20,000 dreams. A look at what happened to the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remake.

Posted by: Chris Wakefield

                                                                                                                                  
There has always been a bit of mystery when it comes to how Disney operates and the behind the scenes decision making process that goes on when Disney decides to tweak, change, and evolve their parks.  Like any good “smart mark” we think we know how that process works, but we really don’t. Trying to peel back this curtain of secrecy leaves many Disney bloggers and fans endlessly posting away on messaging boards and spouting off mostly false and inaccurate information. We all think we know what the future holds for the Disney Company and Walt Disney World right? AVATAR, New Fantasyland, and the Big Thunder Mountain featuring Johnny Depp. Wait… what? So many times as Disney fans we jump into the rumor pool with half-baked information by trying to connect dots that shouldn’t be connected by any stretch of the imagination; but as Disney fans, we manage to connect them anyway, no matter how reckless or irresponsible.  So in the spirit of half-baked fanboy attraction molesting, let’s see what we can come up with.
Now a days we all know that no Disney attraction gets built without some sort of connection to an already existing Disney property. Since I am not smart enough to dream up new attractions like every other DisNerd, let’s take a look at an upcoming or rumored Disney film and how it could be folded into already existing Disney parks and attractions.
Rumors of a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remake began to surface around 2007. Director Joseph McGinty Nichol “McG” was rumored to work on the project. He is known for directing those really fast paced action flicks like Charlies Angels and Terminator: Salvation. Now this begs the question; was this remake of 20,000 going to be a high speed action packed thrill ride movie? While the original 1954 film was considered to be the Disney Company’s first major budget, live action adventure, this remake would have to be a totally amped up and a super charged version of the original. McG was a perfect fit for this remake; and I guess Michael Bay was busy blowing other shit up. Now how could Disney roll this action packed remake into an attraction you say? More on that later…
In late 2009 Variety reported that the remake was, “halted indefinitely” and that rumored director McG had, “Walked away from the project.” So what the heck happened there? While there is no clarity on exactly why McG balked on the project, one can reason that McG walked away from the remake for the same reason a lot of potential directors walk away from a lot of potential films. Money! Then studio head Rich Ross was only a month into his tenure when 20k reportedly got the axe. Ross came into the studio and quickly had to distinguish his projects from those of his predecessor Dick Cook. Its likely Ross did not want to green light such a massive budget for the 20k project. Likely to be filmed, partially at least, on water, 20k’s budget was surely rising through the roof. Why is water so important and costly to a films budget? Just ask the people who filmed Jaws and Waterworld how quickly their budgets got out of control. The 20k remake budget climbed to a reported $150 million! This led to newcomer Ross demanding the budget take a few hits for the green light. McG most likely didn’t want to deal with the hassle of this back and forth financial nitpicking the Disney studio is so well known for, and left the project on the concept floor. Ross would later go on to green light massive budget films Mars Needs Moms and John Carter. McG is now rumored to be working on the film adaption of the rock musical Spring Awakening.
It looked like Disney CEO Bob Iger had something big planned for the 20k remake. Word was, not only did Disney want to film the remake, but they wanted to make a whole franchise out of the 20k brand; they wanted a new Pirates of the Caribbean style franchise where they could make multiple movies and milk the ever loving life out of to maximize its financial potential. This led to Disney hiring Michael Chabon to rework and rewrite the script. Focusing more on the main character of the film, Disney was going to brand the film and upcoming franchise, “Nemo” or, “Captain Nemo”. So Disney was looking to make a new franchise out of 20k; a fresh, updated, fast paced version of that old 1954 classic. So how would that have fit into a theme park you ask?
We all know the story of Disney’s first attempt at an attraction theme after 20k. In both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Disney built the now infamous 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction where those bulky greyish submarines would magically take you under the water and transport you into the world of Captain Nemo and Jules Verne. In 1994, 23 years after its opening at the Magic Kingdom, 20k was permanently closed. When I asked a Disney cast member why the ride closed she said, “It did not fit any of our four keys” which are safety, courtesy, efficiency, and show. The ride broke down a lot, had terrible capacity and was frankly dangerous for handicap and older guests to board. At the Magic Kingdom the lagoon was filled in with dirt and the 10 original submarines were scattered across the globe to be used for different purposes. At Disneyland, well lets just say the subs are still there, and you can see Nemo; just not Captain Nemo.
So what kind of fancy attraction could have been built for Disney’s new sleek, fast paced 20k franchise? One word; simulators. In a 2005 article Disney rebel spy Jim Hill talks about some of the early plans for a massive 200 foot long Nautilus for the proposed Disneyland addition called Discovery Bay. In this Nautilus you would be able to take a walking tour, eat a meal, and board a flight simulator that would board Nemo’s newly invented exploratory sub and dive to new ocean depths. As, “Engine bells clang into action and both glass columns suddenly begin to fill with water at terrific force“ the seated theatre audience is transported into some amazing worlds that are pulled right out of the book and the 1954 film. According to Hill, this attraction was never built because Discovery Bay was never built. Due to the bombing of the film The Island at the Top of the World, “Disney execs pretty much lost all enthusiasm for building an ornate new land at Disneyland” says Hill.
But we could easily see this type of simulator adventure based attraction reimagined for the new fast paced 20k film, and with the incorporation of the new technology of Star Tours, this attraction could easily be a huge hit. Imagine boarding a Nautilus and racing under the seas with 4k hi definition film and screens. Imagine the blue waters flying past you as your sub is rocked by a gigantic squid that comes across the screen so clear and crisps you can see what town he is from on his cast member id. (Yes, I know there is a similar scene in Star Tours already). Imagine walking through a queue where you are greeted by a Captain Nemo animatronic who is eager to show his visitors all of his new inventions. And since this is Disney, imagine all of the new 20k merchandise that will be lining the shelves of the gift shop as you exit! Have they already made a 20k vinylmation?
While this movie remake, and thus, a new attraction still seems unlikely, DisNerds can take solace in knowing that nothing is completely dead at Disney. With the company already trying to remake and profit off of already existing brands such as Maleficent and Jungle Cruise (stay tuned for that one) it is not entirely impossible to see the 20k project…resurface.  In late 2011 Disney handed over writing of the script to Andrew Kevin Walker. Walker said, “We’re plugging away” and, “you don’t want to go off half-cocked. You can find yourself with a $75 million overage in a movie that completely takes place underwater, especially in 3D.”
So maybe one day we will look up on the movie screen and see Captain Nemo again. Maybe one day we will step foot inside that simulator, and maybe one day we will be waiting at the Magic Kingdom terminal and instead of monorail peach pulling up to carry us away, we will see a Nautilus wrap on the monorail. Maybe.
Follow me on twitter @WakefieldReport

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