How a prehistoric Disneyland attraction brought futuristic tech to the park

The 1964 New York World’s Fair was a creative playground for Walt Disney and his Imagineers, a chance for the era’s greatest visionaries to experiment in front of a global audience.

Three of the Disney Park’s most iconic attractions stem from the event: It’s a Small World, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. A fourth Disney exhibit at the fair never made it to the parks, but millions of people pass one of its most impressive features each year at Disneyland.

Primeval World, a diorama that’s part of Disneyland’s historic railroad, is something many casual guests pass by without hesitation. You can’t miss the staggering heights and jaw-dropping size of these three-dimensional audio-animatronic dinosaurs, but many overlook their historical significance.

It all dates back to the 1964 World’s Fair held in Queens, New York – a hotbed of inspiration and a promising glimpse into the future where technology merged with creativity and passion. Fueled by some of the biggest corporations of the time, it was also a pivotal moment for Disney, as it was its first major East Coast reach, years before Walt Disney World was built, and a chance to be creative.

During the Fair, Disney led the creation and design of four exhibits that would lay the foundation for much of what Disney Parks offer today. This ultimately set the trajectory of theme park innovation as we know it.

During the planning stages of the World’s Fair, Ford Motor Company was looking to partner with a pioneering visionary for a unique exposition that would showcase its new automobiles. Naturally, they thought of Walt Disney and his Imagineers at WED Enterprises, who were making waves for the technologies used at Disneyland at the time.

Primeval World was taken from the Ford Magic Skyway attraction at the 1964 World’s Fair.

Julie Tremaine

“They really wanted something to show off their cars in particular,” said Ted Linhart, a Disney and World’s Fair expert behind Disney Docs. This exhibit would also be the debut of the highly anticipated Ford Mustang, which further heightened the pressure to make a splash.

“They needed a showman,” Linhart added. “Something to really make a pop.”

The result was Ford Magic Skyway, an attraction narrated by Disney itself, which would transport guests aboard real Ford motor vehicles as they “time traveled” to different periods, including the age of the dinosaur. .

The partnership at the World’s Fair would not only prove beneficial for Ford, but also for Disney. He took the opportunity for his Imagineers to research new technologies and storytelling methods, at the expense of the mega-corporation. “It was a big undertaking for Disney, but it allowed them to expand their Imagineer technology and their audio-animatronics technology,” Linhart said.

His greatest demonstration of showmanship? Forty-six towering dinosaurs, marking one of the earliest and largest displays of audio-animatronics.

Some 15 million people attended the show during its two years. For many, it was their first time seeing audio-animatronics with their own eyes. This revolutionary new entertainment medium showed guests the most realistic dinosaurs they had ever seen before, moving and even growling.

Walt Disney would have referred to these brontosaurs as Huey, Dewey and Louie.

Walt Disney would have referred to these brontosaurs as Huey, Dewey and Louie.

Julie Tremaine

“Walt realized that the World’s Fair would be a great place to develop this technology, expose it to a lot more people, improve it, and spread it further,” Linhart added. Dinosaurs would revolutionize theme park technology as we know it, setting a precedent and introducing visitors to the large-scale characters they would expect from Disney park attractions.

The use of synchronized motion and sound was first showcased, albeit to a much lesser extent, with Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. The total immersion of the senses displayed in the dinosaur scenes on Ford Magic Skyway, however, was a new level of storytelling that would soon be used in upcoming Disneyland attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion.

“Dinosaurs was a big hit,” Linhart said. “They seemed realistic to people. The whole pavilion was a huge success. Documents show that guests waited hours to ride the attraction to get a glimpse of the dinosaurs.

Industry standards have also been set beyond dinosaurs. Disney and Ford were tasked with learning how to manage the flow of people, matching transport capacity with customer demands. A new ride-on vehicle system was developed which would later be used in Disney parks.

“One of the technologies they created for the Fair would allow the car to move at the same speed as the track it was on so people riding it could get into the car without injury,” Linhart shares. This vehicle propulsion technology, developed for the Ford Magic Skyway, would be used with the now iconic PeopleMover attraction first at Disneyland and now at Walt Disney World.

The success of Disney’s dinosaurs and all of its exhibits collectively augured new confidence for the company’s expansion into Florida and laid the foundation for the beloved attractions seen today. While the other three exhibits made it to the Disney Parks fully intact, only Walt’s popular dinosaurs were saved from the Ford exhibit.

The diorama culminates in a fight between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Stegosaurus.

The diorama culminates in a fight between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Stegosaurus.

Julie Tremaine

They were brought to Disneyland in 1966, where they have entertained millions over the past 56 years. Guests experience these dinosaurs aboard the Disneyland Railway between Tomorrowland and Main Street stations in the United States.

On this journey, the train passes through the Grand Canyon before coming face-to-face with these characters in the multi-set Primeval World diorama. The cavernous scenes were inspired by the classic film Fantasia with a soundtrack provided by roaring dinosaurs and the “Primeval World Suite”.

During the ride, guests may spot a brontosaurus and three babies; Walt playfully called them Huey, Dewey and Louie. After appearances of pteranodons and triceratops, the final scene finds two dinosaurs, a tyrannosaurus rex and a stegosaurus, fighting in front of an erupting volcano.

Today, paleontologists asked Disney about discrepancies found in the attraction, such as the dinosaurs’ physical attributes and conflicting eating habits. What cannot be disputed is their impact on theme park innovation and technology.

Although Primeval World never made it to Walt Disney World, it was reimagined at Tokyo Disneyland, and similar realistic dinosaurs apparently roam the land — or rides — on popular rides at Universal Studios park today. It also inspired the now defunct Epcot opening day attraction Universe of Energy and Primeval Whirl, another defunct ride in the Dinoland area of ​​Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando. (This park has created much more realistic dinos on its dinosaur ride, which uses the same ride track as Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland, though the riders escape extinction, not a giant stone ball .)

“The Ford Lounge was designed as a time machine to immerse you in different parts of the past and the future,” Linhart added. “There seems to be a very strong connection between this ride and the iconic rides of today.”

For now, the dinosaurs are safe and sound, remaining a beloved part of Disneyland’s colorful fabric. Only time will tell if, like so many other attractions of yesteryear, they will ever die.



Keith P. Plain