If You Had Wings met with a
cruel fate, but just like Mr. Rogers, Joan of Arc and mastodons its memory will always
be with us. Some aspects of its legacy still reside within the
confines of WDW - most notably El Rio del Tiempo at Epcot's Mexico Pavilion.
Other examples of its cultural profundity beyond the gates of
Disney theme parks can be demonstrated with little difficulty. For those
of us fortunate enough to have enjoyed the ride firsthand, we are able to apply
the lessons of our shared experience to situations in our daily lives.
Work-related stress? Seagulls make a pleasant distraction. Failed
relationship? Take your pick from among those young adults on the
waterfall and start anew. Incontinence? Wade in the cool Caribbean
waters and let it go.
We Had Wings
A collection of thoughts about the ride heard 'round the world
If you can't remember the public uproar surrounding the closing of If You Could Fly (If You Had Wings' short-lived, final gasp for air) in January of 1989, one possible reason is that there was none. Unlike some later extinct attractions that drew scads of media attention covering - and grass-roots efforts to stave off - their impending demise (Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Horizons being the most prominent), If You Could Fly was shuttered in an entirely unheralded manner. Even the conversion of If You Had Wings to If You Could Fly in the summer of 1987 scarcely drew a notice from any but the most discerning Magic Kingdom visitors. It certainly didn't get any mention in the Orlando Sentinel or spur local letter-writing campaigns. So when the ride was totally torn down to make way for Dreamflight, who expected as much as a squeak from the public?
Evidently only me.
Lots of other people
RCA's Home of Future Living, the very
1970's post-show exhibit which had been removed from
Space Mountain in 1985. But they weren't thinking about
the small blurb that the Sentinel ran on the Mickey
Mouse Revue in September of 1980, when that show was
being dismantled for shipment to Tokyo Disneyland. At
least it was some form of obituary. Neither RCA's exhibit
or If You Had Wings received the same notice.
So when I
walked, by chance, through
the middle of the ride as it was being disassembled, it
was a real shock. The interior set pieces, so carefully crafted by
WED and MAPO in 1972, were being broken apart into pieces that could fit into
large grey trash bins that lined the track in place of the ride vehicles.
The 16mm film strips that gave the ride its sense of "action" had been pulled
from the projectors and thrown to the floor where they rested, inert and sad, in
the dust. Standing inside the big globe, looking out at the load area
through huge holes that the demolition crew had made in its side, was an
altogether sickening experience. It was like seeing the house you were
born in ransacked. Yet no one had so much as written a word to mark the
loss. Pretty soon I was writing little If You Had Wings tributes and
asking anyone who
would talk to me about their memories of the
attraction. This affirmed that If You Had Wings had made a substantial impression
(although not always a positive one) on almost everyone
who rode it. What follows is a recap of those discussions, some
isolated statements, some decimated sacraments and a hope for more of the
"I felt like that was the closest I'd ever get to heaven without having to work for it." - Vernice Lee, my grandmother, on If You Had Wings in 1989
"I couldn't believe it, ever since
I was a little kid that was one of my favorite attractions. I enjoyed the ride
"If You Had Wings" and the music especially. When I found out it was torn down,
I lost all desire to go to Disney World." - Mike Belloise
"I came home one night and my father told me they were ripping it down and I said "Why?", and he said they were changing sponsors. I don't know, I guess that was kind of a smart thing because Eastern no longer exists, sort of, so it's kind of like the end of an era." - Luis Arias
"I was happy (pause) I hated that ride." - Michelle Banks
"Oh, "If You Had Wings"? I love
that one. No way, I like that one. I'm usually like 'Oh, If You Had Wings.' but
then when I get in there,
"My reaction was that it was one of the most beautiful, sightseeing things that they ever had at Disney, and I enjoyed the thrill of it - going and seeing all those white birds flying around and the exciting music that they had, and I think they did a very bad thing by taking that away." - Vernice Lee
"That thing where you're
sitting there and all that stuff is coming." - Mai Cockrell
"That it was there. They had
no right to take it away." - Tina Bacher
"I always got scared when you
first went in the big globe, and all the bird silhouettes were flying by and
overlapping and fading away within seconds of appearing, and you keep seeing
their images all throughout the ride like they're following you, like something
out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. And then they show up at the end and you
wonder if it's like The Haunted Mansion where the ghosts follow you home, and
then you go to 20,000 Leagues and you see more seagulls." - Laura Harper
"Probably in that thing that goes back and forth and makes you look like you're going real fast, that big screen." - Mai Cockrell
"Of course in the very
first scene with the seagulls, because they keep fading in and out like a dream
and the music is trancelike. Or if the ride was stopped, in the speed room,
because it's like sleeping on a La-Z-Boy recliner, but they'd have to keep the
music on. And also, because if I fell out, it wouldn't set off an intrusion,
because we all know that the speed room is one of the two rooms that isn't on
the intrusion system." - Laura Harper
"Um, in the room with all those,
you know, where it looks like you're flying and stuff." - Linda Crawford
"Do you remember that ride If You Had Wings? I really liked that one." - Janet Jones, my mother-in-law, 1995
The ride itself may be long gone, its legacy lives on and on
everybody knows that the Death Star was a rip-off of If You Had
Wings' globe. Some still think, even after viewing
incontrovertible like this picture, that the planet Jupiter inspired
George Lucas's designs for the Empire's battle station. Consider that his 1987 simulator
collaboration with Disney, Star Tours, replaced Disneyland's Adventure Thru Inner Space. IYHW was the direct descendant (ride system,
designers, et al) of ATIS. Star Tours paid tribute to ATIS by providing its load area icon, the "Mighty Microscope," a cameo in
the simulator's film.
So it's pretty obvious that Lucas devised that as a ten-years-later acknowledgement that his 1977 film Star Wars basically stole the globe from IYHW, where it too was a load area icon and predated his film by five years. Need further proof? The Death Star's tractor beam is just a thinly-veiled replication of the globe's gravity-like pull on the constant chain of ride vehicles.
video for "Utopia"
has more than a slight If You Had Wings aura about it. Observe the
mirror-image presentation of snow-covered mountain ranges, filmed as fly-overs,
that mimic almost precisely the film projections from the ride's Mirror Room. As a
further point of demonstration, view the video for one of her other songs,
"Pilots." It's set in a spacious, modern airport passenger terminal...just like If You
Had Wings' Load area! I don't know if Ms. Goldfrapp, who is from Bath, England, ever
rode If You
Had Wings or not, but damn if she didn't capture a part of the ride's
Those songs were from her first album, Felt Mountain. The song "Twist" from her second album, Black Cherry, had a music video which placed the viewer on a ride track and proceeded to shuttle them through a series of chambers which read like an S&M version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Perfectly agreeable stuff, that.
Her most recent videos, such as the one for Ride A White Horse, don't have as much in common with ex-WDW rides as with grown men in nothing but their underwear popping out of giant trash bins covered in filth and dancing like robots while she prances around like Galaxina in silk pajamas. But that's what will eventually replace Ellen's Energy Adventure.
NYC rock band
The Fleshtones paid nearly direct tribute to If You Had Wings in their
1987 song, "Way Up Here," in which the following lyric was found - "I see all kinds
of interesting things, a bird's eye view like I had wings." How did
they know the ride would close that year? A question for the ages.
Not to be
outdone, the Orlando Science Center took a page out of the If You Had Wings
songbook and played the music sideways. Instead of cruising into the earth
below Florida, you walk into the earth to the right of Florida. It's part
of an exhibit about the earth's core, magma, strata, dirt and things like that.
No seagulls, no limbo dancers, no shape-changing fish, but surely the first
instance of oversized globe penetration erected in Central Florida since IYHW's