Friday, January 23, 2009

Lost Imagineering: Chinatown

Walt Disney and his Imagineers pursued a number of ideas for a street-based area that would have been located to the east of Main Street USA at Disneyland. Among the proposed concepts were Liberty Street, Edison Square and then later, Chinatown.

The main attraction of Chinatown was a dinner theater that would have featured an audio-animatronic representation of famous Chinese philosopher Confucius. The show was among the very first concepts developed that would have made extensive use of audio-animatronic figures. Development of the Confucius animatronic began in 1956; it followed Walt's well known Buddy Ebsen "Little Man" project, and preceded the the creation of the Lincoln figure by a number of years.

Authors Bruce Gordon and David Mumford provided an extensive description of the proposed attraction in their book Disneyland: The Nickel Tour:

We're back in October of 1959, where the Disney designers are hard at work bringing the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius to life in a little Chinese restaurant. It's all part of a "Chinatown area being developed for Center Street, next to the Market House.

In addition to a meal of fine Chinese cuisine, guests visiting the restaurant would be treated to a special show written by Golden Horseshoe comic Wally Boag. But before the show, while the guests were munching their appetizers in the Meditation Room. they could soak up the Chinese atmosphere, get into the spirit of the event, and, of course, get a peek at all the items that would be available in the Gift Shop after the show.

Seating would begin once each hour as the guests were led into the restaurant's main room. Mounted on the front wall would be a huge Chinese dragon. Looking out the windows of the room, guests would see film projections of Chinese streets, designed to make it seem as if they had actually been transported to the Orient. For dinner, there would be a choice of almond duck, shrimp, chicken or beef entrees, followed by a dessert of Chinese pastry.

Once all the dishes had been cleared away, the dragon on the wall would come to life and the show would begin.

"Honorable patrons look very happy," the dragon would say, "must have been something you ate." Looking all around the room, belching fire, the dragon would say "Hope no one in audience minds if dragon smokes."

In addition to the idea of having Confucius host the show, the designers created a philosopher named "Chew Well" (it's a restaurant, remember) who would be surrounded by dozens of Audio-Animatronics birds in cages, as well as a group of singers called "The Nightingirls." But Wally settled on a character he called "Grandfather Chung," designed to please the prospective sponsor, Chun King (even though Wally mistakenly spelled "Chun" as "Chung").

"Now that you have dined on food, it is time to dine on knowledge."

Grandfather Chung would begin by taking questions from the audience. The questions, of course, were all prerecorded, and would emanate from somewhere in the back of the room.

The Chinatown concept was ultimately shelved and Imagineers turned their attentions to the development of a Hall of Presidents idea that eventually evolved into the Great Moments with Mr. Linclon attraction for the 1964 World's Fair.


Cory Gross said...

While the concept sounds ambitious, I can honestly say that given mid-century Disney representations of race, if this weren't filed under lost imagineering it would certainly be under extinct attractions by now.

Gator Chris said...

Does anyone know if this concept was considered for the Nine Dragons Restaurant at EPCOT Center?

It's interesting to me how the Wally Boag/Dragon portion of the show sounds similar to the Mr. Potato Head animatronic in Toy Story Midway Mania (audience interaction with the pre-recorded audio).

It also seems similar in vibe to portions from The Adventurer's Club.