In 1976, Walt Disney World was riding high: the oil crisis was over, tourists were flocking back to Florida, and the successful bicentennial celebration at the Florida Disney resort had been national news.
Against that backdrop, Disney Imagineering finally started earnest work on long-promised design improvements to the Fort Wilderness Campground, an on-site camp resort serviced by themed paddlewheeler boats and with its own ambitious (and now abandoned and rotting) water park.
Enter Marc Davis, the character designer who was half of the design team for the Haunted Mansion. In those post-Walt days, he — and other veteran Imagineers — created plans for a series of never-built themepark attractions, shows and rides.
Among Davis's most detailed and exciting designs was a set of designs for walk-through funhouses for Fort Wilderness, long rumored and never seen — until now.
On Passport to Dreams Old and New, Foxxfur (previously) pieces together the evolution of Davis's walk-through funhouses, which revived and called back to the original plans for a walk-through Haunted Mansion, incorporating many of the best special effects from the Mansion in novel and creative ways.
The first of these was called "The Roost," a kind of hillbilly hotel presided over by Jasper (an inveterate tinkerer whose inventions filled the Roost's rooms) and Maude (a domineering hotelier with a soft spot for the dozens of chickens that roamed The Roost so they could escape the predations of the critters of Fort Wilderness).
The Roost morphed into Adventure House, which was, if anything, even more ambitious, where a sleeping bear snored so hard the ceiling pulsed up and down (re-using the stretch gallery effect from the Haunted Mansion), man-eating plants filled a bouncy-floored greenhouse, and an animated kitchen was full of jostling, clanking appliances, pots and pans (effects that appeared in the Carousel of Progress).
Foxxfur's incredible connections with Disney fans and employees, along with her keen insights into themed environment design and encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the Disney parks are all on display in this post, which is a tour-de-force of archival insight, design criticism, and pure fannish love.
Here's two of my favorite Marc gags of all time. Not everything the man came up with was a winner, but if anybody ever claims he wasn't as sharp at the end of his career at WED as he was at the start, you have my permission to wave these under their noses. Let's take a peek inside the Guest Room at Adventure House.
Guests entering immediately hear loud snoring and spot a huge shape asleep under the covers – it's a bear! His huge expanding belly and paws can be seen, moving in time with the snoring. The sound is so severe that every time he inhales, the room's ceiling pulls down, and every time he exhales, it shoots up away from the floor!
A nearby chest of drawers opens and closes in time with the snoring, as well as a swivel mirror that is pulled towards and away from the bed. A cross-stitch sampler above the bed reads "MANY BRAVE SOULS ARE ASLEEP IN THE DEEP".
Did you see it? Did you make the connection? It's the Stretch Room.
One thing that impresses me so much about this gag is the the Stretch Room is one of those things that's so iconic, so memorable, that nearly everybody who attempts to do a spin on the illusion just ends up repeating it. You can spot a stretch room knockoff immediately.
But here's a spin on the basic illusion that has nothing to do with changing portraits or vanishing ceilings. Marc is, as far as I know, the only person to ever come up with a viable alternative on the illusion that actually brings something new to the table. Oh, and it's really funny to boot.
Marc Davis' Adventure House [Foxxfur/Passport to Dreams Old and New]