Extinct WDW Attraction
Opened: June 5, 1972
Ticket Required: None
Space later became:
All photos copyright
Sponsorships have been an integral part of the Disney theme park experience from the moment Disneyland opened its gates in July 1955. At that time, “lessees” (as the company originally called them) were as varied as The Upjohn Company, Swift, and Kaiser Aluminum who sponsored, respectively, Main Street USA’s Pharmacy and Market House and Tomorrowland’s Hall of Aluminum Fame. Their financial contributions helped make the construction of the park possible, and their presence in the park’s shops and exhibits put their corporate logos and/or services in plain view of millions of visitors every year.
By the time planning for Walt Disney World was underway in the late 1960s, Disneyland had developed a more mature and far-reaching “participation program” for its growing roster of major corporate sponsors. Concurrent with Walt Disney Productions’ new relationship with 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair partners (Ford Motor Co., General Electric and Pepsi-Cola), they had also in 1964 secured United Airlines as a ten-year sponsor of Disneyland’s new Enchanted Tiki Room attraction.
Six years later, there was little doubt that a major airline would be solicited for a similar relationship with Walt Disney World. In 1970, however, United was coming off a decade of diversification and, more importantly, its first year of multi-million-dollar net losses. Additionally, since WDW was under construction there was no opportunity for a company to merely assume the sponsorship of an “existing” attraction as United had done with the Tiki Room in California. Rather Disney was now seeking the commitment of a larger sum of money to bankroll the development of an as-yet-to-be-determined attraction.
The exact amount of that “larger sum” was reportedly $10 million. And the airline that proffered this fee turned out to be Eastern Airlines, by that time a major nationwide air carrier that had dominated air traffic routes along the Atlantic coast since the 1930s. By 1971 Eastern provided flight service to Orlando from 60 different cities. Above is a photo of Disney’s vice president of Industry Sales Jack Sayers (at left) and Eastern’s senior vice president Thomas B. McFadden at the time of contract signing.
With the deal struck, WED Enterprises (Disney’s design & engineering division) set out to develop an attraction that would suit the needs of both Eastern Airlines and Magic Kingdom visitors. Eastern was anxious to promote the variety of exotic travel destinations to which it provided service – most of them in the American Southeast and the Caribbean. Disney wanted something to fill a vacant slot in WDW’s Tomorrowland, which in 1971 was transitioning on paper from its earlier master plans to one that would not truly be completed until 1975.
This is where one of WED’s brightest stars came into play. Claude Coats had been a key contributor to Disney’s films and parks since 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. His designs, color stylings and backdrops had shown up in many of Disneyland and WDW’s key attractions (he is shown here during the construction of DL’s Pirates of the Caribbean.) He pioneered the use of black light in three dimensional environments, making him a master of the dark ride format. In 1971, one of his most recent successes was a marriage of dark ride knowledge, creative setbuilding, filmed images and a new ride system called the Omnimover.
The ride was Adventure Thru Inner Space, and it is recalled by longtime DL visitors as one of their most badly missed attractions. It was designed by WED for Monsanto and debuted in 1967 as part of DL’s new Tomorrowland. In near-countless ways it served as the prototype for the ride that WED would create for Eastern. The similarities between the two rides are so numerous (listed on a separate page), few people could have experienced both and not marvel at the fundamental common elements. Yet for all the crossover devices, the combinations yielded vastly different experiences. Whereas Adventure Thru Inner Space was cool and scientific (you entered the heart of a snowflake crystal after being “shrunk” inside an oversized microscope) If You Had Wings was bright and freaky. And although Inner Space served as the basic model for the new ride, the amount of effort that went into planning If You Had Wings was still considerable. The scope and spatial relationships of the ride’s interior scenes were, despite their visual simplicity, no less sophisticated than those of many other rides that opened during WDW’s first year. During the planning for If You Had Wings, the Magic Kingdom itself was nearing its opening day of October 1, 1971. Tomorrowland technically opened that same day but was very much still in development. And If You Had Wings had yet to even really enter the construction phase aside from the building’s outer framework.
Its “show building,” as Disney calls the warehouses that contain their rides, was already confined to a set space of 28,000 square feet. Unlike many rides in the Kingdom that are contained within freestanding structures, such as the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean or Space Mountain, If You Had Wings was built onto the east side of the existing CircleVision 360 Theater building. And it could only extend a certain length to the east without upsetting the symmetry of Tomorrowland’s main entry corridor – already anchored on the north side by Flight to the Moon and the Space Port gift shop. So the exterior boundary for If You Had Wings was already defined to the north, east and west. Its walls, in fact, already supported portions of the WEDway Peoplemover track – four years before that ride opened! Unless the building was to trail off to the south ad infinitum, Coats and his co-workers had to pack an experience into a finite space.
What they managed to fit in was a vibrant, kinetic and multi-dimensional experience culled together from an array of artistic disciplines that Disney had been employing for years. It consisted of an involved series of both flat and sculpted set pieces and film projections depicting various travel destinations serviced by Eastern, basically: Mexico, multiple Caribbean ports and New Orleans. It also doubled as a type of simulator through the first use of a Disney-designed effect called the Speed Room (a.k.a. the Super Speed Tunnel) that projected high-speed 70mm images all around the ride vehicles. A similar but more low-key effect employed as the ride’s finale was the box-shaped Mirror Room, which elicited a sensation of being lifted gently over mountain vistas and rolling deserts. When pieced together with lighting & sound effects, music and the versatility of the Omnimover ride system, the varied elements comprised a compelling and immersive experience.
Consider that the speed and directed angle of the ride vehicles only allowed guests about ten seconds to view the entire Port scene – including the four films outlined above and the props and set pieces surrounding them – during a trip that lasted four and a half minutes. This gives you an idea of how much planning went into the ride as a whole. Additionally, the Caribbean Port scene was one of three settings within the ride that was also viewed by guests riding the WEDway Peoplemover. They viewed the port segment of If You Had Wings from a completely different vantage point – one that also worked on its own merits and showcased the neverending stream of Omnimover vehicles snaking through the port and straw market scenes.
Many of the films used in the ride were shot in real-life locations. Shooting took place in settings as diverse as Acapulco, Jamaica, New Orleans, California’s Imperial Valley and Canada’s Laurentian Mountains. Over two dozen staged production shots were put together as well. These ranged from a full-blown Mexican fiesta with authentically costumed dancers to a far more casual (and dated via polyester) round of limbo dancing on a false beach. To work the films into the ride, If You Had Wings would ultimately hold 41 16mm projectors, three 70mm projectors (one for the Speed Room and two for the Mirror Room), 40 special lighting effects projectors and one 35mm projector.
Above left is a photo of room at Disney’s MAPO division (where much of WED’s engineering and assembling took place) that housed IYHW’s battalion of 16mm projectors prior to their Florida move. The tall rectangular cabinets mounted to the side of each projector stand are the mechanisms that allowed the films to continuously spool through the projectors during a working day that could span up to sixteen hours in summer months. Looking at this picture it’s easy to understand how the ride was filled with the sound of these machines running nonstop. This is one of the reasons why the attraction was so loud, because the music had to overcome the noise of so many projectors that was bouncing around inside the fully enclosed structure.
Music for the attraction was recorded under the supervision of Norman “Buddy” Baker, who composed the ride’s title theme. A demo recording that revealed the intended range of song treatments tailored to each show scene was put together to offer a preview of how the ride would sound. Baker also adapted a piece of music – the “Airbus” theme – from Eastern Airlines commercials of that same time period. The instrumental he came up with provided the background for both IYHW’s Holding Area and Mirror Room scenes.
WED’s sound effects department provided additional audio for the attraction. The sounds of foot traffic in the Bahamas and of a jet takeoff were two of the most predominant recordings. Less overt effects, such as fireworks, seagull calls and native Aztec musical instruments were brought in for additional authenticity.
By late March, 1972 the blueprints for the ride’s interior sets were completed and If You Had Wings was being pieced together at a frantic pace to be ready for the summer crowds. The show’s set pieces were designed in California by WED and installed on site by another division of the company, PICO West. The majority of the sets were constructed of 1/4″ plywood with 1″ framing. When assembled they often formed simple three-dimensional structures or spaces such as the Aztec pyramid or the New Orleans courtyard. Props and artifacts typical of the locations depicted (Mexican pottery, Caribbean straw goods, fishing gear) were added to the sets as a final measure of third-dimensionality.
The ride opened to the public on June 5, 1972. Eastern Airlines and Walt Disney Productions officials formally unveiled the attraction during a dedication ceremony the following month, on July 2.
| If You Had Wings would be the last Omnimover ride Disney would build for over ten years. The next would be General Motors’ World of Motion attraction which opened with EPCOT Center in October 1982. That ride and its neighbor, El Rio del Tiempo at the World Showcase Mexico Pavilion, would both draw heavily from the same technologies used at length in If You Had Wings. The similarities will be outlined later in this text.
In spite of the extensive borrowing by those latter attractions, If You Had Wings was largely overlooked in terms of receiving post-opening promotion from the company. Pictorial souvenirs produced between 1972 and 1987 only featured a photo of the ride once, in 1986. The attraction was not represented on postcards, view-master reels, 16mm films or even latter-day VHS tapes that offered Magic Kingdom overviews. Even the more outdated and less interesting Mission To Mars was accorded a higher level of coverage throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
But If You Had Wings persevered from the standpoint of popularity. Even after the A-E ticket system was disbanded in 1980, it remained one of the few rides in the park that people eagerly chose to visit repeatedly during the same day. If someone went through Mission To Mars more than once on the same day, it’s probably because they were wearing a trenchcoat.
Most of the time a ride’s successful ability to draw visitors ensures its long-term prospects, in other instances it has no bearing at all. In the case of a sponsor-dominated attraction like If You Had Wings, the solvency of Eastern Airlines became the governing factor in the ride’s destiny. When Frank Lorenzo bought Eastern in 1986, the company was in dire financial straits. On the eve of bankruptcy and dissolution, Eastern opted not to renew its fifteen-year sponsorship of If You Had Wings. WDW was faced with the decision to either keep the attraction down for the busy summer season while developing a replacement or to come up with a temporary fix that would keep the ride running and buy time to court another sponsor. They went with the second option, which turned out to be the best choice given that the summer of 1987 saw record highs – both in Central Florida temperatures and in park attendance.
If You Had Wings closed on the first of June 1987. Five days later it reopened as If You Could Fly. On paper the changes look slight, but in practice they made for a genuinely a different attraction. In addition to the name change reflected in the exterior signage, the Eastern logo was replaced by the stylized image of a seagull. Seagulls already figured prominently in the attraction, so it was an easy icon to fall back on.
In the load area, the orchestral background music was replaced by an instrumental version of the new If You Could Fly song and the boarding announcements were silenced. The Eastern jet was, of course, pulled from the side of the globe. At the beginning of the ride, the change in music became even more apparent. Where the chorus of singers once intoned “If You Had Wings” there were new voices, reminiscent of a Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack. The lyrics – “If you could fly on seabird wings, and feel the joy that freedom brings, those dreams you had when you could fly will soon be realized through seabird eyes…” were saccharine and the production value mundane i.e., it didn’t fit the ride at all. Similarly, each successive scene’s music had been replaced with something foreign and, contrasted with the original segments, lacking. Only the sound effects (voices of the couple in the straw market, bursting fireworks, etc.) were retained.
If You Could Fly was still a visually rich experience, but difficult to enjoy for anyone who loved If You Had Wings. Without the song, Eastern or the voice at the end of the ride (“You do have wings”), the soul of the original was gone and what remained was. This sad fact made the transition from If You Could Fly to Dreamflight just a little more tolerable.
If You Could Fly closed January 4, 1989. In the months that followed, just about everything surrounding the tracks was broken down into pieces small enough to be carted out of the ride in portable grey waste bins. As the summer approached, a new ride began taking shape where If You Had Wings once stood.
Dreamflight opened to the public on the 23rd of June. An overview of the changes:
The once open Holding and Load areas were subdivided into three different sections replicating a neon-laden airport boarding area with a plane section visible through the glass. The sections of the ride from the globe up to Mexico City became three-dimensional scenes rendered in pop-up book style referencing the early days of flight. The massive room that had once encompassed Mexico, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico was now sectioned off into three chambers, the first being the pop-up book cartoons. The second was just a big room with a single screen upon which was projected a film of a stuntman riding atop a biplane. The third was where the mannequin phase of the ride began. It started in San Francisco where a global clipper sat in the harbor. A couple on the dock looked out across the water and the plane’s captain sat frozen at his dining table as if waiting for the strychnine to kick in. In what was once the Puerto Rican fort, large dioramas of a Japanese countryside and Paris held more mannequins, albeit with some attractive scenery. New Orleans was replaced by a jet engine through which the cars passed on their way to the held-over Speed Room. The seven original films were replaced by a computerized “future runway” scene that was shortly removed in favor of some flight-through-the clouds footage. The Mirror Room remained as well, but the mirrors were taken out. Now the cars faced off to the right where another movie screen showed even more computer-generated vistas. The Descending Flight scene was now where a huge pop-up book bounced back and forth between recreations of London and New York. All the music had changed as well, with a new theme song permeating the entire ride.
Dreamflight, in spite of its disjointedness, managed to draw plenty of visitors and operate until June 1996, six months after Delta dropped its sponsorship of the attraction. Then the name changed to Take Flight. It was exactly the same as Dreamflight save for the removal of some Delta logos and some extremely minor changes in two pieces of music. That would have been a replay of what happened with If You Had Wings and If You Could Fly if not for the fact that the changes to Dreamflight didn’t actually make the ride worse.
In January 1998, Take Flight closed and the attraction was made over as Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, which opened in October of that same year. This new attraction uses the same ride vehicles with some new prosthetics, the same track and the same overall room structure. Everything else has been changed.
Although If You Had Wings evolved from Adventure Thru Inner Space, it did retain the distinction of having passed along a few new things to some other Disney attractions. Unfortunately most of those attractions have already gone the way of If You Had Wings.
The first thing If You Had Wings loaned out was the Speed Room / Super Speed Tunnel idea, which landed on the second floor of Disneyland’s America Sings in 1977 as an addition to the Peoplemover (which ran through the Carousel Theater building’s second floor). This application went on to feature scenes from the company’s 1982 film, TRON. The Peoplemover closed in 1995, however, and its replacement, the also-defunct Rocket Rods, did not make use of the Speed Room.
When Epcot opened in 1982 (as EPCOT Center), many of its attractions could be likened to If You Had Wings in terms of their ride systems, pacing and sponsorship agreements. But two rides at Epcot Center borrowed directly and unapologetically from If You Had Wings (and were better for it.)
The first was General Motors’ World of Motion, which began in a manner very similar to If You Had Wings: a large, open holding area leading to a load platform where guests boarded blue Omnimover cars that slowly approached a dark, semi-foreboding portal. World of Motion also had not one, not two, but THREE Speed Rooms near the end of the ride. The first was almost identical to If You Had Wings’ version in that its films were extremely similar. For example, one World of Motion scene was of bobsleds shooting down an icy run. Another was a fast-paced underwater jaunt. The second Speed Room featured swirling light effects and a fiery inferno, the third was footage from TRON, just as in Disneyland’s Peoplemover. If only Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin used some TRON images as a tribute to early computer-generated imagery, a circle would be completed.
World of Motion closed in January 1996 and its replacement, GM’s Test Track, does not have the Speed Room components. Nor does it have the Omnimover cars. It does have crash-test dummies, however, demonstrating that you don’t need smarts to destroy a really cool attraction.
The other Epcot attraction that pulled from If You Had Wings was the Mexico Pavilion’s boat ride, El Rio del Tiempo, which operated in its original form until January 2007. It reopened in April 2007 as the Gran Fiesta Tour, which introduced characters from Disney The Three Cabelleros film to the ride. The ties to If You Had Wings here were more numerous before the ride’s reinvention but several echoes remain. First, the boat ride incorporates a large early Mexican pyramid, as did If You Had Wings. Secondly, the floating gardens of Lake Xochilmilco are kind of recreated in El Rio del Tiempo, albeit somewhat distinctly from the If You Had Wings version (in that there’s some real water in the boat ride). Both rides contain depictions of downtown Mexico City. And they both rely heavily on the use of projected images to achieve motion. Another strong connection was that If You Had Wings and El Rio del Tiempo both had very similar, upbeat, silly and repetitive theme songs created for the rides that could easily echo in vistor’s heads for hours after exiting. Gran Fiesta now uses the Three Caballeros theme to a similar effect.
What really tied the two rides together, though, were some of the original filmed scenes. Mexico’s attraction had footage of people cavorting on beaches just as If You Had Wings did. Mexico had street merchants trying to pass off handcrafted wares to guests passing by, just as If You Had Wings had merchants pushing goods in the Caribbean Straw Market. And If You Had Wings had a projection of cliff divers plunging in Acapulco, just as Gran Fiesta still does in a modified form. The merchant footage in El Rio del Tiempo was removed when Gran Fiesta came in and the beach depictions are significantly changed. Because the ride is still operating, however, there still exists the opportunity for WDW visitors to get a small taste of what If You Had Wings was all about. That’s a good thing whether you like the ride’s makeover or not.
|Widen Your World’s If You Had Wings Pages