Kenversations: Splash Mountain Turns 20. I Miss its Show Producer, Bruce Gordon
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The attraction is a whimsical blend of a lengthy log flume, thrill ride, and dark ride; complete with songs you can whistle, hum, or sing; plenty of audio-animatronics; characters from classic Disney animation; and a good re-use of parts from a prior attraction. It’s something the whole family can enjoy – at least those who are tall enough.
There’s nothing like watching a new Disney mountain take shape. Earth is moved. The landscape changes. Something new appears – not something hidden entire inside or some adaptation of an existing attraction. You can smell the new Imagineering. (It’s probably concrete and paint, actually.)
When the thing finally opened, it drew the crowds, providing a counterbalance to the huge crowds drawn to Tomorrowland for Star Tours and Captain Eo.
The line for Splash Mountain switched back and forth in Critter County towards the Splash Mountain exit (often more than once), again under the railroad tracks back towards the Briar Patch, and again on the bridge that was the land’s entrance. There were “crossovers” staffed by two cast members so that as the line extended past the Haunted Mansion exit, it would cross over the walkway in between letting the crowds get by, and cling to the landscaped area separating the lower walkway along the Rivers of America with the upper pathway. After switching back and forth along that upper pathway, it would wrap around the edge close to the Harbour Galley and stretch down towards the rafts to Tom Sawyer Island. On a few occasions, it extended so far back towards the Golden Horseshoe area that another “crossover” was needed for the sake of crowd flow.
Wait times routinely hit 90 minutes or more, and that was without breakdowns.
Fastpass was years away back then, so you either waited in line or you didn’t ride. My friends and I waited in that line. Over and over and over again. We’d been on everything else in the park so many times before, so we didn’t feel like we were missing anything spending all day devoted to one attraction – day after day. Sometimes, you were lucky enough to be in the area as the attraction came back up from one of its frequent extended downtimes, and if you acted quickly, you were able to get into the rapidly-forming line early. If you were even luckier, you enjoyed the live entertainment. Buford – a character portrayed by an actor who had many Disneyland roles over the years, from an Armadillo to performing in the Golden Horseshoe Jamboree to being one of the Laughing Stock players, cracked wise to the people waiting for their ride. Farley fiddled away and kidded around with guests and cast members. Billy Hill and the Hillbillies played music – outside – without a stage!
Splash Mountain not only drew people to the Westside by adding (instead of replacing) an attraction, it added a kinetic aesthetic to the area, as well as sound and excitement. It was - and still is - fun to watch people as they scream their lungs out hurtling down towards the briar patch.
Not everything Bruce was involved in was so well received. Just about every major project he was involved with at Disneyland after Splash Mountain (Tomorrowland 1998, Tarzan’s Treehouse, Pooh, Finding Nemo) has some vocal and reasonable detractors, for various reasons. While nobody is perfect, I place more blame for the problems and shortcomings on the conditions under which Bruce was working. His record through Splash Mountain and his accomplishments where he had more control, such as with the books, are reason enough to give him the benefit of the doubt. WDI, like many other places, has its office politics and I’m sure there is someone out there who has bad things to say about Bruce. I won’t hear of it, though. After all of the things he was able to do right, and the way he took a lemon (finding himself outside of WDI after 25 years) and turned it into the best lemonade he could ever want to drink – working on the Walt Disney Family Museum – it should be clear that any detractors of his aren’t anywhere near the level on which Bruce was firmly perched.
This is probably the most difficult Kenversations column I have ever written. I’ve had a tough time with it. I started writing it November 2007, when Bruce Passed away. But I didn’t turn my thoughts at the time into a coherent column. Not being able to make it to the memorial put me into an emotional limbo regarding Bruce, and I didn’t return to my notes until recently. I was moved to do so when I viewed the documentary on the Sherman Brothers – “the boys” – in which Bruce appears and that Bruce helped make a reality. With the 20th anniversary of Splash Mountain was upon us, I knew it was time. I owed it to Bruce to thank him for his kindness and say goodbye, and there’s never going to be better time than now.
So thank you Bruce, for a mountain of memories… and goodbye.
--- Ken Pellman --Posted July 16, 2009
©2009 Ken Pellman, all rights reserved. Licensed to LaughingPlace.com.
--- Ken Pellman
--Posted July 16, 2009