The man who invented paradise: The secret history of Disney’s Tiki Room & Trader Sam’s

Upon hitting the scene in 2011 The Disneyland Hotel’s Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar became an instant hit. How could it not be? After all, it combines several things Disney does extremely well: heavily themed environments, clever special effects and deep back-story. Of course it also includes alcohol that curiously and inexplicably remains a major draw for many Disney fans (take a trip to Epcot during the food and wine festival for unfortunate, sloppy proof of this).

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It could have opened 50 years earlier and been right on point.

After enjoying several years as the only Disney Tiki bar (making many of us scratch our heads, bewildered as to why it took over 55 years for Disney to get around to building one), Trader Sam’s expanded this Spring with an all new location in the Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World. The perfect and obvious choice for a Tiki bar now proudly has one (this time called Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto) and the crowds are proving once again that Tiki is back and perhaps poised to become even bigger.

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A synthetic, idealized South Pacific resort surely deserves a synthetic idealized tiki bar!

Most people, even non-Disney fans, grasp that the parks inspired both Trader Sam’s locations. They clearly have an Adventureland feel to them (even sharing their names with the Jungle Cruise character) that would be obvious to anyone with rudimentary knowledge of the parks who wandered in. The West Coast version takes most of its inspiration from the Jungle Cruise and The Enchanted Tiki Room while the East Coast incarnation adds elements of the sadly defunct Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea attraction.

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Is this Trader Sam?

 

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Or is this Trader Sam? It all depends on which coast you are from.

In many ways, both locations have finally brought to fruition a concept Walt Disney had dating back to the early days of Disneyland. Over and over again, Imagineering has tried to combine Disney style show elements and exotically themed environments with dining establishments. Famously, the original concept for the Tiki Room started as a restaurant and dinner show before being scaled back to the current show (though you can enjoy Dole Whips inside the original Disneyland version).

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The original concept for the Enchanted Tiki Room has tables and food and feels a lot like Trader Sam’s does today.

The Blue Bayou restaurant in New Orleans Square layered rich environments on top of a dining location and many other Disney restaurants have taken that same path over the years (Epcot’s San Angel Inn, Disneyland’s Tahitian Terrance, The Explorers Club in Disneyland Paris and so on). Even Club 33, the members only, off limits to regular riff-raff, bucket-list worthy private club originally called for interactive animatronics to entertain diners. Yet somehow, over all of this time, Disney had never successfully combined themed environments, attraction-like show elements and dining all in one… they have come close but never quite nailed it.

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I want to love the Adventurers Club but I could never warm up to it… to much “Kungaloosh!” and not enough charm or whimsy.

The former Adventurers Club, on the also former Pleasure Island, came close. It did have animatronics and show elements in a richly themed environment, but it also had regulars who often took over the property and created an oddly exclusive feel, one in which regular folk were not in on the jokes and unwelcome (Kungaloosh!… oh shut up please). Beyond that, “forced fun” (a somewhat uniquely Disney experience where the pressure to have fun becomes so great that actual fun becomes impossible) would often overwhelm a visit.

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Yea!!!!! Look how much fun we are having!!!! Yipeeeeeeee. That one guy even has a noise maker… YES!

The Adventurers Club tried so hard to be fun and irreverent and off beat and spontaneous that it usually failed to be any of these things. It did have a great environment and served drinks and perhaps some simple snacks… however it was basically a comedy club with a bar attached, not really what Walt was going for with his original concept of the Enchanted Tiki Room.

With Trader Sam’s Disney scaled things down, made the room intimate and lavished layer upon layer of thematic details. It may be enjoyed on the simple premise that it is a Tiki bar or one can delve deeper and find hidden jokes and references to past and current attractions. They of course serve Tiki drinks in a variety of exotic and elaborate mugs (as is Tiki bar tradition) and enough food that a group could eat a meal there. Furthermore, there are legitimate show elements happening all around you. Ordering specific drinks will trigger special effect sequences that range from erupting volcanoes to sinking ships. Trader Sam’s is fun, it is for the most part inclusive and is as close to Walt Disney’s concept of the Tiki Room as we are likely to get.

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Hey José, pass the guacamole will ya?

Considering that you are reading this on a website devoted to the small details of the Disney parks you likely know all of this already, in fact you have probably been to one or perhaps both locations. Maybe you have a souvenir Zombie mug sitting on your desk, or maybe you have custom built shelves to hold your complete collection of Tiki mugs (we are not judging you). But few fans have really thought about why any of this exists in the first place, why was Walt so intrigued by Polynesian and Tiki themes? It may have taken six decades to get here but where did it all begin?

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The future is now!

Mid-Century America was an interesting time and place. Technology was delivering experiences never before dreamed of. The United States enjoyed an economic and cultural leadership role but also toiled under the “Red Scare” and newfound pressures to move to the suburbs locked into a 30-year mortgage. It was both an exciting and uncharted time filled with humor and a certain synthetic feel. Polyester was better than cotton, frozen food was better than fresh, Monsanto was paving the way to the future and artificial turf was going to replace lawns everywhere: it was the American dream! Disneyland was created at perhaps the only time in history that it could have been, it is very much a reflection of the popular culture of the time. As much as we hate it when Disney tries to be “hip” and “edgy” the truth is that Disneyland has ALWAYS been tied into the zeitgeist. The mid-fifties was a time when multiple trends were emerging within pop culture. Westerns were at their peak (thus Frontierland), the googie architectural movement with its atomic age shapes and space age excitement was in high gear (fueled by the space race over the next 15 years) and so Tomorrowland was born. There was also a fascination with exotic locales and cultures that were foreign to most Americans; the Tiki movement exemplified this and Adventureland became Disneyland’s physical manifestation of it. What later became ironic, kitschy or at worst; tacky, was in fact a hugely popular cultural movement that covered the entire country and lasted over 40 years.

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Mickey Mouse poaching ivory… you probably would not see that today.

The Tiki movement started in California in 1933 when Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (a young unemployed former prohibition era bootlegger) took the nom de plume of Donn Beach (he later legally adopted this name) and opened up Don the Beachcomber. It was a small bar located in an old tailor’s shop in Hollywood. Decorated with bamboo, thatch roofs and tropical knick-knacks picked up form his island travels, it became an instant smash. Don expanded to a larger location and soon the Hollywood elite (such as Walt Disney) were hanging out drinking the rum and fruit juice cocktails Don concocted with an eye on escapism. Even though these drinks were based on Caribbean liquor and had absolutely nothing to do with the South Pacific (and the actual use of Tiki statues would not come for many years to follow) Tiki as we know it was born.

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Meet Mr. Beach… without him you would not have Trader Sam’s, the Tiki Room, the Dole Whip or life as you know it.

This was a time when air travel was just becoming democratized, it was just starting to reach a point where an average person could travel great distances. Previously you may be born in Kansas, grow up in Kansas and die in Kansas. Kansas was your world, Kansas was what you knew… the idea of beaches and palm trees and untamed native girls was as far away as the dark side of the moon. Visiting Don’s bar was like traveling across the globe to a fantastic shangri la you never knew existed, or perhaps knew could only exist in a place like this.

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The original Don’s Beachcomber Cafe gave birth to a trend that would last decades and spawn countless copies.

Don served in the Army during World War II and his wife took over and expanded the chain of bars when he was away (16 locations by the time he returned). When the war ended many soldiers came home from the Pacific theater suppressing the horrors they experienced and instead telling stories of uncharted beaches, topless girls and exotic food and drink. The country and the folks who lived and died in Kansas were fascinated. The fact that these tales were mostly fictional and bastardized hodgepodges  of Oceanic, Caribbean and African cultures (plus a good heap of pure fantasy) mattered less than the fact that they brought escapism, fun and relief from a long period of conflict. Looking at Tiki bars to learn about Polynesian culture would be like looking at the Country Bear Jamboree to learn about the mating habits of grizzlies; it was all make believe.

Mating occurs from May through July with a peak in mid-June. Female grizzlies begin bearing young at 3 to 8 years of age, and litter size varies from one to four cubs, with an average litter of two. Grizzly bears have a promiscuous mating system: cubs from the same litter can have different fathers.

Mating occurs from May through July with a peak in mid-June. Female grizzlies begin bearing young at 3 to 8 years of age, and litter size varies from one to four cubs, with an average litter of two. Grizzly bears have a promiscuous mating system: cubs from the same litter can have different fathers.

The world was getting smaller and these far-off fantasies were tantalizingly within grasp. Hawaii joined the union as our 50th state and interest in Tiki was at an all time high. The parallels of what was happening in popular culture and what Disney was doing, both in entertainment and eventually his park, cannot be overstated.

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A white girl in a grass skirt with a Chinese gong, a couple South Pacific Tikis, an African patterned rug, Hawaiian leis and holding a flaming drink made with Caribbean rum… all seems pretty authentic and culturally sensitive to me.

Many others joined the Tiki craze, most notably Victor J. Bergeron who opened a series of Trader Vic’s bars and restaurants. Vic brought a culinary element to Don’s mixology and while the two remained amicable rivals throughout their careers they also built upon each other’s successes. Soon patrons all over the world were enjoying “exotic” tropical dishes (really Americanized and homogenized Cantonese recipes) while sipping now classic rum drinks (such as the Mai Tai) in heavily themed, dramatically presented environments. Grand Tiki bars often had a sense of drama not found in your average drinking hole. Dimly lit and often isolated in the basement of hotels (the windowless locations allowed complete control of the environment), many featured waterfalls, grottos and flickering torches. Tribal drum beats, skulls and exotic flora and fauna were highlights. These were in essence Walt’s vision of the Tiki Room sans the singing birds twenty or thirty years before the Tiki Room would see the light of day. They were the prototypes for Adventureland and themed entertainment in general decades before Disneyland defined the genre.

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Vic brought food to Tiki, and giant wicker chairs, and volcanoes on tables… and mildy racist stereotypes as well I guess…

 

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All the New York Trader Vic’s was missing is some wise-cracking talking birds (whose mildly racist stereotypes would fit right in).

 

¡Ay, caramba! Who are you calling mildly racist señor?

The country fell in love; Donn’s little creation became a national obsession. Tiki was not contained simply to bars, by the mid-century it was everywhere; apartment buildings, hotels, bowling alleys, shopping malls, miniature golf, fashion and entertainment. Hula hoops, Hula lamps, Hula dolls and more. Movies such as South Pacific, Blue Hawaii and even Swiss Family Robinson swept audiences away to tropical paradise. Hawaiian shirts were worn without a trace of irony. Home furnishings were fabricated from bamboo and coconut shells. Exotic lounge music (known as exotica and mixing Oceanic and African influences) topped the charts.

The sounds of exotica filled the air

The sounds of exotica filled the air

Even entire amusement parks were created to celebrate the newly en vogue cultural direction. Tiki enjoyed great longevity running from the mid 1930’s through the 1970’s before finally drifting into the world of kitsch by the 1980’s and off the map altogether in the 90’s and early 2000’s.

Tiki Gardens was a theme park located in (where else) Florida.

Tiki Gardens was a theme park located in (where else) Florida.

 

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Live the Tiki lifestyle!

 

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If you build it they will come: A proposed but never built Tiki Bowling Alley.

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room opened during the latter part of the trend in 1963. Tiki was neither invented by Disney nor even re-invented by Disney, it was simply a part of a much larger movement, and it was Disney’s attempt at being “hip” and “edgy” for those times. To be fair Disney did put a spin on it by taking the traditional décor of Tiki and upping the ante with animatronics and theatrical lighting effects. But like much of American culture both Disney, and the Tiki movement in general, stole cultural symbolism and artifacts and transformed them into entertainment for the masses. Many Tiki statues served significant religious roles to cultures not at all understood by the white guys who appropriated them, thus were the ways of mid-century America. Nevertheless the Tiki trend was one of the most significant and widespread of our pop-culture history.

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Choose your religious icon of choice, now make it into a mug and serve a boozy slushy out of it… sounds crazy and yet that is exactly what happened.

By the time the seventies came around, Tiki was old enough that those who were interested in it during their youth had kids of their own… those offspring would often look at what their parents thought of as being cool and fun and (in the case of Tiki) escapism, and find it tired, tacky and embarrassing. Tiki was nearing its end. The Vietnam War changed the country’s view of the tropics, palm trees and jungles no longer meant paradise. At this same time American culture was shifting to more realistic and gritty forms of entertainment, cop movies displaced romantic tropical tales at the local theater and elaborately embellished fruity drinks were suddenly passé (not to mention that over the decades they declined in quality from carefully balanced creations to straight from a can syrupy sweet disasters).

Yea Mom... that's really "groovy".

Yea Mom… that’s really “groovy”.

Interestingly, Disney was in the midst of building another elaborate homage to Tiki and Polynesia: The Polynesian Village Resort. When Walt Disney World opened in 1971 the “Polynesian” as it was commonly known was one of the original hotels. Complete with Tiki carvings, torches, rain forests, luaus and waterfalls the hotel serves as a last great tribute to the Tiki movement and, in typical Disney fashion, was created just as the trend was ending: Disney never has been good at being hip and edgy after all. Despite all of its many nods to Tiki the Polynesian never had an actual Tiki bar… perhaps even Disney knew the ride was over at that point?

Just an excuse to post one of the most beautiful attraction posters of all time.

Just an excuse to post one of the most beautiful attraction posters of all time.

Coming full circle, the Polynesian Village now enjoys it’s own version of Trader Sam’s and Tiki is making a major comeback. Super trendy bars in San Francisco (Smugglers Cove), London (Mahiki), Chicago (Lost Lake, Three Dots and a Dash), New York (PKNY) and elsewhere have spearheaded a renaissance. The kids of the kids who rebelled against Tiki are now embracing it once again, appreciating the creativity and the style the originals brought to the scene. But how are the two Disney versions? After all this time do they capture the spirit of Tiki?

Today new Tiki bars like Lost Lake in Chicago carry on the traditions of Don Beach.

Today new Tiki bars like Lost Lake in Chicago carry on the traditions of Donn Beach.

The answer is a definite “maybe”. They are at once classic Tiki and totally anti-Tiki… they are Tiki bars as only Disney could do them.

Stay tuned for part two when we visit both versions of Trader Sam’s and see what they are all about. In the meantime raise a glass to dear old Don the Beachcomber and thank him for all the fun you have had over the years. Without Donn there is no Tiki, no national obsession with Polynesia, no Adventureland and ultimately, perhaps, no Disneyland.

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!


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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…