Friday, January 30, 2009
Raising the Nautilus
Once a crown jewel of the Magic Kingdom, today 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has been reduced to a trivia question: "Did you know that there used to be a submarine ride where the Hundred Acre Wood play area is now?" Although it was well-loved, the E-Ticket attraction always did have its problems. For one thing, it was a maintenance nightmare. If you've ever owned a swimming pool you know what a pain in the neck they are to maintain. Now imagine an 11 million-gallon swimming pool populated with mechanical sea creatures and brightly-painted set pieces, all of which are in a constant state of corrosion thanks to the heavily-chlorinated water. No wonder WDW management wanted to shut the ride down.
Of course, Magic Kingdom "guests" (Disney's word for paying customers) were angered by 20K's sudden closure. They even wrote letters to Disney's corporate headquarters, leading then-president of the Walt Disney Company Michael Ovitz to investigate whether the ride could be re-opened. (The entire amusing story can be found here) It wasn't, of course, and today the lagoon has been filled in and paved over. Those of us who remember 20K, though, will always miss it. And while it's safe to say that the ride will never be resurrected in its original form, could it perhaps be re-imagined for a 21st century audience? Personally, I believe that a 20,000 Leagues attraction would be the perfect fit for the stereoscopic 3D dark ride system that I proposed in an earlier post.
Imagine a queue area designed to look like Captain Nemo's cavernous lair on the island of Vulcania, where the Nautilus is berthed. As you move toward the boarding area, the path slopes gradually downward, and the atmosphere seems to grow more cavelike. In the boarding area (which I imagine to be similar to the Pirates of the Caribbean, but not as "open") , visitors would step down into the Nautilus, presumably via some handicapped-accessible method. The ship would seem to be partially submerged in an actual underground river. Once aboard, riders would be seated in front of a large circular viewport, initially shielded from view by an irislike screen, just like the film version of the ship. The ride vehicle would move out of the view of the people in the boarding area, and into a "backstage" area where there is no water. The ride, of course, would be viewed through the large circular viewport, which is actually a glasses-free stereoscopic 3D movie screen. Exactly how the ride vehicles should be configured, I don't know. Ideally, they'd resemble the Nautilus and seat around 4 people. Perhaps there could be a large Nautilus-like vehicle with three or four seperate compartments, each one seating 3-4 people. The core of the idea, though, is that you think you're going on a boat ride, when actually you're in a simulator. Of course, a ride like this would do a much better job of simulating a dive to the depths of the ocean than the old 20K ever could have. And with no water, except in the boarding/unloading area, you escape the maintenance issues of the old ride.
I caught 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea on Turner Classic Movies a while back, and I was impressed by how well it still holds up. If Disney is looking for a new franchise to replace Pirates of the Carribbean, why not a series of Captain Nemo movies? It has the potential for all the action and adventure that Pirates had. If Disney went that route, a new 20K ride would make a lot of sense. Where in the Magic Kingdom would it go? Adventureland would be the best thematic fit, but I really don't see where there's any free real estate there for a new building big enough to house a ride like this. Fantasyland has room, though. When you look at an aerial view of the Magic Kingdom, it strikes you just how little of the old 20K lagoon is taken up by the Winnie-The-Pooh play area. In fact, there's quite a bit of room between that and Mickey's Toontown Fair, more than enough for a building to house the new Vulcania.
What do you think? Would a new 20,000 Leagues attraction be a welcome addition to Disney World? And should 20K be given the franchise treatment? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
EDIT: I didn't realize when I originally wrote this that Disney has already greenlighted a new Captain Nemo film. If it proves to be as successful as Pirates, it would be hard to imagine Disney not trying to bring Nemo and the Nautilus back into the parks in some fashion.