Defunctland: The History of Disney’s Scariest Attraction, Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour

Ah, Halloween. What attraction should I do for a spooky episode this year? I know. I’ll just go to a non-descript listicle site that does minimal research in a lazy – but effective – attempt to capitalize on nostalgia and familiarity. Well, what do you know. “The Top Three Scariest Defunct Disney Attractions”. Let’s see. No, already did that. *Shudders* Did that one twice. Wait a minute. What is this? What the he- ♪Hello Earth, from the deepest depths of hell. It’s where dead and forgotten rot and dwell. But the souls beneath, are not foes or friends. Instead it’s theme park rides that have met their end. They go to Defuncthell (Defuncthell). All of the fun, they bid farewell (Defuncthell). Disney, Universal and Cedar Fair (Defuncthell). Now most of Six Flags is down there (Defuncthell). They go to Defuncthell.♪ *Evil laugh* *Another evil laugh* In 1971, The Walt Disney Company purchased an option to adapt author Lloyd Alexander’s five-part series: “The Chronicles of Prydain”, into a feature film. At the time of the purchase, Walt Disney Pictures was beginning to feel the effects of Walt Disney’s death, five years prior. And while the company had been working without their leader for some time, they had expended many of the movie concepts that he had discussed or had already set in motion. This meant that the studio would have to find new source material on their own, that would align with the Walt Disney brand, without the help of Walt Disney. The company’s animation division, tasked with releasing a new animated feature once every three to four years, first turned to concepts that Walt had once considered. This resulted in 1973’s “Robin Hood” and 1977’s “The Rescuers”, but the company quickly realized that digging through Walt’s trash was not a blueprint for future success. Due to a variety of pre-production issues, The Chronicles of Prydain adaptation, originally slated for a 1980 release, was pushed back to 1984, with “The Fox and the Hound” taking the 1980 slot. Production on The Fox and the Hound was rocky to say the least, with internal fights breaking out among producers and animators. The arguments always seemed to come back to the question of “What would Walt have done?” And more often than not, the winner of the argument had the idea that felt the most Disney. By the time The Chronicles of Prydain adaptation – now working with the the title “The Black Cauldron” – entered production in 1980, the “What would Walt do?” mindset was proving to be counter-intuitive, it became clear that it was impossible to mimic a creator that was known for pushing creative boundaries. Because of this, The Black Cauldron team was allowed to take a more ambitious route for the animated film, a darker more epic tale than most of Disney’s features. It also helped that fantasy interpretations of medieval times was at peak popularity. The early-80’s loved Castles and Knights almost as much as the late-2000’s loved Vampires and Werewolves. The film centered around a young farmhand named Taran, a psychic Pig, and a sinister villain named The Horned King. The film’s storyline was often unclear and had drifted quite away from its source material. The Black Cauldron was set to release in 1984. However, that same year, a management shakeup at The Walt Disney Company resulted in Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg joining the company. After seeing a test screening of The Black Cauldron, Katzenberg, the new head of Walt Disney Studios, was horrified at the product. Claiming that it was too intense for a family audience. He demanded that the film be edited, not fully realizing that an animated film cannot be edited the same as the live-action productions he was used to working on, after the animation team explained this to him, Katzenberg became frustrated and stormed off to edit the film on his own. The film’s producers called CEO Michael Eisner, who was able to convince Katzenberg to stop and calm down. The film was eventually edited, with over ten minutes of the more graphic sections of the movie being cut. The film’s release was delayed to 1985, where it debuted in July as the first Disney animated feature to receive a PG rating. The film, taking over a decade to produce, cost an estimated $44 million, making it the most expensive animated film at the time of its release. Critics praised the technical aspects of the film, but lauded its storyline and characters, it grossed just over $21 million at the box office, resulting in an over $20 million loss for The Walt Disney Company. The film’s failure made the new executive team question the existence of the company’s animation department, with Eisner, Wells and Katzenberg seriously considering transitioning to a solely live-action model for Disney. The Black Cauldron was a failure and an embarrassment, and merchandising the film was certainly out of the question. Almost all of The Walt Disney Company wanted to forget its existence… Almost. Announcer: Now, there’s “Tokyo Disneyland”. The Japanese may not buying our cars, but they are buying our culture. Here is American industrial robots telling the history of Japan, programmed not to mention World War II. So, while the band plays on, Japan’s eating it all up like Rice. In its first year, Tokyo Disneyland expects ten million visitors; the Mouse biz, is big biz in Tokyo these days. Now if they’d only buy our Chevrolets. Narrator: That casual racism is scarier than any jump scare I can come up with. On April 15th, 1983, two years before The Black Cauldron’s debut, Tokyo Disneyland opened. A joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and the Japan-based developer, “The Oriental Land Company”, Tokyo Disneyland was immensely popular right out of the gate, with attendance figures similar – and often better – than the “Magic Kingdom” and “Disneyland”. This was good news for The Walt Disney Company, although many executives were disappointed that the profit from one of the company’s biggest successes in the last decade had to be shared. Disney and The Oriental Land Company did not reinvent the wheel for Tokyo Disneyland, and the park is very similar to the Magic Kingdom at “Walt Disney World”. This is most obvious with the park’s icon, “Cinderella Castle”, but the two nearly identical structures have a key difference. In the Magic Kingdom, Cinderella Castle hosts the popular restaurant, “Cinderella’s Royal Table”, this is absent in the Tokyo Disneyland version. On opening day, there was nothing but closed doors where the entrance to Cinderella’s Royal Table was supposed to be. This was because the castle was not meant to host a restaurant, it would instead house an attraction, named “Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour”, a creepy walkthrough of the castle’s dungeons complete with encounters with famous Disney villains. A manager in The Oriental Land Company described the unique setup as: “Cinderella Castle is Tokyo Disneyland’s symbol, and Mystery Tour, is its ride.” The idea for Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour came from the fact that any attraction utilizing the castle’s space would have to take place underground. This inspired the idea of the castle having dungeons that guests could tour. Mystery Tour takes inspiration from a Japanese ghost house, both have Labyrinth structures depicting scenes of horror and both showcase terrifying monsters. The story that the imagineers created had the magic mirror from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” taking on an recurring role, but this caused a slight hiccup in the attraction’s production. The imagineers felt that the magic mirror would not be recognizable if its actor’s face was “distinctly Japanese”. However, they were also aware that the voice, language and dialect cannot be American. In order to meet these self-imposed restrictions, Imagineers had Tokyo Disneyland entertainment division translate and record the lines for the mirror, who then took those recordings and filmed an American actor lip-syncing to them back in the United States. At the time of its opening, Tokyo Disneyland still used the A to E Ticket Book System, this required guests to purchase an admission ticket to get in, and additional tickets to ride the attractions in the park. Typically buying them in a ticket book which held multiple ride tickets. The attractions were ranked in ticket categories from “A” to “E”, with A being for the more mundane rides and E being for the more thrilling attractions. The Castle Mystery Tour was listed as a “D” attraction, placing it among the ranks of the “Country Bear Jamboree” and the “Enchanted Tiki Room”. The tour was presented with the tag line: “Can you conquer the evil forces of the Disney villains in the castle?” Guests would gather outside of the attraction’s entrance, located on the backside of Cinderella Castle. They would then be welcomed in groups of around twenty to thirty people, being led by a cast member – typically female – wearing a uniform similar to the Huntsmen from Snow White. The tour was reliant of the cast member’s spiel, a ride style that is rarely implemented, “The Jungle Cruise” and “The Great Movie Ride” are two of the only Disney attractions to utilize it. A spiel ride typically provides cast members with a pre-approved script, it is then their responsibility to memorize and repeat all of the information while hitting all of the beats. This is to ensure the guests receive all of the necessary exposition to understand the ride, and often more importantly, to allow the cast member to believably interact with the attraction’s characters and props. Within these requirements, the cast members are generally encouraged to stick to the script while also making it their own. This personalization can take the form of timing prefrences, body language and delivery and sometimes – though mostly discouraged – script changes. The Mystery Castle Tour was unique in that the cast member had to both give a spiel and navigate guests through the attraction, since there was no tracked ride vehicle to do this for them. The exact wording of the script mixed traditional Japanese courtesy with the casual speaking style that is expected from Disney’s cast members. This was one of the more difficult aspects of training Japanese cast members, since their culture is very specific when it comes to communication and service roles. Guests are given a short introduction describing the tour of Cinderella Castle that they are going to receive, those on the tour will be treated to areas such as the Gallery, the Ballroom and the Tower. The guide leads them into the first room, pointing out portraits of famous Disney heroes, Princess Aurora, Pinocchio, Snow White and Taran from The Black Cauldron. Just as the guide begins to begins to applaud the heroes and their victories against the villains, the magic mirror shows up on one of the walls, displeased that the villains are being demeaned once again. The portraits on the walls change from the heroes to their coinciding villains, as the magic mirror continues to argue with the guide. The mirror wishes to showcase the power of the villains and challenges the tour group to enter the mysterious dungeons of the castle, with a door on the wall swinging open on its own. The guide is surprised and urges guests to follow her through the door and down a large staircase, descending two storeys. Guests walk past prison bars and can hear Bats screeching around them. The guide comes up on a spooky laboratory, with a book open to a recipe for Poison Apples, miscellaneous magical science equipment is indiscriminately scattered throughout the corner of the room. The Witch’s shadow can be seen as a Crow rocks back and forth on a skull. The guide decides to leave before the Witch shows up, taking guests down a series of dark tunnels, the Witch is heard laughing as they escape. The group walks further into the dungeon, with the magic mirror appearing to be reflected down a corridor. They quickly encounter a scene of a swinging axe controlled by a Knight, the scene gets even scarier when a previously still set of Knight’s armor begins to shake in fear. A chest along the wall is pushed open by living skeletons and the guide screams and gives chase. During the flee, guests pass a short corridor, where a projection of the” Night on Bald Mountain” portion of “Fantasia” plays, showing Chernabog gathering his army of demons. The guide quickly directs guests away from the scene, walking a bit before stopping at what appears to be a peaceful water feature. However, Maleficent’s minions appear in the water below, threatening guests to either leave or face the evils of their master. As guests rush down the hallway, the goons follow, peaking their heads through holes in the dungeon walls. Guests get a glimpse of the outside of the castle, with a lightning storm swirling around it. After this, a talking skull warns guests not to continue, but the guide pushes on. The group then enters “The Cave of the Hidden Jewels”, filled from top to bottom with shiny golds and diamonds, the guide is thrilled, but a lightning strike reveals that they are not alone in the room. A large Dragon roars as steam escapes its jaws, the guide waves guests out of the room and into an elevator. Everyone is relieved, until the voice of a demon echoes throughout the lift, revealing that he is controlling the ride as guests ascend. The doors open and the guide timidly exists, afraid of what could come next. The group enters a room filled with tapestry displaying the story of The Black Cauldron, the guide then describes the film’s plot, an integral part of the spiel considering that no one watched the film. A translation from outlines this part of the script, the guide says: “Once upon a time the world was ruled by evil. The Horned King, the evil lord, used the Black Cauldron to manipulate and control the soldiers of death. Then, the courageous and pure-minded hero, Taran, deprived the power of the great kiln using his Sword of Light. And peace was restored to the world. The Magic Mirror interrupts the guide once again, taunting the guests and saying: “This is the final challenge, will good win or evil prosper? The good will face this challenge with courage. The Black Cauldron is waiting to swallow you whole.” The guide then chooses a guest – almost always a child – to carry the Sword of Light into the next room. Guest enter the room of the Black Cauldron, with skeletons lying around on the floor. The room goes dark before the fire and smoke illuminate the face of The Horned King, a large, terrifying animatronic that looms above guests. The Horned King addresses his victims by saying the most terrifying anything to ever appear in a Disney anything. He says: “Everyone welcome, in this Black Cauldron everything in the world is controlled. Don’t be afraid, it will all be over shortly. No one can escape from here and you’ll be sacrificed to the Black Cauldron. Oh Satan’s kiln, awaken and resurrect the soldiers of death. Rebuild an army without rivals, the army of death, rise. The devil’s servants, go and capture them and throw them into the cauldron, don’t leave anyone behind. The Black Cauldron wants more bodies, I swear to the death. Hahaha. Nobody can destroy me.” Just as all seems to be lost, a light illuminates int he group. The chosen one and the guide are pointing the Sword of Light directly at The Horned King. “What’s that? Capture those fools and gratify the Black Cauldron!” The sword shoots beams of light and The Horned King screams as lights flicker, smoke bellows, the music intensifies and he is defeated. The lights dim as the guide cheers that they have won the rest of the group follows suit, celebrating their victory. The sinister music is replaced with a triumphant symphony. As a door arises, light spills into the room and guests exit encountering the only portion of the ride to display English. With a sign saying: “Good Conquers Evil.” The guide directs everyone’s attention to the tour’s hero, placing a medal around their neck. The guide then thanks everyone for going on the adventure, before directing them back outside. The Mystery Tour was one of the most unique and bizarre Disney attractions ever created. “ExtraTERRORestrial: Alien Encounter”, the 1994 addition to the Magic Kingdom’s “Tomorrowland”, which is widely considered Disney’s scariest creation ever, warned guests upfront of the ride’s intense themes. Mystery Tour did exact opposite, drawing guests in, promising a tour of the beautiful Cinderella Castle, only to send them on a horrifying chase through the castle’s dungeons. Mystery Tour was one of the longest attractions at Tokyo Disneyland at about sixteen minutes in length. As previously stated, a single sign at the end of the attraction is the only English guests would be subjected to during the tour. Unlike most rides at Tokyo Disneyland, which make an attempt to implement English throughout for international guests. The guide’s quickly learn to warn American and European guests not to ride the attraction because of this. The Mystery Tour officially opened on July 11th, 1986, Tokyo Disneyland created some promotional material for the ride, but with the massive crowds that the park drew in, the Mystery Tour’s success was almost guaranteed. In its first few months of operation, wait times of two to three hours were common, Tokyo Disneyland would further promote the Mystery Tour by creating this absolutely terrifying walk-around character. My god, who approved this? The Mystery Tour also appeared in a Tokyo Disneyland video game made for the Super Nintendo in 1994. The attraction serves as the final stage of the game, with Mickey running through the dungeons of the castle and passing by familiar scenes to those that have experienced the Mystery Tour. The Mystery Tour operated for twenty years, with little to no change or notable events, the attraction quietly closed its doors on April 5th, 2006. Guests experiencing the attraction in its final days were each given one of the hero’s medals, as opposed to just the chosen one that held the Sword of Light. Many have speculated the exact reason for the Mystery Tour’s closure, the most widely believed theory is that the attraction was too scary for younger audiences, which seems plausible given the ride’s dark theming, script and character designs. The ride was not one of the most popular in the park, whether it be for its sinister nature or its secluded entrance. Another speculation for the closure is the attraction’s limited capacity and high operating costs. While the Mystery Tour most likely couldn’t cycle more than 1000 guests/hour and did require multiple cast members performing spiels, this reason is less likely given that the attraction’s maintenance cost were much lower since there was no ride system in place. Of all the speculated reasons, the one with the most solid basis is a theory regarding the structural integrity of ride and Cinderella Castle. The same year that the attraction closed, Japan increased its Earthquake Preparation Regulations, with a newly required seismic structural test for buildings more than three storeys tall. The check evaluated the structure’s ability to sustain motion caused by Earthquake’s or Tsunami’s, as well as analyze the stability of the foundation. Many believed that additional Earthquake support was needed for Cinderella Castle and the attraction, and that in order to meet these new requirements, the attraction would have to be removed and reinstalled. The Oriental Land Company, possibly due to the attraction’s dark themes, low capacity and lack of popularity, decided that rebuilding it would not be worth the time and money. On April 15th, 2011, just over five years after Mystery Tour’s closure, a new castle tour entitled “Cinderella’s Fairy Tale Hall” opened. The attraction is a lot different than its predecessor, it is essentially a walkthrough exhibit, with mini figurines, artwork and photo opportunities. Disappointingly, there is no continuous story to Fairy Tale Hall, it’s almost the exact tour that was promised to guests at the beginning of Mystery Tour before things went awry. While it is unfortunate that such a bold and unique attraction was replaced with a much safer alternative, the addition of Cinderella’s Fairy Tale Hall makes perfect sense, and it arguably fits the theming and tone of Cinderella Castle better than Mystery Tour did. Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour was one of the most unique Disney attractions of all time, it is the only Disney attraction to prominently feature characters from The Black Cauldron, and it is one of – if not – the darkest Disney attraction ever created. Its unique style has inspired the creation of other attractions of its kind, For one, “Disneyland Paris'” Sleeping Beauty Castle houses a walkthrough attraction called “The Dragon’s Lair”, which allows guests to go underneath the castle and encounter a massive Dragon animatronic. Most notably, a new castle walkthrough attraction that opened with “Shanghai Disneyland” in 2016, the attraction uses similar elements to the Mystery Tour, with more tame theming and scenes. Many fans were disappointed that the Mystery Tour was removed, but a larger amount of theme park and Disney fans are unaware that it ever existed. With so much focus going to the U.S. parks, it is surprising to many that the most unique attractions are actually those that exist overseas. The Japanese market and The Oriental Land Company pushes the Imagineers to step outside of their comfort zone, and it is in environment that a new level of arc can be produced. The more ambitious the storytelling, the more strong the audience’s reaction to it. Whether it be negative, positive or just plain confusing.

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