Disney Deep Dive: Hot and Cold Running Chills

The 1964 New York World’s Fair had a huge impact on Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Several attractions would make their way from the World’s Fair out to DISNEYLAND. An unintended consequence was that other attractions were delayed, including the Haunted Mansion. The exterior of the building was completed in 1962 and it would stand vacant until 1968 when construction on the inside of the attraction had begun.

By this time, Walt Disney had passed away and the original plans for a walkthrough attraction had been scrapped in favor of a ride. The indoor themed restaurant had also been cut from the plans. Despite the fact that the exterior had already been built, the park had to disassemble parts of it to get the underlying infrastructure in place. It was a much larger effort than it might have seemed to park guests.

Famed imagineer X. Atencio wrote yet another classic theme park song despite never having written any songs before. Grim Grinning Ghosts is the bouncy song that guests hear inside the graveyard scene.

After real construction began, things went pretty quickly from that point on. The ghosts were finally ready to welcome their guests into their forbidding mansion. But would their guests arrive after being forced to wait nearly ten years to enter the mansion? Stay tuned!

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Disney Deep Dive: Wall To Wall Creeps

In 1961, Walt Disney triumphantly announced that the Haunted Mansion would open in 1962 or 1963. Located just around the river bend, the Haunted Mansion’s basic exterior design had already been finalized in 1961, though what would go inside the mansion was still undecided. Walt Disney assigned the interior design to Imagineer Rolly Crump who came up with an idea for a walkthrough attraction featuring haunted and bizarre artifacts.

The unusual “artifacts” would be presented as though the master of the house had traveled far and wide to build this collection. The artifacts themselves would be built by Imagineering and have unusual features that would surprise and enchant guests. A themed restaurant would also share the building, providing sumptuous meals in an unbeatable atmosphere.

Walt Disney, however, was not completely sold on the idea. Additionally, he had signed on to build several attractions for the 1964 World’s Fair. There just wasn’t enough time to design and build out the attraction, so the project would be put on hold. DISNEYLAND, however, was still planning to open an Indian themed village north of the planned Haunted Mansion site. Walt Disney was loathe to just have a plain path leading over to the Indian village and figured that since he already had a design for the mansion’s exterior he could just build the house’s exterior now and worry about the interior later. The empty building quickly sprang up, daring guests to imagine what might be inside.

To pique the interest of his guests, Walt Disney had a sign erected by the mansion’s front gate. The legendary sign would capture the imagination of millions of DISNEYLAND guests. What was inside that house? In 1962 it was just temporary offices. It would take nearly a decade for guests to finally walk though the front doors.

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Just One Dream…

On this day in 1923, Walt and Roy Disney founded the Disney Brothers Studio, an enterprise that would succeed beyond their wildest dreams. The early years were financially perilous, but this small enterprise would grow into The Walt Disney Company, which is now valued at $170 BILLION. Not too bad for a young man who arrived in California with just $40.

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Disney Deep Dive: We Find it Delightfully Unliveable Here…

Originally planned to be part of the “Mickey Mouse Park” project in Burbank, The Haunted House idea was one of the original ideas that made its way south to Anaheim when Walt Disney began planning out DISNEYLAND. The house was originally supposed to be a stereotypically rundown shanty located down a windy path that would branch off from Main Street. That plan was scrapped after budgetary constraints and technology limitations prevented the attraction from being built the way Walt Disney envisioned. 

The attraction was put on the back burner after Walt visited the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, 400 miles north of his Magic Kingdom. The house had been built by Sarah Winchester, who designed the sprawling house as a way to confuse the spirits of the dead people who had been killed by her husband’s rifles. The stately Mansion is immaculately maintained, yet is still considered to be one of the most haunted buildings in the country. Mr. Disney had always hated the idea of building a ramshackle building and the Winchester mansion convinced him that he could build a nice looking yet ominous mansion for DISNEYLAND.

By this time, the potential spot for the Haunted attraction was moved from an area near Main Street to a spot across the riverbend from Frontierland. The new spot had been sparsely landscapes and used as a nice little park where people could take a stroll or sit on one of the many benches and enjoy a snack. Walt Disney had an affinity for the city of New Orleans and had planned for the area to become an area themed after the city. In the early 1960’s, DISNEYLAND announced that it would build a New Orleans themed area complete with a pirate museum and a haunted house. Actual construction, however, would still be a long ways off.

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Disney Deep Dive: The Haunted Mansion

It arguably became one of Disney’s greatest attractions ever- The Haunted Mansion. The stately building that seemingly rose out of nowhere to take its place just around the riverbend has been mystifying guests for almost 50 years. Its path from dream to actuality was a bumpy one; it almost seemed like it would never come to fruition, but as Walt Disney once said- anything is possible in DISNEYLAND- so this classic attraction would eventually open its forbidding gates.

When Walt Disney began planning out DISNEYLAND, he wanted to make it unique and unlike any other theme park in the world. He didn’t want to completely eliminate all traditional amusement elements, but any that he used in DISNEYLAND would be improved upon and embellished. One such traditional element was the haunted house. Often filled with unsophisticated waxworks and purposely kept dark (both to make things scarier and also to hide their unsophisticated effects) such attractions often offered literally cheap thrills. 

Early plans for Walt Disney’s various theme park ideas usually depicted a “haunted house” attraction. The earliest plans often depicted the house traditionally as a worn down abandoned shack. By the time that Walt Disney began making his final plans for DISNEYLAND, he had decided against building a stereotypical haunted house; he didn’t want anything that ugly in his park. 

As the plans for DISNEYLAND were finalized, it became obvious that a haunted attraction would not be opening with the rest of the park. Walt Disney hadn’t settled on what the park’s haunted house should look like on the inside and, more importantly, felt that the technology needed to build what he envisioned was not yet available. The world would need to wait to see what exactly Mr. Disney had in mind.

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The Magic of DISNEYLAND: Memories

“The greatest thing about DISNEYLAND
is that its magic stays with you forever.”
When we think about DISNEYLAND, the bigger attractions  typically come to mind first. But if you really think about your favorite memories of the park, they’re often the smaller things. And often times those memories can come flooding back at the most random of moments, triggering that magical feeling all over again. That happened to me at a special DISNEYLAND event honoring the lives of Wally Boag and Betty Taylor. I remembered the time when Miss Betty Taylor announced to the entire Golden Horseshoe that she had a crush on me.

Wha?!? It all happened back when I was a tween and Ms. Taylor was in the final years of her legendary run at the Golden Horseshoe. My parents had made reservations for us to have a nice lunch at the Golden Horseshoe and enjoy the show. They had previously attended the show by themselves and felt that my sister and I would like it too. As we made our way into the legendary Golden Horseshoe, my parents insisted that we choose a table close to the stage but off to the right. As we enjoyed lunch and the show began, I became engrossed in the show. As it turned out, we *did* like it. While I had already developed an interest in all things Disney by this time and had discovered that I shared a birthday with Walt Disney (though I was born after he had passed away) I didn’t know much about the Golden Horseshoe or the glamorous woman who had been personally chosen by Walt Disney and was one of his favorite singers. 

As the show continued, Miss Taylor told us that there was a young man in the audience who had caught her eye.  The other performers asked her who she had her eye on. I innocently looked around. Suddenly the spotlight was trained on me. “Him!” she announced. It was at this point that I realized that I had been setup by my parents. As I started to blush and nervously laugh, the other performers told Miss Taylor that I wasn’t interested in her and claimed that I had my eye on someone else. Who could that person be? Another spotlight shone on a young lady sitting at an adjacent table who also began to blush. Noble in defeat, Miss Taylor insisted that the “bartenders” help me out and they came out into the audience and pushed our chairs together while she sang to us. After what probably seemed like a lifetime, we were pushed back to our respective tables. By this time, we were still nervously laughing and glad that Miss Taylor was now looking for someone else…

The incident became a fond family legend that was often remembered at family get-togethers when the subject of DISNEYLAND came up. A picture of the encounter does exist but is probably in a box of old photos. While I never completely forgot about the incident, seeing archival footage of a different, random performance of the show at the special event brought it all flooding back. For a fleeting moment, I was part of the show and in the presence of a true Disney legend. While my tween-age self was probably a little embarrassed at the time, that show has now become a treasured memory that I’ll never forget. 

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Disney Deep Dive: “Oh look. Another glorious morning. Makes me sick!”

Due to a colossal scheduling blunder, Hocus Pocus was dead on arrival at the box office, never finding a theatrical audience. It seemed like the Sanderson Sisters were felled by the only power stronger than theirs- Hollywood’s. But it would have been premature to completely count them out.

The picture’s pre-mature release and subsequent failure allowed Disney to rush the film to videocassette just in time for Halloween. The videocassette was a huge seller, allowing the studio to more or less break even. The film became a steady ratings performer on The Disney Channel during its many Halloween season airings. The successful videocassette sales allowed the company to keep it in print, making it a reliable catalog title. The big push for the film however, would come in 2001 when The Walt Disney Company purchased the Fox Family Channel, renaming it ABC Family. Fox Family had a tradition of airing nothing but Halloween themed films for the 13 days before Halloween. Disney continued this tradition, adding its films into the mix, including Hocus Pocus.

Hocus Pocus exploded in popularity. When the Halloween promotion was expanded to 31 days, the film gained even more exposure and fans. A deluxe DVD and Blu-Ray was released, selling a ton of copies. Hocus Pocus had overcome its initial failure and become a hugely profitable film. Fans were now clamoring for sequels, merchandise and more Hocus Pocus everything. Disney, of course, obliged.

Hocus Pocus the T-Shirts

Hocus Pocus the giftware collection.

The movie has even inspired Halloween season shows at Disney Parks around the world, performing to excited, standing room only crowds.

So the little film that didn’t really get a chance its first time around is now, if you’ll pardon the expression, Big Business. Which all goes to show that even the Sanderson Sisters eventually got their happy ending.

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Disney Deep Dive: “Aren’t you broads a little old to be trick or treating?”

The powers that be at Disney could finally breathe a sigh of relief; Bette Midler’s final contracturally obligated film role had wrapped ahead of time and under budget. The relief was shortlived, however, when the company realized that it had two Halloween themed movies on deck for a 1993 release- Hocus Pocus and The Nightmare Before Christmas. When it became obvious that The Lion King would not be completed in time for its original Thanksgiving Holiday 1993 release date, the company flirted with the idea of releasing the stop motion animated feature The Nightmare Before Christmas in the Thanksgiving Holiday slot (after all, while the film is about the pumpkin king, it does take place at Christmas) and giving Halloween over to Hocus Pocus. It seemed like a great idea.

But this was Hollywood, and while Disney has often played by its own rules instead of following Hollywood tradition, it was still made up of people who had rather large egos. And then Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg had one of the biggest egos around. He had taken much credit for Disney’s animated resurgence, taking an active role in the production of each release. He’d had little involvement with The Nightmare Before Christmas and feared that its quirky and macabre storyline would not produce the large box office grosses his animated pictures received. The first big decision made was to remove the Disney name from The Nightmare Before Christmas since the picture was seen as being too “scary” and “adult”. Of course, that didn’t mean that the film couldn’t be released over Thanksgiving. The studio, however, decided that releasing the film on The Lion King’s previous release date would still tie the film to Disney Animation, which they wanted to avoid. So The Nightmare Before Christmas got the Halloween release date.

That left Hocus Pocus without a home. The company decided to release its Halloween themed film in the middle of summer as counter programming to Jurassic Park. The project that had been plucked from the relative obscurity of The Disney Channel was doomed to failure by the same company that had been so excited about it just a year before. The film was largely ignored and was destined to fade into obscurity. But this wouldn’t be the last we’d see of the Sanderson Sisters- not by a long shot. These evil sisters would be saved from the depths of the Disney vault by their fervent fans.

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