Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dissecting Disney's Lands: Adventureland

On the opening of Disneyland back in 1955, Walt was able to introduce his fantastic lands in just a few sentences each. But as they’ve grown, and even when they first opened, their component themes are incredibly wide ranging; an eclectic collage of ideas and settings grouped loosely by their land’s title. In this series, I hope to break down these sub-themes (their settings both in location and in time) to better understand how the lands come together as a cohesive whole.

“Here is Adventureland: a wonderland of nature’s own design.”

“This is Adventureland. We are in a little village clearing far up some tropical river. There is an explorers launch at the landing; let’s climb on board and explore the farther reaches of these mysterious waters.”


When Disneyland first opened, Adventureland was a tribute to the wilds of nature, the sole land in which man’s influence took a backseat to the power of nature. It had only one attraction; the Jungle Cruise, which spanned the dense jungles of Asia, Africa and South America. With the location so diverse, Adventureland was geographically transient; even Walt described it as “a little village up some trouble tropical river” without specifics. The buildings matched the sole attraction, with corrugated metal shacks, stone buildings and thatched roofs – a hodgepodge of African, Asian and South American architecture. There were overtones of colonialism, western mans first steps into the wild, and the first exercising of his power over the environment (at one time a ‘Big Game Safari’ shooting gallery was located in the land), but the land was all essentially contemporary – implied by the pristine boats of the Jungle Cruise. Adventure was out there, and new lands still remained to be discovered to the 1950’s American. Despite the collation of Africa, Asia and South America, the lack of specificity makes me reluctant to dissect the land any more than its original amalgamate theme; this is the Colonial Jungle – the iconic representation of the worlds jungles, the mysteries they present and the bold platform from which adventurers may tread.

As the sixties approached and Hawaii was admitted into the United States, the post war Tiki craze influenced a popular addition to the land. Whilst Hawaiian shirts had been sold in the land since its opening, it was the Swiss Family Treehouse, the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Tahitian Terrace that brought French Polynesia to Disneyland. With Tiki idols, masks and fountains, the Tiki Room presented the stereotyped, americanised view of hula dancers amid a tropical paradise. Again, the setting was contemporary, as betrayed by the Tiki Room hosts parodies of popular singers (José crooning like Bing Crosby, Fritz scat-singing like Louis Armstrong and Pierre singing like Maurice Chevalier – an element mostly missed by the audience of today). On the far side of Adventureland, the Treehouse broke with the contemporary setting and established nineteenth century New Guinea as part of the land. These early sixties expansions bookended the Adventureland village and expanded the land from the jungles to the tropics. The Hawaiian hula dancing stretched the location from solely Australasia; these are the Pacific Islands.

In 1993, the massive popularity of Disney’s Aladdin brought the Middle East and Arabia to Adventureland; albeit minimally. An Arabian courtyard was constructed, the Tahitian Terrace converted into Aladdin’s Oasis with a stone tiger head as seen in the film, and some of the shops updated into an Arabian bazaar. The effect was minimal (especially with the cessation of the Aladdin’s Oasis dinner show in 1995, and the entire restaurant the year after), but medieval Arabia was now part of Adventureland.

1995 brought the biggest change to the original Adventureland. The opening of the Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye influenced not only itself, but the Jungle Cruise and some shops as well, to throw away Adventureland’s withering fifties time period and set the village in the pulp adventure world of the 1930s and 40s. Indiana Jones brought Adventureland the pulp magazine exaggeration of adventure, with its supernatural temples and exquisite booby-traps. The Jungle Cruise, now with battered, period boats, was a combination of the Deep Jungle and the new Pulp Adventure.

Finally, the re-theming of the Swiss Family Treehouse to Tarzan’s Treehouse moved its intended location from New Guinea to Africa.

Walt Disney World

When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Adventureland grew on the foundations of its west coast counterpart. The Jungle Cruise contributed the Colonial Jungle, whilst the Swiss Family Treehouse and the Tropical Serenade brought the Pacific Islands; the two Adventureland subthemes that existed in Disneyland at the time.

1973 brought the first major divergence for the Magic Kingdom from the established Adventureland themes. Due to popular demand, Pirates of the Caribbean was green-lit. Lacking a New Orleans Square, and in no way fitting into its counterpart, Liberty Square, either thematically or spatially, a new sub-land was constructed beyond the existing Adventureland. Caribbean Plaza brought seventeenth century buccaneers to Adventureland, housed in an imposing Spanish fort.

The Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland remained undisturbed until 1998, when the Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management gave a decidedly modern placing for the venue (despite the medieval origin of its new main character, Iago). Later, when the need for a new Dumbo-style spinner to alleviate crowds brought Magic Carpets of Aladdin to the area, along with a re-theming of some surrounding buildings to create an Arabian Bazaar. Due to its prominent location, this Arabia was far more impactful than its Disneyland cousin.

Tokyo Disneyland

Ready for a Pirates of the Caribbean from its start, Tokyo Disneyland made the unusual decision of cloning half of New Orleans Square and including, not as its own land, but as part of Adventureland. Here, the New Orleans Square sub-land acted as a buffer zone between World Bazaar (Main Street) and the more exotic colonial area of Adventureland (due to Adventureland being accessible not only from the Hub, but from Center Street). New Orleans was part of Adventureland.

Again, the Colonial Jungle was included as part of the Jungle Cruise and outlying buildings, as were the Pacific Islands with the Enchanted Tiki Room. Just like its Florida counterpart, the Tiki Room was updated to a modern setting with the Enchanted Tiki Room: Get the Fever show, which presented a Las Vegas style club in the middle of the tropical jungle. Later, it become meshed with Hawaii when Stitch took over the venue and presented the Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha e Komo Mai!

Interestingly, the Western River Railroad had its only stop located in Adventureland, and, whilst the majority of the journey is through Frontierland, it does include the Prehistoric World diorama that is decidedly not of the frontier theme. Consequently, this very brief Prehistoric World become the first appearance of dinosaurs in Adventureland’s lore.

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris had the first Adventureland to fully recognise the disparate elements of its make-up. Expecting popularity with the upcoming Aladdin film, and appreciating the French fascination with the Middle East, it was Arabia that was chosen for the lands entrance.

Beyond this marked the first exclusive incorporation of Africa – now separated from its Colonial Jungle brothers Asia and South America – with an abandoned safari truck, Hakuna Matata restaurant and the Explorers Club (which would later be moved to an Indian setting with its renaming to Colonal Hathi’s Pizza Outpost).

The Pacific Islands were again represented with the Swiss Family Treehouse, whilst Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril brought Pulp Adventure to the land (a contribution which was later intended to be expanded but lacked the funds).

However, it was the pirate presence that dominated the land. Not realistic or taking its influence from Spanish architecture like Caribbean Plaza, nor American South like New Orleans, this representation of pirates, with Captain Hook’s Jolly Roger, Skull Rock and the classic Pirates attraction comprised a storybook Pirate Island setting.

Hong Kong Disneyland

At its opening, Hong Kong Disneyland brought together the established cores of Adventureland; Colonial Jungle with the Jungle River Cruise and the Pacific Islands with the Tahitian Terrace and the Leaky Tiki fountains. But as well as this, Hong Kong included the so far largest presence of solely Africa, with the combination of Tarzan’s Treehouse and the Festival of the Lion King show.

Uniquely, Hong Kong Disneyland’s Adventureland had a temporary ‘Pirateland’ promotion which transformed much of Adventureland into a pirate themed area. The Jungle River Cruise included a pirate attack, whilst a Jolly Roger flag was flown from Tarzan’s Treehouse. Stereotypical in its representation, the pirate theme was definitely a continuation of Disneyland Paris’s fantasy Pirate Island sub-theme.


To summarise, there are a number of different sub-themes that comprise Adventureland with little to bind them together other than public consciousness ideas of the exotic, hot, mysterious and uncivilized.

- (Post-) Colonial Jungle (in either its 1950s-1970s contemporary guise, or its crossover with pulp)
- Pacific Islands (ranging from Hawaii to Tahiti to New Guinea, and with a time setting ranging from the 19th century right up to modern day)
- Pulp Adventure (Indiana Jones style, geographically ranging from South America to India)
- Arabia
- Pirate (either as the Spanish-influenced Caribbean Plaza, New Orleans, or the more fanciful Pirate Island)
- Prehistoric World
- Africa (Safari)

The Future

If we look to the future, what opportunities are their to expand Adventureland's themes? Here are some possibilities;

- How about more pulp, and introduce some adventurers of the skies; giant dirigibles flown by intrepid explorers and attacked by sky pirates in biplanes?
- Perhaps the freezing poles or snowy mountain peaks, with their legends of Shangri-La and mysterious snow creatures, which hardy explorers trekked and conquered.
- The deserts of Australia and the Aboriginal legends that flow through them.
- The wonders of Egypt.
- The Aztec pyramids and legends of El Dorado.
- Mythical underwater realms like Atlantis.
- Famous mysteries of popular consciousness, from the Bermuda Triangle, to the Mary Rose, to the Easter Island statues.
- Could the steam-punk world of Tokyo DisneySea’s Mysterious Island fit into Adventureland, with its Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attractions? Or are these more appropriate for a sub-land of Tomorrowland?
- Could we delve more into the distant past and give a larger presence to the Prehistoric World and its dinosaurs. Perhaps a Conan Doyle style Lost World?
- What about a Chinese port of the seventeenth century, similar to that seen in Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, with a fireworks factory, Forbidden Palace, terracotta warriors or dragon rollercoaster?

I hope this was interesting for you, and contributed a bit more to Disney knowledge. Next up, Frontierland.

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