By Justin Arthur
Lions, tigers, and…squids? Find out how the original Jungle Cruise at Disneyland almost featured a rather unconventional creature in its enigmatic rivers.
In the early 1950’s, Walt Disney dreamed of a way to bring his Academy Award®-winning True-Life Adventures documentary series into his newest and most ambitious project, Disneyland, hoping to build a river cruise with real live animals lining its banks. To herd this Jungle Cruise concept together, Walt Disney enlisted production designer Harper Goff, who had recently worked on a True-Life Adventures short film for Walt, for which he created lavish storyboards outlining an epic undersea adventure. Walt loved his artwork so much that the project evolved into the 1954 feature film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Walt’s most ambitious live-action film to date.
Fresh off of designing the film’s iconic submarine, the Nautilus, Goff next tackled the design of the original candy-striped-canopied boats for the Jungle Cruise, adventuresome tramp steamers taking inspiration from the 1951 Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn film, The African Queen.
Walt had hoped to find a way to bring the film’s enormous (and very expensive!) giant squid into his jungle boat ride at Disneyland. In fact, if you look closely, an octopus-like creature even made its way into Herb Ryman’s iconic 1953 illustration of Disneyland, featuring one of the earliest renderings of Adventureland.
The climactic squid battle featured in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was notoriously plagued by production issues. Instead of the originally planned battle at sunset, the scene was ultimately re-shot as a nighttime scrap in the rain to disguise the very complex system of wires that powered the creature’s flailing tentacles. A similar rationale doomed its addition to the Jungle Cruise, as Goff recalled, “the wires that pulled the tentacles would have been hard to hide” on the outdoor, daytime voyages. Bob Mattey, the studio’s head of mechanical effects, also expressed concerns about the durability of the squid’s latex exterior in a both outdoor and waterlogged environment.
Goff would go on to convince Walt that mechanical animals would put on a much better show for Disneyland guests—real ones are often nocturnal, and would mostly sleep or hide during the day. He enlisted sculptor Chris Mueller and Bob Mattey, both of whom had recently designed that infamous squid, to create animals with limited hydraulic functions that could work in and out of the water, exposed to the elements. The animals themselves were simple but cleverly designed with “free animation,” such as the spring-loaded giraffes and rhinos. Some of these sculptures and effects—inventive, yet simple in execution—are still part of the Jungle Cruise today!
Ultimately, they did devise a way to get the notorious cephalopod into the park—the giant squid used in the film would go on to menace guests for 11 years in Tomorrowland’s impressive 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea exhibit, complete with new inner workings designed by Bob Mattey!
While the attraction that opened would be a little more Kalahari than calamari, the Jungle Cruise has remained a classic for nearly 66 years, leading to similar Adventureland outposts popping up across the globe in other Disney parks. Learn even more about this pun-filled adventure, get a peek at some exciting new surprises in store for the attraction, and take a behind-the-scenes look at the film it inspired in the Summer issue of Disney twenty-three!