Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Resurrecting Snow White's Scary Adventures, Part One: Why I Loved It

Tonight, May 31st, will mark 5 years since Snow White's Scary Adventures at Walt Disney World closed for good. 5 years since the last pocket of scariness in Fantasyland was boarded up and gutted into a princess meet-and-greet. Two years afterwards, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opened up across the way, and the general public moved on from their memories of the old dark ride. But to me, Snow White's Scary Adventures is gone, but far from forgotten. I had loved this attraction for every minute I rode it since my very first trips to WDW. And if it was up to me, it would return in a spectacular way. In this part memoriam, part hopeful post, I'll try to explain why I loved Snow White's Scary Adventures so dearly, why I think it should return, and how I would have it return. In this first part, I will talk about why I loved Snow White's Scary Adventures. I dedicate the following to that attraction; may it rest in peace (unless someone decides to resurrect it!)

Why I Loved It

(this photo and all others from Ricky Brigante, unless noted)


Whenever me and my family found ourselves in the center of Fantasyland, one attraction was always nearby that was a perfect choice for our next ride: Snow White's Scary Adventures. For as long as I can remember, I was fascinated by that ride; it was hard to stop me from rushing to the line far ahead of the rest of the family just so I could get on it sooner. The blue and white canopy tent, and the beautiful mirror with the Witch and Snow White painted on it beckoned to me, especially when seen from the carousel.

Seeing all of the beautiful scenery and characters on the load mural was fantastic, especially the Wicked Queen and Huntsman who glared from a bridge above the end of the ride.

The Wicked Queen's castle, with its turrets and pathways set into the distance, and a stone wall with wooden doors leading inside, was by far the best thing to see while in the line. The anticipation would always build up fast when I saw the Dwarfs mine carts turn round the wishing well, then reappear from another u-turn and enter the castle.

When it was my turn, I'd step into a minecart, and off I'd go. It was a novelty every time to have the ride start by turning around the quaint Wishing Well. Seeing Snow White on the courtyard steps with the Queen staring through a window was an excellent prelude to our entrance inside the castle.

The Magic Mirror and the Queen's Transformation, besides being incredible scenes in of themselves, remain two of the most impressive illusions I have ever experienced in a Disney attraction. What commanded the flames of the Mirror to move, and how on earth did the Queen, whose reflection was plain to see, turn into the Wicked Witch as she turned to us?

(Loren Javier)

 Then came the skeleton in the dungeon, the witch at her laboratory, the wooden crocodiles in the murky swamp, and the nightmarish trees in the dark forest. These are all things that should have frightened me, but instead amazed me. I kept my eyes wide open to see the nightmares, and scoured every corner of these frightful scenes for details hidden in the dark.

Contrasting but welcome was a sudden change to light and warmth, as a bright and cheery Dwarfs Cottage appeared in the darkness, and the doors swung open to reveal the Dwarfs singing their silly song.

But the absolute best moment of the ride besides the Queen's transformation was the confrontation between the Dwarfs and the Witch. When she shouted "I'll crush you fools!" she must have meant us, for the boulder she pushed leaned menacingly down towards the vehicle, and it and the guests it carried were spared only by the lighting that struck down the Witch. The only other ride that gave me that same sense of complete immersion and involvement in a single scene was the Haunted Mansion with its ghosts that followed me home.

The happy ending with true love's kiss was a fitting end, mainly because of the powerful music from the end of the original film. Seeing Snow White and her prince head to his shining castle in the distance as the dwarfs waved goodbye was a great way to end our adventures with Snow White.

There was never any good excuse not for me to ride Snow White's Scary Adventures. Perhaps it was the fluorescent paint, perhaps it was my active imagination, perhaps it was my love of the original film, but where others may have seen darkness and fright unsuitable for children, I saw a masterpiece. There was so much beauty to be admired, from the painstakingly painted sets to the unequaled music from the film. Even the constant appearance of static figures wasn't enough to deter me for my profound admiration of the ride. I couldn't believe it when it was announced that this attraction I loved so much was to be closed forever. Luckily, I got my wonderful but sad opportunity to say goodbye to Snow White's Scary Adventures. One spring evening in 2012, only a short while before it was to close, I went through the switchback queue one last time. I gazed at the load mural and its numerous parts, knowing I’d never see it in the flesh again. I sat down in the mine cart, and for the last time, departed around the wishing well. There is no experience quite like riding an attraction for the final time. I tried my hardest to see every last part of the ride I so loved, from the infinite elegancies of the queen’s throne room to every single thicket and scrub in the Dark Forest. Struggling to take it all in, I traveled with Snow White on her adventures, passing through castles and dungeons, cottages and mines, dark and light forests. It went like a blur, and yet, as long as it had always been. Soon enough, I found myself at the end of my journey, and Dopey waved goodbye from above, this time in earnest. In short fashion, I stepped out to my left, and left Snow White to live happily ever after with her prince.

By the morning of June 1st, Snow White's Scary Adventures was only a memory, its entrance walled up, and my beloved ride that laid inside was gutted to its supports. In a cruel twist of fate, the space where Snow White's Scary Adventures once was would not even be made into a new attraction, but into a princess meet-and-greet, of all things. Every young girl and their parents who has visited Princess Fairytale Hall since then may not have ever known about the classic dark ride that once stood there. Where Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and others now entertain their fans, bus-bar carts once took guests through a subtly brilliant attraction, where beauty and fright combined, Snow White and the Wicked Witch were both stars, and there were as many princesses, skeletons, crocodile logs, frightening trees that moved, Wicked Witches, and countless other things I loved as there are diamonds in the Dwarfs mine. I sorely miss Snow White's Scary Adventures, and it will always have a special place in my heart.

In Memoriam

Snow White's Scary Adventures        1971-2012

In Part Two of Resurrecting Snow White's Scary Adventures, I will talk about why and how I would bring back Snow White's Scary Adventures from the dead.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Happy Cinco de Mayo! El Rio Del Tiempo vs Gran Fiesta Tour

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, a celebration of the battle of Cinco De Mayo, and of Mexican culture both authentic and Americanized, I present a battle to remember: El Rio Del Tiempo, the classic EPCOT Center attraction that explored Mexico's history and culture, will face off against Gran Fiesta Tour, its replacement that stars Donald and his fellow Caballeros. I will compare each attractions concept, execution, and future potential, award points to each attraction's advantages over the other, and add up the score to determine once and for all which attraction succeeds most at presenting the history and culture of Mexico in the most entertaining and informative way (in keeping with the goals of EPCOT Center). Without further ado, let's begin:


Each attraction has a concept, plot, story, or backstory, one that is not necessarily the same quality as the ride itself. Questionable concepts can become great attractions, and great concepts can transform into mediocre rides. It is a lot harder to achieve the former then it is to suffer the latter. In this way, concepts are like ideological blueprints for attractions. In the case of an attraction for the Mexico Pavilion, the strongest concept would be one that strives to entertain and inform people about Mexico the most.

El Rio Del Tiempo:

Sail a river of time through Mexico's past, present and culture.

Gran Fiesta Tour:

Fine feathered caballeros of the South, Panchito the Mexican Rooster and Jose the Brazilian Parrot, lose their fellow caballero Donald Duck in Mexico, and you join their race through the country to find their friend in time to perform their Gran Fiesta Tour concert.


Right off the bat, El Rio Del Tiempo scores with its straightforward concept; you are sailing on a river of time through Mexico. Gran Fiesta Tour's concept is an unnecessarily specific backstory, one that doesn't allow for a completely immersive experience but simply riding on a boat with a third-person perspective on the story involving the Three Caballeros. The River of Time takes this round.

El Rio Del Tiempo: 1         Gran Fiesta Tour: 0


There is no straightforward method of determining how well an attraction is executed, since everybody has different opinions on what works and what doesn't work in an attraction. In my opinion, an EPCOT Center attraction should strive to be as sophisticated as it is fun, make its message clear without being condescending, and always trust its audience. EPCOT Center was initially built for a more adult audience, so its attractions should be geared towards adults who are still children at heart, and for children who want to be treated more as adults. And finally, an EPCOT Center attraction should above all strive to entertain and inform in equal and exemplary parts.

Of course, no modern Epcot attraction has been constructed by EPCOT Center standards. But EPCOT Center's message and the way it presented is every bit as relevant, resonant, and crucial to understanding ourselves and our future as it was in 1982. So there is no excuse for any recent Epcot attraction being held to different standards then the EPCOT Center attractions they replace.

El Rio Del Tiempo

(Rain0975 on Flickr)

It is hard to find many other examples of an EPCOT Center attraction that promised so much and delivered so little. The elaborate and incredibly well-done jungle and Maya pyramid tableau at the beginning of the ride promised an epic journey on the River of Time, as mysterious and awe-inspiring as that Mayan temple, that dense jungle, and that glowing volcano in the distance.

(Sam Howzit on Flickr)

The entering of the mysterious ruins, a dark tunnel filled with mist and ancient murals painted on the walls, and a welcome to the Mexico of ancient times by a ghostly Mayan priest seemed to be a gradual build to even more great and mysterious places on the River of Time. But then it all went wrong.

A big thank-you to Foxxy for this picture
(Doobie and Rebekah from Laughing Place)

The Mexico of ancient times proved to be a Mexico of screens, with films of dancers and performers in Pre-Columbian attire that all too obviously showed their late-70s date. In a rare example, the Imagineers left too much to the imagination, providing far too little of an explanation as to what the heck was going on in the films. The films didn't even have the benefit of carefully constructed sets that put the film into "real" space, like If You Had Wings. So many myths and achievements of early Mexico, like the fight between the gods of light and darkness, and the studies of mathematics and astronomy, were lost in the confusing maze of interpretive dancers, film and ruins.

(vmpyr_david on Flickr)

The next segment of the ride inexplicably could be summed up as "It's a Small World meets Day of the Dead", with a repetitive, cheerful song, animatronic dolls of Mexican children celebrating, and a bright and warm palette of color. Its best touch was a skeleton mariachi band that played on a bridge from above.

(Pete Toscano on Flickr)

The rest of the ride had a similarly happy, simple tone, where happy Mexicans smiled and sang to tourists, and street merchants begged riders to buy their wares, all on film. The grand finale was a genuinely weird carousel of people of Mexico strung up as marionettes. The ride ended by going through a barely themed hallway, an unfitting conclusion for any attraction.

Somewhere between concept and execution, El Rio Del Tiempo was mutilated, with a big part of its original concept (including an outdoor portion) cut due to a need to save money on EPCOT Center. What should have been a unique and amazing representation of Mexican culture and history became an odd, constrained mix between If You Had Wings, It's a Small World, and Mexico, with a tone that later in the attraction's run could be taken as offensive to Mexicans. To its credit, I will always remember and enjoy the eerie and ethereal atmosphere (complete with haunting music) that culminated in the Pepper's Ghost Priest, the footage of real Mexico, and that catchy Small World-esque theme song. But as far as entertaining and informing about the profound culture and history of Mexico, it didn't come nearly as close as it should have.

Gran Fiesta Tour

(Michael Gray on Flickr)

Let's be honest; it wouldn't have taken much for Gran Fiesta Tour to not only surpass El Rio Del Tiempo, but also do a great job entertaining and informing guests about Mexico. Although like any other EPCOT Center fan I am extremely wary of character tie-ins at Epcot, especially after the butchering of Maelstrom and the Norway Pavilion by Frozen, the Three Caballeros are not a bad choice at all for an attraction about Mexico. Walt Disney created the Caballeros as the result of a goodwill mission to Central and South America during WWII. Panchito the rooster and Jose the parrot were created specifically for the purpose of representing Latin American culture, entertaining as well as showcasing their respective countries. Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros (both of which I desperately need to see) were very travelogue-esque films focused on Central and South America. It is not much of a leap to come to the conclusion that the Three Caballeros should host an attraction about Mexico, a Latin American country. Alas, I do not believe that was the intention of the people responsible for the overlay so much as quickly and cheaply tying in the characters to the ride for merchandise purposes. This is evidenced by the convoluted plot of Donald running off and enjoying the sights of Mexico while his buddies search for him before their big concert, and most of El Rio Del Tiempo being left intact, but with different content on the screens. Thankfully, this meant that the original jungle and temple tableau was left intact, and it still impresses guests to this day.
(Inazakira on Flickr)

Speaking of the screens, Gran Fiesta Tour finally gave them a reason to exist. As Panchito and Jose chase Donald all over Mexico, the vignettes of their story on the screens show all sorts of hilarious antics from both parties. I love seeing Panchito and Jose's close shave with a knife-sharpening chef, and Donald bouncing like a pinball off one of Mexico's famous diving cliffs. But my favorite segment of film is the one that replaces the street merchants. Now there is a huge fiesta where mariachis play and people dance while Jose and Panchito barely manage to keep Donald in their grasp as he reaches for a trio of lovely senoritas. The new film clips that replaced the old travelogue and interpretive dance scenes of El Rio are simply fun, colorful, and full of action, fitting right in place with the Mary Blair-inspired Day of the Dead scene, and the upbeat and rythmic "Three Caballeros" song. The only disappointing aspects of the new films are (1) they are constrained by the specific plot, (2) the entrance into the ruins was stripped of its mist, tomb and Pepper's Ghost priest, the latter two being replaced by a film that starts the adventure, and (3) they are still not in proper sets to give them a realistic space, meaning that most of the ride is an elaborately themed theater for a cartoon. But fortunately, one of those problems with the screens has since been fixed:

Gran Fiesta Finale: Before (Joe Penniston on Flickr)

Gran Fiesta Finale: After (Sam Howzit on Flickr)

The finale of Gran Fiesta Tour used to be disappointing too, as it was just another screen, a big one that replaced the marionette carousel for the grand concert finale. Especially with the abundance of screens and lack of animatronics, this original finale was a pretty mediocre way to end the ride. Then in 2015, WDI revealed one of its best surprises in years; overnight, restored versions of the original Three Caballeros animatronics from the old Mickey Mouse Revue show were installed in the finale of Gran Fiesta Tour. I got my first opportunity to meet these guys in February of this year, and I cannot overstate how impressed I am with the fantastic job they did with upgrading the finale of Gran Fiesta and restoring classic WDW animatronics to boot. This new finale is definitely a marked improvement over the marionette carousel of El Rio, and is a worthy climax for Gran Fiesta Tour.

Trying to set Gran Fiesta Tour against not only El Rio Del Tiempo but the standards of EPCOT Center as well is a challenge. A case can be made that the presence of the Three Caballeros to Mexico's boat ride drowns out all information and entertainment from the original star of the ride itself: Mexico. But was El Rio Del Tiempo any better at effectively presenting the history and culture of Mexico then Gran Fiesta Tour? Both attractions can claim to have a slight edge over the other; El Rio actually tried to present the culture and history of Mexico, but Gran Fiesta Tour, in my opinion, is far better at what it does with its concept then El Rio did with its own concept, and as a result can hold its own against El Rio. Thus, it is my humble opinion that Fiesta Tour not only executed its own concept better then El Rio executed its, but is at least as good at executing El Rio Del Tiempo's concept as El Rio itself was, if not better. The Three Caballeros win this one.

Adios, Amigos! (Sam Howzit)

El Rio Del Tiempo: 1        Gran Fiesta Tour: 1

El Rio Del Tiempo was a ride with a grand concept it came nowhere close to realizing, but at least it tried. Gran Fiesta Tour did not mean to try, but did so anyway, and it may have made more progress then El Rio on that course with its irresistible mixture of Three Caballeros, Mexico, fun, color, music, and the art of Mary Blair. All the latter needs is to abandon the storyline of Donald being separated from his friends in Mexico, restore the mysterious atmosphere of that original ruin entrance, and redress the sets and films so that they look seamless with each other (and add some more animatronics, both Caballero and human, please!). I would greatly enjoy a romp through Mexico with the Three Caballeros, joining them as they teach us about Mexico, enjoy the country together and in different ways, and then reunite for their Gran Fiesta Tour Concert. I think a lot of people would agree with me.

But no matter how incredible an attraction starring the Three Caballeros may be, there will always be an inherent discord between the main ride and that mysterious, awe-inspiring tableau that starts the ride. When I see the Olmec stone head covered with vines, the simple huts in the distance, and the eerie glow that emanates from both the temple and volcano, it seems to be speaking an unfulfilled promise. That promise is of sailing a River of Time, where people and places from Mexico, both ancient and modern, come together in an epic journey that you undertake. Dreams of this journey could become reality, in the form of a greatly expanded, revised, and brilliant El Rio Del Tiempo.

I've tried my hardest to choose between sailing on the River of Time or having an adventure with the Three Caballeros on their Gran Fiesta Tour, but it seems no matter which one I'd choose I'd never be content with not having both. My final decision as of now is that Gran Fiesta Tour could stay with the improvements I mentioned and the Mexico pavilion would have a fine attraction, but if the Imagineers wanted to dream bigger, they could bring back the spectacular new El Rio Del Tiempo the pavilion deserves (and hopefully find a way to give my amigos the Three Caballeros an attraction of their own). What do YOU think? In any case, I award both El Rio Del Tiempo and Gran Fiesta Tour a point in this final round.

El Rio Del Tiempo: 2          Gran Fiesta Tour: 2

Conclusion: Dead Tie

I would love to hear your thoughts on this split decision.

Sincerely, Kyle