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EXCLUSIVE: Disney Imagineers talk new Jungle Cruise characters, S.E.A. connections, and Trader Sam’s

by Brooke Geiger McDonald

You’ve probably heard by now that Jungle Cruise, the iconic opening-day attraction at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, is getting an overhaul this year. For our new Spring issue, we talked to Walt Disney Imagineers Susana Tubert and Kevin Lively about the planned changes to the ride and got the inside scoop on the new characters (including a new S.E.A. member!), a deeper storyline connecting the Florida and California parks, plans for Trader Sam’s, and much more.

The new monks
Concept art reveals the Jungle Cruise’s newest Audio-Animatronic animals, a “crew” of chimpanzees monkeying around on the Kwango Kate, an iconic Jungle Cruise boat that’s been out of rotation.  
Copyright Disney Enterprises Inc.

New Jungle Cruise Characters and Deeper Backstory for Alberta Falls

Jungle Cruise pole scene
The “Trapped Safari” scene in the current Jungle Cruise ride at Magic Kingdom.
Photo by Tharin White

Jungle Cruise is being updated at Magic Kingdom and Disneyland park to include new characters, scenes, and a cohesive storyline that will, according to the announcement first shared on the Disney Parks Blog, bring “more humor, wildlife and skipper heart” to the attraction and will better “reflect and value the diversity of the world around us.”

The reimagined ride will introduce a boatload (come on, we had to) of new characters, all of whom have some connection to Alberta Falls, granddaughter of Jungle Navigation Company founder Dr. Albert Falls.

“They are all a little bit eccentric in their own ways, and yet they share a history with Alberta Falls and a common interest: to have a once-in-a-lifetime immersive experience in nature,” said Tubert, creative director with Walt Disney Imagineering and Disney Live Entertainment.

New art showing new Jungle Cruise characters
Art showing the new Jungle Cruise characters.
Copyright Disney Enterprises Inc.

The new characters were first revealed in concept art showing a recast — rather than replaced — version of one of the ride’s most iconic, but also controversial, scenes, the “Trapped Safari,” originated by Imagineer Marc Davis in a 1964 update to the ride.

“We set out to introduce a more inclusive perspective to the attraction so that guests who visit our parks from all over the world can see themselves reflected in our stories,” Tubert said of the update, noting that Disney’s introduction of new characters and the company’s overall approach to the ride’s reimagining has been focused less on “solving for the ‘negative depictions.’” Instead, she said, the emphasis has been on creating new stories rooted in positive cultural representations of new characters — while maintaining the history and spirit of the beloved attraction.

“It was important to us to ensure that the story continues to feel organic within the mythology and tone of the Jungle Cruise,” Tubert said.

Here’s an introduction to the ride’s new cast of characters, plus a bit more about Alberta.

Alberta Falls, head of the Jungle Navigation Company and Jungle Cruise founder

Alberta Falls
A drawing of Alberta Falls.

Many Walt Disney World guests have already met Alberta Falls, but she will be new to Disneyland visitors. “Alberta has played a prominent role in the Skipper Canteen at Magic Kingdom,” Tubert said, “and now we are excited to introduce her to our Disneyland guests.”

Alberta was born to globetrotting parents in 1911 (the year her grandfather, Dr. Albert Falls, founded the Jungle Navigation Company). Her mother, Sneh, was a world-renowned artist from India, and her British father, Albert Falls Jr., was an art scholar.

Rambunctious, free-spirited Alberta was sent to live with her grandfather in Adventureland at the age of 8, eventually coming to call the jungle her home and the crew members her family. Alberta also began traveling the world with Dr. Falls, finding occasion to cross paths with some of the other new characters during their adventures.

Following the disappearance of Dr. Falls in 1930 and a decline in business, Alberta reinvented the Jungle Navigation Company as a guided tour operator, giving way to the launch of the World Famous Jungle Cruise on Oct. 1, 1931. With Jungle Cruise business booming, Alberta opened the home office to travelers as a restaurant — the Skipper Canteen.

Felix Pechman XIII, Jungle Navigation Company Ltd. Skipper

Felix landed his new job as a Jungle Cruise skipper soon after leaving his home in Silver Springs, Florida. A rather unlucky chap — his surname means “bad luck man” in several languages — Felix found himself cutting his skipper teeth by leading his very first boat tour for Alberta’s VIP guests. 

“Unfortunately,” said Lively, a story editor with Walt Disney Imagineering, “Pechman’s trademark bad luck has followed him to the jungle, and, well… we know where that landed them!”

Skipper Felix joins the attraction as an Audio-Animatronic skipper, whose role will complement the live skippers we know and love. “Your expedition will still be led by a live skipper delivering classic puns,” said Lively, who, as a former Jungle Cruise skipper, brings firsthand experience of the role to his writing of the updates. “With the addition of the Skipper Felix, his passengers, and their fractured boat; new opportunities will arise for his ‘live’ coworkers to make some witty comments about the situation.”

Dr. Leonard Moss, Acclaimed Canadian Botanist

After photographing and cataloguing every plant in the frigid Nova Scotia peninsula, renowned Canadian botanist Dr. Moss packed his bags for the warmth of the Adventureland jungle.

“What better place to capture and study the flora of the jungle than in Adventureland?” Lively remarked. 

More than just a good story, it’s worth noting that through the years, the canopy of trees that has grown around Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise has helped establish a unique ecosystem that supports plants unable to thrive elsewhere in Southern California.

Rosa Soto Dominguez, Celebrated Mexican Artist

“Known in the art world as La Rosa,” Tubert explained, “Rosa was on her way back to Mexico City from her latest gallery opening in Paris when she received a special invitation from her very close friend, Alberta.”

Rosa arrived with high hopes of spending time with Alberta and the opportunity to paint exotic wildlife, especially rhinos, of which she has a particular fascination. “As luck would have it,” Tubert said, “she ended up a little too close and personal with one.”

Dr. Kon Chunosuke, S.E.A. Member and Japan’s Preeminent Entomologist 

Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.) enthusiasts, rejoice. The updated Jungle Cruise introduces a new S.E.A. member, Dr. Kon Chunosuke. Japan’s preeminent entomologist, Dr. Chunosuke is used to scouring far-flung destinations to add to his famed collection of insects.

The addition of a new S.E.A member to the attraction extends the story of the fictional society, whose members also include Harrison Hightower III, Lord Henry Mystic, Barnabas T. Bullion, Mary Oceaneer, and Dr. Albert Falls.

“When Alberta recognized the S.E.A. logo stenciled all over [Chunosuke’s] supplies and equipment,” explained Lively, “she invited the entomologist to take one of her world-famous jungle cruises. As an admirer of Dr. Falls’ legacy as a world-renowned adventurer, Chunosuke was hopeful that this younger Falls would be able to lead the way to the legendary Myrmecoleon, also referred to as the ‘lion of ants’.”

We asked Lively, who stirred up excitement among S.E.A. fans when he wore a conspicuous S.E.A. emblem to deliver the Jungle Cruise update announcement, whether S.E.A., an original mythology connecting the backstories of Disney rides and attractions around the world, might play a significant role in the ride reboot.

“Dr. Albert Falls established the Jungle Navigation Company Ltd. as a way to move cargo for boats on the tropical rivers of the world — including for his fellow members of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers,” said Lively. “While our new story is not exactly a S.E.A. adventure like Mystic Manor or Miss Adventure Falls, there will be some nods to that beloved organization.”

Siobhan “Puffin” Murphy

Growing up in the seaside town of Dingle, Ireland, Siobhan“Puffin” Murphy developed an affinity for the puffin penguins that nest in the rocks there. Her longtime dream of seeing the birds of the jungle firsthand inspired her to visit her distant cousin Alberta — but also quite possibly led her to get the whole group in a spot of trouble.

“While there are many divergent opinions as to the inciting events that led everyone to their current predicament up on the pole,” explained Tubert, “many believe that it was Puffin’s love of exotic birds that drove Skipper Felix to get a little too close to an oxpecker perched on a particularly grumpy hippo.”

Fun Fact for Star Wars Fans: Puffins are so prolific on Skellig Michael, an island near Siobhan’s home on the Dingle peninsula and the real-life setting for Ahch-To in “Star Wars: The Last Ledi,” that director Rian Johnson turned them into porgs for the film.

Jungle Cruise skipper and boat
Photo by Tharin White.

Connecting the Story Coast to Coast 

Disney has confirmed the Jungle Cruise updates will be the same at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Given the deeper backstory established at Skipper Canteen at Magic Kingdom (Disneyland’s Tropical Hideaway and Bengal Barbecue each contain only subtle references to S.E.A., Dr. Falls, and the Jungle Navigation Company), we asked how the story would address the fact that Skipper Canteen, a sort of Jungle Navigation Company home base, is only at Walt Disney World.

“We view the two boathouse queues as the East and West docks of the Jungle Navigation Company Ltd., connected by the same river,” Lively said. “The skippers may work their shift on the West dock, but then swing by Skipper Canteen and call it a night on the East dock. So, it’s one big shared story! The spiel will always feel very much in the moment, based on what your skipper happens upon during the voyage.”

What About Trader Sam’s?

Trader Sam in the Jungle Cruise
Trader Sam, as he now appears on the Jungle Cruise ride. Disney hasn’t said if he’ll be changing in any way.
Photo by Matt Roseboom

In an interview with D23: The Official Disney Fan Club, Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Portfolio Executive Chris Beatty emphasized that we’re not getting a complete re-envisioning of the entire attraction, but the ride updates would address “negative depictions of ‘natives.’”

While Disney hasn’t revealed all of the planned updates, we wondered what the ride’s reimagining could mean for Trader Sam, the jungle’s “head” salesman who appears near the end of the ride and lends his name to Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel and Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto and Tiki Bar at Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

While Tubert and Lively didn’t elaborate on how the character Trader Sam might be addressed within the ride, Tubert did confirm that there are no changes currently planned for the eponymous tiki bars, both of which remain closed due to the pandemic at present.

“As far as Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at Disneyland Resort and Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Walt Disney World Resort, no plans are on the way to update them currently,” Tubert said.

• For our full story on the changes coming to Disney’s Jungle Cruise and the Top 10 Things We Love About the Jungle Cruise, be sure to purchase the Spring 2021 issue of “Attractions Magazine”. Attractions Magazine Club and VIP subscribers can also log in and read our full Q&A with Imagineers Lively and Tubert.

What do you think of these planned ride changes and new Jungle Cruise characters? What’s part of the Jungle Cruise do you want to stay the same? Let us know in the comments below.

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5 comments

Tony E March 19, 2021 - 7:09 pm

*holds tightly to his custom made Backside Of Water shirt* Just don’t touch my beloved 8th wonder oif the world

Reply
Denis Riley March 19, 2021 - 10:56 pm

I’m offended by the new stereotypes

Reply
Denis Riley March 19, 2021 - 10:58 pm

I know this will be censored, but Disney is repeating the same type of “wrongs” they are hoping to correct

Reply
Zach April 5, 2021 - 12:10 pm

What wrongs are they repeating? And no, no one cares about your purposefully vague statement enough to censor it

Reply
Ashley April 5, 2021 - 12:09 pm

@denis I totally agree.

Reply

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