Guests in and around the Happiest Place on Earth were surprised to look up and see an elephant flying high in the sky toward Adventureland.
In January 2016, an adult elephant from Disney’s Jungle Cruise attraction at Disneyland wasn’t feeling so well. The giant pachyderm became so ill that he could no longer raise his trunk, move his head, or fan his tail. He could no longer enjoy frolicking in the waters of the Nile River along Disney’s world-famous Jungle Cruise, and soon, the animatronic mammal simply gave out.
First installed in the Opening Day attraction in 1955, the massive elephant–like the Rock of Gibraltar–had stood strong, firmly planting his hooves in the river bed, day in and day out, for more than 61 years, entertaining millions of guests–children, adults, celebrities, political figures, and national leaders. Why, he had even walked alongside the great visionary and creator of Disneyland, Mr. Walt Disney himself.
The old elephant was in need of some rehabilitation.
In response to his failing health, a kind and compassionate team comprised of Walt Disney Imagineers, cast members, and members of Disneyland’s leadership team worked together to plan and facilitate the giant elephant’s removal from the attraction, as well as his transport to a facility that could make him well again–and a bit more like his younger self.
“[He] had a neck issue, so we had to remove [him] back in January to repair [his] neck,” Disneyland planner Veronica Wyant told reporters.
A few months later, in May 2016, the elephant, having enjoyed some well-deserved rest and recuperation, was welcomed back to his home at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, but not before making his return aerial journey high above the earth against the backdrop of the deep blue Southern California skies.
As his return flight was scheduled for early in the morning on that warm Wednesday morning in May, many of Anaheim’s non-pachyderm residents awoke, got ready for the day, and stepped outside to go to school and work and the grocery store, only to do a double-take upon finally seeing an elephant fly.
The amazing footage of part of the elephant’s aerial journey can be seen in this Facebook Watch video.
The rejuvenated pachyderm was lifted via helicopter from the repair facility and transported to Adventureland at Disneyland Park, where he was then gently lowered back into his place among his family and friends deep in the lush jungle along the Nile River inside the Jungle Cruise attraction.
“It’s kind of awesome to make an elephant fly,” said helicopter pilot Ken Krauss, who had previously piloted a helicopter during the transport of two other elephants.
The experience at Disneyland was somewhat reminiscent of a very special evening at Magic Kingdom in December 2012, during a celebration of the opening of the New Fantasyland expansion at the park. As the nighttime festivities commenced, a dragon was spotted flying over the crowd of guests who had gathered for the occasion.
In celebration of the opening of the beautiful new expansion at Magic Kingdom, Disney thought it only fitting and appropriate to release a huge animatronic “flying” dragon high above the crowd in honor of all of the princes, princesses, and dragons commemorated in Disney’s classic fairy tales.
The fantastical occasion easily created for guests one of the single most memorable and magical experiences at the Walt Disney World Resort. Then again, seeing an elephant fly over Cinderella Castle is pretty magical too.