By JAMIE GUMBRECHT
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Friday, September 26, 2008
Twenty-eight years ago, Six Flags Over Georgia came to ride designer Gary Goddard with 25,000 square feet in a dark building with a stream running through it. Goddard’s team took the hull of the Tales of the Okefenokee ride and made it Monster Plantation, one of the park’s oldest attractions.
This year, park management came back to Goddard with the same 25,000 square feet and curling river, plus nearly three decades of nostalgia. They had a request: update it, but don’t ruin the memory.
They’ll call it Monster Mansion and open its doors in May 2009. Designers want a brighter, fresher, dusted off version of the five-minute boat ride. They’re holding on to the classic parts — yes, the catchy, kid-sung tune of the ride will continue to play — but it’s getting a makeover to make it last.
“It will be memory,” Goddard says, “Times 10.”
Here’s how they built the monsters and their picnic, then and now.
Then: After 13 years of guiding visitors through Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus stories, Six Flags dismantled the Okefenokee swamp ride in 1980. It wanted a new ride for kids, families and maybe even finicky teens.
Monster Plantation was born in the imagination of Al Bertino, a longtime Disney animator and Imagineer. When his young granddaughter pretended to be a monster, he realized they could be playful, scary and familiar to all.
Former Disney ridemakers designed and built the project; it was Goddard’s company’s first big one, even. They did it during a whirlwind nine months for about $3 million, and opened it in 1981.
Now: Goddard says there was talk at Six Flags of demolishing the Plantation to install a new ride, but it would’ve crushed fans who rode it as enchanted children, love-struck teens and eventually as parents looking for nostalgia and air conditioning. “This is part of Atlanta, it’s part of our thing,” said Goddard, who lives in California. “How can we keep the best of what’s there and freshen it up?” The renovation volleyed to some of the Plantation’s original creators, including Goddard and his company, Gary Goddard Entertainment, which designed the Georgia Aquarium and Deepo’s Undersea 3D Wondershow.
Then: Characters were inspired by the monsters’ southern home. There’s Mizzy Scarlett, the hostess of a monster picnic who extends the invitation to human guests; Buzby, a fun-loving, beanie-wearing kid monster named for former Georgia Gov. George Busbee; and a character often mistaken for a sheriff. His title is marshal, thank you very much, and his name is Billy Bob Fritter. (His faithful dog, the one beside him as he warns humans not to go into the monster marsh: Fritter Bitter.)
Now: Plantation fans worried about “commercialism hitting the place,” that Scooby Doo or Looney Tunes would replace Atlanta’s monsters, said Robert Ulrich, an American Coaster Enthusiast regional representative who lives in Marietta and rides Monster Plantation every year.
Not to worry: Goddard says they’ll re-outfit characters, brighten up their fur and feathers and add new monsters, too. But they won’t build anything found in video games, TV and movies. It’s unusual these days for theme parks to create original, story-driven rides, says Robert Niles, editor of ThemeParkInsider.com. “The key is that the ride has to make an emotional connection with the audience,” Niles said in an e-mail.
Then: Monster Plantation was cutting edge technology at the time. It was the first attempt at an animatronic ride of that scope outside a Disney park. It relied on more than 100 original characters and hydraulic fluid pushed into pneumatic cylinders. More than 7,000 feet of wire connected the monsters to a central computers. Over the years, the park didn’t make many updates or changes; the original craftsmanship held up.
Now: Designers could have pulled out the animatronic monsters to make the ride a computerized video thrill, but Goddard wasn’t interested: “They can see that in the movies,” he said. “That’s the whole point — there’s something physically there in front of you.” Some technology will get an update, though, especially lights, special effects, water effects and the audio system, that will play a freshly mixed version of the famously cheery monster song.
The Monster Plantation theme song has been getting stuck in riders heads for 27 years. Designers for the renovated ride considered changing it, but expected fans to be outraged.
Here are the original lyrics of the song, as provided by Six Flags; they didn’t all make it into the tune played on the ride. Click here to hear the song as it plays at the monster picnic.
Oh, come on now, you’re invited!
To a picnic!
What kinda picnic?
Monster picnic, but humans are allowed today.
So, join the monsters at the mansion.
Relax and come inside, relax enjoy the ride!
If Six Flags develops some strong working partnerships with both Mack rides and Gary Goddard we may see some interesting new rides.