Defunctland: The Awful Wiggles Dark Ride
(upbeat 1950s music) - [Kevin] In 1957, a 24-year-old Australian man named John Longhurst visited the newly opened Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. A regular viewer of the "Disneyland" television show, Longhurst was interested not just with the park, but the man who made it. The trip to Disneyland did not disappoint. Longhurst recalled, quote, "It was something different to anything I'd ever seen.
There was something romantic about it." This trip began what would become a lifelong obsession with both Disneyland and Walt Disney. Longhurst studied Walt Disney's life and philosophy. He learned the story of Walt's inspiration for Disneyland in which Walt describes sitting on a bench at Griffith Park, watching his daughters on a carousel. - I felt that there should be something built where that the parents and the children could have fun together.
- [Kevin] A few years after he returned to Australia from his first Disneyland trip, Longhurst took his own children to a local animal park. At one point during their visit, Longhurst's children became interested in a monkey exhibit. Shortly after arriving to see the monkeys, the animals began to urinate, and the stench was so potent, that one of the kids became ill. In an attempt to turn the day around, Longhurst took the children to get a milkshake, only to be served by a woman who was constantly scratching herself while making the drinks.
Longhurst quickly left with his children, and as he drove away, he had his own Walt Disney moment. He said to himself, quote, "Somebody's got to do something about this." After selling a profitable lawnmower business, Longhurst began to more seriously consider the prospect of building his own theme park. He set out to find a suitable site for the project, but after repeated failed attempts, Longhurst, in his own recollection of the events, spoke with God, asking, quote, "Lord, where am I going to get this site to build my park?" According to Longhurst, God responded, quote, "10 miles out, on the Gold Coast." The area was perfect.
Not only was it already a popular holiday destination, but there was land available. However, Longhurst was very selective about the land he needed for his park, requiring that the property have certain features for ideas he had. In 1974, Longhurst purchased 85 hectares, or 210 acres, of land, 10 miles from the Gold Coast, per God's suggestion.
Design and construction would take multiple years, with Longhurst spending over two years operating a bulldozer by himself to construct the park's layout. Seven years and around $13 million later, the project was finished, and on December 15th, 1981, Longhurst's dream park, aptly titled Dreamworld, opened to the public. When guests entered the park, they were introduced to a world of wonder unlike they had ever seen, assuming they had not been to Disneyland.
Dreamworld's entrance was marked by a building that appeared to be a large train station. Beyond this was a quaint main street, with buildings that resembled a turn-of-the-century American town. Guests could also find an area resembling an Old West town, with a grand river around which a paddle wheeler would travel. The park was described as Australia's answer to Disneyland, but it might be more fair to say that it was Australia's knockoff of Disneyland. This is exactly what Longhurst had hoped for, and even accounting for the similarities, the results were impressive.
Dreamworld did have a few unique attractions, namely a state-of-the-art IMAX theater that dazzled guests, and even the elements that were directly lifted from Disneyland were given a unique Australian identity. Rather than Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Dreamworld had Kenny Koala and Belinda Brown. Rather than the steamboat's river simply being the Rivers of America, Dreamworld's river was named the Murrissipi River, a hybrid of North America's Mississippi River, and Australia's Murray River. The river was flanked by Old West buildings on one side, and Australian buildings on the other. This hybrid of Disneyland entertainment with Australian touches was a practice that would continue, and just a few months after opening, Dreamworld had another Disney attraction with an Australian twist.
In 1982, a new area named Gum Tree Gully debuted on the banks of the Murrissipi River. The area was home to Gum Tree Gully Hall, where Dreamworld guests could find the Koala Country Jamboree. This was a direct ripoff of Disney's Country Bear Jamboree, but with koalas. This elaborate animatronic show saw many scenes of koalas singing both classic Australian and American songs. Just like the Country Bear Jamboree, the show had a host and multiple musical acts. Despite the koala focus of the attraction, many other animal musicians were featured.
There is a number where a rabbit sings "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini." There is a number where an American bear shows up and sings a Confederate Army folk song, and there is even a number where a kangaroo sings an Australian lullaby, and in her pouch is a baby kangaroo who comes out and sings with her. The show also featured a beast known as the bunyip. The bunyip is an aquatic monster that originates from aboriginal mythology.
In the Koala Country Jamboree, though, the bunyip sings a love song, and wears a big cowboy hat. ♪ My baby's pretty from her head to her feet ♪ - [Kevin] All of the acts come back in the end to sing Peter Allen's "I Still Call Australia Home," before the big finale, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport," which is the most Australian song of all time. ♪ Tie me kangaroo down, sport ♪ ♪ Tie me kangaroo down ♪ ♪ All together now ♪ - [Kevin] The Koala Country Jamboree was well-received by guests, and would become a favorite among Dreamworld fans. As time went on, Dreamworld continued to grow and expand, receiving many standard off-the-shelf amusement rides, and some signature attractions. By the late 1980s, Dreamworld was Australia's number one tourist attraction.
Despite Longhurst originally stating that he would like to own the park for the rest of his life, after consideration, he decided to sell the park to entrepreneur Bruce Jenkins, and his company, Dreamco. Longhurst believed Jenkins would continue developing his dream, and provide the park with necessary cash flow. Unfortunately, this was not the case. After purchasing Dreamworld in 1989, Jenkins and Dreamco were immediately in a dire state, and the park was taken over by financial firm Ernst & Young.
The new management was more successful, increasing visits by 51% to a total of 1.8 million visitors per year. The park would change hands twice more before the turn of the century. By the early 2000s, Dreamworld was still struggling with finances, but new attractions gave hope for the park's future.
A variety of wildlife exhibits had been added, and in 2002, a partnership with Nickelodeon allowed the park's kiddie land, Kennyland, to transition to Nickelodeon Central. In 2004, another Australian theme park, Wonderland Sydney, closed for good, and Dreamworld took the crown for the largest theme park in Australia. The success of Nickelodeon Central led Dreamworld to seek out more partnerships with recognizable properties, and in 2005, they were able to secure perhaps their most lucrative agreement yet, and just as Longhurst had done three decades prior, Dreamworld set out to make a Disney-caliber attraction with a distinct Australian twist.
Lucky for them, there was already an Australian entertainment property that was taking the world by storm. The Wiggles are a children's music group that was founded in 1991. The group was started by Anthony Field, a member of the Australian pop band, The Cockroaches. At the time, Field was studying early childhood education at Macquarie University in Sydney, alongside another Cockroaches collaborator, Greg Page, and a guitarist, Murray Cook.
Together the three combined their musical talent with their interest in early childhood development, intending to create an album of songs that could act as an educational tool. After recruiting another Cockroaches band member, keyboardist Jeff Fatt, the group formed the Wiggles. Over two years, the group wrote and recorded their first album, repurposing many Cockroaches songs into more child-friendly Wiggles numbers. ♪ Ba dum ba ba ba dum ba dum ♪ ♪ It's Wiggle time ♪ - [Kevin] The band evolved slowly over the next few years, adding supporting characters such as Captain Feathersword, Henry the Octopus, Wags the Dog, and Dorothy the Dinosaur. The group also began wearing their iconic outfits, brightly colored skivvies. The Wiggles worked diligently, releasing more albums, performing live, and producing music videos and tapes.
In 1994, the band released the album "Yummy Yummy," featuring two massive hits for the group, "Hot Potato." ♪ Hot potato, hot potato ♪ - [Kevin] And "Fruit Salad." ♪ Fruit salad ♪ ♪ Yummy, yummy ♪ - [Kevin] In 1995, they released the album "Big Red Car," along with the accompanying video, "Big Red Car." This was a notable moment in Wiggles lore, as it introduced the band's iconic vehicle, the titular Big Red Car. At first, the car was represented with a crude cardboard cutout, and the song featured on the album about the Big Red Car would not be the vehicle's more iconic number.
♪ Riding in a big red car ♪ ♪ Big red car ♪ - [Kevin] In 1997, the Wiggles' first and only theatrical film, "The Wiggles Movie," was released in theaters. This film featured the first three-dimensional iteration of the Big Red Car, which was built from a dune buggy. The following year, in 1998, the Wiggles released their ninth studio album, "Toot, Toot!" which featured the hit track, "Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car." ♪ Toot toot, chugga chugga, big red car ♪ ♪ We'll travel near and we'll travel far ♪ - [Kevin] This would be the car's iconic song, and it would take over the world. Around this time, the Wiggles began to expand into international markets, and found major success in the United States, initially touring with Barney Live, before embarking on a tour of their own. This is when Wigglemania was at its peak.
By 2005, the Wiggles had released 21 studio albums, filmed three television series, and toured all over the world. The group was struggling to meet the demand, and the number of performances were taking a toll on the health of the group, namely Anthony Field and Greg Page. This level of Wiggling was simply not sustainable, but Wigglemania was showing no signs of stopping. The Wiggles made 45 million Australian dollars in 2004, or nearly 34 million US dollars.
This made them the highest-paid Australian entertainers, beating out Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. The Wiggles empire was an intoxicating gravy train, the kind that only comes from singing about potatoes, and dancing with a giant octopus, and it was a machine that could not be stopped. In an effort to maintain their health and stay closer to home, the Wiggles considered cutting down on their live performances. To supplement the lack of live shows, the group began to explore other ventures. The first was a chain of Wiggly Play Centers in Sydney.
These entertainment centers were similar to those operated by Chuck E. Cheese and Discovery Zone. The Wiggly Play Centers featured indoor playgrounds, bouncy houses, and event spaces to host birthday parties. The Wiggly Play Centers allowed Wiggles fans to interact with the group without the Wiggles themselves needing to be present. Shortly after opening, a similar concept was announced, but this venture would be far more ambitious than a play center.
(bright music) In May of 2005, the Wiggles announced that they had entered an agreement with Dreamworld theme park. Dreamworld CEO Greg Shaw told the press, quote, "We will be talking to them about how we can develop that opportunity." These discussions must have occurred fast, because just two months later, it was announced that a new Wiggles-themed area was coming to Dreamworld. The expansion would cost 7 million Australian dollars, or around 5.2 million US dollars. The new land would include shops, an activity center, a playground, an animal nursery, and a brand new ride. The first new dark ride to be built in Australia in nearly two decades.
The new land would take the place of Gum Tree Gully. By this point, the space was far past its prime. Gum Tree Gully Hall and the Koala Country Jamboree had already been closed for three years. Any hope for the return of the show was dashed with the announcement of the new Wiggles land, whose flagship dark ride would take the space formally occupied by the singing koalas.
The new dark ride would not be unique just for its Wiggly theme, but also for its advanced technology. The planned attraction would be a trackless dark ride, a style of ride that was still being introduced to many theme parks in the mid-2000s. Since their inception, dark rides have sent guests along a rigid, and often visible, track.
This track was limiting to both the attraction's range of movement, and its immersive theming. Throughout the late 20th century, ride designers experimented with ways to overcome these obstacles. Disney's Omnimover system allowed ride cars to pivot, and for the most part hid the ride path from view, but this system was still on a track. It would not be until October 1st, 1982, that the first trackless ride system would be introduced, with Epcot Center's Universe of Energy.
Large theater seats full of guests passed throughout the attraction in unison with each other in a slow-moving dance, with no track perceivable to guests. However, this was not a true trackless ride system either, as a 1/8-inch guide wire was embedded into the attraction's floor, laying out the ride's path. The guide wire would transmit a radio signal to each vehicle, the strength of which would communicate the vehicle's position in relation to the track. This ride system was a technological marvel in 1982.
Each vehicle needed its own computer, which would then communicate with the attraction's master computer. The vehicles would also need to have their own propulsion systems, and most challenging, their own power and charging systems. The Imagineer solution to the latter was to embed charging plates into the floor, which used a state-of-the-art inductive power coupling system to charge the ride cars at two points throughout their journey. While Universe of Energy was not technically a trackless dark ride by modern standards, it did introduce multiple innovations necessary for later systems to succeed. The guide wire system would be reused in 1989 for The Great Movie Ride, and again in 1994 for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, with the system improving with each iteration. These attractions were all well received, obscuring the ride path, and creating a more surprising experience for guests.
While these systems delivered the theming benefits of a trackless ride system, the true potential of free range of motion had yet to be achieved. This was until the year 2000, when Tokyo Disneyland received a new dark ride named Pooh's Hunny Hunt. Pooh's Hunny Hunt was a breathtaking attraction, with a rumored budget of $130 million. On top of innovative effects and elaborate environments, the attraction's most impressive element was its true trackless ride system.
Rather than using guidewires, Pooh's Hunny Hunt used a local positioning system, in which a sensor array communicated with the ride cars, and the attraction's main computer. Unlike with a guide wire, this allowed for the ride paths to be completely virtual. Disney made great use of this technology, sending cars on different paths at the same time, and synchronizing movements, resulting in fun choreography. This trackless ride system would be implemented and innovated in more Disney parks throughout the world, with the notable additions of motion simulation in Ratatouille: The Adventure, and an elevator and drop shaft in Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Other companies have developed their own trackless ride systems using local positioning, leading to a trackless ride renaissance in the theme park industry that is still ongoing. However, back in 2005, when the Wiggles ride was being developed, local positioning systems for trackless rides were both new and prohibitively expensive.
So while it would be widely promoted as a trackless dark ride, the attraction would rely on a guide wire system developed by a little known company named Simtech. Simtech was a New-Zealand-based entertainment company founded by set designer Frank Marquette in 1984. Marquette primarily worked on films such as "The Lord of the Rings," and small entertainment projects such as mini golf courses.
In 2001, the company formed a team to develop an automated wire-guided vehicle system, or AGV, for themed entertainment rides, as Marquette believed that this ride type was the future of the industry. By 2003, the company had developed their system, reportedly piquing the interest of both Disney Parks and Universal Studios. To prove their ability to develop a full-scale theme park attraction, Simtech built a proof of concept standalone ride named The Emperor's Tomb. This shooting dark ride was built near the company's headquarters in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The ride used the new AGV system, and also showcased Simtech's ability to produce animatronics and detailed show scenes. It would not be long after debuting this proof of concept that Dreamworld would contract Simtech to design and construct the Wiggles dark ride. Simtech would provide the ride system, animatronics, and show scenes. Arvus, a sound technology company, was also contracted to provide a unique audio system to each ride car.
This included a microphone, a push button, and a speaker system. According to Arvus, this was, quote, "The world's first onboard karaoke system for an amusement ride vehicle," and that, quote, "Special microphones had to be developed so that there was no feedback from the speakers directly next to them." Gum Tree Gully was transformed quickly, with the new Wiggles area ready to open after just four months of construction. The new land, named Wiggles World, had its opening ceremonies on September 13th, 2005, with the Wiggles themselves appearing and taking a ride on the land's signature dark ride, the Big Red Car ride.
The ride and the land would officially open four days later, and on September 17th, 2005, the children of Australia were welcomed inside a brand new Wiggly world. (upbeat music) (jaunty music) Guests entered Wiggles World under a whimsical arch featuring illustrations of all four Wiggles, Dorothy the Dinosaur, Henry the Octopus, Wags the Dog, and Captain Feathersword. Inside, families could visit the Fun Spot activity center for Wiggles-themed games, or visit the banks of the Murrissipi River to play on the S.S. Feathersword playground.
Throughout the land, guests could meet Henry the Octopus, Wags the Dog, Dorothy the Dinosaur, and even Captain Feathersword himself. The Gum Tree Gully Farmyard petting zoo was re-themed to the Wiggles Farmyard Friends. The land also had a gift shop marketed as the first Wiggles merchandise store, as well as a cafe with healthy foods, appropriately named, Yummy Yummy. There was even a recreation of the exterior of the Wigglehouse, which allowed guests to get up close and personal with Flora Door, the Wigglehouse's sentient door. (jaunty music continues) Wiggles World's main attraction was of course the Big Red Car. The exterior featured a prominent marquee beckoning guests into their Wiggles Adventure.
Guests entered the ride's short queue with the boarding area just a few feet ahead. A television mounted to the wall displayed Wiggles videos as guests waited in line. Guests watched as their own Big Red Car pulled into the loading station. The ride vehicle was perfectly themed, appearing identical to the Wiggles' iconic car, with the notable additions of room for three riders per row, and the unique karaoke system. Guests waited patiently for the ride car to reach the loading area, which depending on how many cars were operating on the track, could take a while. The ride had an advertised top speed of 2 kilometers per hour, or about 1.25 miles per hour.
This is slow. For comparison, The Formula Rossa rollercoaster at Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi, tops out at a speed of 240 kilometers per hour, or 149 miles per hour. That's over 100 times faster than the Big Red Car ride. Even compared to other dark rides, the Big Red Car ride was slow. For instance, the Haunted Mansion and similar Omnimovers move twice as fast, and newer trackless dark rides are even faster. Speed was not an advertised element of the Big Red Car ride, but it would definitely play a role in the energy and pacing of the attraction.
Once the car arrived to the loading station, guests board the Big Red Car ride and buckle up. The doors to the first show scene open, and it is officially time to Wiggle. As the Wiggles begin singing "Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car," the ride vehicles slowly move into the Wiggles' garden. ♪ Toot toot, chugga chugga, big red car ♪ - [Kevin] Lights illuminate the space as the car turns to face a small TV mounted to the wall. The Wiggles appear on the screen welcoming guests to the ride, and suggesting that they use their microphones to sing along.
They then inform riders that they will be entering the Wigglehouse next. - Why don't we go into the house, and we can sing some songs together. - [Kevin] "Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car" begins to play again, as the vehicles slowly move into the Wiggles' kitchen. ♪ Toot toot, chugga chugga, big red car ♪ - [Kevin] The car turns to face another TV screen, this time featuring just Anthony, who instructs riders to sing "Hot Potato." As the song begins, the cabinets, refrigerator, and oven, open and close to the music. ♪ Potato, potato, potato ♪ - [Kevin] Next up is the Wiggles' lounge room.
"Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car" plays again as the cars slowly move into the scene. ♪ Toot toot, chugga chugga, big red car ♪ - [Kevin] On the wall, the doors to all of the Wiggles' bedrooms can be seen, an iconic set to those familiar with Wiggles lore. After entering this room, the car turns to face a third TV screen. In this video, Jeff is sleeping, and the Wiggles are attempting to wake him up.
They ask that you use your microphone to shout, "Wake up Jeff." - One, two, three, wake up, Jeff. - Wake up, Jeff. - Thanks for waking me up, everyone.
- [Kevin] This wakes Jeff up, and the Wiggles then sing, "Wake Up Jeff!" The vehicles again play "Toot toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car," as they move into the next room, Wags' kennel. ♪ Toot toot, chugga chugga ♪ - [Kevin] The cars then turn to face a fourth TV screen. In this video, Greg explains that if we all sing "Wave to Wags," Wags the Dog might slide down his slide. After singing the song, Wags slides down, very slowly. (no audio) ♪ Toot toot, chugga ♪ - [Kevin] The next scene is by far the most elaborate.
Now underwater, guests encounter Henry the Octopus, and a variety of sea creatures, including a fish playing a saxophone, and a crab playing a guitar. The room is filled with detailed scene work, immersive lighting, and a fifth TV screen on which Murray suggests riders move their arms like Henry, and sing, "Move your Arms Like Henry." In response, Henry rocks from side to side, not technically moving his arms at all, but the saxophone fish does move back and forth, which is great.
♪ Toot toot ♪ - [Kevin] The final scene is in Dorothy's garden. Dorothy is seen rocking back and forth on her swing, as the car enters the room. Dorothy greets guests, and as the car begins to exit, riders encounter their sixth and final television screen.
The Wiggles express how fun the ride has been, and remind guests to wave to the camera. After snapping a photo, guests return to the loading area very slowly. (jaunty music) (jaunty music continues) The Big Red Car ride at Dreamworld initially received fairly positive reviews. For Wiggles fans, especially small children, the ride allowed them the unique opportunity to drive in the Big Red Car, and visit iconic Wiggles locations. The karaoke microphones added a unique interactive element, and the more elaborate show scenes toward the end of the ride were particularly well received. In many ways, the dark ride was impressive, especially for a small park like Dreamworld.
However, there were many aspects of the ride that were less than great. The attraction relied heavily on its television screens, some of which were sloppily mounted with visible wires. The walls of each room did not extend to the show building ceiling, which detracted from the theming, and looked a bit dark and unsettling. Another odd and often frightening aspect of the attraction was the lighting design and timings. There seemed to be a lack of consistent show scene lighting, as each ride through from the first few years of operation appears to have different lighting patterns.
For instance, when the Big Red Car exits the first room and enters the Wiggles' kitchen, sometimes the lights are already on, sometimes the lights are off and turn on immediately, and sometimes the lights stay off in the kitchen until just before the video plays. This results in long stretches of guests entering a dark room with only the light of the other show scenes illuminating the space. The reverse of this problem is also eerie. There are times when the kitchen lights are on, but the lounge room lights are not, so guests can see a very darkly lit lounge room ahead of them as they ride through the kitchen scene. This is even more off-putting in the more elaborate show scenes at the end.
For example, sometimes guests will make it all the way into Dorothy's garden before the lights turn on. The other negatives of the Big Red Car ride are not a fault of the Dreamworld attraction specifically, but are issues found in many trackless dark rides. Both wire-guided and local positioning system dark rides have an issue with scene layouts that traditional dark rides do not, because there's a possibility that a trackless dark ride car will divert from its intended path in a way that a tracked dark ride cannot. The show elements need to be placed further away from the planned route to account for this extra margin of error.
This can make rooms feel empty, and show scenes seem distant. Another downside of trackless dark rides is that the designers are encouraged to illuminate the floor, either to create more natural lighting for an environment, or to showcase the lack of track to riders, so the unpredictability is more thrilling. The negative to this lighting technique is that it draws more attention to the extra floor space, making some show scenes feel like big empty rooms.
One thing that the Big Red Car ride did better than many trackless dark rides was its unique floor designs. Many show scenes featured fun floor patterns to account for the excessive space. One of the most glaring downsides to trackless dark ride floors was not present when the ride opened, but as with many trackless rides, it would not be long before the issue presented itself. Overall, the ride that Simtech delivered was impressive given the budget and time restraints.
The Big Red Car ride, as it opened, was not awful, but changes were coming sooner than anyone could have anticipated. In September of 2006, a year after the land's opening, the Wiggles returned to their home at Dreamworld for a special concert celebrating the group's 15th birthday. The group also dedicated a new Wiggles World attraction, Dorothy's Rosy Teacup Ride. Fans flocked to Dreamworld to see the Wiggles return, but many longtime fans noticed that something was different.
Greg Page, the Yellow Wiggle, was nowhere to be found. Instead, his understudy, Sam Moran, was performing as the Yellow Wiggle. Moran had been subbing for Page for years, but Page's absences had become more frequent, with compounding health issues cited as the reason. Just one month after the Wiggles visit to Dreamworld, it was announced that Moran would be replacing Page for the rest of the Wiggles' 2006 tour, due to bouts of fainting that Page had been experiencing. Page's illness had still yet to be diagnosed, but he expressed his determination to join the Wiggles on future tours. However, just one month later in November of 2006, Page released a video message to fans to deliver some shocking news.
- For some time now, I've been suffering from a condition called orthostatic intolerance, which basically means that when I stand up, my heart doesn't pump enough blood around my body. It means that I'll no longer be able to sing and dance the way that I want to, and as a result, I've decided to stop performing with the Wiggles. - [Kevin] Moran replaced Page as the Yellow Wiggle completely, in songs, on tour, in videos, and in no time at all, in Dreamworld. In 2007, Moran replaced Page throughout the park, including on the land's entrance arch in the Big Red Car ride's marquee. The Wiggles also shot new footage for the Big Red Car ride with Moran. These changes meant that the original Big Red Car ride operated for less than two years before receiving this significant change.
While the new footage used the same script as the original, even the slight adjustment in timing and delivery began to alter the original design intentions of the attraction. On top of this, effects were consistently breaking down, and maintenance seemed to struggle to keep the ride experience consistent. The door that opens in the first show scene, separating the loading area from the rest of the ride, did not work reliably, and other times it flew open abruptly.
As aforementioned, the lighting was inconsistent, but at certain times, they were more obviously malfunctioning. In just a few years after opening, the Big Red Car ride was experiencing the same issue that even the most expensive trackless dark rides struggle with, visible tire marks throughout the attraction. It was impressive that Dreamworld received a trackless dark ride with multiple show scenes and animatronics, but maintaining show quality was a huge challenge, and only a few years into the attraction's lifespan, the ride experience was already suffering. In December of 2006, Dreamworld opened a neighboring waterpark, Whitewater World, that featured an area dedicated to the Wiggles, Wiggle Bay, featuring four slides representing each Wiggle. In 2007, Wiggles World came to the United States, thanks to a partnership with Six Flags. - We can't help but love you all when you make us so wiggly giggly.
- [Kevin] Six Flags Great America, Six Flags Great Adventure, and Six Flags New England received Wiggles Worlds of their own, with many identical features to Dreamworld's, with similar furnishings and signage. One feature that was not identical, though, was the appearance of Flora Door. (whimsical music) Why is she looking at me like that? The Great Escape and Six Flags Fiesta Texas would also receive Wiggles Worlds in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Some of these lands had their own Big Red Car rides, but these were outdoor driving tracks, not dark rides. As with Dreamworld, the Wiggles made appearances at the Six Flags Wiggles Worlds. However, while guests can meet Dorothy the Dinosaur, Henry the Octopus, Wags the Dog, and even Captain Feathersword, no actors ever filled in for the Wiggles at the park, likely because if they did, children would be able to tell that they were not the real Wiggles.
This went against the expectations of theme park guests, who are used to seeing and interacting with beloved characters. Most of the time, though, guests could not meet the Wiggles at Wiggles World, and without allowing local actors to portray the band, the only way to allow guests to interact with the Wiggles without the Wiggles themselves present, would be to create mascot costumes of the four that park employees could wear. This really only works with animals and cartoon characters. A theme park would never create mascot costumes to represent four human men. ♪ Toot toot, toot toot, toot toot, toot toot ♪ ♪ Chugga chugga, big red ♪ - [Kevin] The Six Flags Wiggles Worlds would only last until 2010, when Six Flags ended its licensing agreements with multiple intellectual properties, including the Wiggles. The Six Flags lands were all re-themed for the 2011 season.
This left only one Wiggles World, the original in Dreamworld, and more changes were coming to both the land and the Wiggles themselves. In January, 2012, the Wiggles announced that Greg Page would be returning to don the yellow skivvy once more, replacing his replacement, Sam Moran. This made headlines around the world. It had been five years since Page had performed with the group, and for many children, Moran was the Yellow Wiggle. Rumors circulated about the switch, speculating that Page's bad investments and financial troubles since leaving the group had necessitated his return, a claim that Page denied. Many speculated of bad blood between Moran and the rest of the group, which was all but confirmed over the course of the next couple of years.
The band's manager, Paul Field, defended the decision, saying, quote, "If the Stones lost Mick Jagger due to illness, and he came back a few years later, there wouldn't be a question." Page's return sparked controversy for the otherwise wholesome musical group, with parents especially not happy with the sudden change. The Wiggles assured fans that they would pay Moran royalties on all of the songs that he had written for the group, and the band had offered him full access to the Wiggles' Hot Potato Studios. Moran would go on to have a successful solo career, creating his own show on Nick Jr., named "Play Along with Sam."
Shortly after the switch, the Wiggles again re-shot footage for the Big Red Car ride with Page, which either means they lost the original files with him, or the band was so obsessed with the dark ride's continuity that the difference in their age would've kept them up at night. They also updated the signage around Wiggles World a third time, with old Greg, which was illustrated slightly different than young Greg was years prior. The drama over Page's return to the band was short-lived, and practically all for nought, as in May of 2012, just a few months after the switch, the Wiggles announced that Jeff, Murray, and Greg would be leaving the band. This was in large part due to exhaustion, and various health issues that the three were experiencing, as apparently nothing makes one face their own mortality more than being a Wiggle. Anthony would be the only Wiggle to remain in the band, and three backup performers would be handed the iconic skivvies, Lachlan Gillespie, Simon Pryce, and the first female Wiggle, Emma Watkins.
Later in 2012, Dreamworld added another Wiggles kiddie ride, the Big Red Boat ride, with the Wiggles once again present to dedicate the attraction. The new group's first performance together was at Dreamworld in 2013. That same year, the signage was again updated, and the Big Red Car ride went under a fourth refurbishment, the most significant in its history. Not only was a fourth round of video shot to account for the new members, but the first room was changed entirely to Emma's room, with music, equipment, and wallpaper featuring her soon-to-be iconic yellow bow. These changes only worsened the ride's pacing, and technical issues continued to plague the experience.
The door to the first room was left permanently open, leaving no barrier between the loading area and the rest of the ride. The cabinets in the kitchen scene continued to open and close long after the segment ended, and the ride cars were consistently too early or too late in arriving to the next show scene. Audio tracks consistently clashed, with "Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car" sometimes playing at the same time as the video, causing pure audio chaos.
♪ Chugga chugga, big red car ♪ ♪ Toot toot, chugga chugga ♪ - [Kevin] The lighting issues were as bad as ever, and somehow, almost impressively, the cars moved even slower throughout the ride, and every year the ride continued to operate, the experience only worsened. In less than a decade, the Big Red Car ride had devolved into a truly awful ride experience. In 2015, Dreamworld announced that Wiggles World would be no more, but the Wiggles would not be going anywhere. The land would be re-themed to ABC Kids World, to incorporate more properties from the Australian Broadcasting Company's popular children's franchises, including "Play School," "Giggle and Hoot," and those bananas that wear pajamas.
Dorothy's Rosy Teacup Ride, the Big Red Boat ride, and the Big Red Car ride would remain, and retain their Wiggles theming. The S.S. Feathersword would be re-themed to the Giggle and Hoot pirate ship, and the Fun Spot activity center would be re-themed to the ABC Kids World Fun Spot. Two new attractions, the Play School Art Room, and the Bananas in Pajamas Fun Maze would be added to the area as well.
The iconic Wiggles arch remained in the new land, and was relocated closer to the Wigglehouse. ABC Kids World added more relevance to the area, but the excitement surrounding the additions would be short-lived. On October 25th, 2016, tragedy struck Dreamworld when the park's Thunder River Rapids ride malfunctioned, leading to a major accident between two rafts, resulting in the death of four riders. The incident became worldwide news, and an investigation was launched into the cause of the accident. In the following years, poor maintenance would be cited as a cause of the incident, and Dreamworld would pay out millions in fines and compensation to the victims' families.
Three years after the incident, in 2019, Dreamworld announced a $70 million expansion project, including the addition of a new triple launch coaster to replace the Thunder River Rapids ride. As part of the transformation, ABC Kids World would also receive a multimillion dollar refurbishment. However, in March of 2020, Dreamworld closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, putting the expansion project on hold. In August of 2020, it was announced that the park would reopen in September.
Before the park's reopening on September 16th, it was revealed that two Dreamworld rides would not reopen with the park. These were Flowrider in the Ocean Parade section, and the Big Red Car ride in ABC Kids World. The attraction received no big sendoff, no final rides, not even a true goodbye, which is a shame, because the Wiggles have four different songs about saying goodbye. One of the ride cars was placed outside of the attraction for photos, and the loading area was boarded up. The pandemic delayed Dreamworld's expansion plan significantly.
ABC Kids World continued to operate throughout 2020, 2021, and 2022, with the Big Red Car ride sitting in the dark, closed off to guests. Dreamworld eventually announced a new renovation schedule, a children's area named Kenny and Belinda's Dreamland, would open in 2023. The kiddie land will replace Dreamworld's Dreamworks area, and will feature many ABC Kids properties, including the Wiggles.
The Wiggles will receive two new attractions, a Big Red Plane spinner, and a Big Red Boat coaster, but no plans for a new Big Red Car ride have been made. Once Kenny and Belinda's Dreamland fully opens, Dreamworld will finally close ABC Kids World to make room for a new area called Rivertown. Rivertown will be an homage to the original Rivertown area that Longhurst built for Dreamworld all the way back in 1981, and the land will feature a new family coaster, Jungle Rush. While the Wiggles will live on at Dreamworld, the sudden closure of the Big Red Car ride was disappointing to Dreamworld and Wiggles fans that would've preferred to give the attraction a proper sendoff.
The ride was not the most impressive, and its deterioration over the years had left it in an abysmal state. Still, it had allowed children to take a trip in the Wiggles' Big Red Car, sing along to classic Wiggles songs, and visit iconic Wiggles locations, even if it did all of those things very slowly. The Wiggles have continued to evolve over the past few years, and the current band continues to spend time at Dreamworld. While the group is still popular, their presence in the park, and the band itself, might never again reach the prevalence they experienced at the time Wiggles World opened. For those lucky enough to experience the Wiggles' home on the Gold Coast in its heyday, there was never a better time to Wiggle. (jaunty music) (jaunty music continues) (jaunty music continues) (jaunty music continues) (jaunty music continues) (whimsical music) (whimsical music continues) (no audio)