The area we now know as Critter Country has a long, storied past. The biggest problem has been the location. While there is cross traffic virtually everywhere else at Disneyland, this area has always been a dead-end. How do you keep getting people back this way has been the design challenge.
This part of the park started out as the Indian Village and featured 17 different tribes doing traditional dances. You could also board a war canoe powered by "real" Native Americans. The Briar Patch hat store is the only holdover from those early days.
In 1972, a bunch of happy, singing bears replaced the Native Americans. Maybe this would bring in the crowds? Country Bear Jamboree was originally intended to be part of the entertainment for Waltâ€™s vision of a ski resort at Mineral King in the California Sierra Nevada Mountains but that project was not to be. So instead, the bears migrated to Florida and their show became one of the opening day attractions. It was a huge hit and plans were quickly made to duplicate the attraction at Disneyland.
To make sure that Disneyland could handle the giant crowds they were seeing at Walt Disney World, a decision was made to build two identical theaters. Unfortunately, the local Southern California audience was not as enamored with the bears like the visitors in Florida. So much of the time one theater was closed and the other one was half-empty. Country Bear Jamboree closed in Disneyland in 2001.
So how do you drive traffic into the back of the park? You build the ultimate "E" ticket attraction, a Pirates of the Caribbean-type dark ride filled with audio-animatronics characters plus a big thrill at the end. Disney did not have to look much further than Buena Park to see how successful the Timber Mountain Log Ride was at Knott's Berry Farm. The park was set to dismantle Marc Davis's America Sings in Tomorrowland and that provided a whole bunch of audio-animatronics that were about to be orphaned. That is how Splash Mountain was born.
If you thought the attraction was named for the drop at the end, you would be wrong. When then-CEO Michael Eisner decided to green light the attraction, he asked his Imagineers to cross promote his new film Splash starring Darryl Hannah and Tom Hanks. The Imagineers declined but they liked the name.
Splash Mountain was a hit but the Country Bear Jamboree was starting to fade. What to do? The marketing executives took a look at the bottom line and determine that the problem wasnâ€™t bears, just the wrong bears. Enter Winnie the Pooh.
To make Bear/Critter Country stand out from Frontierland, much of the architecture and landscaping was designed to give a more Northwest feel. With the addition of Pooh, iconic images such as honey pots were scattered about in an overlay. Splash Mountain was designed to have the feel of a cartoon background. As Imagineer Tony Baxter explains, "In a cartoon, you paint to blend everything together. The backgrounds are painted and then you add painted characters on top of those backgrounds. We've tried to do the same thing here."