Leave a Comment
Walt Disney Imagineering is one of the most remarkable organizations in the world. They create the attractions for Disney theme parks all over the world and the work they do is almost always impressive, causing guests to continually wonder how they accomplish all these amazing rides and experiences. For most people, the men and women behind the attractions are anonymous. However, if there is one Imagineer who is more recognizable than others, it's Joe Rohde. Rohde, and his iconic dangling earrings, is certainly more physically recognizable, but he's also credited with some of Disney's greatest modern parks and attractions. And so the company is losing a lot of experience, as Rohde announced his retirement this week.
Of the many things Joe Rohde did in his time at Walt Disney Imagineering, one was the redesign of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure into Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: Breakout. In working on that attraction Rohde worked alongside Guardians of the Galaxy film director James Gunn, and Gunn took the opportunity of Rohde's retirement to praise the man and his imagination, and wish him luck in his new future.
Joe Rohde began working with Disney 40 years ago as a model builder for the then in development Epcot Center. He would rise through the ranks of Walt Disney Imagineering and would eventually be the lead Imagineer on Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. He would also spearhead that park's major expansion, Pandora - The World of Avatar. His work even expanded beyond theme park attractions. He was the lead designer of Aulani, Disney's flagship Vacation Club location in Hawaii.
Joe Rohde's contributions to Walt Disney Imagineering cannot be understated. In the creation of Disney's Animal Kingdom Joe Rohde was able to make one of Walt Disney's original dreams come true. Walt always wanted live animals to be part of the Disneyland experience, but making animals cooperate within a theme park environment was always found to be too difficult. With Animal Kingdom Joe Rohde combined the best parts of a wildlife park with the best parts of an amusement park into something that was entirely unique. Animal Kingdom is such a special place that it's the only Disney theme park to have a show dedicated to it on Disney+.
Of course, with all the successes, Joe Rohde's legacy will also have one unfortunate mark on it. Disney's Animal Kingdom marquee thrill ride, Expedition Everest, has the the largest animatronic ever created by Disney, and for most of the ride's life, the Yeti has not moved. A problem in with the way the foundation was poured has meant that if the Yeti is given its full functionality, the ride could shake apart. Rohde continually tried to find a way to fix the Yeti, but no solution that doesn't involve taking the entire thing apart and rebuilding it, has even been discovered.
Joe Rohde's retirement announcement follows a significant layoff across the Parks, Experiences, and Products division of Disney, which included Imagineering. With Rohde also leaving, there's a lot of talent that won't be wandering those halls anymore. This will almost certainly have long term consequences on the parks.
Rumors of a redesign of the Dinoland U.S.A. portion of Animal Kingdom have been running for a while, and whatever the next new thing for Animal Kingdom will be, it will more forward without Joe Rohde, which is almost impossible to imagine. Still, the man has certainly earned his retirement. He became something of a globe trotter while doing research for Animal Kingdom as well as the now defunct Adventurer's Club at Disney Springs. He plans to do a lot more traveling now that he's retired.
And of course, one of the wonderful things about attractions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World is that they last. The work Joe Rohde did will be seen for decades to come. Many who experience them won't even know his name, but that doesn't mean they won't fall in love with everything he did.