Disneyland adding new special effects to classic rides

Disneyland will add special effects to scenes in three classic rides as part of the Anaheim theme park’s 60th anniversary celebration.

Known as “plussing” in Disney-speak, the improvements to the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Haunted Mansion and Peter Pan’s Flight will be made by Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative arm of the entertainment giant.

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“In many ways we’re continuing to follow in the footsteps of the original imagineers and Walt Disney himself,” said Scott Trowbridge, an Imagineering executive who oversees Disneyland. “We’re constantly finding new ways to tell our stories.”

Walt Disney first mentioned the concept of plussing in a 1956 Saturday Evening Post story about Disneyland: “It’s something that will never be finished… I wanted something alive, something that could grow, something I could keep plussing with ideas … I can change the park, because it’s alive.”


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Just two years after Disneyland opened, Walt Disney plussed the Jungle Cruise in 1957 with a campsite overrun by gorillas and the shrunken head dealer Trader Sam. The plussing continued in 1962 with the addition of the water-spouting elephants and in 1976 with the introduction of the snapping crocodiles.

The incremental improvements have been a continuing feature throughout Disneyland’s 60-year history. In 2006, the park notably added the Captain Jack Sparrow animatronic figures to the Pirates of the Caribbean water ride in conjunction with the film series starring Johnny Depp.

The key to plussing an attraction is striking a balance between the old and the new, Trowbridge said: “It’s not about adding new technology just for the whiz-bang effect, but asking if we can find new ways to tell the story.”

The latest ride improvements will be part of Disneyland’s diamond jubilee celebration which kicks off May 22 with a new nighttime parade and fireworks show.

The 1959 Matterhorn, the world’s first tubular steel roller coaster and an American Coaster Enthusiasts landmark, will get several abominable snowman scenes reworked with new animatronic figures.

The original abominable snowman was added to the Matterhorn as part of plussing initiative in 1978. This time around, the more lifelike animatronic figures will take on an expanded role inside the man-made mountain with a storyline that pays homage to the creature’s history.

“You’ll definitely see more of the abominable snowman than you’ve seen in the past,” Trowbridge said.

An often-inoperable Yeti scene on the Expedition Everest coaster at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida features a silhouette of the cryptozoological creature leaping onto a cavern wall, ripping up a segment of track and roaring at riders as they pass.

Trowbridge said that while the Disneyland attraction will feature several non-animatronic appearances of the mythical snowman, they will be nothing like the Florida effects.

The new abominable snowman figures are expected to be added to Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction on May 22.

The famed Hatbox Ghost will return to the classic 1969 Haunted Mansion dark ride after disappearing for more than four decades.

The original Hatbox Ghost, which held a cane in one hand and a hatbox in the other, was removed from the attic scene a few months after the attraction’s debut. Despite his short stint, the Hatbox Ghost soon developed a cult following among hardcore fans.

A black light visual effect was intended to create the illusion of the ghost’s head alternately appearing on his shoulders and inside the hatbox.

“Frankly, when the mansion opened the effect wasn’t working the way we wanted it to,” Trowbridge said.

Featuring a face based on the original mold, the new Hatbox Ghost figure utilizes animatronic technology not available in 1955 or even a decade ago, Trowbridge said.

An updated audio-animatronic version of the Hatbox Ghost appeared at the 2013 D23 Disney fan convention. That figure featured a skull with piercing eyes, a toothy grin and a shock of white hair under a top hat. He wore a cape over a long coat and a ruffled shirt with gloves on his hands and spats on his shoes. He carried a cane but did not hold a hatbox.

Trowbridge said the new Hatbox Ghost, which will be added to the Haunted Mansion on May 9, is not the same animatronic figure seen at D23.

The nursery scene in Peter Pan’s Flight will be reimagined with new special effects representing Tinkerbell and her pixie dust trail - which has advanced from projected light in the 1950s to video projection in the 1970s to lasers and other technology today.

“We don’t really want our guests to think about the technology,” Trowbridge said. “If they do, then we have failed.”

Disney Imagineers recently introduced new special effects in the queue for Peter Pan’s Flight at Florida’s Magic Kingdom theme park.

As visitors wait in line, lighting effects create the illusion that Tinkerbell is darting and swirling around the Darling children’s bedroom, leaving a trail of pixie dust as she lights lamps, animates model ships and paints a skull and bones on a bedsheet doubling as a pirate ship’s sail.

Similarly, a silhouette of Peter Pan creeps onto a wallpapered wall before hopping, waving, bowing and flying away.

“We’re not copying anything that’s been done in Florida,” Trowbridge said.

The new special effects are expected to be added to Peter Pan’s Flight in Disneyland on July 1.


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