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15 Facts About Disney's Jungle Cruise

Flicrk // Thomas Hawk // CC BY-NC 2.0

Everyone turn around and wave goodbye to the folks back on the dock … they may never see you again. But then again, you probably never saw them before, either. Here are 15 facts about Disney's Jungle Cruise.

1. WHEN IT DEBUTED, IT WAS A VERY SERIOUS TRIP THROUGH EXOTIC LOCATIONS.

For the first few years, the Jungle Cruise was more of a documentary-style attraction. All of the funny scenes and jokes were added years later—and thank goodness. The ridiculously bad jokes delivered with perfect apathy (“And now, we’re approaching beautiful Schweitzer Falls, named after the famous African explorer, Dr. Albert Falls.”) are the best part of the ride for many people.

2. WALT DISNEY WANTED TO INCORPORATE LIVE ANIMALS.

 Baseball legend Stan Musial and his family are seen on the Jungle Cruise attraction at Disneyland Park in July, 1965 in Anaheim, California
Disney/Disney Parks via Getty Images

When the ride was still in development, Walt Disney wanted to use live animals. When a zoologist explained that many of the animals were nocturnal, which would leave daytime guests gazing at catnapping creatures, Walt opted for creatures he could control. For a time, however, the ride queue did feature live alligators.

3. DISNEY DROVE A CAR THROUGH THE DRY "RIVERBEDS" TO PROMOTE THE RIDE.

As Disneyland was being constructed, Walt often gave TV viewers a preview of what was being built. Before the Jungle Cruise had water, he drove a Nash Rambler (one of the show’s sponsors) through the “riverbeds” to show off Schweitzer Falls and the crude mechanics of the animals.

4. IT'S THE RIDE THAT LED DISNEY TO VIEW HIS PARKS AS NEVER BEING COMPLETE.

It may be apocryphal, but the story goes like this: Walt was strolling through Disneyland when he heard a young boy asking his mom to take the eight-minute trip through the jungle. Not even slowing her stride, the mother replied something to the effect of, “No, we did that last time we were here.” Hearing that, Walt decided he had to keep changing and improving things in order to keep guests coming back.

5. SOME JUNGLE CRUISE SKIPPERS HAVE GONE ON TO BIGGER AND BETTER THINGS.

Famous wisecracking skippers include Kevin Costner and Ron Ziegler (Richard Nixon's press secretary). 

6. MOST OF THE "EXOTIC" JUNGLE PLANTS AREN'T EXOTIC AT ALL.

Jungle Cruise at Disneyland in Anaheim, California
Boris Dzhingarov // Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

How do you get the tropical aesthetic provided by exotic plants without shelling out the big bucks for shipping and maintaining them? Just use Disney’s tactic: “plant” an orange tree upside down and let vines grow and twine around the exposed roots.

7. THE WATER IS CLEANER THAN IT LOOKS.

That murky water passengers sail through is dyed brown, dark green, or muddy blue. The coloring serves two purposes: It provides a more realistic portrayal of swampy waters, of course, but it also conceals the fact that the cruise ships are on a track in a pool that’s less than four feet deep in most areas.

8. DISNEY WAS THRIFTY WHEN IT CAME TO THE AIRPLANE USED IN THE RIDE.

If you pony up the cash for a Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior airplane, you might as well get your money’s worth, right? Disney used the back half for the scene near the Jungle Cruise's hippo pool at the Magic Kingdom, and the front half for the Casablanca scene in "The Great Movie Ride" at Hollywood Studios. 

9. SOME OF THE SPECIAL EFFECTS ARE PRETTY LOW-TECH.

You might think that getting the animals’ eyes to glow as you make your way through the Asian temple is a high-tech trick, but it’s really just the opposite. Their eyes are really just marbles painted with a reflective coating.

10. LOOK FOR INSIDE JOKES HIDDEN IN THE QUEUE.

At the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, a pair of crates sits bundled with some barrels as if they’re cargo ready to be shipped. A close look at the addresses reveals that one is going to “Thomas Kirk, Esq., M. Jones, Cartographers Ltd. Field Office, Island of Bora Danno.” The other is addressed to “Kenneth Annakin, Director of Imports, Wyss Supply Company, Colony of New Guinea.”

This is a reference to the Disney movie Swiss Family Robinson. Tommy Kirk played Ernst Robinson in the 1960 film, then went on to play the title character in the 1964 movie The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. James MacArthur, the actor who played Fritz Robinson, later played Danny Williams—you know, “Book ‘em, Danno” on Hawaii Five-O. So that’s the first crate explained. The second crate refers to Ken Annakin, the director of Swiss Family Robinson, and “Wyss Supply” is a little wink to the author of the original book, Johann Wyss.

11. A JUNGLE CRUISE MOVIE STARRING TOM HANKS AND TIM ALLEN WAS PLANNED, AND SCRAPPED.

Buzz and Woody meet Jumanji? It almost happened. Entertainment Weekly first reported on a Jungle Cruise movie starring Tom Hanks and Tim Allen back in 2011, which clearly never came to be. But that doesn't mean that a movie isn't happening: Though no release date has been set, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Emily Blunt, and Jesse Plemons have all signed on for starring roles in the film.

12. ONE OF THE BOATS ACTUALLY SANK.


Wikimedia Commons // DearCatastropheWaitress//CC BY 2.5

Perhaps its name was prophetic, because “Sankuru Sadie” at the Magic Kingdom did, in fact, sink. In 2004, the boat took on more water than it could hold and went under—though, given how shallow most of the water is, it probably didn’t go far. The boat was refurbished and put back into rotation.

13. THERE USED TO BE A KATHARINE HEPBURN CAMEO.

The ride was largely inspired by the movie The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. As a somewhat macabre homage to the film, the Florida Jungle Cruise once featured a little nod to Hepburn—literally. Near the end of the ride, Trader Sam the headhunter cheerily holds up a couple of shrunken heads. “Trader Sam has a deal for you. Two of his heads for one of yours,” is how the joke typically goes. Riders who looked closely would have noticed that one of Sam’s shrunken heads looked an awful lot like Hepburn.

14. ED SULLIVAN RODE THE JUNGLE CRUISE IN A 1959 KODAK COMMERCIAL.

If you want to see what the Jungle Cruise looked like just a few years after Disneyland’s opening day, check out this commercial for Kodak’s innovative new Brownie camera, available for just $74.50!

15. DISNEYLAND'S JUNGLE CRUISE FEATURES A PALM THAT PRE-DATES THE PARK.

Located just outside the entrance of the Jungle Cruise in California is a large palm tree. Referred to as “the Dominguez Palm,” this bit of vegetation has been around way longer than Mickey has been; it dates back to 1896. It’s named after the family who lived there before the land became a theme park. The rancher who sold the land to Disney requested that this particular tree be spared, and Disney obliged, moving all 15 tons of tree from the parking lot area to Adventureland.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
Getty Images

Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
Getty Images

To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
Getty Images

During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
Getty Images

David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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Shopping Malls Might be Dying, But Miami Is Planning to Build the Largest One in North America
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Shopping malls and the "American Dream" are two things that are often said to be dead or dying, but one developer sees it a little differently.

Part shopping outlet and part theme park, American Dream Miami is slated to become the largest mall in North America when it opens in Miami-Dade County, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. Indeed, "mall" might not be the best word for this mega-complex. In addition to retail outlets, plans are in the works for an aquarium, water park, ski slope, live performing arts center, Ferris wheel, submarine ride, skating rink, and 2000 hotel rooms.

The project is being developed by Triple Five Group, which operates the Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada—currently the two current largest shopping and entertainment centers on the continent. It also owns the American Dream Meadowlands in New Jersey.

This announcement comes at a time when shopping malls are being shuttered across the country. More than 6400 stores closed last year, and another 3600 are expected to go out of business this year, according to Business Insider.

American Dream Miami will cost $4 billion and cover 6.2 million square feet. Developers hope it will attract tourists as well as local thrill seekers who want a closer entertainment option than Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando. Developer Eskandar Ghermezian was reportedly inspired by a comment made by his daughter, who complained there was nothing to do in the area when it rained.

Critics of the project, however, called it "American Nightmare," arguing it would harm the environment and cause traffic congestion. The developer still needs to obtain several permits before construction can begin.

[h/t Sun-Sentinel]

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