themed entertainment design

Disneyland Paris Castle Concept” Tim Delaney, 1990

During the development of the Disneyland Paris park, one of the biggest concerns was the park’s centerpiece castle. After all, France was chock full of its own fantasy-like castles, so whatever the Imagineers built needed to be even more impressive than their previous feats. Many concepts and ideas were presented, but one of the most dramatic departures from the formula was from Imagineer Tim Delaney. Shown here, Delaney envisioned an art nouveau-esque observation tower inspired by European visionaries H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Guests would have been able to take ornate elevators to the observation decks for full views of this new Disney land. While this aesthetic was not a fit for the park’s castle, it was incorporated into the park’s Discoveryland and into future Disney parks.

Art ©️ Disney

“Jungle Cruise” Marc Davis

This fantastic concept for the entrance to Jungle Cruise by Disney Legend Marc Davis wonderfully sets the stage for one of Disney’s most classic theme park attractions. Inspired by The African Queen and a True-Life Adventure documentary, Jungle Cruise takes guests down various rivers of the world via steamer boats, past wildlife, exotic flora, and, of course, the “Backside of Water.” Whether it’s the cringeworthy skippers with unlimited puns, or the atmosphere of intrigue and adventure, this opening-day attraction continues to delight guests to this day.

Art ©️Disney


The Enchanted Forest” 1992

Today’s concept piece is a site plan of a little-seen interactive walkthrough once proposed for the United Kingdom pavilion at EPCOT Center. This charming attraction would welcome guests to explore four zones, themed to Anglo-centric Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh and Robin Hood. Peppered throughout the winding, lushly-wooded trail would be highly-themed topiaries, character meet-and-greets, photo ops, fountains, a Cheshire Cat Maze, an interactive Robin Hood castle, and a Mary Poppins carousel. The expansion of the pavilion would also bring the Mouseterpiece entertainment theatre and a much-needed icon in the form of Big Ben and Parliament.

Art ©️ Disney

(Scans courtesy of

Expedition Everest” Dan Goozee, 2002

While we’ve previously profiled the formidable, breakdown-prone Yeti of Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest, today we take a look at the attraction as a whole. Early on in development of this E-ticket thrill ride, there was hesitation to use the Everest theme. Unlike Disneyland’s Matterhorn or even Space Mountain, which was inspired by the aesthetics of Japan’s Mount Fuji, Imagineers questioned whether the profile of Mount Everest was distinctive enough to wow audiences. To solve this concern, Imagineer Joe Rohde suggested putting the mountain range itself in the background rather than making it the focal point. The foreground would be dressed with more enticing visual images, while the peaks would tower mysteriously beyond. What resulted was a stunning and layered landscape that draws curious and thrill-seeking guests to this Forbidden Mountain daily.

Art ©️ Disney

Hello Kitty Theme Park” 2011

Sanrio’s delightfully adorable feline friend, Hello Kitty, is an international kawaii icon who has been part of their character lineup since 1974. She is a multi-billion dollar brand, so, a theme park presence was a no-brainer. In addition to appearing at both Japan’s Sanrio Puroland and Sanrio Harmonyland, Hello Kitty now has her very own theme park in China. Shown here is a concept for the entrance plaza done by The Hettema Group. Although never built as such, the colorful art captures the fun, lovable style that has made Hello Kitty the cutest cat in town.

Art ©️ The Hettema Group

World of Motion” Herb Ryman, 1979

When EPCOT Center opened in 1982, the park’s Transportation Pavilion featured a magnificent dark ride adventure through the history of transportation. Guests boarded Omnimover vehicles and set off on a journey through time, accompanied by the attraction’s theme song, “It’s Fun to Be Free.” Vehicles rode past everything from footpower, to the wheel, to DaVinci’s flying machine to the world’s first traffic jam. The attraction emptied out into the TransCenter, which was full of exhibits and shows about the past, present and future of transportation. Sadly, this iconic attraction was closed in 1996, and Test Track opened in its place in 1999.

Art ©️ Disney

“Tomorrowland” Scott Sinclair, 1994

For most Disney Parks, Tomorrowland has always been one of the most alluring spokes of the hub, but also one of the most frustrating. The inherent concept, a land of tomorrow, is constantly-changing in our constantly-changing world. These kinds of lands require either an idealized version of the future, (i.e. Disneyland Paris’ Discoveryland) or to present a future that veers into something more…alien. 1994 saw Magic Kingdom’s first refresh of Tomorrowland, depicting it as a spaceport of the future and mixing in science fiction with a bit of nostalgic retro-futurism. It brought with it a familiar but different aesthetic that invokes a world where robots, humans and aliens coexist.

Art ©️Disney

“Jurassic Park”

To no one’s surprise, the world of the wildly-successful Jurassic Park films made their first theme park imprint with the 1996 opening of Jurassic Park: The Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood. However, when Islands of Adventure opened in 1999, it brought guests a more immersive and all-encompassing visit to the dino-infested Isla Nublar. Seen here is an early concept piece for Orlando’s Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park: The Ride, (renamed Jurassic Park River Adventure) can be seen in the top left, while a never-realized helicopter tour attraction can be seen peeking over the trees on the top right.

Art ©️ Universal Creative

“Spain Pavilion”

The long list of never-built Disney theme park projects is chock full of attractions, shows, parks and, for Walt Disney World, especially World Showcase pavilions. Though many, (as we’ve covered in the past) have widely-seen concept art, others, such as this piece from the unbuilt Spanish pavilion, are rarer. Planned to be part of the park’s “Phase II”, Spain would have followed the World Showcase formula of two attractions, (one a movie, one a dark ride) along with restaurants that sampled the nation’s unique cuisine.

Art ©️Disney

Matterhorn Bobsleds” 1958, Sam McKim

One of Walt Disney’s earliest post-opening fantasies for Disneyland was to turn the pile of dirt known as Holiday Hill into a toboggan ride with snow. After making the film Third Man on the Mountain, which took place on Switzerland’s Matterhorn Mountain, Walt insisted to his team that this needed to be part of the Disneyland ’59 expansion. Upon opening, Matterhorn Bobsleds became the world’s first tubular steel coaster and Disneyland’s first true thrill ride. Through the years, the attraction has been plussed, most significantly in 1978 with the addition of the Abominable Snowman animatronic. The Matterhorn has gone on to become an iconic Disneyland classic, still delighting guests as they speed down the slopes and through the mountains icy caverns.

Art ©️ Disney

New Orleans Square Candy Shop” Herb Ryman

Some of the most evocative theme park concept art comes from the legendary Imagineer Herb Ryman, specifically his work on Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. In the piece above, Ryman has dreamt up a red-shelled candy shop for guests to pop into as they stroll the streets of the [little] Big Easy. From the period-attired denizens to the color choices, Ryman shows off New Orleans Square as a living, breathing corner of Disneyland.

Art ©️ Disney

“Disneyland Dubai” 2017

Very few details are known about this blue-sky project, but when this concept art surfaced, it sent theme parks fans in a tizzy. This park, which, like Shanghai Disneyland, changes up the castle-style format, seemingly featured an all-Fantasyland entry land, an indoor Pixar land featuring Cars, Adventureland, a Star Wars-heavy Tomorrowland, a park-wide train, and an in-park hotel attached to the park’s castle. No such project was ever officially mentioned by Disney, so, although exciting, Disneyland Dubai remains on the drawing board.

Art ©️Disney/Favilli Studio

“Carousel of Progress” John Hench, 1967

When Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress made its grand debut at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, it quickly became one of the fair’s most-visited pavilions and delighted guests with its musical story of progress and optimism. The theater system, where guests would stay seated and rotate around different scenes, and the flashy new Audio Animatronics wowed visitors young and old. The overwhelming success inspired Walt and the Imagineers to include the attraction in their plans for 1967’s New Tomorrowland at Disneyland, shown here in a piece by John Hench. While the attraction has since moved to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, its legacy has continued on, and this great big beautiful tomorrow is the longest running stage show in the history of American theater.

Art ©️Disney