Pooh's Party Crashers

by David Koenig, contributing writer

The paranoia arises from rumors that Imagineers have hidden a "secret tribute" to Disneyland's now-homeless Country Bears in the attraction that is replacing it: the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Yet cast members in the know are hesitant about spilling the beans. It's not so much that they'd spoil the secret. They just want to minimize the "buzz," since trying to get a glimpse at the tribute might prove dangerous.

So, before you read any further, raise your right hand and repeat after me: "I, (Your Name), promise to obey all safety requirements on the new Pooh ride. I will remain seated, with my hands and arms inside the vehicle, at all times. Amen."

Photograph of Winnie the Pooh with new ride vehicle
Pooh with the new ride vehicle. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix

Okay, here are the Bear facts: The nod to the building's former residents appears near the end of the new Pooh ride, as your beehive vehicle travels out of a big Heffalumps and Woozles scene and into a "Honey Party" scene, full of dripping honey sets. Mounted high on the wall directly behind your vehicle are the old animatronic heads of Melvin the Moose, Buff the Buffalo, and Max the Deer.

"You have to know they are there in order to see them, because it requires you to look 180 degrees behind you and up above the track about 15 feet," advises one ride operator. "They are the exact same heads that came from Theater Two at Disneyland, and they had been stored for the last year in the Haunted Mansion show building beneath the Graveyard scene set where the ghosts are having a tailgate party on the back of a hearse. They've just been sitting there waiting to be installed in the new Pooh ride."

The operator's concern, though, "is that once word gets out about this, you are going to have a lot of guests turning around in their seats and straining to see the three old Bear Band figures mounted up on the wall above the track. The third row of the Pooh vehicles has a high back to it, almost like an Omnimover vehicle, and it will be impossible for the third row riders to see behind them unless they lean far off the side of the vehicle and peer around the back of the beehive. Or worse yet, climb out of their seats and try to stand up to see around the back of the beehive car. Row one riders will just have to turn completely around, and row two riders will likely have to turn around and stretch their necks a bit to catch a glimpse of the figures."

Obviously, he warns, all such behaviors are strictly forbidden according to the innumerable safety placards plastered throughout every ride at the Resort. "You are to sit securely in your vehicle facing forward and keep all limbs inside at all times," he says. "But to get a good glimpse of the Bear Band figures in Pooh, most beehive passengers are going to have to break those ride vehicle rules in some fashion. I don't think Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) realizes how humorless the folks from the State and the legal department are. This is kind of a good example of WDI being a bit out of touch with the theme park operating reality of the times."

Guests will be able to at least try to see the homage for themselves soon enough. Construction of the new attraction is right on schedule for a planned early April opening, following cast member previews and possibly soft openings.

Right now, WDI ride system engineers are installing and tweaking the audio and visual effects, and getting the timing down on the station parking positions, as well as spacing of vehicles when the automatic track switch is to be used. During the evenings, about three or four vehicles can be heard cycling through the attraction.

A handful of ride operators are helping out. "The first Operations people are in place and are working with the Imagineers on the project daily," says one cast member. "The Imagineers seem pretty happy so far. The only drawback to the process is that the person who designed the new Splash Fastpass area designed the Pooh queue. Which has made for some problems that are blatantly obvious to us operations folks that the Imagineers 'never considered.' Fortunately, some of the West Side's best Operations folks and best new assistant manager are stepping in to hopefully solve these issues before the attraction even opens."

The main challenges with the Pooh queue are where to place the Fastpass merge point, the wheelchair line, stroller parking, the extended queue, and the wheelchair line (as on "it's a small world," wheelchairs will roll right on to the Pooh vehicles). "Critter Country is a very tiny corner, with not a whole lot of space," she notes. "An extended queue would be an easy fix, except that it would take the line behind the Pooh photo location, which obviously they can't do. Taking it up the ramp pinches the walkways in Critter Country and would leave no room for strollers. ODV [Outdoor Vending] owns the area between the Hungry Bear and the Pooh bridge, so no strollers there. Don't forget about Splash's extended queue near the old Fastpass area, negating that area for stroller parking. Evidently, the guy who designed the whole thing has maps for an extended queue, so who knows what will happen. The Operations folks involved are mostly old school guest control cast members, so the guest flow will definitely be at the forefront of any considerations."

Although the ride appears to be nearly complete, says another cast member, "believe it or not, there really is a lot of work still to be done on Pooh. Once the ride system engineers are further along on their testing, the show designers will want to cycle and test vehicles for several months. They will need to test and adjust audio and visual effects, the exact moment the vehicles begin their movement effects, as well as basic things like when the swinging and sliding doors between the different scenes open and close as the vehicles approach them. All of that is still a good 90 days worth of work, which really just puts us in early March before they enter the final phases of testing."

If everything goes according to schedule, WDI will turn over the attraction to Operations the second week of March. Then, Attractions cast members can begin testing and adjusting things such as load times, evacuation locations and procedures, wheelchair vehicle spacing, and dispatch intervals, and train the rest of the staff.

Ashes to Ashes...

The Haunted Mansion has long advertised itself as home to 999 happy haunts — but always looking for one more. Last Saturday night, December 14, guests took Disneyland up on its offer.

The small group of visitors arrived at the Mansion late in the evening and asked for their own stretching room (elevator). They explained that their 7-year-old boy died recently, and the Haunted Mansion was his favorite ride. They wanted to take time to pray and have a quick memorial service for him. Even though the queue was crowded, the lead granted their request.

The party proceeded through the attraction without incident, until their Doom Buggies were well on their way. Suddenly, via the hidden camera monitors, the host in the tower noticed one of the guests throwing a powdery substance out her Buggy. Instead of stopping the attraction, the operator repeatedly asked the party to not throw anything on the ride. When they didn't stop, he called a lead, but it was too late. The guests had exited and vanished into the crowded park.

A cast member was sent into the ride to investigate, and he detected what a smattering of dust, "gray, like ash." Disney couldn't take any chances. The crew cycled out the vehicles and evacuated the attraction. Soon, park security, the fire department, Anaheim police, and about every manager in the park were on the scene.

Investigators identified the substance as "human remains." Eventually custodians were called to clean the ride and disinfect the culprits' vehicles, Buggies 49 and 50. The closure lasted hours.

"I don't know what bothers me more, that these people could do this with no concern for the law or those who work there," said one onlooker. "Or that the cast member didn't stop the ride immediately — what if it had been something lethal? Or maybe it is the fact that they couldn't get it all and some went under the track and down into the ballroom and now it will always be there. Or maybe just the fact that now a majority of this boy's remains are in the bottom of a Disney trash can. I am horrified, however you look at it."

Musical Cheers

Despite improving audience reaction to the new Aladdin musical at Disney's California Adventure, performances have been canceled for this week to ensure the best show possible by next month's "official premiere." Expect previews to resume this weekend.

The Entertainment Department had already made some tweaks. According to one cast member, "The Aladdin show has gone over some minor changes in the script and move of the show. Jokes that didn't work have been taken out and replaced with better ones, and the flow of the show moves a little better, with trap doors and smoke cued properly. Some of the casting in the show bothers me, but let me say that with a few minor adjustments, the show will be great."

Tower Talk

Reader Norm was able to squeeze some details on Disney's California Adventure (DCA) park's upcoming Tower of Terror attraction out of an unsuspecting cast member. He reports: "An inside bit that I got out of somebody at guest relations at DCA on Saturday night—I'm sure she wouldn't mind me telling this to others—is that on DCA's Tower of Terror each of the three shafts will have its own unique show elements and effects. Also that the elimination of the Fifth Dimension room was not only to cut costs, but that the original in Florida is actually the byproduct of a failed attempt at a certain effect that they have now perfected for the DCA version. That sounds like a little bit of PR mumbo jumbo, but I'd like to believe it."

Victim Update

James Margolin, the guest who died December 8 shortly after riding Big Thunder Mountain, worked as a tour guide at Universal Studios. Says a Universal co-worker: "I didn't know Jim that well but he was always one with a smile and a joke. I know he will be missed by not only the guides of Universal but by all the staff and everyone that knew him."

Campaigning for the 50th

Reader Daniel Mart has launched a campaign aimed at getting Art Linkletter, who co-hosted the Disneyland's Opening Day ceremonies in 1955, to host Disneyland's 50th birthday festivities, including a live TV special on July 17, 2005. Join his petition at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/disneylands_50th.