I may not remember a whole lot, but this ride had an incredible impact on me. Even after seeing the Disney 20K movie (the DVD release is terrific!), the TV adaptation of Peter Benchley's The Beast (the book was better), the PBS Nature special Incredible Suckers, reading the unabridged 20K novel, The Search for the Giant Squid by Richard Ellis, and playing Sega's 'The Ocean Hunter', I found that nothing kick-started my sense of awe quite like that ride did all those years ago. And although it's inarguably a tragedy that it's gone, the fact that I can never, ever experience it again is probably what has made it so enigmatic to me that my memories of it have grown to downright mythic proportions.
Here's the thing: the animatronic creatures of the 20K ride may not have even approached looking real, but they were still big tangible things out there in real water and so it only took a little spark to really fire up the imagination of any child or an adult who was open to it. This ride was designed for people with an imagination, people with dreams, people who could let themselves be swept awayand for those who did the rewards were great indeed. 20K was also as dark and real as Disney ever got; no goofy cartoon characters here. (Save for the serpent and the mermaids, but I chose to overlook those.) It's that hard edge that's kept my interest in the story and the ride to this day. And don't you say Pirates of the Caribbean has a hard edge too because no tortured, brooding mastermind dies at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean.
For years I had a reoccurring thriller dream (half nightmarehalf adventure) where for some reason I was plunked into the ride's tank in the middle of the night. Everything in the park was shut down and no one was around. Just me, the black water, and all those shut down animatronics lurking down there. Creepy! Thinking about them totally freaked me out, but in a strange way I liked it too.
(You know, like the way even though you knew watching Jaws would mess you up so good/bad you wouldn't sleep for a week you loved it and just had to go and watch it anyway. Surely I'm not the only one who had the dream where their room fills up with water and Jaws starts ramming the window?)
Then all these eerie yellow and green lights turned on in the tank and I could see the giant squid and the other robots lurking down there below my feet and I was just like, "Oh god, please don't let them come alive! Okay Dave, don't flip out. Don't filp out. They're just robots. They're just robots." (Hey, you'd freak out too) Then I'd wake up and be relived but still ask my parents when we were going to Disney World again (we never did). Now, whenever I look at the pictures of the empty lagoon and think of the giant squid lurking silently in the cold, dark water I get the williesand I love it.
Perhaps it's for the best that I only got to ride it once as a small child, when I was more able to suspend my disbelief, but I have to believe that it would still blow me away today. When I look at the pictures I've collected here I still feel twinges of the fear and the wonder (in between laughing). I hope you do to.
This is how old I was the one and only time I rode the 20K ride. Only 3I was nothing!