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Disneyland Article
This Is How Disneyland Changed In The 1980s

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Orange County Register
Mark Eades
July 14, 2016
July 24, 2016
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Changes at Disneyland in the 1980s started slow, then ended in a splash down a mountain.

During the first couple years of the decade, Disney Imagineers were busy with the design and building of Epcot Center (as it was called then) at Walt Disney World. But they were also planning a project for Disneyland - rebuilding Fantasyland.


In early 1982, most of Fantasyland was behind a construction fence as plans were turning into reality. By the time things were done, the old jousting tent look of the area was gone and a highly detailed medieval village look took over.

All the buildings received major refurbishment and some attractions were moved. Unfortunately, nature took its toll on one older icon: The wood had rotted on the Pirate ship that was one of the centerpieces of the land, so it was demolished. So was nearby Skull Rock.

King Arthur Carrousel was moved to where the Mad Tea Party was spinning, so the tea cups were spun over to where they are now, by the Alice in Wonderland ride. Dumbo the Flying Elephant was moved back to where the Pirate ship once sat.

All the existing dark rides were totally reworked, including: Snow White's Scary Adventures, Peter Pan's Flight and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

A new dark ride was created, Pinocchio's Daring Journey.

When it was all complete, the drawbridge at the front of Sleeping Beauty Castle was lowered for the second time in Disneyland history and the new land opened.


While Fantasyland received a makeover in 1983, the Alice in Wonderland ride opened in 1984 with a new version and an added scene after the Caterpillar-looking ride vehicles made their twisting and turning way down the fake plastic vine.

In Tomorrowland, World Premiere Circlevision opened with a new concept for Disneyland - shows that changed during the day. This new version of Circlevision was sponsored by the now defunct PSA Airlines, with a pre-show called "All Because Man Wanted to Fly."

But in the main theater, while it appeared the same, the movie, or in this case, movies were new. During the first half of each day the attraction showed "Wonders of China," a Circlevision film that premiered at Epcot Center in 1982. Then in the afternoon and evening hours a brand new film took to the nine screens, "American Journeys."

Over in Bear Country, a holiday show was produced for the Country Bear Jamboree, called simply, "The Country Bear Christmas Show." The bears crooned Christmas and holiday-themed songs and also featured the first use at Disneyland of "smellitzers," which would waft out the aroma of fresh-baked cookies during the show.

During 1984, Walt Disney Productions (the corporation's name then) was under siege on Wall Street for being undervalued. By the time the year was out, a new team of people were put in place to lead the company for the latter half of the eighties and more: Frank Wells as president and chief operating officer and Michael Eisner as chairman of the board and CEO.


Wells and Eisner did not waste time making changes. They wanted to bring Disneyland into the '80s by catching up with MTV.

The first attraction built at Disneyland under their regime was Videopolis (now known as the Fantasyland Theatre). With computerized lights and dozens of video monitors, it featured a nighttime dance scene all set to music videos.

Meanwhile, over in Frontierland, the decision was made to change the Shooting Gallery to one with new things to shoot at, and a new way of shooting at them. Gone were the air rifles that shot lead pellets, replaced with coin-operated guns that triggered animated action when a target was hit. The shooting gallery in Adventureland had been closed in 1982.


First up was another new show for the Country Bears in the summer called, appropriately, "The Country Bear Vacation Hoedown." This time, the cartoonish bears sang country songs about hitting the road and going on vacation.

Big Thunder Ranch was settled into the Frontierland landscape along the Big Thunder Trail north of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad this year too.

Then, determined to make Disneyland more hip, Eisner and Wells signed up George Lucas to develop attractions for the park. The first effort brought in mega-star Michael Jackson to play the titular role in a 3D extravaganza called "Captain EO." The film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and debuted to hundreds of screaming fans.


Another George Lucas attraction landed in Tomorrowland, this one was based on "Star Wars" - "Star Tours." Eisner initially wanted to call it "Star Rides," but the Imagineers working on it stuck to their chosen name, "Star Tours," and Eisner eventually acquiesced.

Anthony Daniels reprised the voice of C-3P0 for the attraction, and many of the Industrial Light & Magic special effects wizards who worked on "Star Wars" worked on the simulator film.

It also featured the voice of then fairly unknown comedian Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman) as the voice of Rex. "Pee Wee's Playhouse," the television series starring Reubens, debuted after he agreed to do the voice.

Over in New Orleans Square, the space above Pirates of the Caribbean that Walt Disney originally planned to turn into an apartment, was turned into the Disney Gallery. It displayed a variety of concept art done by Disney Imagineers and Disney animators throughout the company's history. The space is now occupied by the Disneyland Dream Suite.


Because Videopolis was so popular, there was some thought to turn it into a separate entertainment venue. But to get people to it, park operators did not want to have them walking through Disneyland, so a station was built on the Disneyland Railroad. It is now known as the Mickey's Toon Town Station.

Over in Tomorrowland, America Sings was closed due to declining attendance, but the Audio-Animatronics figures were not retired. Instead, they were sent back to Walt Disney Imagineering to get some maintenance, as they were heading to a new home.

Construction walls went up in 1988 around the hill that housed the snoring sleeping bear, and Bear Country received a new name: Critter Country. Those walls kept people away as Disney Imagineers started work on building yet another mountain at Disneyland: Splash Mountain. The theme of the attraction was based on the cartoons from the movie "Song of the South." To keep a lid on costs, the figures from America Sings were repurposed and are still singing inside the attraction.

One of the things that Eisner insisted on for the flume-style ride is that it have the tallest and steepest finale drop at the time, and it did. In fact, engineers had to work on the splash down track of the final drop as it was thoroughly drenching people during testing.

But the problems were solved. Yes, people still got quite wet, but not to the degree that was happening during testing.
Attractions Referenced

Alice In Wonderland

America Sings

American Journeys

Big Game Safari Shooting Gallery

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Big Thunder Ranch

Captain EO

Country Bear Christmas Special

Country Bear Jamboree

Country Bear Vacation Hoedown

Disney Gallery (New Orleans Square)

Disneyland Railroad

Dream Suite

Dumbo The Flying Elephant

Fantasyland Theatre

Frontierland Shootin' Arcade

Frontierland Shooting Gallery

King Arthur Carrousel

Mad Tea Party

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Peter Pan

Pinocchio's Daring Journey

Pirates Of The Caribbean

Skull Rock and Pirate's Cove

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Snow White's Scary Adventures

Splash Mountain

Star Tours


Wonders Of China

Lands Referenced


Bear Country

Critter Country



New Orleans Square


Toon Town

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