ABC Develops Disney’s ‘Big Thunder Mountain’ For TV

Disney looks to build another franchise out of its theme park ride.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

With Marvel’s “S.H.I.E.L.D.” rocketing through development and ABC as the most likely destination for the live action “Star Wars” TV series in the future, it would be logical to assume that the network would focus on those brands before attempting to further branch out with Disney based properties.

However, The Hollywood Reporter broke the story about ABC’s plans to adapt the Disney theme park ride “Big Thunder Mountain” as a potential TV series.

“Big Thunder Mountain Railroad” first opened at Disneyland in 1979 before subsequently opening up at other Disney theme parks. The loose back story of the original “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad” centered on a mining town in the American Southwest during the Gold Rush of the 1800s before an earthquake decimated the town and the mountain.

The potential “Big Thunder Mountain” TV series is being executive produced by Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious) with Ice Age: Continental Drift screenwriter, Jason Fuchs set to write the script.

While Disney’s desire to turn its theme park rides into full blown franchises is understandable, it also ignores the fact that it has only worked once. Pirates of the Caribbean was not a fluke, but it wasn’t a success because it was based on a Disney theme park ride. The Pirates of the Caribbean film series had crowd-pleasing scripts by animation veterans Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, strong direction from Gore Verbinski and Rob Marshall as well as the incomparable Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.

Consequently, Pirates is a global franchise with a fifth film reportedly in the early stages. But the Eddie Murphy led Haunted Mansion movie was not a breakout hit domestically, nor did The Country Bears set the box office on fire.

Recognition of the Disney theme park rides is not enough to make an audience show up. In part, the decision to bring “Big Thunder Mountain” to ABC is a tacit admission that it wouldn’t work as a feature film.

Disney is sticking to its formula by hiring an animation writer to bring “Big Thunder Mountain” to life, but cost is likely to be an issue for this series as well. Unless “Big Thunder Mountain” is being conceived as a modern day series, it would have to be a period piece and that usually means it will need a higher budget.

It’s not impossible to make “Big Thunder Mountain” work for television, and it may even be able to find an audience as a family drama. But the project will succeed or fail largely on its quality, not the brand name.