This is the second of a two-part piece on the Dragon Tower in Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda, in which we look at Disney attractions that were designed but never built. In part 1, former Imagineer Paul Torrigino gave us a great look at the Imagineering process and his role as Art Director for Dragon Tower, and the intriguing and fabled attraction originally slated for Beastlie Kingdomme land planned for Disney's Animal Kingdom park in Florida. Today, again thanks to Paul, we get to do a virtual walk-through of Beastlie Kingdomme and ride Dragon Tower! Mark
If you rode the Discovery River Boats (designed by MousePlanet contributor George McGinnis) when they were still running in the early days of Disney's Animal Kingdom, you would have noticed melted armor near a cave from which flames (ostensibly a dragon's breath) would occasionally erupt. It may have seemed slightly odd for this to be located near the entrance to Camp Minnie-Mickey. What was up with that?
That was the sole remnant of the intended tenant of that section of the park. Beastlie Kingdomme was to be the home of all of the mythological animals at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Due to budget cuts, however, the development of the land was put on hold in 1994, with Camp Minnie-Mickey devised as a temporary placeholder to help give opening-day crowds a place to go. Little did they know that a low-budget live show using leftover floats from the Magic Kingdom's Lion King Celebration parade (brought over from Disneyland) would become a smash hit and prevent the Adirondack-style camp land from being turned back to its original purpose. Let's take a look at what could have been.
You enter across the main entrance bridge from the Safari Village, which has the main Beastlie Kingdome marquee on it. From the bridge, you can see the dragon cave along the Discovery River. Just past the bridge is a magical wooded area with fairy lights. Just beyond that is Mother Goose's Cottage, a shop. Straight back in the distance is the Unicorn Maze. And to the right, the Fantasia Gardens boat ride.
The left side of the land is 'the evil side.' The little stone bridge on the left side of the woods is Billy Goat Bridge. In the left foreground is a version of the Loch Ness Monster in the water, and the building just to the left with the lights on is the Loch Ness Landing restaurant, with its exterior architecture based on Stonehenge. Further up the path on the left are see some rooftops, which are part of some old nautical themed shops. Then a little further up, the huge smoldering thing on the left is the dragon tower ride.
The exterior of the tower structure is an immense and dilapidated medieval castle, with crumbling ancient walls and evidence of past battles with the dragon, like burn marks and pieces of battered, melted and twisted knight's armor and weaponry here and there. The large top tower itself is crooked and leaning, but in an unnatural way, as if some terrible evil magical force has distorted it long ago, or imploded inside of it.
Paul notes, I remember playing with some initial paint treatments for the tower, and I was trying to get that certain effect of - well, you know how spilt soda or oil looks on asphalt? Kind of a dark wet thing but it reflects iridescent rainbow colors in the sun? Anyway, that was the effect I was going for, where there would be these big drippy areas coming out of the turrets and other holes and crevices and they would reflect rainbows in the sun against the dark stone - like a snail trail, that's it.
The exterior enclosed queue area is themed as part of the castle courtyard, with stone walls, covered with a huge canvas that was strangely assembled of pieces of different fabrics salvaged from within the castle. It's a nice shady holding area. Strange medieval music plays softly, perhaps played by a band of bats.
The entrance to the interior is through a split in one wall, leading to a series of ancient castle storage chambers. You snake your way through these dark areas and see all kinds of old castle supplies like barrels, boxes, weaponry and other things, all covered with cobwebs and dust. Illumination comes from colored shafts of light that stream in from various iron grills and openings above.
Here and there you hear whispered conversations coming from above and around corners. The voices are from some bats that also live in the castle, who are planning to steal the treasure from the mean, evil dragon that lives in the treasure chamber. From their conversations, you discover that the bats have tried to steal the treasure unsuccessfully many times before. But this time, they are going to enlist the help of the guests in the castle (you!), and they have been making some elaborate plans.
Further in this area, the bats are revealed in several little vignettes that you walk past. In one scene, a funny bat hangs upside down, dressed uncomfortably in all kinds of implements like pots and pans, with a big metal dinner plate tied onto him for a breast plate, kind of like the old Tenniel illustration in Alice in Wonderland, of Tweedle Dee and Dum ready for battle.
The bat is scared and stuttering, trying to build up courage for the fight. Another couple of bats hang in a dungeon cell with a big map of the castle on the wall (with a big red X over the dragon chamber), talking about the strategy for the attack. All are staged in a very comic theatrical way, using full animatronic figures (same type of thing as the Bear Band figures). The bats are big, maybe three and half to four feet tall, and very funny looking. [Paul's note: I remember talking about music for the ride, no singing, but we wanted some kind of catchy theme throughout.]
After leaving these small rooms, you walk through several larger rooms representing the main rooms of the castle and then into the main dining hall/throne room which is the load and unload area. Suspended coaster type vehicles are themed to look like half-melted iron cauldrons with other bits of weaponry tied on here and there. Each is suspended from the feet of a fiberglass bat, which also serves as a canopy above. The vehicles are attached in groups of four, five, or six, like coaster trains. The track enters the center of the room from a big hole in the wall on the left, and exits through another broken wall on the right. In the room are also various props, like a big old gilded throne and a long dining table with cobweb-covered dinner service on it.
You board the cauldrons and take off to the right, into an upward series of dark cavernous halls. All the while, there is audio of the bats cheering you on and getting ready for the battle and telling you to grab as much treasure as you can. You make a couple of wrong turns, with the vehicles narrowly missing some doors that slam shut, as well as some fire effects and dragon roars.
Then the cauldrons level off and enter the giant dragon treasure chamber. The dragon's front half is in the chamber coming through a big broken wall with his back half unseen. The front half is huge, perhaps 30 feet long! He is a gluttonous-looking thing, asleep and snoring away. He has a big creepy head and has decorated himself with all kinds of treasure, like big golden shields for earrings and other bits of treasure hanging all over his body. The room is covered with piles of all kinds of sparkly golden treasure and jewels, some just out of reach.
As the cauldrons enter, the bat voices from above yell a battle cry. The dragon wakes up, of course and spots the cauldrons. He rears up and blasts a ball of real fire toward the vehicles.
Paul notes, I remember we had a consultation from a fire expert regarding this. He did quite a few fire effects for films and Vegas shows.
The cauldrons pick up tremendous speed to narrowly escape the fireball. They rush out of the room and start a quick downward spiral out of the castle (this is the main drop), through an exterior area that runs through a wooded area and a series of big architectural ruins and some teetering and crooked columns. This is the fastest part of the ride. The track goes up and down like a standard roller coaster and has some sharp turns. This area is quite large and takes up a big space at the back of the land.
At the end of this, the cauldrons lose speed and re-enter the dining chamber where you unload. You exit through another castle corridor where bat voices can be heard from above, thanking you for helping them and encouraging you to return to help them just one more time, saying that the next time they would surely succeed.
Wow, what a cool attraction! Well, as master Imagineer Marc Davis said, No good idea ever really dies at Imagineering. Maybe Dragon Tower will someday rise in some way, shape, or form.
(Send an email to Paul Torrigino)
Designer Paul Torrigino joined Walt Disney Imagineering in 1980, and over the next 21 years worked as Production Artisan, Production Designer, Art Director, Concept Designer and Show Designer and worked on most of the large Imagineering projects.
Since leaving Disney, Paul has moved to Sacramento, California and has created an online custom tiki bar sign business called Pariarts, which he runs with his partner, ex-theme park designer Richard Gutierrez.
Paul says, "I really love our little home business and laid back lifestyle now. We have a great studio workshop and we always have a ton of little art projects going. After Disney laid me off, I've had no desire to return to the theme park industry. I got to work on some of the most amazing projects Disney ever did, and I'm very satisfied with the career I had."
Visit Pariarts to enjoy—and purchase—some of Paul and Richard's eye-popping tiki signs!