Creating Snow White’s Scary Adventures

The “Fairest of them All” will soon move to a whole new location at the Magic Kingdom. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

This week we will see the end of an attraction that has graced the Magic Kingdom for over 40 years. Known in the early years as Snow White’s Adventures, the “dark ride” attraction opened the park in 1971 along with Peter Pan’s Flight and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Originally, Sleeping Beauty, Mary Poppins, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow were intended to be the themes for these three attractions. But as costs increased building the original Walt Disney World Resort, it was necessary to find some short-cuts. Re-using the same attraction themes from Disneyland seemed to make sense at the time.

Building the attraction was not so easy either. Like the queen peering down at Snow White from her castle tower, it’s hard to whistle while you work when managers are staring down at you, looking at your every move.

Such was the case for Arrow Development, a third party contractor Disney hired to help create some of the first attraction vehicles built for the Magic Kingdom. Ships flying over Neverland, Skyway buckets, flying Dumbos, Doom Buggies, spinning Teacups, and cars veering through “nowhere in particular” were just a small part of what Arrow created for the Magic Kingdom. Included in all this were the original mine carts slated for Snow White’s Adventures.

From “Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers” comes this photo of Arrow employees testing out the original mine cart vehicles for Disneyland’s Snow White attraction.

But as work progressed on building all of these rides and attractions, corporate started sending people out of California to look over everything and make sure it was going smoothly. For Arrow, these people didn’t facilitate their success. They simply stood in the way of getting the job done by asking questions around schedules and budgets. It came to a point that it was difficult for anyone to do his or her work with a big “Heigh Ho.”

And it wasn’t like Arrow was some new kid on the block. Arrow had worked personally with Walt Disney to create many of the rides and attractions that opened at Disneyland. You see the Matterhorn re-opening out at Disneyland this month. Arrow had even pioneered the first bobsleds ever to roll down the first steel roller coaster that had ever been built.

The original 60 foot prototype that the Imagineers at WED created for the Matterhorn was a disaster. Joe Fowler seeing this turned to Arrow and told them to build the first iron roller coaster. The rest was history. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

Fortunately, there was one person who would be able to get Arrow the help they needed. That man was Joe Fowler, who after 35 years as an admiral for the U.S. Navy, turned his efforts to building Disneyland. He was a favorite of Walt’s, largely because of his “can do” attitude. Joe and Arrow had worked together for many years. And now Joe was on site and over much of the massive construction project.

Joe trusted Arrow to get the job done. So when people from Burbank and Anaheim came over and started giving Arrow trouble, they would just call Joe and say, “Can you get these guys off our back?” and five minutes later they were gone. Fowler would send those middle men to some other end of the park or property, because he know that his best chance for getting all of the attractions opened by October 1, 1971 was to let Arrow have the freedom and space they needed to get the job accomplished.

While Arrow created the ride vehicles, this photo from a Walt Disney World guide shows artists at Imagineering (W.E.D. Enterprises back then) painting the villains.

This kind of problem occurs all of the time, not just on construction sites, but throughout every variety of business setting. You might ask yourself:

  • How are we avoiding the impression of looking over someone’s shoulder?
  • How are we at building trusting, collaborative relationships with others?
  • How will giving people greater space and freedom to do their job provide assurance that the job will get done?
  • How do we balance freedom and accountability?

If you like these kinds of insights to the Magic Kingdom, and if they offer insight to your own organization back home, you may want to consider Disney at Work: Magic Kingdom, available for the iPad and iPhone. With scores of stories about the Magic Kingdom, it shares fascinating insights on why this is the most popular theme park in the world. Recently updated, it offers new insights to coming attractions like Storybook Circus and The Little Mermaid. Moreover, it will inspire you with new ideas in leadership, customer service, creativity, and innovation for your own business or organization.

Check it out at iTunes today!

J. Jeff Kober