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South of the Border

imageThis isn’t a review of the book by J.B. Kaufman that came out in 2009, but I would encourage you to check it out.  In it, the author talks about the history of Walt Disney and his company and their relations with South America from 1941-1948. I don’t personally own it yet, but it is on my wish list.

While I don’t own this book, my discovery of it intrigued me to start doing some research and creative thinking that led to a new idea. So often, when I start dreaming up new ideas, I find myself repeatedly being drawn to Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK) and its lack of attractions and what could be done to improve this park. And, as much as I would love to see the long rumored and originally planned Beastly Kingdom built, another idea came to mind that I think might work just as well. The park, in its current configuration, consists of two small re-creations of real world areas, Asia and Africa, and three  fictional areas, Dinoland, Camp Minnie Mickey, and Discovery Island. Oh, and there’s also, the often forgotten and only slightly visited area waaay in the back of the park, Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

Supposedly, Camp Minnie Mickey was set up as a temporary land to fill the gap when they decided not to go forward with plans to build Beastly Kingdom. I’m not terribly opposed to Camp Minnie Mickey, except for the fact that it just doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the theming for the park. I think the area has potential and I’ve suggested in the past, that if they were stay with the “Camp” theme, then they should go full bore and make it into a fun-filled area with lots of activities like those you might find in a real camp. However, if they ever decide to scrap the camp, I think I’ve come up with an idea that could be even better than what was once proposed.

South_AmericaI have asked myself the question many times, what would be a good fit for the space currently occupied by the camp. The answer that would seem to be the best fit for the space and the park is South America. With such countries as Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and others, this continent is rich in culture and boasts a wide variety of animals that could be featured here. Some of the animals that can be found there are the Jaguar, Blue and Yellow Macaw, Giant Anteater, Maned Wolf, Piranha and the notorious Anaconda. Aside from the animals, the best known and biggest feature in South America is the Amazon river and its jungles. The Amazon is the greatest river in the world by so many measures; the volume of water it carries to the sea, the area of land that drains into it, and its length and width. It is one of the longest rivers in the world and, is reportedly almost 4,200 miles long, stretching across the northern part of South America.

It would seem to make sense to have the river and rainforest in the same park with Mt. Everest since they are two of the biggest and best known natural features on earth.

There are several reasons why I think South America would be a good fit.

Population/Demographics –  I don’t know the numbers, but many a WDW visitor can tell you that in a given year, a good number of visitors from South America make their way North to Florida, specifically to see the mouse. So, there is already a good “fan base” for such an area based on the continent.

Africa and Asia are the most populated continents on earth, which of course are already covered in the park, but followed by Europe which is 3rd in world population and North America after that, South America is 5th, followed by Australia and Antarctica.

Continent Total Population
Asia 3,879,000,000
Africa 922,011,000
Europe 731,000,000
North America 528,720,588
South America 382,000,000
Australia 22,000,000
Antarctica 1,000

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_continents_by_population#Area_and_population

Market – I see two big possibilities or market segments that Disney could and should reach out to. One would be Europe, the other South America.  Since Asia and Africa are already covered for the park, Europe might seem to be a good market segment for them to try and reach if for nothing else the size of their population, but, no offense, but I’m just not sure how appealing it would be or how much animal and natural culture could be incorporated into DAK. Not that there isn’t animal and natural environment that could be, but it’s just not a continent that is thought of when you think of wild animals, wild environment and the artifacts of the culture. On the other hand, South America would seem to stand out in this capacity. By adding a land that’s themed to this continent, it could potentially have an appeal to the guests who visit from here, if done well.

History – In the early 40s Walt himself visited South America as a goodwill ambassador for the war, plus they made a couple of films specifically targeting that market, Saludos Amigos and Three Caballeros. It’s a shame that they re-themed the indoor Mexican boat ride using the Three Caballero’s, as that ride and those characters would fit nicely here. Although, Disney has other characters they use in more than one attraction on property, so what would stop them from doing it here?

Film references – In my research, I was surprised to find at least 4 films Disney has released with a South American influence.

  • Saludos Amigos (1942)
  • Three Caballeros (1945)
  • Emperor’s New Groove (2000) (Inca/Peru)
  • Up (2009) (Venezuela)

Of these four, certainly they could come up with some content to build on, but then again, is it really needed? Look at the other two real-world lands in AK, and neither of them have very much, if any film references, so really, having a film reference could be a moot point if Imagineering were to create some good standalone stories and attractions like in the other lands.

Concepts & Ideas

Amazon Adventure – The big question with a new land is what type of attraction to build for the weenie. Should it be a low thrill, campy attraction like Jungle Cruise in MK, or maybe a medium thrill attraction where you might get a little wet, similar in style to Islands of Adventure’s Jurassic Park? Another option might be an indoor type of water ride similar to Pirates of the Caribbean but maybe with more thrill added.

Imagine floating down the Amazon thru the rainforests of Brazil, with a mix of live and animatronic animals along the river banks and in the water. Also along the banks would be the natives of the rainforest, the friendly ones, and the not-so friendlies. Somewhere along the way you would encounter a pool of piranha, and perhaps even an Anaconda.

The area just behind The Rainforest Cafe at Animal Kingdom and to the south of where Camp Minnie Mickey is would seem to be the best place to build such an attraction, and of course, it would be a perfect tie-in to the restaurant. I’m not sure what kind of arrangement Disney has with the restaurant, but they could conceivably set this up so the exit for the ride would dump guests directly into the restaurant gift shop. The area there, is already cleared, so even if they didn’t build out the full land for South America, they could just build a ride that would be loosely attached to the restaurant. There seems to be a good bit of land there that could be used for such an attraction.

Perhaps they could use some of the elements imagined for the once planned Tiger River Rapids envisioned for Asia when the park was still in the initial planning phase. Some of the elements from this conceived attraction actually did make it into the park, like the fire scene and the rapids. However, the best part didn’t. Apparently, the ride plans were for a river “train” consisting of two boats tied together. The first half of the ride would essentially be a tame jungle exploration with educational type information and scenery from the rainforest. But then, as your “train” ventured further into the rainforest the water would start getting rougher and faster, eventually the boats would come apart somehow and one of them would split off and go into the wilder part of the river with rapids. I think it would be neat to try and use this concept for this attraction. Ideally, they could use it to provide two different levels of excitement and water splashing. Consider, if the train had two boats, the front boat would naturally get more splashing, then toward the end, the front boat would be detoured to descend a more intense set of rapids and for the finale descend a bigger, scarier drop than the second, thus offering essentially two levels of excitement in one ride. So, for the guests who maybe didn’t want to get wet or were afraid of steep drops, they could ride in the rear boat and those who like to get wet and love the thrill of crashing over a water fall, they could ride in the front boat.

Alternatively, they could build two rides, one indoor or mostly, and the other outdoors. The indoor version would be mild and guests would only get a light splash of water, but the outdoor version would be wild and very wet. I might add, that by having two sides or versions, they could conceivably shut down half the ride for maintenance or during cold(er) weather.

I wish I had more ideas to insert here for this land, but at the moment, I don’t. I’m not familiar enough with the continent to be able to adequately represent it. Regardless, the continent, its countries, its people their cultures, animals and foods, are surely enough to lend themselves to a very diverse and rich area inside DAK. So, if Disney’s willing, I’ll be more than happy to join their research team and explore South America to come up with some ideas for rides and story creation for this land.

One final thought. I have to wonder if it’s possible that Disney might have planned or alluded to in some early concepts to put South America here at a future date? Or is it just a nice coincidence that they built a Rainforest Cafe here?

Update 5/14/2011: There has been some rumors circulating in the Disney community in the last month about an article that appeared in a Brazilian newspaper with regards to Disney entering into talks for a supposed attraction or pavilion, featuring Brazil. No specifics were given, nor has Disney mentioned anything officially, but speculation is that it would be a new pavilion to go into Epcot’s World Showcase. Over the years there have been many such rumors about new pavilions to be built at Epcot, some were even officially announced by Disney, but none have been built since Norway was added in 1988. Stay tuned, maybe something will happen, eventually.

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