' Falls", guests enter the indoor portion of the attraction, where various Audio-Animatronic animals, such as geese and frogs sing the attraction's first musical number, "How Do You Do?".  Several vignettes establish the story of a restless Br'er Rabbit leaving home and being pursued by Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear.

"Everybody's Got a Laughing Place" begins to play after Br'er Bear springs Br'er Fox's rabbit trap.  The logs continue onward past a number of hitchhiking critters, while opossums sing the song from overhead.  The logs reach a dark tunnel followed by a "dip-drop" into the Laughin' Place.  Bees attack Br'er Bear while Br'er Rabbit watches with joy.  The logs then go over another short drop, and head further into the cavern scenes.  There, singing turtles and dancing water fountains guide the log to a dark area in which Br'er Rabbit has been caught by Br'er Fox in a cave of stalactites and stalagmites.  Two vultures taunt riders as they begin their ascent up the final lift.  A scene to the side shows Brer Fox menacing Brer Rabbit, with Brer Rabbit pleading not to be thrown into the briar patch.

At the top of this third lift hill, you're given a very brief moment to look out over the picturesque skyline of the Magic Kingdom, or you can stare down into the thorny abyss know as the "Briar Patch" awaiting your plunge.  The log will then descend 52-feet at a 45 degree angle, reaching a maximum speed of 40 mph.  After another outdoor flume segment, the log returns to the mountain, where critters at "Doo Dah Landing" are singing "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" in celebration of Br'er Rabbit's return, while Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear attempt to fend off an alligator.  At the end, Br'er Rabbit sings with Mr. Blue Bird, telling guests that he learned his lesson.  After exiting the log, riders may purchase a picture of their log falling down the final drop.


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