Disney reveals the Indiana Jones land that could have been

Disney has a couple of fun Indiana Jones rides but a recent Disney+ show has revealed how close the famed character came to having his own land!

An action figure of Indiana Jones is set up and lit in one of Kevin Epling's toy photography art
An action figure of Indiana Jones is set up and lit in one of Kevin Epling's toy photography art / Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA

There’s some growing excitement among Disney park fans about the changes coming to the Animal Kingdom. That includes an Indiana Jones attraction many hope will become a Florida version of the hit Temple of the Forbidden Eye Disneyland ride. 

However, Disney recently discussed how, at one point, Indiana Jones was going to get his own full-fledged land at Disneyland! What would it have been like, and why was it never built? 

The Indiana Jones rage

In 1988, buzz was high on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the third movie in the hit franchise with Harrison Ford as the adventuring archaeologist. Michael Eisner had wanted to bring Indy to the Disney parks in some fashion and was backed by partner Frank Wells. As detailed in a recent episode of the Disney+ Behind the Attraction series, Eisner started a bit slow with the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular for the new Disney-MGM Studios. 

That stunt show remains the one opening day attraction still open at the Studios, even outlasting the MGM name. But Eisner wanted more for the characters and told Imagineering to provide an attraction worthy of Indiana Jones. He just didn’t expect what they came up with.

The Indyland that could have been. 

Basically, the Imagineers couldn’t narrow down the ideas for a big Indy ride, so they proposed an entire land. As Tony Baxter said, the movies were packed with so many ideas, so “just do all of them.”

The concept (as shown in drawings on the Attraction episode) would mix elements of various Indy movies into Adventureland, including multiple temples and huge props such as a plane “crashed” in a jungle.

There would have been a mine car ride like Temple of Doom mixed with a jeep ride like the chase scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Running through them would be the Jungle Cruise boats and even somehow the Disneyland train going through it. 

There also would have been an interactive maze, which would be programmable with moving walls and changing difficulty levels. In short, Adventureland would have become Indyland and a huge makeover for an iconic part of the park.

It’s interesting that this was long before Disney began populating the parks with IP stuff, and likely, some purists would have chafed at Adventureland transforming like this. However, the rides looked amazing and used great a character, so why did it never happen?

Why was this never built?

The reason why the full Indiana Jones land never took place is the same simple reason so many top Disney attractions were never built: money. 

Even with Disney on a roll in the early 1990s, there were still costs, not helped by the issues of what was then Euro Disney. It’s why the “Disney Decade” of planned attractions was curtailed. 

So when the finance board was shown the massive costs of a total revamp of a land that would include at least two E-ticket rides, making over Jungle Cruise and more attractions, it was a hard no.

At first, Eisner’s reaction was, “We can’t afford not to build this,” but even he had to bow to the reality that there was no way they could do all this. Yet he was still determined to find a way to bring Indy to the parks, and he and Wells managed to do it. 

How Indy found his way to the parks 

As it happened, the Imagineers found the best thing was to split the proposed Indy attractions around. The mine car idea became the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril roller coaster, notable as the first Disney coaster to feature a loop in and go backward. The entire Temple layout is almost perfectly copied from the Adventureland drawings.

Of course, Temple of the Forbidden Eye would end up at Adventureland after all. While the full makeover of the area didn’t happen, the Jungle Cruise still goes past the Temple and uses some of the original ideas. 

It’s intriguing that the initial drawings for the new Animal Kingdom Indy spot bear a striking resemblance to the original “Indyland” ideas, which proves that Imagineers never throw anything out. It shows it took a long wait, but Indiana Jones is ready to stake out his claim in Disney World to finally pay off Eisner’s push for the character.