Over the weekend, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, uploaded a photo of himself at a Disney campus and claimed, in no short order, that he would help revitalize The Jungle Cruise, one of the signature attractions of the Disney Parks (and one of the opening day draws at Disneyland, from way back in 1955). Sure, Johnson is working on a movie adaptation of the attraction but the post still seemed pretty "out of left field." But was this post another example of his patented brand of self-aggrandizing braggadocio or is there something to his claims?
First, let's get into his claims that he and his production partner Dany Garcia were invited to a secret corner of the Walt Disney campus. He wasn't, as he claims, in The Vault (although more on that in a minute). It's clear from the photo that he was at Walt Disney Imagineering, the branch of the company responsible for designing all of the theme parks, attractions, restaurants, and cruise ships. The photo Johnson posted was in one of the main hallways of the Glendale, California campus.
Grateful SOB to have Walt and Mickey watching over my shoulder as @danygarciaco and I embark on this amazing project. For our big #JungleCruise creative meeting at DISNEY's highly secure R&D facilities, me and @danygarciaco were escorted into THE VAULT. A legitimate vault where all of Disney's biggest secrets and plans are kept. Curtains were pulled back for us to reveal the actual drawn up plans that Walt Disney had his brother, Roy Disney take to New York to present to the bankers in 1950 for the potential loan to build what's now known as Disney Land. Cant imagine what that meeting with bankers was like. Roy: Alright gentlemen, so me and my brother Walt, want to build the greatest multiple theme park attraction in the world. Banker: Oh that seems fun, Mr. Disney. Roy: *smiles in a playful mischievous manner, Oh yes my good man, it will have a few things that are in fact, fun. Well, clearly I don't know how the hell men were actually talking in the 50's, but what I do know is being able to star in and produce #JungleCruise is a dream come true. BUT what takes this to the next level, is that we'll partner with Disney's brilliant Imagineers to help re-engineer and re-design the #JungleCruise ride in all the Disney theme parks around the world. A very special opportunity for us and our @sevenbucksprod to create an unforgettable and fun EXPERIENCE for families around the world. And as Walt Disney himself would say... it's magical. Next step is finding our visionary director. Exciting times. #JungleCruise #TheExperience #DisneyStudios #Imagineers #SevenBucksProds #WaltAndRockWouldveBeenBesties #AndWorkoutBuddies #WaltWouldveLovedMyJackedUpPickUpTruck ????????????
We've been to the Disney Vault and this certainly isn't it. (Although the facilities are close.) There's a nearby library dedicated to all things Walt Disney Imagineering that contains a lot of things, including that map of Disneyland, which inspired Johnson to post a bizarre, imaginary conversation between Walt Disney, his brother, Roy Disney, and some undisclosed banker. (If only he knew the kind of financial loop-da-loops that Walt and Roy went through to get that park open on time.)
Secondly, the concept that Johnson and Garcia could help remake the Jungle Cruise (an attraction that is a staple of Disneyland, Magic Kingdom in Florida, Tokyo Disneyland, and Hong Kong Disneyland) isn't an outlandish one. Sure, it's a classic attraction. But it's also a creaky one. There is undoubtedly a pile of concepts on the Imagineers' desks about how they could enhance this attraction, and every time it goes down for a rehab it's either something minor or purposefully goofy (like the annual Jingle Cruise holiday makeover).
The kind of circuitous movie-based-on-a-theme-park-attraction-then-inspiring-the-attraction phenomenon isn't new; Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films was installed in Pirates of the Caribbean, an attraction that is arguably more passionately adored than Jungle Cruise. (Back when they thought "The Lone Ranger" was going to be a hit, there were plans to install those characters into Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. And had "Tomorrowland" succeeded, it would have precipitated a major sea change in that section of the park, beginning with a nifty augmented reality game.) The reason those proposed enhancements never come to pass is because it's hard to justify the costs when there are other, more pressing (and more popular) attractions to focus on. Plus, there's the time it takes to overhaul one of these attractions. Considering the massive changes going on at Disneyland, where the "Star Wars"-themed land is currently being constructed, it'd be a bummer if you saved up all year to come to the park and couldn't even see the backside of water.
(One potentially thorny issue: Disney doesn't technically own the Japanese theme parks; the Oriental Land Company, a leisure and entertainment company founded five years after Disneyland opened in Anaheim, does. That means that if the other parks fell in line with this project, Tokyo Disneyland potentially couldn't -- and wouldn't -- follow suit.)
If Johnson and his production partner are willing to help fund the makeover, which they can also chalk up to promotion for the new movie, then all the better. It's notoriously difficult to get anything green lit at Walt Disney Imagineering, since the costs are so high and the time to create the attractions so lengthy, but if there's outside money helping it along, then that certainly greases the wheels. Anytime you see anything connected to a new-ish movie, from an elaborately themed meet-and-greet to a preview of an upcoming movie playing in a disused 3D theater, that stuff isn't paid for by Disney Parks; it's paid for by Walt Disney Studios. That's why it's there. If this update is coming from Johnson/Garcia and the team behind the new movie, it's all but assured that it'll actually get completed. There's no groveling when the project is a huge corporate priority.
And here's the other thing -- if there's a theme park attraction already in the parks worldwide, then there's a much better chance Johnson's "Jungle Cruise" will actually get made. Movies based on the theme park attractions are a priority, but they're just as cumbersome to get produced as the attractions themselves and the last 10 years have been littered with well-intentioned would-be blockbusters (Guillermo del Toro's "The Haunted Mansion," Jon Favreau's "Magic Kingdom," Max Landis's "Space Mountain," the list goes on ...) With these moves, Johnson is all but assuring his latest genre franchise will make it to the big screen and with a truly mighty amount of promotional power behind it.
Lastly, and this is a big one, why would Disney allow Johnson to post something like this? Walt Disney Imagineering is a tight-lipped group that some have referred to as Walt's "Black Ops Unit" back when he was still alive. (Walt privately controlled the group to keep it away from financial second-guessing.) Well, that mostly has to do with Johnson's 85 million Instagram followers. In the lead-up to "Moana," Walt Disney Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios often deferred to Johnson, who debuted a number of trailers and clips on his personal social media accounts. The studio is clearly just as itchy to get "The Jungle Cruise" (and its corresponding revamp) out there in the wild, and who better a spokesperson to have than The Rock?
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