About the Film
Ride to Heaven: An Existential Theme Park Mystery is a documentary about LA-based art dealer Harvey Jordan and his obsessive, decade-long search to uncover the mysteries of a Bible-themed amusement park designed by DIsney creatives in the early 1960’s and intended to rival Disneyland.
Ride to Heaven brings together various elements to tell its story, including vérité footage of Harvey and his family, archival materials and interviews with some of Southern California’s most entertaining “retro” personalities. Ride to Heaven is a must-see film for indie film lovers, theme park aficionados and anyone who appreciates a good yarn.
About ten years ago, an elderly, well-dressed gentlemen named Jeffrey walked into Harvey’s art gallery and offered to sell him some Disney drawings. A fire subsequently killed Jeffrey, and amazingly the images were the only items to be salvaged from his home. “That’s when my obsession started,” Harvey confides.
Bible Storyland was conceived in the 1950’s when Biblical films such as The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur were enormously popular. At the same time, Walt Disney introduced the first “interactive entertainment experience”, or theme park, as it is known today. Bible Storyland is an integration of biblical characters, stories and locations and the Disneyland experience! The Ride to Heaven and Dante’s Inferno, with Lucifer himself greeting tourists, are among the amusement rides designed for the new park.
“Brilliant!” thinks Harvey. “How could this idea miss? But whose idea was it? Why wasn’t the park ever built? And could I take up the cause to have the park built today?”
Harvey discovers that Nat Winecoff (a former Disney Vice President), Jack Haley (the Tin Man in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz) and Donald Duncan (the man who popularized the yo-yo) were the brain trust of the venture.
Over the course of ensuing years, Harvey follows every lead that comes his way, determined to discover which of these men was the heart and soul of this epic endeavor. When he is unable to get an interview with Nat’s family, Harvey wonders what kind of darkness surrounds Nat, preventing his own family to help tell his story. Jack Haley’s daughter, Gloria, is eager to meet and shed light on the project. But before Harvey can talk with her, she dies.
Slowly but surely, Bible Storyland takes over Harvey’s life. “Bible Storyland has become me,” he says. The obsession causes significant strain on his relationship with his wife, Debi. She dismisses his efforts, and Harvey describes his life as a trap from which he cannot escape. With his marriage disintegrating, Harvey begins to wonder, “Is there some kind of Bible Storyland curse?”
Harvey confesses his fear of death. “Celebrities and visionaries”, he observes, “have in a way bested death… they will live forever”. He can’t help but think, in his own charmingly earnest way, that Bible Storyland was dropped in his lap, perhaps, to ensure his own immortality?
Harvey’s journey takes many twists and turns and introduces amusing characters along the way. Clearly only a man obsessed would have the stamina necessary for such a trip. Will Debi finally crack and leave Harvey? Will Harvey discover what ultimately thwarted Bible Storyland? Can Harvey resurrect the park himself or will the curse get him first? And who will pick up the pig poop?
Director Stephanie Hubbard’s quirky sense of fun propels the unusual and amusing story of Ride to Heaven. The film is greatly enhanced by her use of animation sequences inspired by the captivating theme park drawings. She also utilizes a series of black and white, noir-style comic book images to ‘re-enact’ portions of Harvey’s tale. Her dream sequences provide a window into Harvey’s psyche and, as this is both a Hollywood and Bible story, she includes film clips from Cecile B. DeMille’s Biblical epics for dramatic effect.
Hubbard provides theme and context by deciding to enlist university professors and a pop culture humorist to explore the influences of theme parks and Disneyland on America’s landscape. Prominent religious historians are also brought in to discuss the influx of “sword and sandal” films of the 1950’s, as well as the state of religion during the post WWll period.
All these decisions raise the enjoyment for the audience and will keep them engaged until the final resolution of Harvey’s quest. Ride to Heaven is inspired filmmaking and establishes Hubbard as a top notch documentary filmmaker.