A Brief and Incomplete History of Splash Mountain

SuddenStorm

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
With all of this talk about Splash Mountain, Song of the South, and recent announcements I thought it'd be fun to take a look back at Splash Mountain the ride- where it came from, why it was built, and the people behind it. This thread isn't intended to discuss 2020 Splash Mountain or Princess Tiana, but is instead a look back at the ride built by Disney in 1989 (I know nothing about the WDW or Tokyo versions) and the joy millions have gotten out of riding it these last 30 or so years. This is also not an all encompassing post, and I'm sure there's going to be errors since a lot of this is going off of memory.

Splash Mountain's history is difficult to piece together. Much research has been done on Pirates and Mansion- with whole books being dedicated to those attractions. There's not much available for Splash- just the same regurgitated stories circulated on Disney fan blogs year after year. Usually a reference to Mr. Baxter on the freeway, an American Sings reference, and a reference to Song of the South. There's huge chunks of Splash's creation missing- though there's been a few interviews in recent years that have helped piece together some of those parts. I'm going to try and focus less on the stuff everyone already knows, but instead talk about the more interesting parts of the ride's development.

The timeline for the first part of Splash's creative development is a bit hazy- so the next bit isn't necessarily in chronological order.

The original idea behind Splash is well known- Dick Nunis wanted a water ride. Bruce Gordon mentioned in a 1987 presentation on the ride that a water thrill attraction was at the top of guest requests at Disneyland. Baxter wasn't the first person to take a stab at it, in a recent interview Tom Morris talked about a different team that had pitched a 'Hatfield and McCoy' style Bear shootout log flume that Baxter (creative lead for Disneyland) wasn't too thrilled on. The other issue was location- where there would be space in the park to put it that worked thematically. Morris, who did the initial site layout and engineered the track, pitched a few different locations- where the Fantasyland theater currently stands, behind the New Orleans Train Station, where the old Big Thunder Ranch was, and finally where it finally ended up- the entrance of Bear Country. A lot of care was put into designing the ride to be longer, taller, and overall better than the one at Knott's Berry Farm.

After Tony's little 'hoorah!' moment on the Santa Ana freeway in 1983, as the story goes, he rushed into Imagineering, got Bruce Gordon (show producer), and worked to assemble storyboards. John Stone became project designer for the attraction- and was largely in charge of the aesthetic elements for the attraction.The project was greenlit during one of Michael Eisner’s initial visits to Imagineering, when his son Breck became enamored with the attraction. Here’s Imagineering’s model for the attraction (designed by John Stone and Chris Tietz)-

1593503260934.png


In the same 1987 presentation, Bruce Gordon had this to say- "What makes Disneyland special is we put a mythology around our attractions. Pirates has pirates, Mansion has ghosts. If you go to Magic Mountain is just an iron ride. You ride a roller coaster, it's a fun coaster, but it's still just a coaster. Disneyland tries to take it one step further... Once we had the biggest and the best log ride we decided to lay mythology on top of that go back to one of the best Disney has ever appropriated, the Joel Chandler Harris Uncle Remus characters Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Bear, Br'er Fox from the 1946 classic Song of the South. The animation from this the characters, backgrounds, music is some of the best stuff we've ever done. We've never used this stuff in an attraction before. We decided let's take all the characters from Song of the South and follow the adventures of Br'er Rabbit."

America Sings had been declining in popularity for years, and they planned to close the attraction and use those figures inside Splash Mountain. This is a point of controversy for the attraction- Alice Davis attributed cost overruns on Splash Mountain as the reason behind the America Sings figures being used. This is false- the initial storyboards from far before the cost overruns show the America Sings figures. In recent years I’ve seen some vloggers perpetuate the idea that Splash Mountain was some kind of apology from Tony to Marc for the whole Western River/Big Thunder drama from 10 years prior- but honestly I’m not sure that’s the case, or at the very least it’s a very expensive apology.

Here’s a few of the storyboards-





In addition to Splash Mountain, Fowler's Harbor was completely rebuilt to add the Harbour Galley and made the area guest accessible, and even brought back the gentleman who designed the original Fowler's Harbor.


Construction for the attraction began in 1987 with a planned 1988 opening. The construction was documented by an oldtime Disboard/Micechat poster who shared these photos on their flickr- https://www.flickr.com/photos/mojave33/sets/

Here’s the site layout for the attraction-

Specs.jpg




In 1988 the opening was delayed. Though the interior of the mountain appeared finished, two major hiccups prevented the ride from opening. Here’s a late 1988/early 1989 photo of the facade after construction was complete-

Splash Mountain 1989.jpg



The first- the initial log design was poorly done and caused riders to get way too wet. There’s some conflicting reporting regarding the final drop’s angle- which was intended to built at 45 degrees but was built at 47 (this was corrected during the 2018 refurb of the attraction). One historian (I think Jim Hill) claimed that the angle was intentionally changed to cause riders to get less wet and is what attributed to the delayed opening, but I don’t think this was true- since none of the construction photos show the drop getting rebuilt. The original logs can be seen in some TV ads for the attraction.

The second issue is a bit more interesting. When designing show scenes creatives often work best with some kind of restraint- for most attractions that’s deciding how many animatronic figures to build and where to place them. Since most of the figures were reused from America Sings, Baxter, Gordon, and the other Imagineers just threw everything wherever- creating a confusing mess of a show with a difficult to understand story. After many figures were installed, Bruce Gordon brought Dave Feiten in to get his advice on how to fix it. Feiten removed some figures and moved others to help fix some of the staging, and I believe was given greater control for the WDW version. I wish there were more photos of the interior of the ride with the initial staging, but this magazine (which I proudly own a copy of) shows some figures in their original spots, as do the storyboards. They also removed some audio tracks. This is the bit of Splash's development I'd love to learn more about- I'd kill to see what the original staging looked like, or to get to ride the ride in its 'messy' iteration.

Feiten also programmed the animatronics, and likes to tell the story of him set up in the flume with all his equipment and headphones in… causing him to not hear a warning call that they were filling the flume and having to quickly grab his stuff and get out. Here's Feiten programming the animatronics-

DaveAnimatronics41 Splash Mountain.jpg



Splash Mountain eventually opened July 17, 1989- a day before Disneyland's birthday. The marketing campaign for the attraction was varied and very '80s- with a rap song and Ernest working to become the first Splashtranaut.

Here's some fun Splash trivia-

  • Originally the song Sooner or Later was used instead of Burrow's Lament- this change was made prior to the attraction opening.
  • Imagineer Bob Gurr was brought in to help design the 'Zip a Dee Lady' showboat seen in the attraction's finale.
  • Actor Nick Stewart voiced Br'er Bear in both the film and the ride, pictured here-
Nick Steward Brer Bear Voice Splash Mountain.jpg

  • The logs have been redone multiple times, initially they were bench seating like the old Matterhorn sleds before switching to individual seating.
  • The attraction was initially intended to be called the 'Zip a Dee River Run', but was changed to 'Splash Mountain' after a suggestion by Michael Eisner to help tie the film to the movie Splash, though his suggestion to add a Daryl Hannah animatronic to the end of the ride fell on deaf ears.
  • The vultures (otherwise known as the Boothill Boys) had top hats in America Sings, but lost them when they moved to Splash Mountain despite the attraction poster depicting them with the hats. I suspect there wasn't enough ceiling clearance in Disneyland. For some reason, the WDW vultures ended up with hats.
  • This blog post shows the America Sings figures both in America Sings, and in their Splash Mountain home.
  • The snoring heard in the cave just before you enter the interior portion of the attraction was originally attributed to Rufus on the attraction, though it was changed to Br'er Bear within a couple years.
Rufus Mail Box Splash Mountain.png
DSC_8311.jpg


Not many changes were made to Disneyland's version of the ride- what's seen now is quite similar to what opened in '89, though Br'er rabbit has had a few redesigns over the years (the older photo is 1992)-

Final Brer Rabbit 1992.jpg
Brer Rabbit finale.jpg


If anyone has any Splash stories they've heard, or has any photos, or anything to add at all, feel free to share.
 
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Robbiem

Well-Known Member
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Great post. I notice the ride plan calls critter country dixieland. I wonder if this was another name change?
 

BasiltheBatLord

Well-Known Member
Thanks for this. I emailed Dave Feiten years ago seeking an interview to learn more about the work he did on Splash but never got a reply back.

I always thought it was interesting how Splash has never had any changes at all throughout its career as far as I'm aware (aside from the logs). The ride is still pretty much exactly as it was when it opened in '89 (except less broken)

Although I would suspect that the photo preview with the owl at the end of the ride was added later.
 

mickEblu

Well-Known Member
So I know the Indian Village used to be a part of the area where Splash is now but what the heck was there when It was Bear Country? I definitely remember seeing CBJ many times as a young kid but don't remember anything else about the land.
 

SuddenStorm

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
So I know the Indian Village used to be a part of the area where Splash is now but what the heck was there when It was Bear Country? I definitely remember seeing CBJ many times as a young kid but don't remember anything else about the land.

The site where Splash currently sits was literally just a cave, some dirt, and some trees. Here's a photo after some initial site clearing for Splash-

1987 Bear Country Entrance.jpg
 

Darkbeer1

Well-Known Member

Disney remained good friends with Knott and Hurlbut until Disney’s unexpected death in December 1966. But the relationship between the two parks continued: Knott’s Berry Farm displayed a framed guestbook page with Disney’s entry on it, and Disneyland would occasionally borrow repair parts from Knott’s when its carousel broke down. In 1969, 22-year-old future Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter left his ride-operating job at Disneyland in the middle of the day to attend the opening gala of Knott’s Timber Mountain Log Ride (also designed by Hurlbut), whose inaugural ride was taken by Hollywood star and Orange County resident John Wayne. Exactly one decade later, Baxter would design Big Thunder Mountain, his first ride for Disneyland, which took inspiration directly from the Calico Mine Ride.


By placing Big Thunder’s queue area underneath the train track and adding a tremoring earthquake shaft and an exploding tunnel, Baxter turned Big Thunder Mountain into an homage to the Knott’s ride. Hurlbut’s design of the Timber Mountain Log Ride set the standard for future rides around the world by incorporating theming, scenery and storytelling within a full-sized mountain; Baxter would fully apply Hurlbut’s approach to his work on Splash Mountain in the 1980s, as well as Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye in the 1990s.<<
 

SuddenStorm

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
ok I'm not surprised that I don't remember it haha. But as an adult, I kind of like it. lol

Same... Disneyland is losing more and more of those pure nature areas. Though I think losing those trees for Splash was an acceptable trade, and Imagineering even retained the only defining thing about that entrance- Rufus's snore.
 

SuddenStorm

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
This is just my theory, but I always assumed after the Disneyland version opened, the Imagineers decided that the vultures looked better with the hats, hence why the vultures in the Disney World version have top hats.

Here's a photo of Disneyland's-

DSC_0954.jpg


I honestly just don't think there was space. If Imagineering decided they like the hats, why did they never add them to Disneyland?

Just for fun, here they are in America Sings, in their original costumes-

1593543649709.png
 

SuddenStorm

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Thanks for this. I emailed Dave Feiten years ago seeking an interview to learn more about the work he did on Splash but never got a reply back.

I always thought it was interesting how Splash has never had any changes at all throughout its career as far as I'm aware (aside from the logs). The ride is still pretty much exactly as it was when it opened in '89 (except less broken)

Although I would suspect that the photo preview with the owl at the end of the ride was added later.

Splash Mountain opened without on ride photos, so yes the preview was added later. That's one of those changes I miss- seeing your photo on the log at the end of the ride was good fun.

This podcast episode was done by someone who was able to interview Feiten, and has a little more information than what I shared in the post, and is where I got my information from. His website says he's currently teaching at California College of the Arts, I wonder if a more up to date email is on their website. If he has any photos/information on Splash's creation that hasn't been shared, now would be the time to share them!
 

mickEblu

Well-Known Member
Same... Disneyland is losing more and more of those pure nature areas. Though I think losing those trees for Splash was an acceptable trade, and Imagineering even retained the only defining thing about that entrance- Rufus's snore.

More than acceptable. These days we lose all the trees for concrete wastelands
 

SuddenStorm

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I haven't heard this discussed much as being used for future expansion. Were those backstage buildings there at the time and if so I imagine that they could be moved and it can be used for future expansion?

Tom talked about it in this podcast episode. The machinery that's behind the station there now was there in the '80s- and he said at the time the cost to move that stuff wasn't worth it to management. He also talks about how they'd incorporate the station into the attraction design, since the shade structure that is the New Orleans Square station isn't really that iconic, though they'd want to preserve the old Frontierland Station structure that's behind it in some way.

New Orleans Train Station.PNG


Here's the same location in 1970-

1970 New Orleans Square Station.PNG
 

mickEblu

Well-Known Member
Here's a photo of Disneyland's-

View attachment 480553

I honestly just don't think there was space. If Imagineering decided they like the hats, why did they never add them to Disneyland?

Just for fun, here they are in America Sings, in their original costumes-

View attachment 480555

Aaahhhh those wonderful little touches. In this case the ominous Vultures. I wonder what will go in that spot now? Probably nothing or some character saying something dumb like " you sure you wanna go up there, there's only one way doooowwwwn, hahaha" Of course Disney only has a few tones these days and they include irreverent, "funny", meta and book report.

Every big overlay has been some meta, irreverent downgrade because I guess that's just what happens when you retrofit something that's purpose built. I guess its the easiest way to make sense of something or "add something of value."
 
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FerretAfros

Well-Known Member
While Splash Mountain is known for a lot of things, one overlooked element is that it was the first time that Disney's classic animated cartoon characters had a permanent home outside of Fantasyland. Although it wasn't the first attraction located elsewhere in the park to be based on Disney's library, the others were based on live-action properties with a basis in literature and folktales (Swiss Family Treehouse, Davy Crockett Museum). In some sense, Splash Mountain continued that tradition with its folktale roots, while also opening the floodgates for the cartoon invasion throughout the parks in the decades that have followed.

Looking back on it, it's almost shocking that Disneyland's animated characters were confined to Fantasyland for the first 34 years of its existence. Given the trajectory of WDI's output in recent years, it's hard to believe that so much of the content was original in the parks' early years, with animated film-based attractions almost being an afterthought. Splash Mountain was the first major addition to really buck that tradition, followed shortly by the Goofy About Health area of the Wonders of Life pavilion in Epcot opening in October 1989. It seems like this was a crucial step in the journey in changing the design philosophy that placed WDW's submarine attraction in Fantasyland in 1971 because it was based on the live-action science fantasy 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea film, to Frozen Ever After being placed in World Showcase in 2016 despite being based on an animated film set in a fictional land.

Without Splash Mountain and its overwhelming popularity, one has to wonder if the IP invasion of all the parks would have been so widespread and so dramatic. In many ways, it really led the way for the trajectory of the theme park industry for decades to come, for better or for worse.

Another often-overlooked addition for Splash Mountain was the bridge over the Pirates of the Caribbean queue, which was added to ease crowd flow to the west side of the park in anticipation of the new headliner being located at a dead-end. In addition to adding dedicated outdoor queue space for POTC, the bridge addition also included stairs to the balcony, letting guests access Walt's apartment for the first time as the Disney Gallery. The area along the riverbank was further modified a few years later to add the terraced viewing areas for Fantasmic!, making the original configuration almost unrecognizable today.




The original at-grade POTC entrance remains to this day at Tokyo Disneyland, which copied DL's New Orleans Square façade for the ride's entrance and to serve as a transition between World Bazaar and Adventureland.
 

Figments Friend

Well-Known Member
Yes!

Really glad to see you started this thread, @SuddenStorm !


Story time -
Here are two tales related to some of the first people to try out riding the Attraction before work was complete, and before the water levels / wetness factor had been adjusted.

The first story is one of the first times Tony Baxter tried it out during construction.
The waterways were filled and he decided to give it a whirl.
Things were going just fine until the big plunge into the briar patch, at which time during splashdown Tony was completely and utterly drenched to the bone.
Not pleasant!
He ended up retreating to his office to change his clothing...that's how badly he was drenched!


I think right then and there it was decided to change the log design and water levels.
No Guest would want to become THAT soaked.
This was likely when they had the original version of the log, before a later model was designed with the now familiar 'scoop' in front to push water away from the front.

To this day, Tony doesn't enjoy getting too wet on 'Splash Mountain'
When I spent some time with him at Disneyland one evening, the topic came up to ride some Attraxtions and he was open to anything.....except 'Splash Mountain'.
Why?
He just didn't want to be soggy for the rest of the night.

I had to chuckle to myself, because all I could think of at the time was the story above and how soaked he became during that early test run!
We went an enjoyed all the other 'BaxterAttractions' however...except IJA, which was temporarily down when we walked by.
DU'oh!!
( next time....!)
;)


Now to the second story....

This one also involves Tony, but during a later period in the construction process.
'Splash Mountain' was almost complete as far as the flume / ride system went, but most of show elements had not yet been installed.
The team was still working feverishly to get the ride working as it should before moving on the other elements.
Many long days and nights went into getting it to work.

One evening logs were being cycled through and tests were being done.
Suddenly, and without notice ahead of time Michael Eisner shows up and surprises Tony and his team working that night.
He heard about the cycling, and wants to go for a ride and try it out.
Naturally, the team all look at each other as they weren't really prepared but of course let Michael try it out.
Tony and a couple of other core team members ( Bruce Gordon I beleive was also present for this excursion ) get into a log with Michael.
They tell him that they haven't finalized the water levels yet and just to be safe cover him in a couple of plastic trash bags to avoid soaking their boss.
Off they go....

All goes well, and Michael seems to be enjoying himself.
Now as they approach the top of the final lift hill to plunge into the briar patch, casually one of the team members mentions to Tony and Michael - "oh, by the way....you might want to lower your heads during the big drop as we haven't removed the scaffolding yet...!"
What...??
Egad....

So there goes Michael Eisner, Tony, and the others down the big plunge with scaffolding rails all across the flume way.
Tony had to bend all the way backwards like a 'Limbo' player to avoid having his head taken off, as there was the danger of being decapitated on the way down!
I think Michael just ducked....but wow...
Can you just imagine the scene?

Afterwards they are all glad to still be alive and once the log reaches the unloading area Michael proclaims his enthusiasm for the experience.
 
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Nirya

Well-Known Member
Thought I'd add this one to the pile:


One of my main takeaways from the video was Baxter revealing that Tales of the Okefenokee influenced the creation of Splash Mountain by helping provide the initial spark, as Baxter had ridden the ride multiple times prior. Also interesting that that ride was gone by 1980-1981 (not because of backlash, mind, but because a fire had damaged too many of the sets).
 

Homemade Imagineering

Well-Known Member
Thought I'd add this one to the pile:


One of my main takeaways from the video was Baxter revealing that Tales of the Okefenokee influenced the creation of Splash Mountain by helping provide the initial spark, as Baxter had ridden the ride multiple times prior. Also interesting that that ride was gone by 1980-1981 (not because of backlash, mind, but because a fire had damaged too many of the sets).
It was also a victim to vandals as well. They would jump off the fiberglass bots and move different props around and steal animatronic’s hats. This was also the case with IASW from 1995-1996, when the “Disneyland Locals” were on a destructive rampage, where they’d go onto certain attractions and begin acts of vandalism. Here are a few videos of the shenanigans that took place... I must say, the things they did are just awful.
 
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