The Christmas season has come to an end. As usual, I get a bit behind the times getting back into normalcy. So now I am ready for the new year. What to talk about? Disney has so much in store for us in the coming year… Star Wars land in the Studios and a new film based on the classic Jungle Cruise attraction. I am and always will be a Disney traditionalist. I love the new offerings, the high-tech and new stories. Everyone is talking about the future! You may think I’m in a time warp rut, but there is something comforting and pleasing about the classic bread and butter attractions and films that are the core of the magic. Now this of course is my personal opinion/choice, but I feel that the following is the six classic Walt-inspired attractions that made Disney what it is today…The Enchanted Tiki Room, The Walt Disney World Railroad (Yes, it is an attraction!), It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and the Jungle Cruise. So to start the new year, I want to talk about The Jungle Cruise…
This classic Adventureland attraction had its beginning musings, not based on a Disney film, but on the film “The African Queen” and to a lesser extent, one of Walt Disney’s True Life Adventures, “The African Lion” about a pride of Lions in the wild. This attraction gave Walt and his team lots to think about. The original plan was an educational trip through the different jungles and major rivers of the World, with a narration of the flora and fauna during the tour. Walt wanted live animals for the attraction, but soon realized that they would probable wander around, never staying in the areas needed, and sleep during the day. He then had audio-animatronic replicas constructed in their stead. The comic spiel we all love today did not come until 1962, the initial monolog was more akin to a tour guide speech about a nature documentary.
Today, the attraction is in 4 of the current 6 parks worldwide…Disneyland California, (Opened July 15, 1955), Magic Kingdom, Florida (Opened October 1, 1971), Tokyo Disneyland (Opened April 15, 1983), and Hong Kong Disneyland-Called “Jungle River Cruise”, (Opened September 12, 2005). Although the same named attraction, there are subtle differences in them.
Let’s take a quick look at the ride attraction, first in Walt Disney World…The set is a depression-era British outpost, managed by the fictitious Jungle Navigation Co. The Florida queue is festooned with tools, gear, artifacts and many photos. Much like the offices of the fictional “Himalayan Escapes” travel agency at Expedition Everest. It is an amazing clone of an African outpost. The queue is large and divided into 4 areas which can handle changing guest levels. Centered inside is the office of fictional radio commenter, Albert AWOL, the voice of the jungle. In 1991 a queue upgrade included Albert, the “Voice of the Jungle”. He broadcasts everything from news, quizzes, reminders, and weather, etc. on the Disney Broadcast Company. He also serves as a period disc jockey for the station, playing music from the 1930s Depression era. This is projected over the whole of Adventureland. In Disneyland’s cruise, Albert is replaced by “Jungle Radio” which give comments on the environment, and the music is slower and more relaxed than at Walt Disney World.
After guests are fully loaded, the skipper introduces himself. One of my favorite opening quips is when the skipper asks…” What is the difference between a skipper and a Captain?” With no response he says…” The Captain goes down with the ship, the skipper is the first one off”! You will see the difference in the ride sequences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World. You start at the Amazon River, see butterflies, pass Inspiration Falls, enter the Congo River in Africa, wait for the empty Pygmy welcoming party, and discover the giant python that scared them off. You pass by the camp gorillas had raided and “Turned over the Jeep”. Next is the Nile River, and the African Veldt where Lions are consuming their kill. Next to the safari troupe trapped on a pole by a rhinoceros. Next is crocodile country, where you will meet Old smiley. You pass Schweitzer Falls, and then into a pool of hippos and the front of a Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior, the back half which was previously found at the now shuttered Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the Casablanca scene. The skippers once carried revolvers with blanks to scare off the hippos, but now an electronic gunshot comes through the steamer’s audio system.
You now enter headhunter territory, seeing natives dancing around in a hut, and then natives on the shore, ambushing the boat. From here is the “Backside of Water” behind Schweitzer Falls. The boat enters the Mekong River, and through the ancient Cambodian temple ruins. Inside the temple, giant spiders and king cobras watch as you float by. After exiting the temple, you come across an elephant bathing pool where numerous elephants are relaxing in the water. You are warned by the skipper you could get a “bath” by an elephant as it squirt’s water from its trunk. The trip ends as you pass by Chief Name’ (More on WDW’s Chief’s name later), head salesman who will offer two of his shrunken heads for one of yours!
Here is the Disneyland Jungle Cruise itinerary…The outpost is again the Jungle Navigation Company, a British colony circa 1938. The queue has the period props and clutter, and routes upstairs. Period music plays along with jungle breaking news bulletins. In Disneyland, you first enter the Irrawaddy and Mekong rivers, aping Southwest Asia. You sail through a rainforest and enter the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, damaged by an ancient earthquake. Giant spiders, tigers, cobras and crocodiles are in evidence. You exit into the Sacred Indian Elephant Bathing pool, with elephants squirting water and bathing. African rivers are next, passing Schweitzer Falls, you enter the Nile, and approach the African Veldt with wildebeest, gazelles, giraffes, zebras and a pride of lions eating. Next up is the Rhino chasing the safari troupe up a pole. Now entering the Congo river and that pool of angry hippos, scared away with a gunshot by the skipper. You hear drums and chanting as native’s dance, then sail past an ambush from the river bank. You go under the “Backside of Water” and enter the Amazon, encountering a school of jumping piranha. Now guests pass water buffalo and a boa constrictor before meeting Trader Sam (Not Name’) who will give two of his heads for one of yours.
Bill Evans, Walt’s master Landscape Architect was the mastermind behind the attraction. He had to select a plethora of flora species that would be robust to counter Florida’s non-tropical mild winters, but still suggest a tropical feel. They need to appear correct, even if not normally grouped together. He had a herculean task of creating a believable jungle on a sparse budget. Aside from importing many actual tropical plants, he made wide use of “character plants” which, could give the appearance of exoticism in context. In a well-known trick, he uprooted local orange trees and “replanted” them upside-down, growing vines on the exposed roots. The Jungle Cruise has many sight gags, and no animator did it better than Marc Davis. He created Cruella De Ville, Princess Aurora and Tinker Bell. He had a flawless sense of timing, and his gag outlines often translated precisely into the attraction. The Indian Elephant Bathing Pool and Rhinoceros Chasing Explorers up a Pole were his contributions.
The waterway of the Jungle Cruise is about 5 feet deep. It has clean water, but Disney controls the turbidity, or clarity of the water as to veil the perches and platforms of the audio-animatronics and the boat’s guidance system. It was dyed brown, then a green tint and now a bluish-green is used. There is a lot of accolades in the queue, look for wooden planter boxes which say… “Evans Exotic Plant Exporters.” Look for Imagineer Wathel Roger’s known as “Mr. Audio-Animatronics” on a tag in an animal cage. Other wordplay, Employee of the Month, E.L. O’fevre!
Facts…The boats used are facsimiles of the 1930s British explorers tramp steamers used in the film “African Queen”. They were originally spotless and brightly painted, but in 1993, repainted and “weathered” in anticipation of Indiana Jones Adventure, as in the Walt Disney World attraction. In 2013 Christmas season, a “Jingle Cruise” overlay was incorporated. Skippers employed a holiday-themed spiel and the boathouse and boats were renamed and decorated in Christmas lights. In 2014, the Jingle Cruise is re-imagined and little decorations on the boats and boathouse, but many show scenes in the jungle were adorned with Hanukkah and Christmas decorations. The Cruise is given a new back-story… A shipment of holiday supplies intended for the skippers crash-landed in the jungle instead, and the skippers are taking their passengers out to go find the decorations! In 2015 using the same boat names, a new scene was added… A giant snowmen and snowflakes on the termite mounds by the African Veldt. In December, 2015 a new Jungle Cruise themed restaurant opened in Walt Disney World called the Skipper Canteen. The new eatery developed the Jungle Navigation Company storyline, making Dr. Albert Falls the founder of the company in 1911, and his granddaughter Alberta Falls taking charge of the Company and Cruise in the 1930’s. And the Jungle Cruise was an opening day attraction in Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
The boats in Disneyland are as follows…
Amazon Belle (Renamed “Jingle Belle” during Christmas), Congo Queen (Renamed “Congo Caroler” then “Candy Cane Queen” during Christmas), Ganges Gal (Renamed “Ganges Garland” then “Gingerbread Gal” during Christmas), Hondo Hattie (Renamed “Hondo Hollie” then “Hanukkah Hattie” during Christmas), Irrawaddy Woman (Renamed “Irrawaddy Snowwoman” during Christmas), Kissimmee Kate (Renamed “Yule Kissimmee” then “Kissimmee Under the Mistletoe” during Christmas),
Nile Princess (Wheelchair equipped) (Renamed “Nile Nutcracker” then “Noel Princess” during Christmas), Orinoco Adventuress (Renamed “Orinoco Ornament” then “Navidad Adventuress” during Christmas), Suwannee Lady (Renamed “Suwannee Sleigh” then “Sugar Plum Lady” during Christmas), Ucayali Una (Wheelchair equipped) (Renamed “Ucayali Eggnog” then “Evergreen Una” during Christmas),Yangtze Lotus (Renamed “Yuletide Lotus” during Christmas) and Zambezi Miss (Renamed “Peppermint Miss” during Christmas).
Walt Disney World boats…
Amazon Annie (Renamed “Eggnog Annie” during Christmas), Bomokandi Bertha (Wheelchair lift equipped) (Renamed “Brrrrr Bertha” during Christmas), Congo Connie (Renamed “Candy Cane Connie” during Christmas), Ganges Gertie (Renamed “Garland Gertie” during Christmas), Irrawaddy Irma (Renamed “Icicle Irma” during Christmas), Mongala Millie (Renamed “Mistletoe Millie” during Christmas), Nile Nellie (Renamed “Noel Nellie” during Christmas), Orinoco Ida (Renamed “Orino-cocoa Ida” during Christmas),Rutshuru Ruby (Renamed “Reindeer Ruby” during Christmas),Sankuru Sadie (Renamed “Sleigh Ride Sadie” during Christmas),Senegal Sal (Renamed “Poinsettia Sal” during Christmas),Ucyali Lolly (Renamed “Yule Log Lolly” during Christmas),Volta Val (Renamed “Vixen Val” during Christmas),Wamba Wanda (Wheelchair lift equipped) (Renamed “Wassail Wanda” during Christmas), Zambezi Zelda (Renamed “Fruitcake Zelda” during Christmas). The Sankuru Sadie is the only boat in the Magic Kingdom’s fleet to have ever sunk!
What’s in a name? How many sharp guests can remember that in Walt Disney World, until 2009, the Head salesman was called Chief Name” but now is “Trader Sam” as is in Disneyland? Well, here is the short story. Apparently, the writer of the script for WDW’s Jungle Cruise could not think of a name for the Chief, so just wrote “Chief Name” giving it to operations and thinking they would put one in. Well, operations held a contest to name the Chief and one skipper came up with “Chief Nah-Mee”, name! All thought it clever and by odd circumstances, was approved by Imagineering. Some of WDW’s skippers who vacationed in Disneyland liked some of their jokes and asked if they could be used in Florida. After some meetings with Imagineering, they not only approved the additional jokes, but decided to rectify the error in the script made many years ago. That is how Florida now has Trader Sam to coincide with Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise.
Disney has decided to make a full-length action adventure move inspired by the Jungle Cruise attraction. Originally planned for release in 2007, it hit heavy headwinds. The film plot follows a group’s riverboat journey through a jungle in search of a cure. It was decided the Rock; Dwayne Johnson would have the starring role. It would be a period film of Bogart’s The African Queen. Johnson also signed on as a producer. The film was scheduled to begin filming in spring of 2018, but on October 19th, the film was delayed to July 24th, 2020.
The Jungle Cruise attraction in the four parks are distinctive and similar amongst them. In the upcoming film based on the attraction itself, it will be noteworthy to see how many facets of all four, with the newer ride attraction featuring more exotic and modern examples of Imagineering, and the classic appeal of the older versions will be incorporated in the movie!