In October of 1989, a pivotal moment in the history of Islands of Adventure happened before Universal Studios Florida even opened, when Jay Ward passed away due to cancer. Ward was the creator of the original Rocky and Bullwinkle television series in addition to characters like Dudley Do-Right. After Ward’s passing, his family inherited the rights to the characters. Both Disney and Warner Brothers were keen to swoop in and nab the rights to the duo. After slugging it out in a bidding war, within a year, Disney won the distribution rights which allowed Buena Vista Entertainment to package Rocky and Bullwinkle shorts on VHS and Laserdisc.
Thanks to Disney, Rocky and Bullwinkle were introduced to an entirely new generation of children who may not have known them otherwise. In June of 1991, following the success of the VHS sales, Universal Studios won the bid for world-wide merchandising and theme park rights of all the Jay Ward characters. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle Show opened in 1992 in both Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood. While the show was a moderate success for both parks, the theme park rights were strategically acquired to be used on a larger scale in what was known as “Project X,” what would eventually be named Islands of Adventure.
Dudley Do-Right was one of the first characters that was acquired for the upcoming second gate. Keep in mind, in June of 1991, the Jurassic Park movie was only in production and it was too soon to know if it would be a blockbuster (the attraction was in development when the movie was being made, but not green lit). Meanwhile, Audrey Geisel, Dr. Seuss’s widow, was approached for a deal with Universal to have her late husband’s characters represented in “Project X,” but initially turned the deal down cold. It took some coaxing and several years to convince her to sign on the dotted line, so Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls was one of the first attractions to be green lit and remained largely unchanged.
From the beginning, a log flume was on the short list of must haves and desperately needed since Universal Studios Florida was missing any kind of major water attraction. Considering how big the Canadian timber industry is, it made perfect sense to use a saw mill as the setting for an attraction starring Dudley Do-Right. The exterior of the building was changed rather drastically as it looked fairly similar to Splash Mountain. So, after several exterior design changes, they settled on using the Canadian North Woods and create a spoof on Mount Rushmore featuring Dudley, Nell, Horse and Inspector Fenwick.
Ripsaw Fall’s story remained largely unchanged from the original version, mostly because it followed the formula of every Do-Right short where Snidley Whiplash kidnaps Nell. Dudley would always come in and through a series of dumb luck, manages to save the day and Nell. As opposed to watching a cartoon short passively, the rider gets caught up in the action. This was Gary Goddard and Universal’s mission: Instead of passively watching scenes from your favorite movies rehashed, you become part of the action and the story.
This fundamental difference in ride story philosophy not only separates Universal from Disney, but from any theme parks in the world. For example, in the original version of this attraction, riders were situated in ten passenger logs. While seated side by side throughout the entire attraction, in the finale, things take a drastic turn.
Snidley Whiplash actually sees you, the rider, coming to save Nell and lowers an “actual” ripsaw into the water directly in front of your ride vehicle!
Unlike the final version of the attraction, where he merely threatens you with it, in the original pitch your log actually split right down the middle!
Guests would have actually gone down the final drop in two separate logs! They would have left load as one vehicle, but arrive at unload as two completely separate ones. Even though the current version of Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls features two side-by-side drops that certainly helps dispatch logs quicker when the attraction is operating at peak capacity, it’s not being used for its original purpose.
So if you’ve ever looked at the front of Ripsaw Falls and wondered why there are two side-by-side drops and wondered why, you can rest a little easier. As with many of these projects, the initial pitch includes the most bells and whistles as you can possibly think of. As time moves on and budgets and operational necessities are factored in, things get cut. And who knows? Maybe a log ride will one day include that finale where the log gets cut down the middle. Crazier things have happened.
Editor’s Note: Many thanks to The Goddard Group for permission to use the images in this article.