If You Had Wings met with a cruel fate, but just like Mr. Rogers, Joan of Arc and mastodons its memory will always be with us. Some aspects of its legacy still reside within the confines of WDW – most notably El Rio del Tiempo at Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion. Other examples of its cultural profundity beyond the gates of Disney theme parks can be demonstrated with little difficulty. For those of us fortunate enough to have enjoyed the ride firsthand, we are able to apply the lessons of our shared experience to situations in our daily lives. Work-related stress? Seagulls make a pleasant distraction. Failed relationship? Take your pick from among those young adults on the waterfall and start anew. Incontinence? Wade in the cool Caribbean waters and let it go.
WYW does not presume to have all the answers. We just presume to have most of them.
|We Had Wings
A collection of thoughts about the ride heard ’round the world
If you can’t remember the public uproar surrounding the closing of If You Could Fly (If You Had Wings’ short-lived, final gasp for air) in January of 1989, one possible reason is that there was none. Unlike some later extinct attractions that drew scads of media attention covering – and grass-roots efforts to stave off – their impending demise (Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Horizons being the most prominent), If You Could Fly was shuttered in an entirely unheralded manner. Even the conversion of If You Had Wings to If You Could Fly in the summer of 1987 scarcely drew a notice from any but the most discerning Magic Kingdom visitors. It certainly didn’t get any mention in the Orlando Sentinel or spur local letter-writing campaigns. So when the ride was totally torn down to make way for Dreamflight, who expected as much as a squeak from the public?
Evidently only me. Lots of other people already missed RCA’s Home of Future Living, the very 1970’s post-show exhibit which had been removed from Space Mountain in 1985. But they weren’t thinking about the small blurb that the Sentinel ran on the Mickey Mouse Revue in September of 1980, when that show was being dismantled for shipment to Tokyo Disneyland. At least it was some form of obituary. Neither RCA’s exhibit or If You Had Wings received the same notice.
It was my brother Brian who first told me If You Had Wings had been changed over to an inferior version of its former self in 1987. He was also working in the Magic Kingdom that year. We talked about how pointless If You Could Fly seemed without its predecessor’s music and corporate identity. Its impending destruction should have been obvious, but somehow we missed the warning signs.
So when I walked, by chance, through the middle of the ride as it was being disassembled, it was a real shock. The interior set pieces, so carefully crafted by WED and MAPO in 1972, were being broken apart into pieces that could fit into large grey trash bins that lined the track in place of the ride vehicles. The 16mm film strips that gave the ride its sense of “action” had been pulled from the projectors and thrown to the floor where they rested, inert and sad, in the dust. Standing inside the big globe, looking out at the load area through huge holes that the demolition crew had made in its side, was an altogether sickening experience. It was like seeing the house you were born in ransacked. Yet no one had so much as written a word to mark the loss. Pretty soon I was writing little If You Had Wings tributes and asking anyone who would talk to me about their memories of the attraction. This affirmed that If You Had Wings had made a substantial impression (although not always a positive one) on almost everyone who rode it. What follows is a recap of those discussions, some isolated statements, some decimated sacraments and a hope for more of the same.
“I felt like that was the closest I’d ever get to heaven without having to work for it.” – Vernice Lee, my grandmother, on If You Had Wings in 1989
What was your initial reaction to the discovery that “If You Had Wings” had been torn down?
“I couldn’t believe it, ever since I was a little kid that was one of my favorite attractions. I enjoyed the ride “If You Had Wings” and the music especially. When I found out it was torn down, I lost all desire to go to Disney World.” – Mike Belloise
“I guess I’m pretty upset, because that was like the only place that was air-conditioned when you were a little kid. So if you ran out of tickets and you were like really hot and sweaty and couldn’t afford a Coke you could always go on “If You Had Wings” and sit in the air-conditioning and just go around a couple times, cool off, and then you re-energize.” – Greg Parmer
“(Loud scream) They can’t take it away.” – Amanda Banks
“I came home one night and my father told me they were ripping it down and I said “Why?”, and he said they were changing sponsors. I don’t know, I guess that was kind of a smart thing because Eastern no longer exists, sort of, so it’s kind of like the end of an era.” – Luis Arias
“I was happy (pause) I hated that ride.” – Michelle Banks
“Oh, “If You Had Wings”? I love that one. No way, I like that one. I’m usually like ‘Oh, If You Had Wings.’ but then when I get in there,
“I think it’s a sad ride, man, because when you go back there’s that cop standing up to his knees in water, and he’s directing traffic then penguins, and you go on the ride again and he’s still there. They don’t give the poor fucker a break. He just keeps directing traffic, and you go back again and he’s still there. So I’m glad they closed it down because it was a sad ride.” – Micah Harvey
“It was great, but it wasn’t.” – Brian Lee
“My reaction was that it was one of the most beautiful, sightseeing things that they ever had at Disney, and I enjoyed the thrill of it – going and seeing all those white birds flying around and the exciting music that they had, and I think they did a very bad thing by taking that away.” – Vernice Lee
What was your favorite part of “If You Had Wings”?
“That thing where you’re sitting there and all that stuff is coming.” – Mai Cockrell
“The hat vendors, the people on screens and they were yelling out to you: buy hats! And the sharp perspective of the scenes, and the geraniums and at the end where they’re blowing wind on you and you’re flying through the mountains, you could look up to the left and see the camera and see the scenes that were being projected on your right.” – Laura Harper
“I think I like the flamingoes and the people, because I think Disney was giving some kind of subconscious message that people are really birds.” – Greg Parmer
“The guy with the flamingoes. I think that was the best part because it showed the most tension.
“That it was there. They had no right to take it away.” – Tina Bacher
“The projector room where you went real fast and always hoped that the ride would stop there.” – Wai Leung
“I liked the people in the conga line on the waterfall in their seventies bathing suits.” – Shawn Hunter
“The big tunnel at the very end where all the things go past you. I think there were birds, clouds
I think the chairs that you rode in, the little seats, were the best; very COLD and tall and long.” – Julie O’Neill
“I think my favorite part was really when you first walk in and they had the signs for arriving flights up above you.
“I like the part where the people are walking up the rock, because it was very period and you could tell it was like mid-to-late-sixties, and you know the acid was really good back then, so they must have been having a good time.” – Micah Harvey
“The sailors on the screen of the boat.” – Elizabeth Fox
“The dragon head, or whatever it was, because you could store objects in its mouth and come back four months later and pick them up.” – Brian Lee
“The part where you’re skiing and hang gliding and that motorcycle gang passes you on the road.” – Heath Alexander
“The music. You just felt like a part of all the scenes that you were going through.” – Becky Madden
“The end.” – Lisa Hartge
What was the scariest part of “If You Had Wings”?
“I always got scared when you first went in the big globe, and all the bird silhouettes were flying by and overlapping and fading away within seconds of appearing, and you keep seeing their images all throughout the ride like they’re following you, like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. And then they show up at the end and you wonder if it’s like The Haunted Mansion where the ghosts follow you home, and then you go to 20,000 Leagues and you see more seagulls.” – Laura Harper
“Towards the very end of the ride, when we still had bottles in the car and we couldn’t discard them fast enough before the employees could see us.” – Steve Hill
“Getting off.” – Julie O’Neill
“Imagining what if it went on forever and you could never get off or if they had stewardesses there to serve you peanuts every ten minutes and those little bottles of vodka.” – Luis Arias
“That song, it went with you wherever you went. You couldn’t get rid of it.” – Becky Kenard
“That guy with the Zebra head scared the hell out of me,
“The scary part was leaving Disney and knowing that you couldn’t go back in and go on it again.” – Tina Bacher
“Getting on the car before I fell down.” – Lisa Hartge
“I always wondered what would happen during an evacuation because it didn’t look like there was anywhere to walk.” – Laura Harper
“Probably when the guy had fallen off of his bike, and a dog had chased him up a tree and was about to bite his ass.” – Nicole Golden
“Actually, there were three distinct parts of “If You Had Wings” that scared me. The first was the people on the waterfall. I was always afraid that maybe while they were filming that sequence, one of the people might have fallen and been severely hurt. The second part that frightened me was in the speed room; I think it was the part where you’re going over train tracks and you see a little dog. I was always afraid that the dog was splattered during the filming. The last and most frightening part of “If You Had Wings” was, and I mean this sincerely, at the end where the man says “You do have wings, you can do all these things, you can widen your world, Eastern, we’ll be your wings.” Every time I rode that ride, I was afraid that I would never hear him speak those words again.” – Amanda Banks
“The tourist agent at the end.” – Elizabeth Fox
“People selling things, remember? Yeah, that’s what I said.” – Kelly Dyan Reed
“I was always scared that I was going to miss my flight because the line was so long. And by the time that I got to the load belt, I would have to go somewhere stupid like Fiji and dance on waterfalls in stupid seventies bathing suits. Isn’t that stupid?” – Laura Harper
If you had been offered the chance to spend the night in “If You Had Wings”, where would you have put your bed?
“Probably in that thing that goes back and forth and makes you look like you’re going real fast, that big screen.” – Mai Cockrell
“Of course in the very first scene with the seagulls, because they keep fading in and out like a dream and the music is trancelike. Or if the ride was stopped, in the speed room, because it’s like sleeping on a La-Z-Boy recliner, but they’d have to keep the music on. And also, because if I fell out, it wouldn’t set off an intrusion, because we all know that the speed room is one of the two rooms that isn’t on the intrusion system.” – Laura Harper
“I’d put my bed in that hokey waterfall room, where the people are doing the limbo, so I could feel tropical while I sleep.” – Luis Arias
“Hmmm. I’d probably wander about from place to place,
“At the very end, where all those mirrors are. The big huge room with all the mirrors.” – Michelle Autrey
“You know the place where you go through and it looks like all the things are coming at you, they look like tunnels,
“Probably like right at the very end, you know where you’re going through there and it seems like you’re in all those different vehicles,
“The room full of mirrors, with the mountains and it looks like there are mountains all around you and it feels like it’s quite chilly because of the cold air that blows on your back. It’s really neat ’cause you’re living in Florida and you never get the opportunity to sleep in the mountains and snow.” – Tina Brooker
“It was my favorite ride, because it was free, and you got to sit in those big, blue chairs with all your friends, and you never had to wait in line. I liked it when you went through the tunnel, and there were video screens all around.” – Amy Jones
“God, I don’t know, man. Like if I was going to have a slumber party, I’d have it there in like the DANGER room, ’cause nobody would be able to sleep and we’d just sit up all night and drink beer. But if I wanted like a nice, quiet romantic evening, I’d definitely put it on the sailboat.
“Um, in the room with all those, you know, where it looks like you’re flying and stuff.” – Linda Crawford
“In the New Orleans scene because I like jazz, the mood is kind of somber and because of all the lights, it’s kind of dark.” Becky Kenard
“I would probably put my bed at the beginning where the birds are and just hope I don’t have a bad trip where the birds would shit on my head.” – Brian Lee
“I guess in that mirror place, but I’d probably move sometime after I got bored with that, maybe to where it was zooming.” -Elizabeth Fox
“um in the thingy room in the snow scene” -Tina Bacher
“I’d just take off one of the cars and put my bed in its place.” – Amanda Banks
“I’d sit in one of the cars with a sleeping bag and Bubbles, my monkey, and see where everyone else was snoozing.
“I believe I would have put it on the ramp leading up to the cruise ship, and that way I could have a nice view of everyone, including the sombrero salesman. And his wife, because no one mentions her anyway.” – Dave Ensign
“Um, I guess I’d put it sliding down the waterfall.” – Lisa Hartge
“Near the man holding the big fish.” – Laura Ruffino
“Do you remember that ride If You Had Wings? I really liked that one.” – Janet Jones, my mother-in-law, 1995
The ride itself may be long gone, its legacy lives on and on
| Not everybody knows that the Death Star was a rip-off of If You Had Wings’ globe. Some still think, even after viewing incontrovertible like this picture, that the planet Jupiter inspired George Lucas’s designs for the Empire’s battle station. Consider that his 1987 simulator collaboration with Disney, Star Tours, replaced Disneyland’s Adventure Thru Inner Space. IYHW was the direct descendant (ride system, designers, et al) of ATIS. Star Tours paid tribute to ATIS by providing its load area icon, the “Mighty Microscope,” a cameo in the simulator’s film.
So it’s pretty obvious that Lucas devised that as a ten-years-later acknowledgement that his 1977 film Star Wars basically stole the globe from IYHW, where it too was a load area icon and predated his film by five years. Need further proof? The Death Star’s tractor beam is just a thinly-veiled replication of the globe’s gravity-like pull on the constant chain of ride vehicles.
| Alison Goldfrapp’s video for “Utopia” has more than a slight If You Had Wings aura about it. Observe the mirror-image presentation of snow-covered mountain ranges, filmed as fly-overs, that mimic almost precisely the film projections from the ride’s Mirror Room. As a further point of demonstration, view the video for one of her other songs, “Pilots.” It’s set in a spacious, modern airport passenger terminal…just like If You Had Wings’ Load area! I don’t know if Ms. Goldfrapp, who is from Bath, England, ever rode If You Had Wings or not, but damn if she didn’t capture a part of the ride’s essence.
Those songs were from her first album, Felt Mountain. The song “Twist” from her second album, Black Cherry, had a music video which placed the viewer on a ride track and proceeded to shuttle them through a series of chambers which read like an S&M version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Perfectly agreeable stuff, that.
Her most recent videos, such as the one for Ride A White Horse, don’t have as much in common with ex-WDW rides as with grown men in nothing but their underwear popping out of giant trash bins covered in filth and dancing like robots while she prances around like Galaxina in silk pajamas. But that’s what will eventually replace Ellen’s Energy Adventure.
NYC rock band The Fleshtones paid nearly direct tribute to If You Had Wings in their 1987 song, “Way Up Here,” in which the following lyric was found – “I see all kinds of interesting things, a bird’s eye view like I had wings.” How did they know the ride would close that year? A question for the ages.
But once was not enough for the kings of “Super Rock.” The original cover of their 1994 album, “Beautiful Light,” is a vista of Aztec imagery that contains two of the most prominent motifs found in If You Had Wings’ Ancient Mexico scene. In the foreground is the dragon-like head of the Aztec god Quetzlcoatl, and off in the distance is an Aztec pyramid. The album was later released with the band’s “preferred” artwork – just a photo of the band members. One surmises they were afraid that the public’s perception of their music would forever be shaded by the ex-WDW ride that had so dramatically impacted their body of work, and therefore opted to minimize the overt references.
OR it was all happenstance.
Not to be outdone, the Orlando Science Center took a page out of the If You Had Wings songbook and played the music sideways. Instead of cruising into the earth below Florida, you walk into the earth to the right of Florida. It’s part of an exhibit about the earth’s core, magma, strata, dirt and things like that. No seagulls, no limbo dancers, no shape-changing fish, but surely the first instance of oversized globe penetration erected in Central Florida since IYHW’s departure.
Dave Ensign was the first to notice the correlation in April 2004. Two years later his cognizance is revealed to all. Good work Dave.