What's Gnu?

by David Koenig, contributing writer

With all the attention lavished on the rejuvenated Tiki Room and rebuilt Space Mountain, there's been precious little publicity for the considerably more noticeable changes coming to Disneyland's first E-ticket attraction, the Jungle Cruise.

Disney wants not only to freshen up the classic attraction in time for the park's 50th anniversary celebration, but also to make the trip more realistic and interactive. In too many of the old scenes, the animatronic animals interact only with each other. Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) scoured the jungle for ways to involve the boats with each scene (similar to the encounters with the squirting elephant, the charging hippo, and the attacking natives).

Here is the new Jungle Cruise as Imagineering hopes it will reopen May 5, time and budgets willing…

Let's hop aboard our vessel—no need to wait for the “special” boat with gold accents—and head down the fabled Irriwaddy River of Asia. We immediately notice that the heavy brush and bamboo have been seriously thinned. In fact, much of the old greenery has been replaced with foliage native to the countries portrayed in each scene.

As we enter the tropical rainforest, we receive a much lighter soaking than during our last trip through these parts. A new mister has been installed in the upper branches to more closely replicate the light mist of a real jungle.

Passing the Indiana Jones queue, we see that bushes have been added to deter shorebound crowds from staring at our boat and interrupting our illusion. The Temple of the Forbidden Eye is still visible in the distance, although plants have been draped over most of the cargo net near the ride's exit.

Approaching the Ancient Cambodian Shrine, we notice that “Old Smiley” the crocodile has been moved from the left to the right side of our boat to make it appear as if we're surrounded by crocs. A newly added cobra is also uncoiling in the temple. Our boat slowly motors past a giant, sticky spider web draped from the temple column closest to the shore.

Turning into the Elephant Bathing Pool, we see a new elephant or two have been added, while the old-timers have been rearranged. Then, just after we pass the squirting elephant, we hear a loud explosion ahead. We soon discover the ruckus is coming from the Safari Outpost, but not from the mischievous, jeep-flipping gorillas. No, either a pack of baboons or a baby gorilla has joined the camp coop and is throwing dynamite into the river. As we cautiously make our way past the scene, a burst of fire explodes through the water's surface. We narrowly escape, as we veer right at Schweitzer Falls.

In the African Veldt, the animals have been repositioned to create a more “realistic setting.” Zebras, for instance, typically don't hang out real close to hungry lions—at least live zebras don't.

At the Hippo Pool, we're happy to see that the once-grimy hippopotamuses have all been given a nice scrubbing. There's also a half-sunken boat at the far side of the pool, suggesting what the hippos are capable of and reminding us why the skippers got their guns back.

From there, we travel past Headhunter Country and under an entirely rebuilt Schweitzer Falls. The new falls look identical to their 50-year-old forerunner, since the replacement was unplanned. Unfortunately, early last week, while WDI was working on the termite-infested wood and crumbling plaster, the structure collapsed onto itself.

Into the treacherous rapids of Kilimanjaro, our intrepid skipper cautions us to keep our hands inside the boat. It's not so much because of the churning whitewater, but due to the man-eating piranhas. To demonstrate, the captain tosses into the water a fish tied to a string. Seconds, later he yanks it back up, to reveal nothing but fish bones at the end of the line.

Around the bend, the water buffalo has been relocated back into the bushes to keep the focus on the python, which features a new interactive effect. And finally, we bid farewell to Trader Sam and his new assistant, a baby elephant.

Hopefully, Disney is proceeding with most of these proposed enhancements and in six weeks our beloved skippers will have plenty of fodder for new material.