Ahhh "Splash Mountain", one of the best and most iconic rides from any of the Disney theme parks! Despite being an adaptation to Disney's arguably most controversial movie of all time, guests don't seem to mind it for it's thrills, large gallery of (mostly recycled) adorable animatronic critters, catchy songs (like Zip-A Dee-Do-Dah), and fun and innocent story-line to make the experience be more than just your average log-flume ride. The company themselves seemed so enthusiastic that the ride was going to be one of their most popular attractions (regardless of what it's based on), that before they opened it for Disneyland in 1989, they made a 22 minute televised Special revolving around the ride a few days before its opening, starring a famous 80s character who was popular with young audiences at the time, Ernest P. Worrell played by Jim Varney. This is...
When it came to Disney announcing a release for a new special attraction to their parks in the glory and nostalgia days of Disney TV, Disney knew how to advertise them through their TV Specials and shows to make them appear to be grand and exciting, as they would give their audiences a show to keep them entertained while occasionally sneaking in some behind the scenes stuff about the attraction. But how this Special promotes "Splash Mountain" has got to be one of the craziest, and most overblown Specials that Disney has ever created when marketing one of their attractions. Oh, Ernest's appearance plays a large role of what makes this Special out to be one of Disney's weirdest, but it's not him alone! It's actually the premise surrounding him and how this Special is presented. You see, rather than seeing something ordinary like Ernest just wandering around in the park going on rides and getting into trouble that eventually leads up to him riding Disney's new attraction, most of the Special takes place in a TV studio hosted by real-life news-anchor Ralph Story covering not necessarily the grand opening for "Splash Mountain", but more of the fact that it’s going to have it’s first human test. And I kid you not, this Special playfully exaggerates how big and historic that this event is going to be by claiming it to be as big as Alan Shepard going into space, and Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon. I never thought I'd ever watch a Special for a new Disney theme park ride that's considered to be as important as anything space related. And as if considering a childish redneck riding a new log-flume ride to be just as groundbreaking for mankind as men being launched into outer space couldn't possibly get any more ridiculous, Ernest is even refereed to as a "Splashronaut"! How does space and a log-flume ride from Disney even go together?! Where's the logic in that? Can anyone reading this explain this to me, I really would love to know?
So as we wait to see Ernest test out the ride (that comes complete with a timer counting down to when he's ready for "launch") we see a few skits of Ernest training himself for it as he's assisted by his off-screen friend Vern. Why exactly is he training himself for the ride, well isn't that what astronauts do before they are sent into space (wouldn't this make more sense if this was a Special for a new space themed ride at "Tomorrowland"?). As absurd and silly as the idea and methods that Ernest's uses to train for the ride are, I will admit that I did get a few chuckles out of them from the sound-effects, scenarios, and Varney's reactions. They're not die-hard funny or anything, but they are enjoyable to watch that don't at the very least come anywhere near annoying, dull, and offensive...well for the most part. The only bit that I found myself rolling my eyes at and being irritated by for how annoying and slow it was is when Ernest annoys Vern with the chalkboard by writing a pen on it, to then scratching it (but thankfully the sound effect used for it wasn't painful).
When we're not with Ernest as we wait for him to ride it, we get a few bits with the reporters covering the event, but seem to mess things up in the process. Much like the scenes with Ernest training, they're not going to have you laughing on the floor, but they're fun enough to keep you entertained. And though most of their bits is them is goofing up, they still show and talk about some interesting things regarding the ride, such as where the idea for it came from (as we're treated to a clip from "Song of the South), and what some of the animatronics inside the ride look-like, which may not be fascinating to modern audiences that already know about the ride, but at the time when the Special was aired, it was quite amusing. And that's not to say that there isn’t anything that modern audiences or fans of the ride will not admire or appreciate when watching this, because there certainly are. We get a rare look at the ride's water filtration area; and see an interview of the ride's Producer Chris Gordon who keeps getting rudely interrupted.
Once Ernest finally does get on the ride that the Special's been over-hyping, the result is funny and yet very bizarre! Again Varney does deliver some funny and even impressive over the top expressions when experiencing the ride. His best bits that are so priceless that I found myself laughing hard is when he's being pulled up the mountain before the big drop as he stretches out his legs relaxing and yawning wishing that he brought a book with him; and when he leaves the ride as stiff as a board. I also got a good laugh at seeing Ernest wearing an oxygen mask after going down the first fall of the ride that I thought was good use of giving us some of his cartoony humor. But when Ernest finally goes down the mountain that's where things go strange beyond Ernest standards because they make his experience look like an acid trip that jumps from one strange visual of Ernest to another at supersonic speed as colors flash at his face. I swear it's almost as if someone like David Lynch directed this sequence, for how out there it is. And if you know the ride inside and out like I do, then you may notice that the places where Ernest passes when he's on the ride are all out of order, which just enhances the strangeness of this experience for modern viewers who are already familiar with the attraction. Though the "Splash Mountain" part of the ride is hands down the most surreal part of the Special; for me the oddest moment happens while Ernest is being interviewed before going on the ride, because if you look in the crowd you'll notice Br'er Rabbit miming to his words. I don't know why, there's just something weird about watching a costumed character mime to exactly what the person in front of him is saying, instead of just doing something typical as nodding his head, or clapping. Is he trying to translate to audiences who can't hear or speak English; or was the actor inside the costume so bored with just standing there looking cute that he thought he might as well do something playful behind Varney's back. Whatever the case is, its still weird for how random this action is, and is one of those instances when a background character manages to take the spotlight away from the actual star (seriously my eyes were more focused on him, than silly old Ernest).
"Ernest Goes to Splash Mountain" is goofy, cheesy, and probably the strangest of the Disney Specials that markets the release for one of their new rides for how off the walls ridiculous it is, but I can't say that I didn't enjoy watching it. I did get some good laughs out of Ernest; it did offer some cool insight on the ride for both audiences of the past and present (especially for die-hard fans of the attraction); and though there are moments that are weird and not funny, I still found plenty of good entertainment value from it. It’s a very peculiar Special, but still as innocent and harmless as you would expect from one made by Disney. And if you have a love and nostalgia for vintage Disney or Ernest; or are just a big fan of this beloved attraction like I am, then this is definitely worth seeing. However, much like the film that the ride is based on, there's no official home video release of the Special, which as a result makes this one of the lesser known of the Ernest films and TV Specials. But you can watch the Special on "YouTube" at the link below.
Link to "Ernest Goes to Splash Mountain"