Finding Disney’s Top 10 Animated Feature Films in the Parks

Back in the days of War and Depression (pre-television), the children of the world had only two doorways to Fantasyland.

The first was through the magic of the movies on the silver screen.

The second was by being named Diane or Sharon Disney.

It was not until Disneyland that kids could actually step through Alice’s Looking Glass without slicing their feet to ribbons. And sometimes the Other Side can be a pretty strange place. If you really could journey to Neverland, what sort of world would you find there?

Answer: A Weird Pop Star, Bubbles the Chimp, and a Pirates of the Caribbean Bedroom

Answer: Bubbles the Chimp and a Pirates of the Caribbean Bedroom

Parkeology has spent months examining every animated feature film in the vault. We have distilled the essence, coalesced the vapors, and arrived at the most basic theme park components for each film.

In case you missed them, here are Parts I – IV:

There has been a lot of good.

There has been some bad.

There has also been Chicken Little, but we are trying to forget that.

Now we are down to the final ten. The oldest films in the library. The venerable, aptly-named classics. These movies all pre-date Disneyland, and have had the most opportunity for exploitation. That makes them the best, right?

Don’t hold your breath.

#10 – Melody Time

What the…? Huh? What is this movie?

What true-blooded Disney fan does not remember this beloved anthology classic from 1948? This film is at the tail end of a very bizarre stretch for feature animation. While Walt’s first handful of films were high-powered artistic masterpieces, that changed quickly when most of them failed to turn a profit.

As a stopgap, they started bundling short films into an anthology feature with a very loose through-line. For instance, the through-line to Melody Time was that all the stories had some music in them, and music has melodies. That is literally the only thing that Johnny Appleseed has in common with a tugboat named Little Toot.

We start at Storybook Circus in Florida, where they slapped the name “Melody Time” on some sort of weird pipe organ thing outside of Pete’s Silly Sideshow. Pipe organs have music. Hence, melody.

Most of the film’s individual segments have literally no attachment to the parks. You’re not going to find an E-ticket based on a reading of the Joyce Kilmer poem “Trees.”

The film is half-heartedly bailed out by having a Donald Duck/Jose Carioca short, and both of those characters have appeared in the parks (as we will see later). But listing them here is cheating.

Johnny Appleseed, the film’s best segment, has an obscure reference in a Frontierland restaurant at best.

Breathtaking.

Breathtaking.

Fortunately, the last segment of Melody Time is about Pecos Bill, a cowboy who has his own Tall Tale Cafe in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom.

Of even more importance, Slue-Foot Sue (Pecos’s girlfriend) emceed the Golden Horseshoe Saloon in Disneyland for decades, where she and her dancing girls would entertain travelers in Frontierland. Pecos Bill would interrupt the shoe show whenever it was time to sing some melodies.

A similar version was performed at Walt Disney World’s Diamond Horseshoe, which also would lower a movie screen in this authentic Western dance hall to show the full-color sound cartoon.

#9 – Fun and Fancy Free

This anthology is another weird one. It consists of one segment you’ve heard of, one you haven’t, and some interstitials starring Jiminy Cricket and some creepy ventriloquist dolls.

Jiminy is everywhere in the parks, but again, it’s cheating to use him from this movie. The ventriloquist dolls are nowhere, thankfully.

The film’s first segment is about Bongo the Circus Bear. Bongo is persona non grata in the parks. When Storybook Circus opened at the Magic Kingdom, they elected to use a national park bear named Humphrey as their ursine circus performer instead of Bongo. Famed Naturalist John Muir would not be pleased.

The second segment, however, is the classic story of Mickey and the Beanstalk. It features three anthropomorphic talking animals in the form of a dog, a mouse, and a duck, but the main draw is Willie the Giant and his beanstalk hideaway.

Sir Mickey’s at the Magic Kingdom is bursting at the seams with references to this movie.

#8 – Make Mine Music

Good grief. It’s bad enough that Disney used the tenuous plot line of “something with music” even once, let alone recycled it twice in the span of 3 movies.

There are no less than 10 segments in this anthology, and most of them are utterly forgettable.

Willie, the Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met, is one of the better ones. He gets his own poster in the queue area for Mickey’s Philharmagic. And yes, this means Disney had back-to-back movies with gigantic characters named “Willie.” They made up for this lack of creativity by including an evil music professor named Tetti-Tatti. His parents must have been cruel, cruel people.

I think this will be my next cosplay.

I think this will be my next cosplay.

And yet we find a real inside-the-park home run buried among the wreckage of this movie. Casey at the Bat’s titular hero has his own hot dog shop on Main Street, and it is home to the best dogs around.

As befits a sports star of his caliber, Casey also has his own midway game at Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure.

Not bad for a guy who choked away more championships than Pete Carroll and Chris Webber combined.

#7 – The Three Caballeros

To get away from an ugly Studio strike, Walt and El Grupo went on a goodwill tour of South America. This anthology starring Donald, Jose, and Panchito is one of the results.

The Three Caballeros got their own Three Caballeros ride at Epcot, with the succinct title of Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros.

While that ride is the best representation of The Three Caballeros in the parks, there are others as well.

The Three Caballeros still do character appearances as well, and they also have their own Three Caballeros poster in Philharmagic. They hang out at the Three Caballeros pool at the All-Star Music Resort, and even before that they were salsa dancing in full audio-animatronic form during the Three Caballeros segment of the Mickey Mouse Revue. Disneyland has also added the Three Caballeros to It’s a Small World.

But my favorite reference to the Three Caballeros is at Coronado Springs, which manages a Three Caballeros link without showing even a single Caballero.

Burrito, the donkey from the Flying Gauchito short in this movie, is happily carting some merchandise in the souvenir shop over there.

The cutest store display on property.

The cutest store display on property.

#6 – Saludos Amigos

So there was another South American package feature. This one not so good.

The Studio’s star power is on display to help this movie across the finish line. Both Donald and Goofy show up, and this film was actually the debut of Jose Carioca (Two Caballeros?).

The film is ridiculously short at 42 minutes, and finding park material here is a chore. Fortunately, Parkeology already did a write-up on the best link to this movie.

Thrill to the discovery of Pedro the airplane as he appears on a gas can!

#5 – Bambi

Finally. The Final Five. And thankfully, they are all great films.

These are the ones you have known about ever since you could talk. Chances are these are some of the first movies you have ever watched. When the “Greatest Animated Feature Films of All Time” are discussed, these next five movies can’t help but make the list.

Surely Disney has exploited these to the hilt. So let’s see… Bambi…

Crap.

There’s nothing.

You gotcha Thumper foam head. You gotcha Flower foam head. You gotcha Bambi topiary at Flower and Garden Festival. That’s kind of it.

Here they are in the temporary Epcot butterfly tent. Because the film is a classic.

Here they are in the temporary Epcot butterfly tent. Because the film is a classic.

Disney has an entire theme park devoted to animals, and unless he’s part of the decorating in Gaston’s Tavern, Bambi has precious little.

A brief clip of this worthless deer and the bum rabbit can be seen in Fantasmic, in spectacular water-screen BlurryVision.

#4 – Dumbo

I’m sure if we all think really hard, we can come up with a ride based on this movie.

Ha! say the Disneylanders. We can think of two.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant appears at every Disney park on the planet, and also at several Six Flags, and sometimes Gatorland. Florida loves him so much they built two.

The Eighth Wonder of the World

The Eighth Wonder of the World

They also build an entire mini-land called Storybook Circus, which is really mostly about Dumbo, who never actually appeared in a traditional storybook. It has a Casey Junior Splash Zone, as well as a Big Top Toddler Energy Sucker, where your little one can blow off steam while waiting for the Dueling Dumbos.

Not to be outdone, Disneyland has featured Casey Junior as an actual ride since Day One, as has Disneyland Paris.

And Dumbo joined Tinker Bell and Jack Skellington’s dog Zero as the only character to fly around Sleeping Beauty Castle during the fireworks.

Last but not least, Dumbo got his own booth at Paradise Pier’s Games of the Boardwalk—and he had an original Dumbo fire-fighting game at DisneyQuest, which disappeared sometime after DisneyQuest stopped being relevant.

#3 – Fantasia

Since the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is one of the segments of Fantasia (the original anthology feature!), one could go mad trying to catalog all the potential references in the parks. Sorcerer Mickey in Fantasmic, Sorcerer Mickey backstage on Main Street, Sorcerer Mickey in the Great Movie Ride, Sorcerer Mickey in SpectroMagic, Sorcerer Mickey destroying beautiful sightlines of the Chinese Theater. The list is endless.

Prefer a side of dancing hippos and crocodiles with your Fantasia entree? Take your pick from any parade float around.

And if you want a sampling of Pastoral Symphony, look no further than Storybookland at Disneyland Paris.

Maybe the Rite of Spring dinosaurs are more your thing. One of the most cleverly concealed references can be found in the Primeval Diorama at Disneyland or in Ellen’s Energy Adventure at Epcot.

And let’s not forget Chernabog, who joins in any time there’s a Villain Party, whether it’s Night on Bald Mountain music during the HalloWishes fireworks or hijacking Disneyland during Fantasmic. The crazy demon was famous for popping out of his own float on SpectroMagic.

The Contemporary Resort has both a Fantasia Market and a Fantasia Ballroom. And those two-handed broomsticks show up at the Fantasia pool at the All Star Movies Resort. The brooms have also been featured as outdoor garden gnomes at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and they get their own segment during Mickey’s Philharmagic.

For that matter, the sorcerer’s hat is the main plot device in that film.

But we never got that full-on Fantasia ride. No boat ride through the Pastoral Symphony or a track-less Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. We got something better.

We got mini-golf.

Eighteen Holes of Pure Fantasia Bliss at the Fantasia Gardens right across the street from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This course is actually a gold mine for obscure Fantasia references. Water-spouting brooms are de rigueur of course, but the Gardens also has time to set up the under-represented parts of the movie, such as the abstract Toccata and Fugue segment. It even gives Fantasia names such as Ave Maria and Yen Sid to its un-themed Fairways course.

And one of the picnic pavilions is named Dancing Hippo. Which sounds like a nice place to eat.

#2 – Pinocchio

Pinocchio is one of the most featured animated films in the parks. You have the walkarounds—Pinocchio, Gepetto, Jiminy, Foulfellow, and Gideon. Stromboli and Lampwick have also appeared at various times, and the Blue Fairy gets to kick off SpectroMagic and Wishes.

Jiminy Cricket is everywhere, from fireworks hosting duties, to environmental buttons at Animal Kingdom, to those little reminders in your hotel room not to waste money on towels.

At Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, Pinocchio gets his own Fantasyland restaurant, while in Tokyo the goldfish Cleo somehow gets a snack stand.

Figaro the cat appears as an animatronic at Fantasy Faire at Disneyland. He is also a popular merchandise item.

Gepetto’s village shows up in Storybookland at Disneyland, but of course the big attraction is Monstro the Whale, who literally swallows your boat to begin the ride.

Unlike the movie, Disney will personally sue you if you try to set a fire to make Monstro sneeze.

Unlike the movie, Disney will personally sue you if you try to set a fire to make Monstro sneeze.

And while not renowned as the greatest of the Fantasyland dark rides, Pinocchio does manage to get his own attraction in California, Paris, and Tokyo.

But I admit I have a soft spot for one very special part of Pinocchio, that has permeated the parks and left its mark everywhere. Indeed, it is hard to imagine the theme parks without this.

When You Wish Upon a Star is the most beautiful anthem a theme park could hope for. Ever since it was used in the opening credits for the Disneyland TV show, the song has been a theme park mainstay, performed by marching bands, fireworks arrangements, and even tooted out of the smokestacks of the Disney Cruise Line.

It may not have been written for the theme parks, but it is my favorite theme park song.

#1 – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The one that started it all…

Snow White is nearly 80 years old, but that hasn’t stopped Disney from opening a brand new family rollercoaster in Florida based on this story—where it consistently draws the biggest lines in the park. Not bad for an octogenarian.

The story is simple. A damsel in distress. A hideous witch. And seven lovable bachelors. Before their Mine Train became the hottest ticket in Orlando, the seven dwarfs had their own diamond mine shop in Fantasyland. And they are a real crowd pleaser during parades, especially in their illuminated Main Street Electrical Parade get-up, with Dopey driving a serpentine mine train.

If the witch is more your thing, you can find the old hag everywhere. She’s a key figure during Fantasmic, obviously, and she towers over visitors to the Candy Cauldron at Downtown Disney Springs.

Even corporate drones get in on the act. Outside of Team Disney in Orlando, the Seven Dwarfs can be seen in abstract cut-out form, along with the phrase “Heigh Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go…”

The Snow White Grotto at Disneyland (and later Tokyo and Hong Kong) forms the basis for a nice bit of company lore. The statues were donated anonymously—and Snow White is the same height as the dwarfs.

The new Mine Train ride is nice for what it is, but it cannot compare to the classic dark ride attraction Snow White’s Adventures (or occasionally Snow White’s Scary Adventures). I have grown very fond of this attraction in recent years, especially since its passing at Walt Disney World. Those Fantasyland dark rides are the perfect middle-ground Disney attraction, and Snow White is right up there with Toad, Alice, Pooh, and Ariel.

A bittersweet ending to this series.

A bittersweet ending to this series.

Conclusion

So now we’ve come to the end of this series, maneuvering our way through every nook and cranny to track down the best use of the animated feature films. Looking back through the list at all the references, it’s exhausting just thinking about it.

So before we decide to do a series about every Apple Dumpling Gang movie or something, tell me… what did we miss?

Connect Every Animated Film to the Parks – The 1950s and 1960s and the Rise of Disneyland

Each of the 54 canonical Disney Animated Features has a connection to the theme parks. And we’ll find them all or die trying.

Today we take a look at the movies of the 1950s and 60s. Other time periods are labeled “The Golden Age of Disney Animation,” but the films of this era are so brilliant, it’s no wonder that Disneyland emerged during this same creative timeframe.

This is the fourth volume of our continuing series, but in case you missed them…

#19 The Jungle Book (1967)

Though the movie is infused with iconic characters and a groovy jungle beat, only a lot of terribly minor stuff remains today—the usual character spots and Jungle Cruise throwaway jokes about books in the jungle.

Those cursed with remembering Mickey’s Starland may recall that characters from Tail Spin appeared in the Disney Afternoon Stage Show. And King Louie scared the crap out of me as a drummer in the Mickey Mouse Revue.

Also the Pop Century Resort has enormous fiberglass statues of Mowgli and Baloo, because nothing says “pop culture” like a giant impoverished kid in a diaper.

For the longest time, the best Jungle Book tie-in was Kaa in Disneyland’s Fantasmic. The Florida version wisely replaced him with a cobra that had about 18 seconds of screen time in Aladdin.

Jungle Book’s crowning achievement came with the opening of Animal Kingdom in 1998. Journey Into Jungle Book was the first show to play in the open-air Theater in the Wild, which is now enclosed and hosting a musical version of a movie with no songs in it.

Journey Into Jungle Book heavily emphasized the songs, but the presentation fell flat. Maybe because of the purple bear fur. It’s also possible that by 1998, audiences just weren’t interested in a long-format stage show based on a movie from 30 years ago.

Journey Into Jungle Book closed after only one year.

They promptly replaced it with rollerblading monkeys.

#18 The Sword in the Stone (1963)

They never built a classic Fantasyland dark ride based on the story of the young boy who would eventually become king of England, find the Holy Grail, and study the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

On the other hand, it could be argued that the entire design motif of Disney World’s Fantasyland came from Sword in the Stone, given that the whole thing is decked out like a medieval tournament.

At any rate, the Carrousel at Disneyland is named after King Arthur, which of course has many hand-painted panels depicting the classic story of… Sleeping Beauty.

The wizard Merlin has certainly popped up everywhere. Merlin’s Magic Shop was an early tenant at the Magic Kingdom, back when the park had three magic shops.

And of course Merlin is the face of the interactive in-park game, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.

But for utter charm, the best Sword in the Stone experience is literally the Sword in the Stone. It sits in front of the Carrousel in most versions of the Magic Kingdom, and some of them still perform the Sword in the Stone ceremony, where Merlin selects volunteers to try to become king or queen of Fantasyland for a day.

Duties consist mostly of negotiating treaties with Adventureland.

Duties consist mostly of negotiating treaties with Adventureland.

In other news, Archimedes the owl appears in World of Disney’s marvelous bird mural.

#17 One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)

There was a time when the Disney MGM Studios caught full-on Dalmatian fever, thanks to the live-action remake starring Glenn Close. We shall not discuss any of those efforts—neither the green-screen backlot crap they shoehorned into the Walking Tour, nor the hideous ABC Sound Studio foley junk that took over the Monster Sound Show.

The animated dogs make an appearance during Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom—a game which can’t be bothered to treat its source material with any sort of respect. And counterproductive to the film’s message, there’s the usual synthetic puppy furs sold at the various shops on property.

Speaking of which, Cruella de Vil is a much bigger deal than Pongo and the rest. She’s had her own float in parades, and anytime there’s a congregation of Disney Villains, she’s invited.

But apparently the largest scale implementation of puppy power can be found at…

—am I really going to use this? Yes, I have no choice.

The motherlovin’ All Star Movies Resort.

The only thing tackier is Odell Beckham Jr’s right glove dipped in superglue. And if that metaphor is creatively lazy, then it has something in common with the All Star Movies Resort.

#16 Sleeping Beauty (1959)

If you can’t think of a park tie-in to Sleeping Beauty, then you probably shouldn’t call yourself a Disney fan.

Small stuff first. Florida has the blue/pink dress gag from the film lurking in the background of Castle Couture in Fantasyland. And for some inexplicable reason, Sleeping Beauty’s King Stefan had a Banquet Hall on the second floor of Cinderella Castle for many years.

The characters pop up from time to time. The three fairies are in the Main Street Electrical Parade and Aurora currently holds court at France in Epcot.

Maleficent is the real belle of the ball when it comes to this movie. She practically owns Halloweentime. Castle stage shows, Halloween fireworks voice overs, etc.

Her dragon form is ubiquitous—Massive steam punk parade floats, Lego Store sculptures, and a towering fire-breathing behemoth in the finale of Fantasmic.

But the coup de grace for Sleepy Beauty has to be the castle.

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Of the six Disney castles worldwide, Sleeping Beauty gets half of them. The movie may be a bit cold compared to other princess flicks, but when the very first castle in Disney history is named after it, it must be doing something right. The Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant in Paris may be more regal, but Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle is a toy straight out of our imagination.

This is the symbol that sold the nation on the idea of Disneyland. It is such an icon for the company that for years it was featured as the logo for everything—not just theme parks, but TV shows, movies, merchandise, etc. Sleeping Beauty Castle simply is Disney.

Funny how her castle predates the movie by 4 years.

#15 Lady and the Tramp (1955)

As is the case with many movies featuring realistic animal characters, you won’t find many meet-and-greets from Lady and the Tramp. You’re more likely to get Gigantor versions of the characters at Pop Century Resort, where both Lady and Tramp appear.

You can, however, find an entire Magic Kingdom restaurant named after the film’s most minor characters. Tony, the Italian restauranteur who famously ignored his paying customers in order to serenade stray dogs, has his own Town Square cafe. It features Italian food, of course, and tasteful references to the movie.

Too bad the food is not as tasteful.

Too bad the food is not as tasteful. Photo © the star trader

Outside you can find a spot where the canine heroes have left their mark. Fortunately, it’s not the fire hydrant.

In Disneyland Paris, the pizzeria also has a Lady and the Tramp theme.

#14 Peter Pan (1953)

If Sleeping Beauty Castle got to be the logo for the Disneyland TV show, Tinker Bell got to be the host.

Tinker Bell is one of the all-time great Disney park characters. At castles around the world, she sets off the nightly fireworks displays with a wave of her wand and a dazzling flight from the highest tower.

And if that’s not enough, she sells merchandise by the bucketload, thanks to Pixie Hollow meet-and-greet areas and Tinker Bell’s Treasures toy shops.

Peter Pan is the perfect movie for theme parks. For the longest time Disneyland had a massive Skull Rock, alongside a full scale Captain Hook Pirate Ship and Chicken of the Sea Restaurant, which logically sold chicken dinners (actually tuna). Paris thought the idea was so good, they built their own chicken restaurant. Oh, and a Skull Rock.

On most nights, Captain Hook and Peter Pan transform the Columbia into a travelling stunt show at Disneyland’s Fantasmic while the Crocodile chases them from his own oversized barge. And Peter Pan is one of only two movies made prior to 1989 to get its own segment in Mickey’s Philharmagic.

One of the all-time great Disney MGM Studios attractions was the Back to Neverland tour at the Magic of Disney Animation, starring Robin Williams as a Lost Boy and Walter Cronkite as a pompous animation expert. If any attraction had Disney magic, that was the one.

But who are we kidding? The greatest theme park tie in from this movie is none other than Peter Pan’s Flight, the innovative Fantasyland dark ride that lets you crash a pirate ship through a window.

Florida’s version is awesome, Disneyland’s version is breathtaking, but I’ve heard that Paris’s version is truly magical.

Nothing is quite so magical as a flash picture in a dark ride.

Nothing is quite so magical as a flash picture in a dark ride.

#13 Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Just like Neverland, Wonderland seems to exist solely to provide theme parks with great source material.

If Sleeping Beauty had the iconic logo, and Tinker Bell had the iconic host duties, then Alice had the iconic Disneyland ride.

Mad Tea Party at Disneyland

The Mad Tea Party—known everywhere simply as the Tea Cups—has been spinning around since Opening Day back in 1955. It’s a standard carnival ride from a time when Disneyland wasn’t sure just how far it could deviate from the traditional amusement park fare. But unless you’re a giant Sorcerers Hat, icons have a way of enduring and the Tea Cups have been a park staple for 60 years.

Less familiar to American audiences may be Alice’s Curious Labyrinth in Disneyland Paris, where you can re-enact the ending to The Shining inside you’re very own Alice-themed hedge maze.

But for my money, Disneyland’s Alice in Wonderland ride takes the prize. It’s the only Fantasyland dark ride that goes inside and out, upstairs and down. And any ride where you’re sitting on a caterpillar is going to be top notch.

Heimlich's Chew Chew Train

Then again…

#12 Cinderella (1950)

Cinderella isn’t set on an adventurous Neverland isle, nor is it inside a zany Wonderland. Most of the action takes place in the servant’s quarters at a middle-class manor house.

Of course during a brief part of the movie, there’s also a castle.

Cinderella Castle graces both the Florida and the Tokyo versions of the Magic Kingdom, and while Sleeping Beauty’s version has charm without the large scale, Cinderella Castle gets the best of both worlds.

She has a Royal Table, a character greeting area, and a nice fairy tale hotel suite available only to contest winners and people from the royal family of Iger.

Cinderella Castle

On a more crass note, there are also Bibbity Bobbity Boutiques. These are apparently very popular, though I am not the target audience for these things, and I don’t think you will see any videos of two men in their forties getting their hair done on the next WDW46 adventure.

The Cinderella universe shows up in all the expected spots. Characters, fireworks, parades, Fantasmic. The Storybookland Canal Boats includes a scene or two. Even Prince Charming gets his name on the Carrousel in Florida.

Perhaps one of the more interesting tie-ins is at the Disney Wedding Pavilion, where brides arrive in Cinderella’s very own coach, hoping to avoid a hideous transformation at midnight, reminiscent of the plot of Gremlins.

There also used to be a castle stage show called Cinderellabration, imported from Tokyo.

The less said about that, the better.

#11 The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

As we cross the threshold into the 1940s, we reach the first anthology film on our list. Two stories rolled into one. The deliciously creepy Ichabod and the zany Mr. Toad.

The Headless Horseman from the Ichabod segment is a Halloween mainstay. He introduces the Boo To You parade during Walt Disney World’s hard-ticket Halloween parties, and for years terrorized hayriders at Fort Wilderness (still a Disney World bucket list item that I’ll never get to complete).

Ichabod himself used to be in the highly-lucrative “Keel Boat Souvenir” business before Ichabod’s Landing disappeared from Liberty Square. But Sleepy Hollow Refreshments has been operating for decades, serving the finest waffles on property.

The Mr. Toad segment of the same movie, however, is famous more for its ride than for the film that inspired it.

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is the outlier—the most subversive Disney attraction around. Not only isn’t it afraid to kill its audience in a grisly locomotive accident, it likes to send them to hell for good measure.

The Disneyland version has a much more charming exterior, while the Florida version was saddled with the medieval tournament look. Disney World made up for it by having two separate tracks, which were slightly different Toad experiences. The Walt Disney World version famously caused a ruckus when it closed for good way back in the 1990s, but Disneyland’s version is still going strong.

Toad Hall also exists in Paris, but as a restaurant. I hear the frog legs are delicious.

Only 10 more movies to go! Stay tuned for Part V!


If you would like to receive Parkeology updates via email, please sign up for our email list! We also invite you to Like us on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter.

And Shane would personally love it if you checked out his thrilling pirate adventure novel Johnny Shipwreck. Available for Amazon Kindle!  (formerly titled The Raiders of Castillo del Mar).

 

The Complete Canonical List of the Best Animated Film Tie-Ins Ever – Part 3

Well now. That was an adventure, wasn’t it?

Things couldn’t be better than they are, here in the fabulous 2010s.

Parkeology hit the global media market in a big way. Our faces were on seemingly every TV channel in the country. A guy named John Cameron Swayze gave us all the news. A lot of singing and fluff, but it’s fun.

Major newspapers from London to New York carried articles on us, and the Parkeology exploits traveled from New York to Los Angeles in less than seven days.

And I even hear tell of some brothers from North Carolina who are working on some kind of WDW48-ride-vehicle-contraption. Heh heh. It’ll never work.

Yes, we’ve got all the latest inventions. Twitter accounts, Youtube videos, Facebook pages. And some kind of innate ability for news media to use the worst screen grabs of our faces ever. They are also mildly obsessed with calling us “middle-aged.” That may be true of Ted, but this parkeologist is still just a youngster, don’t you know.

And now I’m mixing up animatronic stage show quotes.

Anyway, thanks to all the new riders who found/followed/subscribed to us on that whirlwind journey that was WDW46, and a warm welcome back to those of you who made it. And a friendly word of warning, one you won’t find in any guidebook:

What we do 99% of the time on parkeology has nothing to do with outrageously stupid theme park quests, and mostly has to do with obsessing over the obscure, incredible, intricate details of the parks. In fact, we were in the middle of a series of articles on the greatest theme park tie-ins to the official canonical list of Disney animated features. We may have been detoured (“Brakes? Brakes! Where are the brakes?”) but it’s time to dive back in. Journey with us now, to the dawn of recorded time. Or at least to the dark ages of animated films.

We welcome you, to the 1980s. We welcome you… to SeaBase Alpha.

#29 – The Rescuers Down Under

Oh good grief. What a way to start. This somewhat forgotten sequel (actually from 1990) to the somewhat forgotten original Rescuers film never really had a chance to blossom in the parks. The pickings are slim, my friends.

Bernard and Bianca appeared as walk-around characters (and still very rarely do, though mostly in Tokyo). But they are usually more evocative of the 1970s original film then of this sequel.

The film is not terrible, and some of the animation montages will include it. Marahute the golden eagle will often get a brief clip during any “You Can Fly” number from the various animation attractions.

However, the best park tie-in to emerge from the Rescuers Down Under is actually at Epcot in Future World.

Sound strange? It is, but that glorious Future World fountain has an entire sequence choreographed to the Rescuers Down Under opening credits music.

That sounds noble. It does. But also, we must remember that the Future World fountain also has an entire sequence choreographed to music from the 1994 dogsledding movie Iron Will. So do with that what you will.

So when do we get some water dancing set to the stirring music of the Journey of Natty Gann?

So when do we get some water dancing set to the stirring music of the Journey of Natty Gann?

Photo by Express Monorail

#28 – The Little Mermaid

The one that started the renaissance. The second golden age really began with the Little Mermaid, which caught audiences by storm in 1989 and ushered in a new dawn of Disney cartoon musicals.

And yet somehow it took them more than decade to build a ride after it.

Little Mermaid got the standard 90s treatment: Stage shows and parade performances. At Walt Disney World, she also managed to carve out part of the defunct sub lagoon for a greeting area called Ariel’s Grotto. Scuttles the seagull also became the proprietor of a snack stand next to Dumbo.

Voyage of the Little Mermaid opened at Disney MGM Studios, a decent black-light puppet and live actor stage show, and of course the music turned up everywhere, from Spectromagic to Fantasmic.

It was not until the opening of Tokyo DisneySea in 2001 when Little Mermaid finally got serious theme park attention. The film is the basis for the entire themed land of Mermaid Lagoon, housed almost entirely indoors. Unfortunately, the attractions in Mermaid Lagoon are of the off-the-shelf type. There’s Flounder’s Flying Fish coaster (kiddie coaster), a Jumpin’ Jellyfish parachute drop, some sort of seashell version of the teacups.

It also had a rather artistic live show, with Ariel on arials — wires that would make the live performer seem to float through the ocean.

Then a decade later, Disney’s California Adventure added the first full-length dark ride based on the movie. It was billed as a major E-ticket, and ended up being a solid D-ticket. Disney World cloned it into New Fantasyland, and added a breathtaking show building on top of it, and that, my friends, is probably the best park tie-in.

Prince Eric’s castle and the surrounding rockwork and grottos are some of the Magic Kingdom’s most beautiful sights, and the ride is easily on par with the classic Fantasyland dark rides (and usually longer).

After losing the 20K Lagoon, it's amazing that we finally get to see something this beautiful again.

After losing the 20K Lagoon, it’s amazing that we finally get to see something this beautiful again.

Photo by Scott Smith

#27 – Oliver and Company

The one that did NOT start the renaissance. I recently re-watched this “classic” and I can safely say that it’s hard to see them making the jump from this to Little Mermaid. Oliver is cringe-inducing and pandering.

It’s easy to see why it never really found a home in the parks. The characters are all dogs and cats, so walk-arounds are difficult. The film got a few token clips in various montages (Dodger in particular shows up in one of the bubbles during the Florida version of Fantasmic).

If I’m going to be forced to pick something, I’m going to go off the reservation and choose a segment from the Grand Opening of the Disney MGM Studios. I had this special on grainy VHS and watched it over and over and over (John Ritter is hilarious). One of the selling points of the new park was that the New Mickey Mouse Club was filmed there, and the Mouseketeers are featured in the Grand Opening at the 17:35 mark, performing “Why Should I Worry?” from Oliver and Company. I’m not sure if Christina, Justin, and Brittany are in this cast, but they might be. It won’t make the number any better.

#26 – The Great Mouse Detective

Uh-oh. I’m, uh, not sure what to do with this one. I actually like the movie much better than Oliver and Company, but this is apparently during Disney’s “classic English literature character done with animals” phase, and references to the Great Mouse Detective are few and far between in the parks.

You would think that Ratigan, one of the most bombastic villains, would have made a great walk around character, and I think maybe he was around briefly (but only very, very briefly).

Okay, I wasn’t going to use this one unless I absolutely have to, because it’s basically just an image of the characters. But as images go, it’s a legendary one.

I’m referring to the Bill Justice character mural that once graced the wall outside the Walt Disney Story at the Magic Kingdom. This one was truly amazing, with lots of obscure characters. This mural for the longest time was actually one of the greatest relics of the modern parkeology era. The Walt Disney Story closed decades ago, but the mural remained, hidden deep inside the old theater, and was often considered a backstage area. Stumbling across it as I did after so many years of forgetting all about it was one of the happier days of my early parkeological career (this was before the blog existed).

Sadly, the mural is no more. But it is of significance to the Great Mouse Detective, because characters from that movie were the last to be added to the mural. None of the other recent characters from Little Mermaid and beyond were ever included.

#25 – The Black Cauldron

I am not going to lie. The Black Cauldron is, to me, the single worst animated film Disney has ever produced. It is an incoherent mess of a story, almost completely without any redeeming factor. I can count on one hand the number of readers who can name 3 characters from it. I’ll even spot you Gurgi and the Horned King.

Personal anecdote: The Black Cauldron was released in 1985. It is to my great shame that my stupid, Disney-can-do-no-wrong self proclaimed it better than the other big movie that came out around the same time, which starred Michael J. Fox and a time-travelling DeLorean. Rating the Black Cauldron higher than that masterpiece is one of my life’s biggest regrets.

Having said that, Black Cauldron actually managed to snag itself a snack stand at Magic Kingdom. Gurgi’s Munchies and Crunchies is still around — well, the venue is, though it has changed names about a hundred times since then. Now it’s called The Friar’s Nook. It’s in Fantasyland. It’s forgettable.

But as is sometimes the case with fate’s weird sense of humor, the worst film on the entire list also gets one of the most delightfully obscure major attraction tie-ins (at least to American audiences).

The Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour at Tokyo Disneyland was an odd walk-through thing that ran from the mid-80s to 2006. It has one of those “Villains Hijack the Proceedings” plots, and culminates in an encounter with the Horned King and the Black Cauldron. Seriously, somebody in Tokyo thought the Black Cauldron deserved a rather elaborate finale in a mid-level attraction.

If I could go back in time and experience any lost Disney attraction on the planet...

If I could go back in time and experience any lost Disney attraction on the planet…

Say what you want about my middle-aged co-parkeologist Ted, but he will always be the only friend I personally know who has been chosen to wield the Sword of Light against the Horned King, and received the awesome medal reward from the cast members. I’m not joking, it’s like a big production or something.

He claims it’s because the Japanese always pick goofy white guys as the “volunteer.” Clearly they have seen our WDW46 screengrabs.

#24 – The Fox and the Hound

Another awful movie from the 80s, which is even more pandering than Oliver and Company, if that is possible.

The main characters are a fox and a hound. Go figure. No character greeting areas then.

I’m going to choose the ultimate cop-out and go with an Emporium window display at Disneyland. The less said about this movie, the better.

Off-Model and shrouded in darkness... sounds about right.

Off-Model and shrouded in darkness… sounds about right.

Photo by Castles, Capes, and Clones

#23 – The Rescuers

Suddenly we’re in the groovy 70s! The year is 1977. Star Wars is still in theaters. Bell bottoms are all the rage. And this pandering (imagine that) story about 2 mice rescuing an orphan explodes onto the world theme park stage.

Okay, no it doesn’t. The Rescuers got the aforementioned walkaround of Bernard and Bianca, and even had Orville the Albatross and Evinrude the dragonfly, as seen in this beautifully vintage picture.

#22 – The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Finally. After a lot of dreck, we’ve arrived back at a good movie. This movie was a sort of anthology, combining a few different Winnie the Pooh featurettes as one movie, but it strikes the perfect note and is one of the truly enduring Disney classic movies.

Pooh is one of those few Disney characters that has universal recognition and appeal. Much like Mickey and the gang, he is a pervasive character in the parks, and practically owns the merchandise shelves (though he has given some ground to princesses in recent years).

Pooh’s walk-around character has undergone a few changes over the years (the oddest example was when he had a honey pot on his head). And of course his supporting cast (Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, etc.) are just as popular.

Winnie the Pooh even ran for President in 1972 and 1976. This included daily campaign parades at Disneyland a stage show of sorts. It’s unclear why Disney thought Pooh made the best candidate from their repertoire of characters, but if anyone could be considered incorruptible, it is Pooh Bear.

But in terms of major attractions, it took a long time before Winnie the Pooh finally came into his own. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of beloved Mr. Toad. In the late 90s, Pooh evicted J. Thaddeus Toad for his own ride at the Magic Kingdom, named with the exact same title as his movie. Though Toad proponents rightfully mourn the loss of the Wild Ride, it should be noted that the Pooh ride is very well done, and deserves its place in Fantasyland — especially with its more intricate queue that was added only a few years ago.

Pooh then made his way to Disneyland, where he again managed to stick his foot in the proverbial honey pot by evicting another classic attraction in the Country Bear Jamboree. The Disneyland ride is very similar to Florida’s version, perhaps a tad worse.

But the piece de resistance came when Pooh’s Hunny Hunt was added to Tokyo Disneyland. Here is an absolutely breathtaking E-ticket level ride for families that is a marvel of technological engineering and oozing with charm.

It is clearly the best version of a Pooh ride anywhere, and among the best attractions in the entire world.

#21 – Robin Hood

Here we go again, English lit characters as animals. At least this time, they are anthropomorphic animals, which is actually a pretty unique way to tackle the Robin Hood story.

Though time has illuminated me of its flaws, Robin Hood was for the longest time my favorite animated film, and the fox himself remains my favorite Disney character.

Unfortunately, Robin Hood has never really had much of a presence in the parks, except as a walk-around character. It is to the filmmakers’ credit, however, that the characters are so magnificently rendered. Robin Hood, the Sherriff of Nottingham, and to a lesser extent Friar Tuck and Prince John still frequently make appearances in the parks.

They never got an attraction or even so much as a popsicle stand, but the characters are still there.

The debonair Robin Hood, looking decidedly more double-chinned than I remember.

The debonair Robin Hood, looking decidedly more double-chinned than I remember.

Photo by Jeff Christiansen

#20 – The Aristocats

The last film in today’s segment. As the saying goes, in with a whimper, out with a …whimper. Aristocats is not a terrible film, but it is somewhat weak. There were a few different gift shops called The AristoCats at various Magic Kingdom-style parks at one time or another, but the move never had a major presence.

Until recently.

Somehow modern audiences have rediscovered the character of Marie, the feisty little white kitten who is basically a bit player in the movie. All of the kittens in the film are cute, but Marie has come out of nowhere and now her merchandise is everywhere. I blame the Japanese. You just know this started with them.

A lot of the Aristocats (including all three kittens and some of the weird cats from the Scat Cat band) have appeared at some point as walkaround characters, but Marie is the only one who appears regularly today.

She is often found on Town Square at the Magic Kingdom, and has been seen in France at Epcot as well, and at other parks worldwide.

Cross-eyed French kitten of the 70s!

Cross-eyed French kitten of the 70s!

Photo by Castles, Capes, and Clones

Summary

The 70s and 80s were not exactly Disney’s best time period for animation, though there are a few gems in there (Winnie the Pooh and Little Mermaid). Most of the stories are forgettable at best, and nearly unwatchable at worst. It’s no wonder most of these never panned out with major park tie-ins.

But some great films in the 50s and 60s are just around the corner…