Extinct WDW Attraction
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Thanks to Foxxfur for her great ride map!
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|Last Update to this page: May 6, 2014 (minor edits)
PART I – An Dark, Unmitigated Freakout Is Upon You
First, for the sake of those who come after us without this basic information already in their back pocket, I will OVER-clarify what in years ahead could become a legitimate point of confusion regarding WDW’s original Snow White (i.e., NOT the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train) ride – there were TWO different versions of the WDW ride in the same building, using the same track, from 1971 to 2012. The first Snow White’s Adventures (the one I grew up with, worked at and upon which this pages focuses), operated from October 1, 1971 to August 14, 1994. The second version operated from December 16, 1994 to May 31, 2012. I am only referring to the 1971 to 1994 incarnation of Snow White’s Adventures as the “original” and tried to prevent the bulk of what follows from being an exercise in separating the original from the second in terms of scene-by-scene comparisons.
Most pre-2012 discussions about the Magic Kingdom’s original Snow White’s Adventures, which at times depending on signs and guide books went by the more appropriate name Snow White’s Scary Adventures, focused on one of two subtopics. The first was whether the ride, based on a same-named Disneyland predecessor, fairly warned guests about the horrors awaiting them just beyond the beautiful load area facade. The second was the ride’s conceit (this idea that you , the rider, assumed the role of Snow White in your vehicle and therefore never actually saw the princess in the ride) and doling out associated verbal smackdowns for guests who didn’t process that premise.
I’d advocate for smackdowns most of the time. The only problem in this case is that I’d get smacked too since, as a child who climbed into those mine cars* dozens of times before I worked at the ride in 1988 (that’s when I got to read its back story), I didn’t “get” that I was Snow White. I thought I was just … me, a kid on a ride at Disney World. When the witch cackled, “have an apple, dearie?” I figured she was calling me “dearie” the same way other old ladies in black cloaks hanging out in the woods near our house used to.
After being trained to work Snow White’s Adventures, that sketchy notion of rider identity was my only point of contention with the original attraction. Otherwise I loved that it was non-linear, unlike the 1994 version that replaced it (adding “Scary” back into the marquee and twisting the first incarnation’s layout more to the storyline of Disney’s 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ). I also loved that it was incredibly loud and that it terrified children. Of course it was deceptive in presentation. There’s no question that the WED team crafting that experience, led by dark ride impresario Claude Coats, knew full well that they would lull kids into an environment that spoke to a promise of actually seeing Snow White and then put them face-to-face with a murderous, screaming, bug-eyed hag in near-total darkness for two and a half minutes. That malevolence is awe-inspiring, and as a former victim too dense to pick up on the rationale of whose cartoon shoes I was filling, it also took me a while to fully appreciate the incongruity of such a soulless frightfest in sitting in the heart of “child-friendly” Fantasyland.
So there’s some genius rivalling the magnificence of Rolly Crump’s response to the Dick Nunis directive for a two-track Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for Florida. It’s as inventive as Marc Davis sending guests through an Angkor-themed tunnel of love on the Jungle Cruise. And while I thought more highly of Toad and The Haunted Mansion as experiences unto themselves, Coats’ original Florida Snow White’s Scary Adventures (SWSA) was a great blend of those aforementioned wonders – combining macabre, Mansion-esque content with the unpredictability of a swerving motor car – under the guiding hands of a true master of the form.
Because it was so good, it would be sad if ALL future discussions of SWSA focused on how the ride was removed, like so many other early WDW features, to make room for something less enigmatic** inside its walls. But in light of the Snow White ride which closed on May 31, 2012 not being the 1971 version, the more recent history would disproportionately trouble people who preferred the second take. The second version was fine for what it was, but it wasn’t the ride I loved as a kid and it also wasn’t changed enough from that to feel like a new experience … it was a well-executed compromise.
My aimless thoughts about SWSA were originally going to frame a more inventive reflection on both versions of the attraction by Foxxfur, who was kind enough to submit the same to WYW in 2008. She wisely chose to publish the essay first on her own blog, Passport to Dreams Old and New , rather than risk it never being read! Given how much time has passed and how her essay is framed perfectly in the blog format – with her illustrations appearing where and how they are needed to augment the text – I will link to her post rather than republish it. This is also better because she and I would be saying a lot of the same things, as if we shared a brain when it came to this particular ride. My personal contributions to the attraction’s record will mostly be photographs, audio and video recordings. In 2012, the most-viewed WYW YouTube video by far is a ride-through of that first SWSA. If not many others over-documented the attraction, I’m happy to fill in the gaps. And thank you to everyone who asked when I would finally get around to doing this page, and for being patient. If you lower your expectations dramatically, it might be worth the wait.
* The fact that they came out of a mine before you got into them, and that they were named for the Dwarfs who worked in the mine, supports the notion that they were mine cars. They weren’t really practical for gem transport, though, so any competing theories should be given a chance.
** There’s a presumption that the future inhabitant will be a character greeting area. Although it, at first, seems hard to believe that WDW would take that route in the heart of the original Fantasyland, in a building that once housed a great dark ride from 1971-2012, we may challenge ourselves to answer why that would be hard to believe in a park where The House of Treasure became the Pirates League? People might think that just because WDW had the good sense to finally build an Alice in Wonderland dark ride next to the Mad Tea Party that they are going to be smart about everything. Not so fast.
|Disneyland opened with a Snow White dark ride as one of its original Fantasyland attractions in 1955. Although the DL Snow White ride contained plenty of witch, it at least began with a terror-free trip through the dwarf’s diamond mine and the forest before veering into the Queen’s castle and outright creepiness. Much as with California’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Peter Pan’s Flight, WED’s direction in “repeating” Snow White for Walt Disney World in 1971 appeared fairly straightforward on the surface. But as mentioned above, in much the same way that Disney animators often managed to sneak something into their cartoons that goes unnoticed until it’s too late to yank it, one of WED’s brightest found a way to take an experience that was already half menacing and turn it into a fully-formed nightmare without surrendering the candy wrapping of a fairy tale ride for kids.
Not much about the ride’s exterior would have made you think otherwise. The only two giveaways … small concessions thrown in after the ride opened … were that addition of “Scary” to the title and the placement of a post sign, shown above, with a picture of the witch on it and a warning about her turning up, which could frighten small children. The medieval fair tent spires and heraldry fronting the crennelated castle walls – stones on one surface, oddly featureless expanses of grey on the next – gave nothing away. Once you passed into the actual queue and took in the diorama behind the loading point, you’d certainly think you were on the brink of a storybook journey in keeping with the promise of the ride’s original name.
It’s hard to do that load diorama justice with words. Photos and video much better convey how Claude Coats pulled off a backdrop of his own graphic style that in places seems to riff on Eyvind Earle’s organic geometry (and the color palette from 1959’s Sleeping Beauty ), with some visual building blocks from 1937’s Snow White and almost certainly some contributions by Harriet Burns. Similar to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Peter Pan’s Flight, it inhabited a wide space with dimensional, forced-perspective scenery – much of that built as “flats” – and a painted backdrop. Depicted on the left was the evil queen’s castle forecourt, with Snow White’s wishing well in the middle, and a section of the castle into which the ride vehicles passed after leaving the dispatch point in the foreground. In the center was a forested hillside, bathed in blue light, which held a miniature cottage of the seven dwarfs. To the right, just past a shimmering waterfall, was the dwarfs’ diamond mine, from which ride vehicles returned to the diorama and reached the unloading point. Echoing out from the well, Snow White could be heard singing part of the song, “I’m Wishing,”* which lent a disembodied aura to the atmosphere – no woodland animals frolicked, no birds chirped, no prince or princess populated the grounds. The only breaks in the stillness were lighting effects overhead simulating sunlight breaking through the trees, slight motion of the waterfall effect, the ride vehicles themselves and the queen, glimpsed in her window above the castle entrance. It was easily one of the top five best-realized / least-shortchanged load areas of any Disney attraction, ever. It had beauty, depth, theme, stylistic consistency and allowed guests in the queue to watch riders complete two full turns before moving beyond the open space into the castle.
Guests entered the queue somewhere near the tent entrance, depending on the wait time, and saw the diorama with the cars in the foreground. Soon riders were loaded into two-row, four-seater vehicles named after the seven dwarfs. These wonderful cars looked like they were carved of wood by the same dwarf who made their darling little pipe organ.
For the first nine years of its operation, guests presented a C ticket to pass through the turnstiles. The park’s A through E ticket system was done away with in 1980, past which point you could just go on whatever rides you wanted over and over again without feeling bad about never using your A tickets. All three of WDW’s Fantasyland dark rides took a C ticket back then. Snow White’s Adventures might have been on the dividing line between a B and C, however, since it typically had a shorter line than Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or Peter Pan’s Flight.
The first leg of the ride spun guests around the wishing well and toward the miniature Dwarf’s cottage before turning back toward the castle gates. If being pulled away from the inviting forested hillside toward an imposing medieval facade was not foreboding enough, at this point guests were actually making eye contact with the visibly displeased queen in the window directly above the track. She parted the curtains, glared down at riders for a moment, then drew the curtains closed** as the castle doors opened inward and the cars disappeared into the darkness beyond. For the impressionable, it was a classic “oh shit” moment, even if you still had no true notion of what was about to go down.
* The same version of the song that was used in The Mickey Mouse Revue during its Florida years. The orchestration remained in Tokyo but the voice and language changed.
** It was a simple but highly effective element, repeated for Disneyland’s Snow White’s Adventures when it received an overhaul in 1983 as part of that park’s reworked Fantasyland.
Just as the cars entered the castle, a short musical cue underscored the queen’s voice, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall …” as the guests approached a strange-looking mirror on the wall ahead which reflected a scene on the far end of the room – the queen facing a second mirror right next to her thick wooden throne, her back turned to riders and the reflection of her curvaceous* front, arms upraised, in the mirror. Then the cars swung almost 180 degrees to the right and moved toward the queen. Just as the vehicles reached her, she pivoted to face riders … only now she was that freaky old witch from the aforementioned warning sign with the massive nose, bulging eyes and bony hands. “… I am the fairest one of all,” she screeched and the cars pulled left past her throne to escape through a stone wall that gave way and provided an exit.
Here’s where some relevant points about the attraction came into play:
– As a rider, you were clearly out of luck. The safety bar had you pinned into a vehicle that felt charming only seconds ago but now just made you vulnerable from the waist up in a dark, loud place – all hope of sweetness evaporated – where a shrill, ghastly crone would be popping out of corners and scaring the hell out of you for an as-yet-undetermined span of time. If only you had taken that little warning plaque more seriously …
– If you were assuming the role of Snow White, you had to have been in Snow White’s head while she was having a nightmare … just like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was passed off in its back story as “Toad’s crazy dream.” Nothing else really explains how you saw the Queen immediately transform into the hag without the aid of a potion and some extended process of becoming – as portrayed in the film upon which the ride was based.
– You were also in Toad territory where break-through walls are concerned. Passing into the castle through wooden doors that open for you is one thing, but when a “solid” stone wall parts to provide a means of passage out of a dangerous mess … that’s another thing entirely.
– This is where Claude Coats’ artwork began to serve more as a guideline for scenery than it did as an actual design imperative. The lushness of the load area diorama was not captured in any of the remaining scenery, although there was plenty of detail and forced perspective yet to come.
So within 30 feet’s worth of track, the ride’s entire proposition shifted dramatically. It may have been the most effective first five seconds of any Disney ride ever. And in escaping the witch you veered into her dungeon – hardly reassuring. This is where the first skeleton, locked into a small stone cell with iron bars and grasping for a pewter chalice just beyond his reach, told you to “go back” in a melodramatic, mournful voice. The cell was built into a corner at a distorted angle; the floor protruded out from the base of the corbeled arch that framed the cell, coming toward your ride vehicle. The arch itself leaned to the right, as did the bars. Shadows painted on the back wall of the cell enhanced the sense of depth and off-balancedness. It all suggested that Snow White’s nightmare continued, because as far as we know she never set foot inside her stepmother’s torture basement and would have to be imagining it to come up with this visual.
* Bringing the ride into proportionate symmetry with the semi-libidinous content of neighboring Fantasyland attractions
Foxxfur’s Flippin’ Awesome Snow White’s Adventures Map – Created for WYW!!!
One portcullis over to the right, where cars swung next, rat’s eyes peered out from the darkness. In this case, the familar ‘eyes in a tin can’ effect was put to use over a set of doors that led to the track’s “spur line” in a backstage maintenance corridor – where ride vehicles were taken offline for repairs. Cars would be brought back into the ride through another set of “hidden” doors two scenes ahead. The nicely detailed map above, which Foxxfur created for WYW and used along with her article on Passport, shows the spur line in the context of the overall ride track along with an x marking each location where the witch or queen appeared, arrows showing which elements moved and a dozen-plus other fine elements.
Before you really could even think about rats, the cars moved through a pair of parting iron gates into another stone passageway, this one containing a second skeleton in an open cell, arms chained to a wall and telling you to “go back” in a just slightly higher pitch than the first guy. A large red spider dangled from the cell’s ceiling, just in case someone might be more afraid of spiders than skeletons (always hedge your bets).
The cars turned right toward the end of the short hall, where an array of bottles (one labeled “poison”) and books sat on a stone ledge. Atop a skull cup that was balanced on a stack of books, a startled raven with wings spread rocked back and forth, with its dramatic but non-rocking shadow painted on the wall behind – a more or less direct echo of the Queen’s transformation scene from the film.
Just around the corner to the left, the witch appeared again – this time working at her cauldron. Large bottles surrounded her fire-lit pot and a spell book, opened to the Poison Apple / Sleeping Death pages, sat in the foreground off to the right. “Have an apple, dearie?” she asked and then cackled. That apple dangled from her rising left hand with the green ooze forming a skull – just like in the picture from the spell book. On their way past this and the black doorway that led back from the aforementioned spur line, guests found a couple shelves of potion bottles giving way above their ride vehicles, accompanied by the sound of breaking glass, as they finally escaped the dungeon and made for the comfort of … a swamp.
|A grey sky with dark swirling clouds hung over a pitch black bog that flanked the castle – its turrets rising high above the track, which itself appeared to be on a rickety wooden bridge based on the planks painted on the show building’s floor. Just as guests were able to take peripheral notice of an archway built into the stone wall on their left, the witch shot out of the hole in a rowboat and angled toward riders, cackling fiercely with the apple in one hand and a wooden pole in the other. By now it was plain that she wasn’t done with you, but the ride vehicles at least tried to steer you clear again and moved to the right past what at first glance looked like three … logs? No, they were crocodiles or alligators that looked a little like logs. The third one pulled up alongside your car as you passed it and let out a muffled alligator growl (the same sounds-more-like-a-bear-but-okay-it’s-an-alligator sound effect Disney used for alligators and bears in its animated films). Then from behind a tree on the right came a fourth alligator* who also growled before your car swerved left again into a plethora of menacing trees.
Every last tree in the Frightening Forest scene was gruesome, the worst of them had faces and were out to get you. Twisted trunks, gnarled branches, crazy eyes and gaping mouths met riders as they swerved back and forth looking for a way out. A couple of the trees swiveled as ride vehicles passed them, like they were following you or at least getting better positioned to grab at you. And although I don’t remember the motion itself, photos show that several of the trees’ arms were built to move / lower toward guests.
After the last maniacal tree was cleared, riders came upon a series of phantasmagoric little bat and butterfly-shaped forms featuring pronounced eye patterns. Some of them were just hovering in the foreground between the track and the forest beyond, while others flew out of the darkness toward the ride vehicles before shooting skyward. These flying guys were, on what Foxxfur marked as the Eye Mobile on the map above, attached to spinning rods in a staggered pattern so a couple were perpetually coming close to you. This is where the ride’s weirdest sound effect could be heard … if you were capable of making it out amidst the near-deafening mix of shrieking, cackling, groaning and growling that echoed through the building. It was kind of a sci-fi sounding loop of freaky, wobbly tones that were close cousins to the sounds guests heard in Tom Sawyer’s Island’s Magnetic Mystery Mine, the limbo between the train crash and hell in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the outer space “noise” that originally graced Space Mountain’s Unload platforms**.
* True story: If you were being trained to work Snow White in 1988 like I was (more on that experience below), there was a lady who was not your actual trainer but who had come up with a department-sanctioned trivia quiz that you supposedly had to pass before you officially “checked out” and started working real shifts in what was called Snow/Toad Complex. Most of her questions were not related to anything you’d actually need to know to do your job well, but more like a bunch of “I’ll bet you don’t know this” questions like what’s the name of the mouse that popped out of the teapot at the Mad Tea Party (that ride was part of Snow/Toad Complex and the mouse’s name is of course the Dormouse). So you were basically sitting on a fleabite sofa in the lead office while this know-it-all Disney lady asks you these questions that she and her cats came up with one night and you’re wondering if maybe there’s a cyanide pill hidden between the seat cushions but at least you’re getting all the answers right and not giving her the satisfaction of tricking you. One of her questions is how many crocodiles appear in Snow White’s Scary Adventures. You answer, “four.” But no, she says – happy to have finally stumped you – four is incorrect. “I’m pretty sure it’s four,” you assert. Then she tells you it’s three and moves on to the next question about Dumbo’s magic feather or whatever. So you stand up and tell her you’d like to go and count crocodiles, because the ride’s not open yet and you can walk right in. With a smug grin on her face, she follows you to the point in the ride where you point the first three crocodiles out to her and then, after pausing for effect with a posture of confused deflation, you walk around the corner and point out that last guy. “Oh, plus this one. Four.” And she is not happy about it. What this true story does NOT tell you is why she didn’t already know the fourth crocodile was there (something I never asked her), but remember this story was free and did not promise any particular kind of ending.
** We know for certain that the Magnetic Mystery Mine sounds were the work of Jimmy MacDonald – one-time voice of Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney Productions’ sound effect wizard for decades. Those other sounds, including the various effects in Snow White’s Scary Adventures, were likely his also.
|Then, some distance past the point where guests expected any respite whatsoever, the cars turned toward the first sight of warmth the ride had offered since the Load diorama: the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs. The amber glow of candlelight or a hearth radiated from the windows and around the door frame, offering some promise of comfort to riders who would have been happy enough just to see a thatched roof in their future. And then, Toad-like again, the wall around the dwarf’s wooden door parted to let vehicles inside.
On the off chance that anyone would start worrying about sweetness and light corrupting the sanctity of a (so-far) hellish experience, the Dwarf’s Cottage quickly exposed itself as a tease. From the second they entered the first room, dwarfless and gloomy, guests could see something wasn’t right. The hand-carved water pump on the wash basin, which – like many other architectural features in the home – sported a face, was fixed in a state of mouth-agape shock. Eyes peered out from beneath a lid on a bucket, an owl’s face on a chair back looked surprised as did similar faces on the ceiling’s wood-beam cornices; a little blue proto-Mrs. Potts kettle on the kitchen table looked askance toward something that must have been bad just a little further on. Whatever it was, you were getting closer. On the sill of an open window on the opposite wall some feet ahead, two rabbits, a squirrel and a raccoon sat with open mouths and helpless paws, bore witness to some unpleasantness that you as the rider had yet to lay eyes on. A deer stands behind them, its legs planted firmly outside the house and not coming any closer. What were they looking at? Apparently the next set of cornices saw it too, as did a second chair back with the owl’s eyes looking up … the entire chair was leaning away from something.
Then you finally saw the Seven Dwarfs for the first (and last) time in the ride, frozen in shock on their staircase as they appraised a demonic shadow on the wall above them. It wasn’t a direct recreation of the scene from the film where they came home to find their house occupied, but it had some of the basic ideas in place. Dopey was trying to pull away, but was held in place by an unsmiling Happy at the base of the steps. Inched upward but not likely to proceed further were the other five … Bashful, Sneezy, Grumpy, Sleepy and Doc, who held a flickering lantern. They urgently discussed the threat … Grumpy could be made out saying “I warned ya” and Doc stumbled over a partly audible phrase, “Looks like double – I mean, trouble!” Others contributed their thoughts including, “What is it?” and “It’s got horns.” The shadow moved ominously next to the the landing at the top of the stairs and was sufficiently spooky, but the matter at hand shifted quickly to the reappearance of the witch who popped into the open top half of a Dutch Door at ground level. She laughed and asked, “see the apple?” The track veered to the right, “crashing” through a blockade of props and furniture – a dish cabinet, trunk, barrels, a butter churn*- and riders were back out in the cold, dark woods again. Thanks for the help, dwarfs.
|* This is the missing information you were looking for when you wondered out loud if any of those old rides had a butter churn. Dude, yes.
|This photo of Snow White’s Scary Adventures was first published in the original WDW Pictorial Souvenir (1972). It’s one of a handful of official shots that reflected the cool black light look of Snow White, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Peter Pan’s Flight in their prime. Even though I’ve stared at it on and off since 1977, only 35 years later did it finally look to me like a composite shot. The ghostly shadow on the upper cottage wall in this image is positioned at an angle that the construct of the scene would have made unlikely, because the metal silhouette that made the shadow was mounted not on the top staircase landing (where the ghost starts here) but on a shelf across the second-story divide of the room. And while the ghost shown here does in fact appear to have horns, as one Dwarf calls out, the only version I can prove with video or photos had a hooded, hornless head shape (more images to follow below). So this particular ghost was probably drawn on top of, or laid over, a photo of the upper cottage wall that was shot under augmented lighting for purposes of an official photo that approximated the scene … otherwise the shadow would not have shown up at all and the wall would have the same blue glow that we see in unlit video of the scene. Not that it matters too much. If nothing else it’s a fun angle on the dwarfs.
So in this stretch of nature, where the terrain is still uninviting but now more mountainous than marshy, you were immediately greeted by two vultures on a leafless tree branch above you. Their heads followed you as you passed their tree and a right-pointing sign that read “Dwarf’s Mine.” Then right behind the next tree there was the witch again – this time just laughing maniacally and jumping out at the last second before your car turned again.
Riders entered the mine and rode through a series of support timbers, past a forced perspective shaft that led to who-knows-where and some barrels of blasting powder (one with its fuse lit) behind an open door marked “Keep Out.” It was only a matter of one passageway before the witch was back in the spotlight, only this time she had decided to stop wasting time with the apple and just kill you in a less complicated, less spellbooky way. Now she was pushing one of the support timbers sideways from a rocky ledge above you and kick-starting a cave-in. “Enjoying your ride?” she asked*.
The supports overhead then started to shift and creak as the vehicles moved away from the witch down another shaft, but stopped short of collapsing. Turning the next corner, riders saw another forced perspective tunnel leading up around a bend. Upon reaching the base of that tunnel, a little mine car full of glowing gems rolled down that tunnel’s track and came to a halt at the bottom. This was kind of a precocious moment in the middle of so much unrelenting horror – the actual prospect of hitting that car could not possibly have frightened anyone. What’s kind of surprising is that there was no witch sitting in it, or even an evil skunk with its tail raised. No, just a pretty little mine car.
Around the bend was the gem room, where columns of jewels in every shape, size and color rose from the floor to the high cave ceiling. At the opposite side of the room was another doorway marked “Vault” above it. Directly over that was a huge green diamond that looked somewhat precarious in terms of its likelihood to pop free and come falling down. As riders got closer they would see (surprise!) the witch standing behind the green diamond, trying to pry it loose with a stick and you have to give her credit because it looked like she had it fairly well figured out. “Good bye dearie!” she screamed with conviction as the gem rocked forward to serve her evil purpose. The vault doors parted and guests saw flashing all around them, strobing, and a clunking kind of sound effect that coincidentally is what people hear when they are killed by diamonds but no one believes it until it’s too late. One last halting echo of the witch’s shriek could be heard for a split second, then the ride’s final set of doors opened and riders approached the Unload area. Crying, perhaps, clutching their parents arms for dear life, hyperventilating or maybe even laughing, but most importantly alive. Sometimes they would take a last look at the sweet Load diorama with an expression of wtf** before climbing out of their car and exiting through a swing gate next to the AristoCats shop.
That was the original ride in all its ludicrous glory.
* Hey – what did she mean by ride? Was it supposed to be some indication that the whole “we’re playing Snow White” idea was bs? Because Snow White did not do a lot of mine-car-riding to the best of everyone’s information. Whatever the intent, I think the witch just got a little more scary.
** Who Talks French? This is something you can say at parties if you need a person to translate Baudelaire but are also curious as to who in the group will try to correct your grammar.
|Working at Snow White’s Scary Adventures was not particularly fantastic to me, but that’s mainly because I had already been lucky enough to work several other great rides and because Snow White was part of the same “complex” as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride; if Snow White was part of your rotation then you had less Mr. Toad in your rotation, and who wouldn’t rather have more Toad? On the other hand, if you were part of the Snow White rotation you didn’t have to operate Dumbo, so that was a plus.
I trained at Snow/Toad Complex around November of 1988, at which time my regular full-time job was driving subs at 20K. Both areas were part of what was then called the Magic Kingdom East department (which included all Fantasyland and Tomorrowland attractions). Since 20K was the first and only ride I had trained at since transferring from MK West (Adventureland, Frontierland & Liberty Square) a couple months prior, department management had me on a list of people to train elsewhere so I could fill in as needed. I didn’t mind getting the chance to learn new attractions. The truth of it, however, was that there really did not seem to be very much to “discover” about Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Dumbo, The Mad Tea Party or Snow White’s Scary Adventures. They all seemed to be a matter of pushing buttons to start something, pushing buttons to dispatch something and checking safety bars. I was right except for Snow White.
The wrong part of that assumption was that Snow White had a quirky ride system, with two issues that would routinely require a cast member’s attention:
– The first was something called zone-outs. This was a term for when two cars in the ride got too close too each other and were drawing too much power from a particular zone along the track. It would shut the whole ride down and cast members would have to run into the ride and figure out where two cars had gotten too close together, then they had to push the car in front ahead until they created a gap between cars sufficient for power to begin flowing again. The logical among us could say that this problem wouldn’t come up if each car was dispatched at the same interval going into the ride i.e., an interval that provided a minimum safe gap – but even though such a dispatch interval was in place at the control console, the ride vehicles would sometimes not proceed through the ride at optimum speed due to vehicle weight or power draw issues that led up to the zone-out. It sounds like something that might have happened to the Coney Island Steeplechase in the 1920s, not something that would plague a Disney World ride in the late 1980s. But it dids, so hush.
– The second was a mixed-up mess at Unload where cars pulling up to their last stop would crash into each other if the ride operator at Load did not expertly manage the buttons that advanced the cars from one position to the next in the jog area (the space between Unload and Load). Somehow both tracks on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride could pull cars automatically into the furthest vacant “slot” at Unload before stopping and allowing riders to disembark, but the one track at Snow White was built wrong and apparently could not be fixed. As a result, cast members had to hold down the “Jog 3” button long enough to make each exiting ride vehicle glide far enough ahead to leave room for the next car to clear the ride exit doors but not glide so far ahead that it hit a vehicle full of guests who were already climbing out of their car. All sorts of nonsense could happen if the cast member didn’t have a clear grasp of the applicable physics. Most of the time it was just cars slamming into each other, but if you weren’t careful you could make a guest fall.
The best part of working at Snow/Toad Complex that I can remember was that the Lead Office hallway (situated between Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Scary Adventures and the Round Table’s kitchen area) was always warm in cold weather and carried an aroma of drying laundry. So imagine coming to work on a really cold January morning and the wind is whipping around outside and guests are acting stupid and parking strollers sideways and you want to kill someone with a queue chain but then you walk into that magic Snow/Toad hallway and it’s toasty and everything smells like Bounce and at the very end of the hall there’s a guy from the marching band propositioning a co-worker. You weren’t supposed to see that last thing. Then your nose starts to run because you’re thawing out, so you sit on that beat-up old sofa, wipe your nose on your sleeve and harken back to the time when you showed smartass that fourth crocodile. In the distance you hear the sound of a train colliding with a motor car. Everything is good now.
|On August 14, 1994, the original version of Snow White’s Scary Adventures closed because some amalgamation of bright minds at WDW and what had by that time become WDI (formerly WED Enterprises) decided enough was enough. After 23 years it was time to make scenic reparations for all those terrified children and see what kind of “improvements” they could foist upon a Claude Coats creation*.
There’s a little practical insight on this from an article in the January 13, 1994 edition of Eyes and Ears, which gave cast members advance notice about the upcoming Snow White change. I will scan and post it sometime, but the basic rationale given was, and WYW quotes (!), “more guests complain about Snow White’s Adventures than any other Disney Theme Park attraction.” This may have been true, because the company had not yet done all manner of horrible things to Journey Into Imagination or Tropical Serenade. You’re probably thinking, “What about all those Disney-MGM Studios attractions**?” Smart of you, but keep in mind that if you go to a park and its best ride features footage from Three Men and a Baby as part of the finale, then it will be pretty hard to focus on just ONE thing when you write that letter.s
The article goes on to say that the update to Snow White coincided with a push to increase ride capacity (which led to new six-seater vehicles). All things considered (except the one thing about changing something Claude Coats did), the project team on the 1994 revision made poison apple lemonade out a poison apple. I mean, let’s just say someone put a piece of paper in your hand and said, “Look, either you help us update a crazy, diabolical thing that Claude Coats designed or I’m going to take this piece of paper and write ‘fired = you’ on it. Also, it’s scaring kids and we need more capacity. Oh, plus, when we fire you we’re going to use fire ants in addition to this piece of paper.” That’s not what happened, exactly, but it’s different than saying a bunch of people who probably had to work on Disney-MGM Studios a couple years prior may have been happy to finally get the chance to apply themselves toward something that mattered infinitely more, like a Fantasyland dark ride, instead of deciding which props to put on which shelf as part of a backlot tour or whatever. If you’re not going to quit, retire, fight back, refuse, play dead, demure, hedge, stall or otherwise make a reasoned argument for not changing a 1971 WDW dark ride***, then do the best you can with the change.
* Coats had passed away two years prior, in 1992, but I cannot tell you if that had anything at all to do with the decision to update one of “his” rides. It was odd timing at the very least, because by the time this January 1994 article was written it was clear that WDI had been working on plans for the Snow White update for at least a year – with study models for the modified scenes already finished.
** Twilight Zone Tower of Terror had not opened yet when that article was written.
*** We have to remember (no, we don’t have to but play along, okay?) that Tony Baxter, who was the project install leader for WED on the WDW Snow White ride in 1971, had by 1994 already embraced the idea that you sometimes get rid of old things to make room for newer (and theoretically better) things. Take Disneyland’s “New Fantasyland” in 1983, a project for which Baxter led the charge. Most of it was demonstrably better than what came before in terms of detail and theming, but that did nothing to erase the nostalgic feelings that kids from the 1960s had for “Old” Fantasyland. That’s just how it works.
When the revised Snow White’s Scary Adventures opened on December 16, 1994, it was apparent that WDI had put a lot of hard work into it. There was a massive effort to mirror the film in the ride, and portions of it were successful. Yet some of the problems presented themselves right at the forefront, such as the decision to “crop” the Load diorama for purposes of inserting an admittedly nice first scene but in the process creating a dichotomy of atmospheric depth for those waiting in line – with art that was well done yet somehow paled next to its equivalent in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or Peter Pan’s Flight. Seeing a mural painting of Snow White, the dwarf’s cottage and the Prince did not compare to seeing that little three-dimensional cottage on the hill or the magical scenery that had framed it. The mural seemed sandwiched, as did some of the scenes further on, and very flat in light of what had preceded it. Nonetheless, there were some excellent touches in the update if you looked at them independently of the big picture. Seeing Snow White sitting with birds while the Queen looked down angrily from her window was pretty cool. Unfortunately the Queen originally parting the curtains and looking down at YOU was better. The revamped Queen’s throne was awesome. Seeing the raven put to good use on the throne, also awesome. Dwarfs playing music in their cottage (same molds as used in The Mickey Mouse Revue, in Florida from 1971-1980, which was coincidentally the only place at WDW where an actual Snow White animatronic figure. vs. a static figure, was ever found) and seeing the animals at the window kept vs. discarded … those were good things. But the poor witches! Removed, slowed down or frozen in time every last one of them. They even killed her off before the ride was over. And the poor diamond mine … cut down to a ninth of its prime! And the god-forsaken symphony of ghastly sounds that mixed together over the show scene walls and reinforced a sense of hopelessness in the original … gone in favor of pleasant music from the film score around each bend.
Snow White’s Adventures’ 1994 transformation was a sign of things to come for Fantasyland; it was an early effort to take dark rides to a realm of pleasantries that the park’s architecture had been managing since opening day. It was – consciously or not – a rejection of the far more interesting notion that people like Claude Coats and Rolly Crump had put forward a generation earlier, namely that rearranging the building blocks of a well-known Disney film into a new, unpredictable creation was better use of a track and scenery than retelling a familiar story scene-by-scene. When Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (a piece of insanity only halfway reliant on a 1949 film’s premise and barely 1/8 related to the story that spawned the film) closed in 1998 to make way for 1999’s Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (a by-the-numbers visit to 1968’s Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day), there was little question that safe and sound was winning the battle against weird and unsettling. For people with easily frightened kids and no particular taste for the bizarre, that may have been a happy ending. For some of us it was a blow to the very essence of what we loved about old WDW – a death knell for the subversive streak that was nearly imperceptible at first in those original rides but upon closer inspection very much thriving below the glossy surface.
So WDW’s first ride based on a “princess film” closed in May 2012, just a few months before its second ride based on a princess film opened a short distance to the north. And what a change! There’s no joy to be had in raining on anyone’s Little Mermaid ride parade, and it’s never a bad thing in and of itself when a “dark ride” materializes on empty land (regardless of how long it’s been empty or what preceded it), but Under The Sea / Journey of the Little Mermaid was nonetheless a massive shift in that Pooh-centric direction of an enveloping comfort and predictability as hallmarks of an experience. Ariel’s ride consists mostly of familiar segments in the right scripted order with a lot of color, motion and music that’s all immediately identifiable from her movie. In fact, the only jarring deviation from expectations is that the final conflict with Ursula from the 1989 film is reduced to a visual footnote in the ride – keeping things so light as to make for a Little Golden Book version of a fairy tale that had already been given the Disney treatment. It’s all very fun, very nice and, in a ride for small children, the path of least terror. But it does not even begin to provide the thrill of an experience that plays loose with the source material or keeps you guessing about whether the villain will somehow manage to trounce you, as an innocent rider, before it’s all said and done.
Snow White’s Scary Adventures, in its original WDW state, was a solid (if sadistic) argument for that method of madness. Sadly, the same company that lifted the dark ride art form to such amazing heights in the 1970s has distanced itself from that legacy by embracing a “story” mantra too tightly and spurning dark ambiguity. This means guests will now find simple, cute new attractions where once stood brilliant, sinister giants of the craft. Whether it’s better to have it one way or the other way or a mix of both is largely beside the point at this late date.
No complaints about the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train ride, however. It’s not a traditional dark ride, but it’s the coolest all-new attraction to hit the Magic Kingdom since Splash Mountain opened in 1992. Well done WDI!
|Part II – Snow White’s Scary Adventures Additional Images, Audio & Video
IMAGES – click on any of the thumbnails below for larger images
|more images coming!
|AUDIO – click on the LP icon or track name below to hear or download audio files
Snow White’s Scary Adventures Queen’s Chamber Audio
mp3 file, 5.81mb, 6:21, recorded live in 1994 – this is one of a few “drop off” recordings I made in the ride by leaving my tape recorder on the floor in a particular place then coming back through and picking it up the next time around.
|VIDEO – the selections below can also be found on WYW’s YouTube Channel (click here to visit)
|Part III – Links to other Snow White Sites & Resources
|Passport to Dreams Old and New’s first Snow White’s Adventures post (2008)