Extinct WDW Attraction Location:Fantasyland,Magic KingdomVersion I Opened: October 1, 1971Closed: August 14, 1994Ticket Required(1971 to 1980):CVersion IIOpened: Dec. 16, 1994Closed: May 31, 2012 Descendant of:Disneyland’s original (1955)Snow White’s AdventuresSpace later became:
Can’t Bear To Look
Remnants:Also TBDInfluences evident in:Disneyland’s renovated (1983) Snow White’s Adventures,Tokyo Disneyland’s Snow White’s Adventures (1983)Contributing Disney Personnel:Tony Baxter,Claude CoatsThanks to Foxxfur for her great ride map!All images copyrightThe Walt Disney Company.
Text 2012 by Mike Lee
|Last Update to this page: May 6, 2014 (minor edits)
Part I – Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, This Ride’s Not What I Thought (At All)
First, for the sake of those who come after us without this basic information already in their back pocket, I will OVER-clarify what in years ahead could become a legitimate point of confusion regarding WDW’s original Snow White (i.e., NOT the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train) ride – there were TWO different versions of the WDW ride in the same building, using the same track, from 1971 to 2012. The first Snow White’s Adventures (the one I grew up with, worked at and upon which this pages focuses), operated from October 1, 1971 to August 14, 1994. The second version operated from December 16, 1994 to May 31, 2012. I am only referring to the 1971 to 1994 incarnation of Snow White’s Adventures as the “original” and tried to prevent the bulk of what follows from being an exercise in separating the original from the second in terms of scene-by-scene comparisons.
Most pre-2012 discussions about the Magic Kingdom’s original Snow White’s Adventures, which at times depending on signs and guide books went by the more appropriate name Snow White’s Scary Adventures, focused on one of two subtopics. The first was whether the ride, based on a same-named Disneyland predecessor, fairly warned guests about the horrors awaiting them just beyond the beautiful load area facade. The second was the ride’s conceit (this idea that you , the rider, assumed the role of Snow White in your vehicle and therefore never actually saw the princess in the ride) and doling out associated verbal smackdowns for guests who didn’t process that premise.
I’d advocate for smackdowns most of the time. The only problem in this case is that I’d get smacked too since, as a child who climbed into those mine cars* dozens of times before I worked at the ride in 1988 (that’s when I got to read its back story), I didn’t “get” that I was Snow White. I thought I was just … me, a kid on a ride at Disney World. When the witch cackled, “have an apple, dearie?” I figured she was calling me “dearie” the same way other old ladies in black cloaks hanging out in the woods near our house used to.
After being trained to work Snow White’s Adventures, that sketchy notion of rider identity was my only point of contention with the original attraction. Otherwise I loved that it was non-linear, unlike the 1994 version that replaced it (adding “Scary” back into the marquee and twisting the first incarnation’s layout more to the storyline of Disney’s 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ). I also loved that it was incredibly loud and that it terrified children. Of course it was deceptive in presentation. There’s no question that the WED team crafting that experience, led by dark ride impresario Claude Coats, knew full well that they would lull kids into an environment that spoke to a promise of actually seeing Snow White and then put them face-to-face with a murderous, screaming, bug-eyed hag in near-total darkness for two and a half minutes. That malevolence is awe-inspiring, and as a former victim too dense to pick up on the rationale of whose cartoon shoes I was filling, it also took me a while to fully appreciate the incongruity of such a soulless frightfest in sitting in the heart of “child-friendly” Fantasyland.
So there’s some genius rivalling the magnificence of Rolly Crump’s response to the Dick Nunis directive for a two-track Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for Florida. It’s as inventive as Marc Davis sending guests through an Angkor-themed tunnel of love on the Jungle Cruise. And while I thought more highly of Toad and The Haunted Mansion as experiences unto themselves, Coats’ original Florida Snow White’s Scary Adventures (SWSA) was a great blend of those aforementioned wonders – combining macabre, Mansion-esque content with the unpredictability of a swerving motor car – under the guiding hands of a true master of the form.
Because it was so good, it would be sad if ALL future discussions of SWSA focused on how the ride was removed, like so many other early WDW features, to make room for something less enigmatic** inside its walls. But in light of the Snow White ride which closed on May 31, 2012 not being the 1971 version, the more recent history would disproportionately trouble people who preferred the second take. The second version was fine for what it was, but it wasn’t the ride I loved as a kid and it also wasn’t changed enough from that to feel like a new experience … it was a well-executed compromise.
My aimless thoughts about SWSA were originally going to frame a more inventive reflection on both versions of the attraction by Foxxfur, who was kind enough to submit the same to WYW in 2008. She wisely chose to publish the essay first on her own blog, Passport to Dreams Old and New , rather than risk it never being read! Given how much time has passed and how her essay is framed perfectly in the blog format – with her illustrations appearing where and how they are needed to augment the text – I will link to her post rather than republish it. This is also better because she and I would be saying a lot of the same things, as if we shared a brain when it came to this particular ride. My personal contributions to the attraction’s record will mostly be photographs, audio and video recordings. In 2012, the most-viewed WYW YouTube video by far is a ride-through of that first SWSA. If not many others over-documented the attraction, I’m happy to fill in the gaps. And thank you to everyone who asked when I would finally get around to doing this page, and for being patient. If you lower your expectations dramatically, it might be worth the wait.
* The fact that they came out of a mine before you got into them, and that they were named for the Dwarfs who worked in the mine, supports the notion that they were mine cars. They weren’t really practical for gem transport, though, so any competing theories should be given a chance.
** There’s a presumption that the future inhabitant will be a character greeting area. Although it, at first, seems hard to believe that WDW would take that route in the heart of the original Fantasyland, in a building that once housed a great dark ride from 1971-2012, we may challenge ourselves to answer why that would be hard to believe in a park where The House of Treasure became the Pirates League? People might think that just because WDW had the good sense to finally build an Alice in Wonderland dark ride next to the Mad Tea Party that they are going to be smart about everything. Not so fast.
So in this stretch of nature, where the terrain is still uninviting but now more mountainous than marshy, you were immediately greeted by two vultures on a leafless tree branch above you. Their heads followed you as you passed their tree and a right-pointing sign that read “Dwarf’s Mine.” Then right behind the next tree there was the witch again – this time just laughing maniacally and jumping out at the last second before your car turned again.Riders entered the mine and rode through a series of support timbers, past a forced perspective shaft that led to who-knows-where and some barrels of blasting powder (one with its fuse lit) behind an open door marked “Keep Out.” It was only a matter of one passageway before the witch was back in the spotlight, only this time she had decided to stop wasting time with the apple and just kill you in a less complicated, less spellbooky way. Now she was pushing one of the support timbers sideways from a rocky ledge above you and kick-starting a cave-in. “Enjoying your ride?” she asked*.The supports overhead then started to shift and creak as the vehicles moved away from the witch down another shaft, but stopped short of collapsing. Turning the next corner, riders saw another forced perspective tunnel leading up around a bend. Upon reaching the base of that tunnel, a little mine car full of glowing gems rolled down that tunnel’s track and came to a halt at the bottom. This was kind of a precocious moment in the middle of so much unrelenting horror – the actual prospect of hitting that car could not possibly have frightened anyone. What’s kind of surprising is that there was no witch sitting in it, or even an evil skunk with its tail raised. No, just a pretty little mine car.
Around the bend was the gem room, where columns of jewels in every shape, size and color rose from the floor to the high cave ceiling. At the opposite side of the room was another doorway marked “Vault” above it. Directly over that was a huge green diamond that looked somewhat precarious in terms of its likelihood to pop free and come falling down. As riders got closer they would see (surprise!) the witch standing behind the green diamond, trying to pry it loose with a stick and you have to give her credit because it looked like she had it fairly well figured out. “Good bye dearie!” she screamed with conviction as the gem rocked forward to serve her evil purpose. The vault doors parted and guests saw flashing all around them, strobing, and a clunking kind of sound effect that coincidentally is what people hear when they are killed by diamonds but no one believes it until it’s too late. One last halting echo of the witch’s shriek could be heard for a split second, then the ride’s final set of doors opened and riders approached the Unload area. Crying, perhaps, clutching their parents arms for dear life, hyperventilating or maybe even laughing, but most importantly alive. Sometimes they would take a last look at the sweet Load diorama with an expression of wtf** before climbing out of their car and exiting through a swing gate next to the AristoCats shop.
That was the original ride in all its ludicrous glory. * Hey – what did she mean by ride? Was it supposed to be some indication that the whole “we’re playing Snow White” idea was bs? Because Snow White did not do a lot of mine-car-riding to the best of everyone’s information. Whatever the intent, I think the witch just got a little more scary.
** Who Talks French? This is something you can say at parties if you need a person to translate Baudelaire but are also curious as to who in the group will try to correct your grammar.
|Working at Snow White’s Scary Adventures was not particularly fantastic to me, but that’s mainly because I had already been lucky enough to work several other great rides and because Snow White was part of the same “complex” as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride; if Snow White was part of your rotation then you had less Mr. Toad in your rotation, and who wouldn’t rather have more Toad? On the other hand, if you were part of the Snow White rotation you didn’t have to operate Dumbo, so that was a plus.
I trained at Snow/Toad Complex around November of 1988, at which time my regular full-time job was driving subs at 20K. Both areas were part of what was then called the Magic Kingdom East department (which included all Fantasyland and Tomorrowland attractions). Since 20K was the first and only ride I had trained at since transferring from MK West (Adventureland, Frontierland & Liberty Square) a couple months prior, department management had me on a list of people to train elsewhere so I could fill in as needed. I didn’t mind getting the chance to
learn new attractions. The truth of it, however, was that there really did not seem to be very much to “discover” about Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Dumbo, The Mad Tea Party or Snow White’s Scary Adventures. They all seemed to be a matter of pushing buttons to start something, pushing buttons to dispatch something and checking safety bars. I was right except for Snow White.The wrong part of that assumption was that Snow White had a quirky ride system, with two issues that would routinely require a cast member’s attention:
– The first was something called zone-outs. This was a term for when two cars in the ride got too close too each other and were drawing too much power from a particular zone along the track. It would shut the whole ride down and cast members would have to run into the ride and figure out where two cars had gotten too close together, then they had to push the car in front ahead until they created a gap between cars sufficient for power to begin flowing again. The logical among us could say that this problem wouldn’t come up if each car was dispatched at the same interval going into the ride i.e., an interval that provided a minimum safe gap – but even though such a dispatch interval was in place at the control console, the ride vehicles would sometimes not proceed through the ride at optimum speed due to vehicle weight or power draw issues that led up to the zone-out. It sounds like something that might have happened to the Coney Island Steeplechase in the 1920s, not something that would plague a Disney World ride in the late 1980s. But it dids, so hush.
– The second was a mixed-up mess at Unload where cars pulling up to their last stop would crash into each other if the ride operator at Load did not expertly manage the buttons that advanced the cars from one position to the next in the jog area (the space between Unload and Load). Somehow both tracks on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride could pull cars automatically into the furthest vacant “slot” at Unload before stopping and allowing riders to disembark, but the one track at Snow White was built wrong and apparently could not be fixed. As a result, cast members had to hold down the “Jog 3” button long enough to make each exiting ride vehicle glide far enough ahead to leave room for the next car to clear the ride exit doors but not glide so far ahead that it hit a vehicle full of guests who were already climbing out of their car. All sorts of nonsense could happen if the cast member didn’t have a clear grasp of the applicable physics. Most of the time it was just cars slamming into each other, but if you
The best part of working at Snow/Toad Complex that I can remember was that the Lead Office hallway (situated between Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Scary Adventures and the Round Table’s kitchen area) was always warm in cold weather and carried an aroma of drying laundry. So imagine coming to work on a really cold January morning and the wind is whipping around outside and guests are acting stupid and parking strollers sideways and you want to kill someone with a queue chain but then you walk into that magic Snow/Toad hallway and it’s toasty and everything smells like Bounce and at the very end of the hall there’s a guy from the marching band propositioning a co-worker. You weren’t supposed to see that last thing. Then your nose starts to run because you’re thawing out, so you sit on that beat-up old sofa, wipe your nose on your sleeve and harken back to the time when you showed smartass that fourth crocodile. In the distance you hear the sound of a train colliding with a motor car. Everything is good now.
|On August 14, 1994, the original version of Snow White’s Scary Adventures closed because some amalgamation of bright minds at WDW and what had by that time become WDI (formerly WED Enterprises) decided enough was enough. After 23 years it was time to make scenic reparations for all those terrified children and see what kind of “improvements” they could foist upon a Claude Coats creation*.
There’s a little practical insight on this from an article in the January 13, 1994 edition of Eyes and Ears, which gave cast members advance notice about the upcoming Snow White change. I will scan and post it sometime, but the basic rationale given was, and WYW quotes (!), “more guests complain about Snow White’s Adventures than any other Disney Theme Park attraction.” This may have been true, because the company had not yet done all manner of horrible things to Journey Into Imagination or Tropical Serenade. You’re probably thinking, “What about all those Disney-MGM Studios attractions**?” Smart of you, but keep in mind that if you go to a park and its best ride features footage from Three Men and a Baby as part of the finale, then it will be pretty hard to focus on just ONE thing when you write that letter.s
The article goes on to say that the update to Snow White coincided with a push to increase ride capacity (which led to new six-seater vehicles). All things considered (except the one thing about changing something Claude Coats did), the project team on the 1994 revision made poison apple lemonade out a poison apple. I mean, let’s just say someone put a piece of paper in your hand and said, “Look, either you help us update a crazy, diabolical thing that Claude Coats designed or I’m going to take this piece of paper and write ‘fired = you’ on it. Also, it’s scaring kids and we need more capacity. Oh, plus, when we fire you we’re going to use fire ants in addition to this piece of paper.” That’s not what happened, exactly, but it’s different than saying a bunch of people who probably had to work on Disney-MGM Studios a couple years prior may have been happy to finally get the chance to apply themselves toward something that mattered infinitely more, like a Fantasyland dark ride, instead of deciding which props to put on which shelf as part of a backlot tour or whatever. If you’re not going to quit, retire, fight back, refuse, play dead, demure, hedge, stall or otherwise make a reasoned argument for not changing a 1971 WDW dark ride***, then do the best you can with the change.
* Coats had passed away two years prior, in 1992, but I cannot tell you if that had anything at all to do with the decision to update one of “his” rides. It was odd timing at the very least, because by the time this January 1994 article was written it was clear that WDI had been working on plans for the Snow White update for at least a year – with study models for the modified scenes already finished.** Twilight Zone Tower of Terror had not opened yet when that article was written.
*** We have to remember (no, we don’t have to but play along, okay?) that Tony Baxter, who was the project install leader for WED on the WDW Snow White ride in 1971, had by 1994 already embraced the idea that you sometimes get rid of old things to make room for newer (and theoretically better) things. Take Disneyland’s “New Fantasyland” in 1983, a project for which Baxter led the charge. Most of it was demonstrably better than what came before in terms of detail and theming, but that did nothing to erase the nostalgic feelings that kids from the 1960s had for “Old” Fantasyland. That’s just how it works.
When the revised Snow White’s Scary Adventures opened on December 16, 1994, it was apparent that WDI had put a lot of hard work into it. There was a massive effort to mirror the film in the ride, and portions of it were successful. Yet some of the problems presented themselves right at the forefront, such as the decision to “crop” the Load diorama for purposes of inserting an admittedly nice first scene but in the process creating a dichotomy of atmospheric depth for those waiting in line – with art that was well done yet somehow paled next to its equivalent in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or Peter Pan’s Flight. Seeing a mural painting of Snow White, the dwarf’s cottage and the Prince did not compare to seeing that little three-dimensional cottage on the hill or the magical scenery that had framed it. The mural seemed sandwiched, as did some of the scenes further on, and very flat in light of what had preceded it. Nonetheless, there were some excellent touches in the update if you looked at them independently of the big picture. Seeing Snow White sitting with birds while the Queen looked down angrily from her window was pretty cool. Unfortunately the Queen originally parting the curtains and looking down at YOU was better. The revamped Queen’s throne was awesome. Seeing the raven put to good use on the throne, also awesome. Dwarfs playing music in their cottage (same molds as used in The Mickey Mouse Revue, in Florida from 1971-1980, which was coincidentally the only place at WDW where an actual Snow White animatronic figure. vs. a static figure, was ever found) and seeing the animals at the window kept vs. discarded … those were good things. But the poor witches! Removed, slowed down or frozen in time every last one of them. They even killed her off before the ride was over. And the poor diamond mine … cut down to a ninth of its prime! And the god-forsaken symphony of ghastly sounds that mixed together over the show scene walls and reinforced a sense of hopelessness in the original … gone in favor of pleasant music from the film score around each bend.Snow White’s Adventures’ 1994 transformation was a sign of things to come for Fantasyland; it was an early effort to take dark rides to a realm of pleasantries that the park’s architecture had been managing since opening day. It was – consciously or not – a rejection of the far more interesting notion that people like Claude Coats and Rolly Crump had put forward a generation earlier, namely that rearranging the building blocks of a well-known Disney film into a new, unpredictable creation was better use of a track and scenery than retelling a familiar story scene-by-scene. When Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (a piece of insanity only halfway reliant on a 1949 film’s premise and barely 1/8 related to the story that spawned the film) closed in 1998 to make way for 1999’s Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (a by-the-numbers visit to 1968’s Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day), there was little question that safe and sound was winning the battle against weird and unsettling. For people with easily frightened kids and no particular taste for the bizarre, that may have been a happy ending. For some of us it was a blow to the very essence of what we loved about old WDW – a death knell for the subversive streak that was nearly imperceptible at first in those original rides but upon closer inspection very much thriving below the glossy surface.
So WDW’s first ride based on a “princess film” closed in May 2012, just a few months before its second ride based on a princess film opened a short distance to the north. And what a change! There’s no joy to be had in raining on anyone’s Little Mermaid ride parade, and it’s never a bad thing in and of itself when a “dark ride” materializes on empty land (regardless of how long it’s been empty or what preceded it), but Under The Sea / Journey of the Little Mermaid was nonetheless a massive shift in that Pooh-centric direction of an enveloping comfort and predictability as hallmarks of an experience. Ariel’s ride consists mostly of familiar segments in the right scripted order with a lot of color, motion and music that’s all immediately identifiable from her movie. In fact, the only jarring deviation from expectations is that the final conflict with Ursula from the 1989 film is reduced to a visual footnote in the ride – keeping things so light as to make for a Little Golden Book version of a fairy tale that had already been given the Disney treatment. It’s all very fun, very nice and, in a ride for small children, the path of least terror. But it does not even begin to provide the thrill of an experience that plays loose with the source material or keeps you guessing about whether the villain will somehow manage to trounce you, as an innocent rider, before it’s all said and done.
Snow White’s Scary Adventures, in its original WDW state, was a solid (if sadistic) argument for that method of madness. Sadly, the same company that lifted the dark ride art form to such amazing heights in the 1970s has distanced itself from that legacy by embracing a “story” mantra too tightly and spurning dark ambiguity. This means guests will now find simple, cute new attractions where once stood brilliant, sinister giants of the craft. Whether it’s better to have it one way or the other way or a mix of both is largely beside the point at this late date.
No complaints about the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train ride, however. It’s not a traditional dark ride, but it’s the coolest all-new attraction to hit the Magic Kingdom since Splash Mountain opened in 1992. Well done WDI!
|Part II – Snow White’s Scary Adventures Additional Images, Audio & Video
IMAGES – click on any of the thumbnails below for larger images
|more images coming!
|AUDIO – click on the LP icon or track name below to hear or download audio files
Snow White’s Scary Adventures Queen’s Chamber Audio
mp3 file, 5.81mb, 6:21, recorded live in 1994 – this is one of a few “drop off” recordings I made in the ride by leaving my tape recorder on the floor in a particular place then coming back through and picking it up the next time around.
|VIDEO – the selections below can also be found on WYW’s YouTube Channel (click here to visit)