The Hyperion is a fictional 1907 French airship, featured in the 1974 Walt Disney film The Island at the Top of the World. Although the airship appears for only a relatively small portion of the overall length of the film, it plays a prominent role, both as a memorable set piece and in the film’s plot line. The Hyperion was featured prominently in all film promotional materials.
The plot of The Island At The Top Of The World revolves around a rich Victorian Englishman’s attempt to locate his lost son in the Arctic in 1907. Sir Anthony Ross, an imperious Englishman employs the airship Hyperion and its pilot, French aviator Captain Brieux, to fly his search expedition to the last place his missing son had been reported seen: a remote region in the Arctic Sea. Joining Captain Brieux and Sir Anthony Ross is the American professor John Iversson, an expert on Vikings and on the lands of the North. When the Hyperion reaches the island at the beginning of the film, it is blown by strong winds against mountains, which causes the airship to be severely damaged, with the loss of one propeller and the destruction of the tail and rudder. The airship then drifts helplessly away from the three men (Ross, Iversson and the Eskimo Ommiak) when they are thrown out of the gondola. Captain Brieux and his poodle are left on the airship. At the end of the film, the airship is completely destroyed when the Godi (high priest) shoots a fire arrow at the balloon, causing the burning ship to crash on the Godi, killing him.
The airship Hyperion (as depicted in the film) is a semi-rigid dirigible approximately 200 feet long. The ship features a highly streamlined crimson or rose colored gas bag (envelope) and an enclosed control gondola suspended from a thin exposed service catwalk. Twin gasoline engines, positioned in the rear of the catwalk drive two propellers that extend outward from either side of the catwalk on a metal truss. The rudders are also suspended from the rear of the catwalk. The envelope of the ship contains stabilizer fins in the rear and front and is crisscrossed by rope netting. In the film, the gondola and rear portion of the service catwalk, containing the engines, are detached to allow the balloon to float freely. It is sometimes believed that this was a built-in feature of the airship. However, it is hinted to in the film that the Captain had modified the ship after crash landing in order to escape the island.
The Hyperion was designed by the film’s production design team headed by Peter Ellenshaw. The airship existed as several scale models built for the film. The press kit for the 1974 release of the film boasts that Goodyear blimp pilots were consulted on the Hyperion’s design and deemed it theoretically airworthy. The airship bears a resemblance to the semi-rigid airships developed by Lebaudy Frères (such as Lebaudy Patrie and République). However, it must be pointed out that it is only speculation that this real airship served as inspiration, but the resemblance is striking.
The Hyperion was also originally planned to be part of a major attraction called Discovery Bay, which was planned for Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Some Disneyland planning models and sketches depict a large wooden hangar with the nose of a life-size replica of the Hyperion protruding from the hangar’s open doors. The hangar was to house a ride that was described as having the park visitors enter the hangar and climb aboard the Hyperion. They would then be taken on an aerial adventure over the Arctic based on the film. The ride was planned to use real film and a moving platform to simulate the ride, at least two decades before virtual reality rides began to be installed in theme parks. However, the dismal box-office sales of The Island At The Top Of The World caused Disney to scrap the ride completely.
Although the film did very poorly at the box office, the Hyperion lives on today in some aspects of the Disney theme park. When Euro Disneyland was built near Paris, a life-size replica of the Hyperion airship was incorporated into the Videopolis Theatre and café complex in Discoveryland. The large entrance to the Café Hyperion features the front of the airship protruding from the building, whilst the back is enclosed within the café. The Hyperion's appearance was slightly updated and stylized from the actual look of the ship in the film. The design errors on Disneyland Paris' Hyperion are: the disappearance of French markings, the balloon being red instead of crimson, and the gondola totally re-designed in structure. However, the essence of the original design remains true. The Hyperion built for Euro Disneyland was manufactured in separate countries. The gondola was built in London by Kimpton Walker Co. while the balloon was built by Koit in Germany.
Also in Disneyland Paris, an image of the Hyperion appears on a mural outside the Constellations store, also found in Discoveryland, and a model of the Hyperion resides in Discovery Arcade, Main Street U.S.A. At Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California (which is adjacent to Disneyland) features the Hyperion Theater, named after the airship.
An unrelated airship named Hyperion is featured in the novel "Skybreaker" by Kenneth Oppel. Hyperion is the name of Disney's book publishing division. This division also published the previously mentioned novel Skybreaker Early in The Walt Disney Company's history, their studio occupied a building at 2719 Hyperion Avenue in Los Angeles.
- "Laughing Place-Discovery Bay"
- "Jill Hill Media-Let's take a trip to "The Island at the Top of the World"
- Airship Modeler.com web forums
- The Island at the Top of the World - Film: 1974, Walt Disney
- The Island at the Top of the World promotional press kit for the film