'Finding Nemo' Ride Debuts at Disneyland
by Scott Holleran
The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage at Disneyland
June 15, 2007

Burbank, California—Pixar's second movie with a tie-in at Disneyland, Finding Nemo (the first was Toy Story 2 with what amounts to a mobile video game), premiered last week where the submarines, inspired by Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, opened on June 6, 1959. It was the first attraction to premiere since Ed Grier became Disneyland's president and the opening—unlike the studio's sanction this week of communist Chinese censors cutting scenes out of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End—was generally a grand affair.

The attraction begins with the same subs—improved and equipped with two more seats and portholes—and the underwater-track experience commences with a sense of wonder, narrated by a pair of Australians aided by Ed Kalnins' ethereal instrumental music. Lean forward to peer into the depths to which the craft has plunged and there's Nemo, Dory, Marlin and other movie characters. Without spoiling the experience, a lava eruption occurs and Nemo's lost—again. Only not quite, and the story suffers on a tame 15-minute attraction that's fun to watch.

Volcanic activity is the climax and the rest of the ride, not unlike the movie, is a series of passive, underwhelming encounters. It must be noted that this attraction, which took three years to construct, is itself an accomplishment, cashing in on new technology—full-scale digital simulation and Inductive Power Transfer replacing the original's diesel fuel power—and the brains of Pixar's geniuses, whose attention to detail is on prominent display throughout the journey. Don't expect recognizable voices; Albert Brooks is nowhere to be heard.

Neither are many of the over 300 sea creatures that populated the original attraction. Also gone are the George Washington, Ethan Allen, and Patrick Henry subs. The fleet has been reduced to eight: Explorer, Scout, Voyager, Mariner, Seafarer, Neptune, Argonaut and, yes, the Nautilus. Celebrities attending the opening included Lord of the Rings' Sean Astin, Dirt's Courteney Cox Arquette and Melissa Joan Hart, who's working on ABC's Holidays in Handcuffs with June Lockhart and Mario Lopez.

Disneyland President Ed Grier
Photo Credit: Brandon Gray
The official opening, presented by Disney President Robert Iger, looking like he'd rather be riding on Space Mountain, was a bust, with an insipid routine involving performers in flippers and a whale. But Disneyland President Ed Grier was in fine form, chatting with Pixar's John Lasseter at a fantastic premiere party and charming the worldwide press with future plans. Next year, look for Toy Story Mania at Disney's California Adventure.

When asked which movie he'd like to see adapted for an attraction, he mentioned The Incredibles, but Grier cited his personal favorite as The Little Mermaid, previewed last year on the Platinum Edition DVD in an outstanding computer simulation. "The Little Mermaid continues to be a Disney classic," he said during a roundtable talk at Main Street's Opera House, noting that the animated version of the Hans Christian Andersen story has been adapted for Broadway. "[Imagineer] Tony Baxter has done great work [on a Little Mermaid-based attraction]. Have we officially drawn plans up? No, we haven't. But I think we can one day."

Grier, whose first theatrical Disney movie was Mary Poppins—the first he took his kids to see was Beauty and the Beast—said he's seen Finding Nemo six or seven times. Surely, he's hoping guests take the revamped sub voyage at least as many times.

Walt Disney Imagineering executives Tom Fitzgerald and Kathy Mangum told me that they've acted to assure that happens. Fitzgerald explained that Imagineers invented a sound system that keeps sound traveling through the sub, which he calls a moving theater. "So all of us in different seats get exactly the show we're meant to see right in front of us," he said. "We took all of our tricks and combined them," Mangum said at the Opera House. "We have set pieces with animation and Audio-Animatronics and the lava flow scene has them all. We worked and worked and worked on that scene." With bubbles and gushes of water submerging the submarine after the explosion, that part of the effort to transform a movie into a real, nautical experience succeeds.


• 1/31/06 - Scott Holleran: Fifty Years of Disneyland
• 9/28/06 - 'Little Mermaid' Hollywood Premiere
• Review - 'Little Mermaid' on DVD

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