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One of the ways that theme park attractions based on popular movie franchises have helped recreate that fictional world is by bringing back the actors from the films to lend their voices, or even their physical appearance to the rides. You'll see many characters you recognize while wandering through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios or Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Walt Disney World or Disneyland. However, you're just as likely to see a famous face, or hear a famous voice, in a theme park attraction that is completely original. And had things gone slightly differently, that would have included seeing John Travolta as part of the popular Soarin' attraction.
Jim Clark is a former member of Walt Disney Imagineering, and over the holiday weekend he took to Twitter to give fans of Soarin' Over California (now Soarin' Around the World) a peek behind the curtain into the ride's development. The attraction currently includes an opening "safety briefing" before the guests get on board that is performed by Patrick Warburton, that Disney fans will know from his role as Kronk in The Emperor's New Groove. And it turns out that movie helped the actor land the gig, but only after an earlier choice, John Travolta, was apparently unavailable due to his movie schedule.
Soarin' puts guests into rows of seating that get lifted into the air as they view a massive screen that shows off an aerial view of numerous world landmarks. The original version of the attraction, which was designed for the then brand new Disney's California Adventure Park, focused on California, the current version sends guests flying over the Great Wall of China, the Egyptian pyramids and several other global landmarks. The attraction was replicated at Walt Disney World's Epcot in 2005.
The Disney California Adventure version of the attraction has a queue that allows guests to explore the history of flight, and the safety announcement given prior to the attraction itself is done in the style of an airline safety lecture, reminding you to fasten your seatbelt, and stow your belongings below the seat.
Knowing this, the choice of John Travolta actually makes a great deal of sense. The actor is also a licensed pilot who has made his love of flying well known, so making him part of an attraction about flight would have been perfect. And while John Travolta maybe wasn't quite the massive celebrity in 2001 that he had been just a few years before following his post-Pulp Fiction resurgence. He was still somebody people would have recognized.
Unfortunately for John Travolta, his schedule, and the fact that he was filming the movie Swordfish at the time, and thus had a beard that he couldn't shave, meant that it was not to be. After seeing The Emperor's New Groove, released 20 years ago this month, Walt Disney Imagineering decided to go with Patrick Warburton.
And Patrick Warburton's performance in Soarin' has gone down in history. It's one of the most popular celebrity appearances in the park among theme park junkies. He's incredibly funny and even sweet, when he gives a kid who has successfully buckled his belt a thumbs up and a "nice work, pal" it just makes you smile.
Being in a movie that is popular and survives the test of time certainly gives any actor a legacy but there's something unique about theme park attractions. Patrick Warburton is seen dozens of times every single day in two of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. Soarin' has seen one major redesign in its near twenty years of existence and Patrick Warburton is still there. It's hard to imagine anybody else being in that spot now, but it could have been.