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David Koenig
Hold Your Breath for Atlantis
Will we see an Atlantis attraction at the Disney parks?

Atlantis promotional art  Disney
Atlantis promotional art Disney

Soon after the mid-June release of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, box office returns will determine the fate of Atlantis: The Theme Park Attraction. But whether or not it's a good movie, the Kirk Wise-and Gary Trousdale-directed film definitely has the goods to be a great attraction.

In fact, Wise and Trousdale's first directing assignment was a theme park attraction — Epcot's Cranium Command in 1989. It was also their last theme park attraction. From there, they went on to helm Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Both would inspire fine stage shows at the parks, but neither would end up as a permanent attraction.

Atlantis promotional art  Disney
Atlantis promotional art Disney

The oversight had nothing to do with the quality of the films. Both boasted lovable characters, memorable songs and a strong story, a Wise and Trousdale trademark. It's just that in theme park attractions, the play's not the thing—it's the playground. Where, not what, is paramount, and both Beauty and the Beast and Hunchback featured relatively mundane surroundings. The medieval castles, countrysides and villages are all too common in Disney animation. (Plus, you try setting a thrill ride in a cathedral!)

As related in my newly updated book Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks, Imagineer extraordinaire Tony Baxter discovered the all-importance of atmosphere during the development of a never-built ride based on Disney's Robin Hood. "Whether it's a good movie or not," Baxter explained, "is beside the point. It's a movie that's characters, there's no atmosphere in it. I call it 'sticks and stones and rocks and leaves.' First you have the stone walls outside the castle, then the stone walls inside the castle, then the leaves in the forest, that's it. There are no exotic environments, you just have all these scenes with Robin meeting Friar Tuck, then Robin meeting Little John, then Robin meeting Maid Marian. That's when I figured it out: the rides are about exotic places, not characters. The best attractions are where you suddenly find yourself in a jewel mine or flying over London."

Atlantis promotional art  Disney
Atlantis promotional art Disney

That precept doesn't keep the Imagineers from trying to adapt movies to attractions, no matter how undistinguished their environments. In fact, in the early 1990s, Imagineering designed a Beauty and the Beast attraction as one of the first additions to Disneyland Paris. As described in Mouse Under Glass, it would be a Tiki Room-type show that opened with plates and other dinnerware performing "Be Our Guest." Gargoyles would descend to sing "Beware the Beast," a rewritten version of "Kill the Beast." Then an animatronic Beast would appear with a live Belle. "Why have you all come here to stare at me?" he'd snarl at the audience. But Belle assured him, no, they're friends. She would give a guest a rose to hand to the Beast. After a puff of smoke, a live Prince would emerge from the Beast figure.

At the last minute, the show, along with a Little Mermaid dark ride, were shelved in favor of adding the more marketable Space Mountain.

Its unique underwater backdrop gives Atlantis a much better chance of becoming a theme park attraction. Even in press materials, it sounds as much like a ride as a movie ("an exciting and imaginative cinematic journey to a fascinating cinematic journey to a fascinating and mysterious place").

Atlantis promotional art  Disney
The Atlantis official Web site. Promotional art Disney

Certainly, Wise, Trousdale and producer Don Hahn had "thrill ride" in mind when in the fall of 1996 they began exploring ideas for their follow-up to Hunchback. The trio wanted to capture the flavor of the traditional Disney live action adventure genre (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Swiss Family Robinson, In Search of the Castaways) as well as contemporary exploration films such as the Indiana Jones series.

"We decided we wanted to bring back the great genre of action- adventure movies that Walt was famous for in the 1950s and that filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg rejuvenated more recently with Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and others," Hahn said. "We wanted to make a big wide-screen epic movie in animation. There's a whole land at Disneyland called Adventureland; so we decided, let's go there. Instead of going down Main Street and through the castle to Fantasyland, where we've been so many times before (and thankfully so), we thought we'd make a turn left at the hub and go into Adventureland and have some fun there."

Atlantis promotional art  Disney
Atlantis promotional art Disney

The Disney-record number of visual effects in Atlantis are reminiscent of Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure, with undersea explosions, lava-spouting volcanoes, fire-setting fireflies, glowing crystals, laser beams, tidal waves, and bubbles. Digital effects (362 in all) are seen in 30% of the film and "Deep Canvas" (a digital approach to painting backgrounds that was created for Tarzan to add a sense of depth to the backgrounds) was used in at least half a dozen scenes. Artistic coordinator Chris Jenkins estimates that there is some form of effects in 6,000 of the 7,600 feet of film.

For the film's 1914 setting, the artistic team fused elements of the machine age/industrial period with the imaginative graphic style of comic book artist Mike Mignola (Hellboy), creating a look similar to Disneyland Paris' Discoveryland or Disneyland's never-built Discovery Bay. It would blend perfectly with the stylized "history of the future" motif of the New Tomorrowlands of Disneyland and Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Atlantis promotional art  Disney
Atlantis promotional art Disney

As luck would have it, both parks have long-dormant Submarine Lagoons, waiting to take guests once again (we hope) on a voyage through liquid space. And while the Magic Kingdom's lagoon is in Fantasyland, not Tomorrowland, its original attraction was patterned after 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, one of the influences on Atlantis.

Another good omen: the theme of Tomorrowland always has been transportation, and Atlantis features a host of imaginative land and sea vehicles. Ranging in shape and size from the massive Leviathan (the giant, mechanical, Crustacean-like guardian of Atlantis) to the sophisticated Ulysses (the explorers' submarine, estimated to be 1,000 feet in length) to the crystal-powered flying Stone Fish, used as a means of transportation by the Atlanteans, vehicles play a major role in the film. The explorers bring a caravan of 1914-vintage steam powered trucks and machines that include Mole's Digger, Cookie's Chuckwagon and other transport vehicles. The film's finale even features a Gyroscopic Emergency Evacuation Air Ship (or gyro-evac), an inflatable escape device complete with propellers.

Atlantis promotional art  Disney
Atlantis promotional art Disney

Imagineers have pitched several angles for bringing Atlantis to the Disney parks. Let's hope Disney makes the plunge.

 


You can write to David atthis link..

Promotional art  Disney
Promotional art Disney

 ABOUT THE PHOTOS:

Pictures of concept art from Atlantis were taken of exhibits inside the Animation building at Disney's California Adventure by Al Lutz.

All promotional art seen on this page is of course Disney.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.

After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999); all titles published by Bonaventure Press.

He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.

You can contact David here.

LINKS

Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.

Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)

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