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Jim Hill
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by Jim Hill (archives)
April 19, 2001
In part two of this two-part series, Jim Hill looks at why the Africa Pavilion never got built at Epcot.

If you missed it, Part One of this article is still available.

What ever happened to .... Epcot's Africa Pavilion
Part Two
Jim Hill concludes this series by taking LaughingPlace.com readers on a detailed tour of this proposed but never built World Showcase addition.

Right from the start, the Imagineers wanted Epcot's African pavilion to be different from its neighbors, to bring a real dramatic presence to WDW's World Showcase. And what better way for the dark continent to rise above the rest than to make the centerpiece on this proposed Epcot addition a massive treehouse?

Towering some 60 feet in the air, this imposing structure would have been set in the uppermost branches of an enormous fake ficus tree. Were Epcot visitors to make their way to the top of the African pavilion's treehouse, they would have been able to look down into one of the more amazing illusions the Imagineers had ever cooked up.

Let me try to set the stage here: Guests arriving at the top of the treehouse stairs would have found themselves entering a recreation of a authentic African wildlife observation platform. If these WDW visitors were to stand at the center of the platform and look down, they would have glimpsed an eerily lifelike image of animals gathering at a waterhole just after dusk.

So how were the Imagineers going to pull off this amazing illusion? This set-piece was supposed to have made use of rear projected 70mm live action footage that Disney cinematographers had taken of actual African animals drinking at a waterhole in the jungle. The 20 foot tall screen would then have been framed by an elaborate diorama filled with authentic looking fake trees, vines and rockwork. Though the use of the Mouse's patented 3D sound systems as well as smellizer technology, the very sights, sounds and smells of African would seemingly have surrounded the guests.

When all of these elements were combined, the illusion would have been complete. Epcot visitors would have stared down into this set-up and sworn to themselves that they were actually out in the jungle, looking down at the real thing.

Leaving the treehouse, World Showcase guests would have found themselves among a large set of kojpes (I.E. giant granite boulders). This roughly sculpted rockwork was to have formed a natural looking outdoor amphitheater where the African musicians and dance troupes that Disney had hired to appear at Epcot would have performed daily.

Next to the kojpes outdoor amphitheater, there was supposed to have been an enormous thatched hut. Inside this building, Epcot visitors would have been able to enjoy the "Heartbeat of Africa" show -- an unique entertainment that used the history of the drum to offer some entertaining insights into the distinct music and rhythms of Africa.

What was the "Heartbeat" show supposed to be like? Well, guests entering the show building could have made themselves comfortable by leaning against some very large colorful recreations of African tribal shields. From these unusual seats, guests could have then looked up at the dozens of native musical instruments that lined the walls and ceiling.

Once the lights went down, the drums lining the walls of the "Heartbeat of Africa" theater would magically begin playing -- all by themselves. With each beat of the drum, a colorful light would emanate from inside the instrument. As the rhythm of the piece being performed got more and more complex and more instruments joined in on the fun, the audience would have been surrounded by a colorful display of music and light.

Exiting the "Heartbeat of Africa" theater, Epcot visitors would have then entered the pavilion's heritage and cultural display area. This piece of the pavilion would have included a shopping area that offered native crafts as well as a permanent museum space with a regularly rotating collection of authentic African art.

More adventurous guests could have then pushed on and explored the African pavilion's Sound Safari. Just like with the watering hole illusion back up in the treehouse, the Sound Safari would have made use of Disney's then-new 3D sound technology. As WDW guests wandered down an overgrown path, they would have passed through invisible infra-red sensors, which would have then triggered the sound of trumpeting elephants, laughing hyenas and grunting hippos -- seemingly just out of sight behind the thick foliage.

To reinforce this illusion, the Imagineers wanted to set up a system of simple but extremely effective special effects along the Sound Safari trail. This would have caused some of the bushes in this attraction to rustle in perfect synchronization with the sound of the out-of-sight jungle animal -- giving WDW guests the impression that there really was something alive and ferocious lurking out there in the bush.

So how did Epcot's Sound Safari climax? After sending guests across a rickety suspension bridge over a thick jungle that seemed to be full of vicious beasts, the only path to safety for these Epcot visitors was through a darkened cave that echoed with the sound of lions fighting over a fresh kill.

Sounds kind of intense, doesn't it?

Thankfully, the African pavilion's next attraction was a much more sedate, civilized show. Entitled "Africa Rediscovered," this wide screen film presentation was deliberately designed to dispel the myth that the dark continent was just some vast jungle filled with wild beasts and savages. (Which -- at least to my way of thinking -- puts this show in direct contrast with the "Sound Safari" attraction right next door. But I digress ... )

Alex Haley -- who personally researched all the stories that were to be used in the script for this show -- was to have served as host of "Africa Rediscovered." Haley had hopes that this 15 minute film would teach Epcot visitors that Africa wasn't actually a primitive, primeval place but rather a country with a rich and illustrious history.

Among the highlights of this proposed World Showcase show would have been:

  • Hannibal, the black ruler of Carthage (Called the "Greatest general in history" by Napoleon Bonaparte), urging his troops up over the Alps as they prepare to mount a surprise attack on Rome. While riding elephants!
  • Haley visits the ruins of Kush, a once mighty Nubian civilization. Through movie magic, the long-dead city is suddenly restored to its former glory and Alex gets a taste of what life must have been like in this long forgotten African kingdom circa 750 B.C.
  • The film was also supposed to have included vignettes on "The City of Gold," Timbuktu; the slave prisons of Senegal as well as the bronze works of Benin.

Given all the prominent African tradeports mentioned in the "Africa Rediscovered" film, it only seems appropriate that -- as Epcot guests exited this theater after viewing this movie -- they would have been funneled into a gift shop that was loaded with a wide selection of authentic African souvenirs and native artwork.

What's the most puzzling part of the Imagineer's plans for Epcot's Africa pavilion? No restaurant. Though there are at least two gift shops mentioned in the 1982 era site plan for this World Showcase pavilion, there's not a single eatery to be found in the plans for the place. What's up with that?

And that -- my friends -- is Epcot's Africa pavilion in a nutshell. A World Showcase addition that would have been long on entertainment, education and excitement. Which would have helped make this place a really welcome addition to Epcot, a theme park that means well but is -- frankly -- a bit of on the boring side.

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