This week, Disney Parks revealed that one of the marquee attractions at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World would be undergoing a significant update. The Jungle Cruise was a day one attraction at both theme parks, and as such, millions of people have ridden the attraction over the last 65 years. While this won't be the first major change for the ride since its inception, it will be the first we've seen in a long time. However, the change is the perfect time to introduce domestic Disney fans to a cast of characters that many in North America aren't that familiar with: the Society of Explorers and Adventurers.
The Society of Explorers and Adventurers is essentially the Disney Parks equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At least, it was before Disney Parks starting building its own Marvel Universe. It's a collection of original characters who are built into the story of several different theme park attractions. However, since most of those theme park attractions are found in Disney's parks in Asia, many who haven't been able to visit those may not even be aware that they exist.
The New Jungle Cruise Story (As Far As We Know)
Specifics concerning the new Jungle Cruise story are being kept mostly under wraps, but we do know a few details. First and foremost, it will be a single cohesive story, rather than the loose collection of jungle scenes the ride is today. We also know that one particular scene, which includes a collection of explorers who have been chased up a tree by a rhinoceros, will be expanded upon.
In the new story, these explorers will have names and backgrounds, and specific specialties. We'll learn what they were doing on their own Jungle Cruise and how they ended up that tree in the first place. The identities of these characters have not been revealed, and they may not even have been set yet, but it would pretty cool to see this expedition become one sponsored by the SEA. These could be new members of the SEA or interns. Or maybe this could actually bring all the SEA characters together in some way. But what exactly is the Society for Explorers and Adventurers?
Tokyo DisneySea/Tower of Terror
It started in 2001 with the opening of Tokyo Disney Resort's second gate, Tokyo DisneySea. Among the attractions built in the new park was a version of the popular Tower of Terror. However, because The Twilight Zone wasn't a major export to Japan, and thus had no name recognition, the decision was made to give this version of the Tower of Terror a new, completely original story.
The Hotel Hightower was built by a man named Harrison Hightower III, who was a collector of antiquities that he didn't always come by honestly. Once, while traveling down the Congo River, Hightower met the native Mtundu people and stole their Shiriki Utundu idol for his own collection. Due to the lack of respect, when Hightower showed the idol, it came to life while in his hotel penthouse, cursing the building and leading to the events of the attraction.
Considering the story of the Hightower Hotel even includes a trip down the Congo River, we could actually see a direct connection between those events and the new attraction. According to concept art, the boat the characters in the new version of the the Jungle Cruise will use is the Kongo Kate.
Other Disney Parks Connections
Numerous other members of the Society of Explorers And Adventurers have been introduced over the years. Lord Henry Mystic owns Mystic Manor, the Hong Kong Disneyland version of the Haunted Mansion. Tokyo DisneySea has a unique version of the Soarin attraction called Fantastic Flight, which includes a woman named Camilla Falco, who is also a member of the group.
There are a handful of references to members of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers at Walt Disney World, but they're not part of major attractions. Or at the very least, attention isn't drawn to them, so they can easily be missed. The Skipper Canteen restaurant includes art on the walls and other memorabilia referencing many of the members. Magic Kingdom's queue for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad includes references to Barnabas T. Bullion, who is also a member, but the ride itself doesn't deal with this, and other versions of the attraction don't include these references at all.
The Jungle Cruise Connection
There is, however, a direct connection between the existing Jungle Cruise and the Society of Explorers and Adventurers. Dr. Albert Falls, the man for whom the Jungle Cruise's famous "backside of water" was named, is also a member of the group. The Dr. Falls joke predates the SEA by quite a while, but he was retroactively added to the group. And since we can be sure that the backside of water will remain part of the attraction, there's every reason to make Dr. Falls a bigger part of the story of the Jungle Cruise.
The Society of Explorers and Adventurers is a really fun concept created by Walt Disney Imagineering. Considering how many attractions in the last few years have been rethemed to incorporate a Disney movie tie-in, we should be encouraging more original storytelling within the parks. Since the SEA don't really have their own attraction at either Walt Disney World or Disneyland, it's time to give them one, and the Jungle Cruise is a perfect choice. Whenever a major attraction is updated to include movie references, fans tend to get upset, feeling that such thing is inherently less creative. In this case we know that, while the new Jungle Cruise might make reference to upcoming film, it won't be based in that story.
Once the SEA is introduced to a wider audience, the opportunities to do so much more with it only grow. When more people realize there are other attractions out there connected to this story, they'll want to check those out, and of course, with any popular characters come the opportunity for new merchandise.