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Bits of Business…

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On a recent trip to Walt Disney World, I stopped at this “dig site” directly outside of the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.  I had not been to Disney’s HOLLYWOOD Studios the past several trips out of general malaise, and I wanted to see if the rope still worked.

In case this sight isn’t familiar to you, when you tug on this rope, an “explorer” answers you from the bottom of the hole with generally wacky sounds – and quite a few on continuous tugs.   As I was doing this a group of three men who were walking towards Echo Lake took a swift detour and played with the rope for a few minutes, laughing at the attention to detail in an area that otherwise would have been a floral arrangement of some sort.  In modern imaginationspeak this would be called “plussing” or “story,” but I always think of these things as what Walt referred to in his storyboarding sessions as “gags” or “bits of business.”  These are little details here and there around Walt Disney World that aren’t part of certain attractions (or if they are, not part of the ride itself) that add to the atmosphere, or (shudder) the story and setting.

Below I’ve divided some of my favorite bits of business in certain catergories – some extinct and some still there – but I welcome your additions – this is in no way a comprehensive list.

EXTENDING THE RIDE

These few bits of business extend the ride after you’re let out of the show.  The two that quickly come to mind are the tikis outside of the Tropical Serenade in the Sunshine Terrace, mirroring the tikis you’ve just seen on the walls of the Tiki Room itself.
Sunshine Tree Tikis courtesy of jericl cat

The second is perhaps one of my favorite bits of business of all time, and unfortunately is no longer with us.  At the unload of Country Bear Jamboree/entrance to Mile Long Bar, matching heads of Buff, Max, and Melvin lined the walls, just as in the Jamboree.  They would remain still for some time, and then come to life suddenly with schtick and a song that mirrored the unload song of the Jamboree.  “Come Again” became “Come On In”.   I hope someday someone thinks of bringing these guys back.  If you weren’t lucky enough to see it before the demise of the Mile Long Bar, check out these two videos.

QUASI INTERACTIVE BITS

These couple of gags are able to be triggered by passersby, but always do a regular routine – even though these two instances have several different sounds that can be triggered.   The first is the rope pictured above outside the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.  The second is the water fountains in Future World at Epcot Center.   I am not sure if these still exist (do they?), but not long ago they were around the Innoventions area outdoors.  When you would drink from the fountains, much like the Indy rope, a wacky persona would reply from the bottom of the fountain.

I suppose the Sword In The Stone in front of the carousel in Fantasyland could also go in this catergory.

SOUNDS AND SMELLS

There are too many of these to mention (though I welcome your contribution).  A few of my favorites are on Main Street, USA in the Magic Kingdom.  On the one half of Center Street that survives, there’s a window offering Piano and Voice Lessons.  Sit underneath that window and listen to the lessons go on.   Not far from there at the Main Street Bakery, the smells are almost too good to be true -  that’s because they’re artificially made in a contraption vaguely resembling a scuba suit in the utilidoors downstairs and pumped above onto the street to lure hungry passersby.

In Adventureland, the cannons on the fort above the Pirates of the Carribean shoot off periodically.

Over in Frontierland at the Train Station, as you pass by the office en route to the platform, you hear a telegraph ticking within.  It just happens to be spelling out Walt Disney’s speech on Opening Day at Disneyland.

INTRODUCING THE RIDE

These two don’t completely count, because they’re actually in queues for attractions, but I thought I’d include them anyway because they actually weren’t on the ride itself.  The first is Brer Frog’s shadow in the queue for Splash Mountain.   It’s an artsy little detail that sets up the ride itself.  Seeing Brer Frog on the shadow of the cave gently rocking in front of a fire, beginning to tell the story of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Brer Fox is matched as soon as you get on the ride by seeing Brer Fox himself.   The second is the relatively recent addition of Madame Leota’s grave directly outside the Haunted Mansion.

creeepy..

… Leota of course appears later in the crystal ball seance – hence “having a ball” and “regions beyond.

STRANGE BACKSTORIES

In this era of “story” in the Imagineering department, a lot are half baked.  Gran Fiesta Tour comes to mind (replacing my beloved El Rio de Tiempo – hardly any story there).  Regardless, sometimes you come across actual good story lying around – even if it’s strange and perhaps doesn’t make any sense.

courtesy of Jack Spence

This is what remains of one of my favorite and most random landmarks on Property – the Lawnmower Tree of Fort Wilderness.  In what is most certainly a relic of previous ownership, Disney kept this tree that grew around an old hand powered blade lawnmower.   Unfortunately, the tree died so they had to chop it…. but I suppose it was fortunate because it was getting harder and harder to see the lawnmower remnant at the base of the trunk.  As you can see, there’s a sign beside it – it reads ” Too long did Billy Bowlegs park his slow mower – Alas, one warm and sunny day aside a real fast grower.”  Extra points here for the poetry involved.   This is just a gag – and a nice attention to detail…. oh yes and totally random.  If you haven’t seen it, the Lawnmower Tree is on the path off the landing for the motor launch en route to Pioneer Hall (it’s on the right).

The other story I particularly like is the legend of Pleasure Island, and how that relates to another area of WDW – Typhoon Lagoon.  I can’t even go into the tremendous amount of detail involved in Pleasure Island’s backstory – suffice it to say there were plaques on every building – but Wade’s Wayback Machine has a great retelling of it here. The part I really like about the legends of both areas is they’re connected.   The same hurricane that destroyed the Placid Palms Resort and placed Miss Tilly on Mount Mayday also lead Pleasure Island to ruin once and for all before the Disney Imagineers “rediscovered” it.  Varying reports have that hurricane named Connie and Charlotte, so I can’t be exactly sure how the legend goes.

BARKERS

barker-bird

A little more obvious, but I love these guys.  There used to be two barker birds (called barkers as in barkers on a midway yelling for folks to come see certain attractions) in Adventureland – one for Pirates of the Carribean and one for Tropical Serenade.  These were audio animatronics outside of the attractions who would talk up their attractions (the Tiki Room’s was voiced by longtime Golden Horseshoe star Wally Boag).   Often the birds would crack wise and be wacky, and obviously drew attention to their respective attractions.  For some reason unknown to me, both disappeared  with their respective updates – I don’t even want to go into the Tiki Room redo at this point.   At least the Pirates barker bird survives in the burning town (above the bridge), but I would love an explanation on why they went away.

A nod of the cap has been made to these two recently in the incredibly sophisticated Mr. Potato Head Barker at Toy Story Mania.  Although it makes more sense at California Adventure, where he’s on a Midway and actually outside the attraction,  he’s a very impressive and whimsical site even inside the queue at DHS.

bizbarker

LOST SPECIAL EFFECTS

These were bits of business that were some of my favorite, or if I wasn’t around to see them – I truly wish I had been.  Sometimes Imagineers created amazing effects that had to be left along the way.  Among some of my favorites -

The wave machine at the Polynesian Village Resort  – when the resort opened, it was intended to have surfable waves.  Unfortunately, there quickly became a considerable erosion problem, along with problems in the machine.  It was abandonned and became a reef for the fish in the Seven Seas Lagoon.   I can’t imagine being around the Polynesian at night with actual waves hitting the beach!

Asundry effects on Expedition Everest – The Yeti is broken, but also missing now is the bird and snow at the top of the mountain and the steam that once rose from the trains as they left the station.

The Sunshine Tree and Orange Bird – I know this is the third time this article I’ve mentioned the Sunshine Tree Terrace or the Tropical Serenade, but when the pavilion was sponsored by Florida Citrus, there was an actual faux tree growing in the Sunshine Tree Terrace – which had an effect from projectors to make it appear as if it were blowing gently in the breeze.  In addition, their mascot the Orange Bird could be spotted in the tree – with his thoughts projected in a thought bubble behind his head.  Amazing!  Pictures and more vivid description can be seen on Widen Your World.

These are just some of the bits of business lying around – most without reason to be there save to enhance the experience and add depth.   I had thought for a long time that this was a dying breed in the era of cookiecutter attractions and major marketing for major attractions, but the Kim Possible scavenger hunt in World Showcase has renewed my faith for more of this to come.  A completely interactive experience, you can toggle seemingly inanimate objects…. and in the spirit of good fun I won’t spoil much – but steins sing, parrots talk (again), viking flags are raised – and this little guy dances for you!

bizmexico

It was definitely one of the highlights of my last trip to WDW, and I hope more nuance and subtle detail is on the way from Walt Disney Imagineering.

What are your favorite bits o’ business?

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5 comments to Bits of Business…

  • First, I’m embarrassed that I’ve never noticed the rope at the Indiana Jones show. Guess I don’t loiter around the Studios much. Second, I’m shocked because I didn’t realize that the lawnmower tree had died. For some reason, that’s incredibly tragic. Maybe they can preserve it somehow, or leave another mower lying out somewhere…

    I still don’t get why they took the parrot away from Pirates. I’ve always really hoped that if the Tiki Room gets restored in any way, its barker bird would return. I’d also like to see the tree come back to the Enchanted Grove.

    The parks used to be loaded with this kind of stuff but it’s becoming increasingly scarce. I’m sure they don’t want to justify the cost of occasional repairs and refurbishment of these bits when there’s not a direct profit flow involved. It just shows how broken their system is, I guess…

    I’m trying to think of others… the guard houses and stables on Tom Sawyer Island… the pet cemetery outside of Mansion… all the broken stuff in Tomorrowland…

  • RandySavage

    First time on this site. Will bookmark it. Really enjoyed the post.

    One you can add is the Singing in the Rain Umbrella at MGM & WDSP:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeremyames/236269964/

    Animal Kingdom once had the Secret Stepping Stone Path between Asia & Africa.

  • I was thinking about the Singing in the Rain umbrella after I wrote this! There also used to be (not sure if it still is) a great hidden mickey in the curb on the “center street” – now the street leading to the San Francisco backdrop – on the left facing the end of the street….

    What was the secret stepping stone path?

    Also – Imagination’s jumping fountains!

  • I thought of the jumping fountains yesterday and forgot to mention it… hadn’t thought about the umbrella…

  • Walter Sobchak

    My favorite is probably the ‘broken’ artificial tree in Tomorrowland, and the land’s storyline overall. The 1994 Tomorrowland tried for a cohesive theme of not only “future that never was” but of a future community where aliens and humans comingle, complete with an “Interplanetary” Convention Center, a mass transit system, a “Metro-Retro” historical society, a science center, a ground-level highway (the unthemed Speedway), a power company, and a spaceport gateway to the galaxy in Space Mountain.

    But the broken tree is my favorite, telling us that no matter where or when we are, things will still break and go unfixed.

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