America Sings and Splash Mountain: Problems in the Briar Patch
I’ve noticed today a wonderful article at ImagineeringDisney.com that was posted a couple of years ago. It was a celebration of America Sings and how it eventually came to be Splash Mountain. I loved America Sings. I loved the music and the characters, and the technical design of the staging. It was a very sophisticated show, only passed up by another patriotic show, The American Adventure.
Every time I was at Disneyland, I saved a ticket to see the show (though I think during the bicentennial it was complimentary). I later borrowed the color styling for a number of art and stage designs I created in school and other projects. I had an LP record of it as well. Man, did I wear that out. I was delighted when the music became available again on the Disneyland 50th anniversary album. Great music.
Needless to say, I loved America Sings.
I was also delighted the first time I stepped into a mall in Utah during the eighties and saw the designs for Splash Mountain at Disneyland, which was part of a touring imagineering exhibit. Wow! I could hardly contain my excitement for this new attraction. It made my head spin! When it opened, the attraction quickly and easily became my favorite Disney attraction of all time.
I later moved near Walt Disney World and worked at Water Mania. There I became acquainted with Randy Miller, who headed the team who poured the concrete that goes into Splash Mountain there, and who later became part of the management team at Water Mania. He shared his experiences and taught me about how really complicated an attraction like that is to construct. We became great friends. The piano in my living room is a gift from him that he left with me when he moved out of the Orlando area.
When I worked at The Disney Institute, one of the field experiences we used was Splash Mountain. I’ve walked up and down that mountain. Again, you have no sense of how complicated even something as simple as Brer Frog’s shadow of him rocking can be. Or how the logs are engineered. Or the timing around the photography capture. Or the animatronics. Then you add millions of gallons of water cycling through at a constant rate. While I know it today in a different perspective than when I first rode it, it still continues to amaze me.
So all those memories and one more came back to me as I looked at this DisneyImagineering.com article. That memory was around the number of times years ago I sat through America Sings, when the animatronics didn’t work right. Perhaps it was a frog that didn’t croak in unison; a weasel that didn’t “pop” on queue; and old grey mare that “ain’t what she used to be” when she came up in her model T car. I prided myself at the time in “catching” what was wrong.
So when I see all the talk about attractions not working perfectly at Walt Disney World–particularly at Splash Mountain, I’m disappointed, but not surprised. I appreciate where others are coming from. Yes, I expect quality like anyone else–it’s what we expect from Disney. But attractions like this have their up and downs. They have for decades. Disney’s a huge, complicated machine and even a ride or attraction like Splash Mountain is going to have challenges. It’s easy to criticize. I’ve certainly been there. But make sure that the one detail that is amiss doesn’t blind you of hundreds of other wonderful details.
That’s why when I saw construction the other day on Big Thunder Mountain, the America Sings song came to my mind: “I’ve been working on the railroad. All the live long day.” Currently they are making Big Thunder better–all the live long day–and probably some nights as well. We’re going to love it all again when it reopens. And if we’re patient, the same thing will happen with Splash Mountain soon enough. Hopefully then we’ll all say, “Everything is satisfactual”.