THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF OZ
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF OZ was a dream project. When starting out in 1996, we knew we had a classic property that could rival Disney and Universal as a top theme park and destination resort if done correctly (or at least a close second or third.) But we were striving to make it the number one family destination theme park in the country when starting with out with our concept and planning development. In my opinion, the work we did for THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF OZ was every bit as good as anything ever done at Disney or Universal. We were creating new concepts that had never been seen before, all based around the heart and soul of the “The Wonderful World of Oz” as it was portrayed in the incredible MGM motion picture.
To be clear, we had the rights to the motion picture, so we would be able to create “The Wonderful World of OZ” as multiple generations had come to know it through that remarkable movie. And we had the approval of the L. Frank Baum estate to incorporate other elements of Oz where it made sense. To do the project justice, we assembled the most incredible team of designers and artists, all of which had worked with me on a wide variety of Gary Goddard Productions (GGP) and Landmark Entertainment Group (LEG) projects.
Our conceptual design team was made up of the best people in the industry. Comprised of many in-house Landmark employees and others brought on to supplement the team. We started down two paths: show design and master planning, both moving in parallel directions, but with show design leading the way. We had an amazing show design team at Landmark back then, including Wes Cook, Luc Mayrand, Robert DeLapp, Richard Hoag, Anthony Esparza, and Ty Granaroli. To add to the visual team we brought in powerhouse talent that included William Stout and the Hilldebrandts, as well as Disney veterans Dan Gozee, Eddie Martinez and John Horny. In-house at LEG we had illustrators Greg Pro and Eric Heschong, (this was prior to either of them doing any work for Disney or Universal), and several other illustrators on board. On the master planning side, we had Chuck Canciller, Mac MacElrevey, and Greg Damron, of which Greg wound up leading the planning effort.
Once we had our initial concept and master plan we presented it to a number of people. At one point, Harrison “Buzz” Price was brought into see the project and to render his professional opinion on whether it would make the grade or not. (Price is the legendary feasibility maven who originally helped to get Disneyland financed and then went on to form ERA, working on hundreds, if not thousands, of projects thereafter – he is considered one of the Deans of the Theme Park Industry.) Well, Price saw our concept presentation and told the financiers, “I have seen everything that has come down the pike since Disneyland and, without a doubt, this is the best project I have ever seen since. This is a winner.”
There’s no question that we had a winning team, a wining concept, and a remarkable project. In fact, at the end of the day, the only problem with it was that the development team had selected Kansas as the location for the project. On the surface, there were a lot of compelling reasons: a large military base that had closed which offered thousands of acres, centrally located in the middle of America, and of course, the entire Oz story started and ended in Kansas. But what no one on the development side really understood was the power of the Kansas City politicians. While a lot of Kansas residents and groups were for the project, there was a small group of backward thinking politicians who did everything they could to kill the project. Ultimately, the small-minded politicians “won” and were able to kill the project by having one vote more than those who were for it. Of course, there was a lot that went on between the start of the project and that fateful day. We’re here to take a look at the project itself and what might have been:
This included our own sepia-toned version of a typical Kansas City Street of the era. Unlike Disneyland’s “Main Street” it would not be overly colorful (though it would have some color of course, but more pastel and “realistic” rather than the idealized version at the Disney parks.) In that sense, this would be much more like motion picture set of a classic retail street of the time. (For the same reason as in the movie, we wanted the bright colors of Oz to surprise you as you came around the end of the street.) At the end of the street, guests had an option of going one of three ways:To the left was Professor Marvel’s Traveling Carnival where a variety of family rides and pitch games could be found along with Professor Marvel’s Wagon, and his “Balloon Ride” that would take you to The Emerald City should you decide to board.
To the right – down the road a piece – was The Gale Farmhouse featuring a “tour” of Dorothy Gale’s home. But if you take the tour, you’d probably wind up being caught up in a terrible twister and after you’re flown through the air, and see the infamous Wicked Witch transformation out the window, you’d finally land safely on the ground once more. Walking out the way you came in except, you’re in Munchkinland! The very place where Dorothy’s house dropped her ages ago.
Or, if you would rather get right to Oz, you only have to walk straight ahead to the colorful Rainbow Bridge. Here you can walk “Over the Rainbow” to find yourself in Munchkinland, ready to begin your journey through Oz.
Once in The Wonderful World of OZ, while you can explore the Oz Territories at your own pace, in your own way, or you can also choose to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”, just as Dorothy once did, and in so doing, your adventure will follow the unfolding series of events in much the same order of events that Dorothy experienced them.
The park itself was a reflection of the World of Oz with a host of memorable areas from the movie, and with new places to discover and explore which were culled from the books. Over the next month we’ll journey into the park and discover its key attractions. Check back next week as we venture into Munchkinland and Yellow Brick Country!
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