Disney Cuts Crocodile Joke From Jungle Cruise After Child's Death

Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney Parks via Getty Images
Mickey Mouse and Heidi Klum on Jungle Cruise at Walt DIsney World's Magic Kingdom.

The one-liner — part of a Disney-approved script that many park fans know by heart — involves the Jungle Cruise captain warning parents to "watch your children, or the crocodiles will."

Disney Parks has ordered castmembers working on its classic Jungle Cruise attraction not to tell a dark joke about crocodiles eating children. The order comes in the wake of Tuesday's tragic mauling death of a 2-year-old boy by an alligator at a Walt Disney World Hotel.

The one-liner — part of a Disney-approved script filled with pun-heavy patter that many park fans know by heart — involves the Jungle Cruise skipper warning parents to "watch your children, or the crocodiles will."

Lane Graves, a toddler from Elkhorn, Neb., on Tuesday was pulled into a lagoon by an alligator while playing in shallow water at the Grand Floridian Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. A diving team recovered Graves' body, still intact but suffering from several puncture wounds, at 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday — the same day the joke was ordered stricken from the Jungle Cruise script.

“As a parent and a grandparent, my heart goes out to the Graves family during this time of devastating loss," Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a statement following the discovery of the boy's body.

The tragedy came on what was supposed to be a magical moment for the company, with Shanghai Disney Resort welcoming the public and Finding Dory set to land in theaters.

Instead, the death caps off a nightmarish week, arriving on the heels of the massacre of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in nearby Orlando, Fla., and the shooting death just one night before of The Voice contestant Christina Grimmie by a deranged fan in that same city. 

The timing could not be worse: This was to be the first summer travel season in which Disney, which has 30,000 hotel rooms to fill, moved to an on-demand pricing system, charging visitors as much as 18 percent more for single-use park tickets than a year prior. Annual passes also have increased in price this year.

Inspired by jungle riverboat cruises of the 1930s like the one depicted in the 1951 movie The African Queen, the Jungle Cruise is a water tour through a simulated jungle that brings visitors face-to-face with a large menagerie of Audio-Animatronic animals — a robotic technology developed by Walt Disney Imagineering.

The first incarnation — at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. — made its debut on June 17, 1955, the day the original Disney theme park opened its doors. Reportedly one of Walt Disney's favorite attractions, it has been functioning uninterrupted ever since. 

The ride features a retro adventure vibe, transporting parkgoers into a melange of African settings such as the Nile River and Congo River, where they encounter rhinos and hippos and headhunters along the way. There’s an Amazon River section featuring piranhas and, yes, crocodiles — one named Old Smiley and the other Ginger — that hiss at visitors as the steamer boat passes them.

The idea of the ride's skipper telling corny jokes was introduced in 1962, replacing a dry, pre-recorded, documentary-style narration. Certain jokes began to stick and a script eventually emerged. Skippers are known to throw in their own gags, as well.

The ride was replicated at Walt Disney World's Adventureland in Florida, where it was lengthened to a seven-minute ride time and more sight gags were added. That version premiered at that park's opening day on Oct. 1, 1971. Versions have since sprung up at Tokyo Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland — but Disneyland Paris and the new Disney Shanghai have no Jungle Cruise.

In August 2015, a Jungle Cruise movie was announced after several years in turnaround — a previous version was set to star Tom Hanks and Tim Allen —  in the hopes of launching another Pirates of the Caribbean-style franchise. This version will star Dwayne Johnson.

Given the tragic nature of the child's death, it remains highly unlikely the crocodile gag will ever return to the attraction script. The news was first noted by Disney news service WDW News Today, which reported that Walt Disney World "cut all jokes related to children and crocodiles from the Jungle Cruise attraction at the Magic Kingdom."

As for another popular attraction featuring a menacing and hungry crocodile — Tick-Tock the Crocodile in Peter Pan's Flight — that ride remains unchanged. However one Disney news blogger, DisneyConnects, noted on Wednesday that the Tick-Tock float did not appear in the Florida park's Festival of Fantasy.

Disney did not immediately respond to requests to comment for this story.

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