The Complete Canonical List of the Best Animated Film Tie-Ins Ever – Part 1

Friday, November 7 will be a momentous day here at the Parkeology offices. You can probably guess why.

On that day, Big Hero 6 will be officially released into theaters, the 54th animated feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

There is perhaps nothing more synergistic than Disney animated features and theme parks. The parks are loaded with rides based on movies, restaurants based on movies, shops that sell merchandise from the movies, an entire attraction called “The Magic of Disney Animation” which is about the making of the movies. Without animation, there would be no Disneyland. Animation is the lifeblood of Disney parks. Animation and maybe also ice cream.

The 54 animated features are sort of like the 47 rides of Walt Disney World — something that can be methodically endured, conquered, and critiqued. Good, bad, all of the above — and in spite of all the classics, there is a surprising amount of bad on the list of 54.

For the first time in theme park history, somebody has decided to choose the absolute best park tie-in that ever existed for every animated feature. It’s something you didn’t even know you wanted, but now that it’s here, you will soon wonder how you ever lived without.

It’s going to take a few posts to get through all these. I will be going in descending order by release date. The older movies, by definition of them being older, have more options to choose from. So it will be more climactic to finish up with the original classics.

But first you have to suffer through…

#54 – Big Hero 6

Prepare to hug lifesize Baymax in a character greeting area heading to Disneyland! There’s also one heading to Hollywood Studios, but I give the edge to Disneyland, since it’s also repurposing the Captain EO theater into a preview theater. So there’s that.

See what I mean about anti-climactic? The movie isn’t even released yet! Until this movie becomes a mega-hit, we likely won’t see the closure of any classic Epcot dark rides so that we can get our own Big Hero 6 adventure. Speaking of which…

#53 – Frozen

You’ve sung the songs. You’ve worn the princess outfits. You’ve been labeled “the creepy cross-dressing man who sings show tunes.” Now it’s time to pick the best theme park tie-in to the biggest animated hit of all time.

Sure, we have that new Epcot E-ticket on the way, but that’s a few years off. Over in Hollywood Studios, they just ran an entire summer promotion centered around Frozen, complete with cardboard Olafs, an ice skating rink, and soap bubbles on Hollywood Boulevard. We also got that hastily thrown-together Frozen Sing-Along in the Premiere Theater, which turned out to be a surprisingly engaging experience (eat your heart out, American Idol).

But the best Frozen tie-in is already history. The Frozen Fireworks show used as part of the Summer of Frozen Fun had its last performance in September. Those songs! Those fireworks! That giant Sorcerer’s Hat backdrop! The show will be missed. The hat not so much.

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Photo by SpreadTheMagic

#52 – Wreck-It Ralph

Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz had their own walk-around characters, but the coolest park tie-in for this genius video game tale came in the form of … a video game.

Fix-It Felix Junior arcade cabinets made appearances at Disneyland’s Starcade and Disney Quest, where you can still play them today.

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Photo by insidethemagic

#51 – Winnie the Pooh

Thank God for character greeting areas, or some of these movies would really be scraping the bottom of the barrel. Of course Winnie the Pooh is all over the place in theme parks. For awhile, he was bigger than the princesses. But tie-ins for this somewhat forgotten feature in the Pooh pantheon were limited to the character greeting spot at the Magic of Disney Animation (recently home to Wreck-It Ralph, with Baymax landing soon).

#50 – Tangled

Here we are five movies into the list and we’ve still yet to see a bonafide attraction, except maybe the Frozen fireworks. Tangled is not the movie to break that streak. But it is with a strange sense of delight that I get to put a restroom on the list.

Rapunzel’s Tower forms the backdrop to Fantasyland’s Tangled-themed pitstop area, complete with phone charging stations and a nice little “Where’s Waldo?” game with the chameleon.

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Photo by Brett Kiger

#49 – The Princess and the Frog

Tiana and Naveen got themselves a thematically appropriate riverboat show in New Orleans Square — Princess Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee — which is the pinnacle of their park achievement. The show didn’t last very long, but like many things in Disneyland, it made great use of existing park landmarks. The characters still pop up for greetings here and there, but the song-and-dance show still takes the cake.

 #48 – Bolt

Oh, Bolt. You left us too soon. The movie wasn’t a failure, but Bolt is practically non-existent in the parks, other than as a plush toy at the Emporium. Could that possibly be the best tie-in from the movie? A stuffed animal?

No, I won’t allow out. Bolt’s biggest impact is on his card for Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, the interactive game in Florida. Bolt’s power (like in the movie) is his Super Bark. Hold that card high, Bolt fans. You’ve precious little else to cling to.

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#47 – Meet the Robinsons

Yeah, this one is pretty much in the same boat. There are several park references in Meet the Robinsons, but not many Meet the Robinson references in the parks. I’m going to fall back on the old stand-by: The character greeting area.

This honor goes to Bowler Hat Guy, who by now is actually a very rare character. He’s usually only out for special events like Marathons or Overnight Villain Parties.

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Photo by Castles, Capes & Clones

#46 – Chicken Little

Screw it. I refuse to pick the short-lived walk-around Chicken Little and Abby Mallard characters, who like Bowler Hat Guy are special events only, nowadays. I don’t even like Chicken Little the movie.

It says something when the best park tie-in for the movie is the movie’s own promotional billboard. And that’s what I’m going with. They painted the side of the Playhouse Disney soundstage in Hollywood Studios to be a bright blue sky, and then painted a hexagonal tile that had fallen from it. A promotional mural. That’s the best you can do, Chicken Little.

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#45 – Home on the Range

Shoot me now. The movies are getting dreadful, and the park tie-ins are getting worse. The best tie-ins to date have been a fireworks show and a character show. And this flick about three cows (one of whom is Roseanne Barr) is not likely to blaze any trails.

Judy Dench voiced another one of the cows. Can I call her Spaceship Earth narration a tie-in? Jennifer Tilly (the third cow) played Madame Leota in the Eddie Murphy Haunted Mansion movie. Can I use that?

Okay, fine. I guess I will have to go with the Little Patch of Heaven makeover that Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch received around the time the movie was out. I think it had cows. Because theming.

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Photo by Castle, Capes & Clones

#44 – Brother Bear

Brother Bear came out in 2003. Disney — who loves any story where someone turns into a bear to hilarious effect — figured they had a probable massive hit on their hands and promptly rethemed their Redwood Creek playground area of California Adventure into the Magic of Brother Bear, complete with totems, character greetings, and an amphitheater show.

Children everywhere rejoiced and quickly made it the most popular playground in that section of the San Francisco area of a forgotten theme park.

In 2009, Disney rethemed this playground around the Pixar movie Up, which is about a 70-year old man.

If that’s not the definition of a successful theme park tie-in, I don’t know what is.

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Photo by Castles, Capes & Clones

#43 – Treasure Planet

I’m going to be honest with you. This is the first one where I could literally think of nothing. I had to google, and even still, all I could turn up was a walk-around B.E.N. character in Discoveryland at Disneyland Paris. Kind of sad, since this movie is way better than Home on the Range and Brother Bear.

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Photo by Loren Javier

#42 – Lilo & Stitch

Finally! This is the first movie on our list with some real attractions to choose from! I know you are extremely excited. Let me temper your enthusiasm by reminding you that the two attractions in question are Stitch’s Great Escape in the Magic Kingdom and the Stitch version of Turtle Talk in Hong Kong Disneyland.

I’m going to give it to Stitch’s Great Escape, since the animatronic is cool. But I do so under protest, since Stitch’s Great Escape is possibly the worst attraction in the entire Magic Kingdom.

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Photo by Express Monorail

#41 – Atlantis: The Lost Empire

In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, your submarine passed through the lost city of Atlantis, whose tottering columns betrayed the hand of man. It was awesome.

Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with the animated feature.

I don’t know. I kind of hate this movie. So out of spite, the best park tribute is an article done by a wonderful website called parkeology. Which delightfully shows nothing remaining of Atlantis. Which is how it should be.

#40 – The Emperor’s New Groove

We end this first batch of movies not with a bang, but a whimper. Scraping the bottom of the barrel for yet another foam-head. This time, it’s everyone’s favorite mimbo, who had his own meet-and-greet outside the Animation building at Disney’s California Adventure.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Kronk. The Eighth Wonder of the World.

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Photo by ste3ve

Part 1 Summary

So yeah, you can’t wait for the rest of these, right? I mean, we covered 14 movies and the biggest full-fledged attraction we had to offer was the reviled replacement for Alien Encounter. In the process, we got rethemed playgrounds, petting zoos, a fireworks show, a trading card, a restroom, a billboard, seasonal entertainment, a video game, and 5 character greeting areas. This is scintillating stuff.

Is it any wonder Disney gets a bad rap for failing to capitalize on its recent movies?

In the next round, we’ll turn the page back to the 1990s. I guarantee you’ll remember some of those movies. The question is: Will you remember anything they spawned in the parks?

Stay tuned…

 

6 Things I Can’t Believe Still Exist at Disney World

It’s hard for me to believe that Horizons, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Skyway, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride have been gone for 15 or 20 years now. There are readers of this blog in college who never knew what it was like to smell oranges, experience claustrophobic panic attacks, anonymously spit on people from above, or go to hell.

Boom! Suckered you into that one. The L.A. Freeway counts as hell, right?

Boom! Suckered you into that one. The L.A. Freeway counts as hell, right?

My parents’ generation had that Civil Rights movement thing, and even today young people still picket and protest over perceived social injustices, but my crowd staged sit-ins over the right to watch a plywood toad honk at us for three minutes.

It’s been awhile since Disney closed a classic attraction (okay, it was last summer). But certainly nothing as totally beloved as Horizons or Toad. We all have ideas on what should stay and what should go. But ever since Disneyland shut down the Phantom Boats less than a year after park opening, attractions have been fair game for the chopping block, if such a metaphor is even possible.

Still so popular that even when they recreate it in cardboard for a merchandise event, fans get misty eyed.

Still so popular that even when they recreate it in cardboard for a merchandise event, fans get misty eyed.

But attractions are things that Disney can market. The all-important ride count. You can’t just shut down a major animatronics show without a significant capital investment to replace it. So today I’d like to look at 6 things that are not attractions, that somehow still linger inside Walt Disney World, in spite of the world passing them by.

Film and Camera stores

There’s a shop on Hollywood Boulevard called the Darkroom, which still advertises itself as selling cameras and film. I never understood what kind of family would show up at a theme park and plunk down huge retail mark-up cash for a camera, even when people still carried cameras. But nowadays, you’re either a serious photographer (in which case you have your own Canon SLR SuperMax Ultra Plus with a set of matching lenses), or you have a phone.

Now selling cameras, film, typewriter ribbons, and computer punch cards

Now selling cameras, film, typewriter ribbons, White-Out, and computer punch cards

What about the store under Spaceship Earth which is still called the Camera Center? Is there an Amish family wandering in for a day at Epcot, badly in need of a role of 35mm film for their antiquated Kodak point-and-shoot? Even on the off-chance that there are a few luddites passing through the gates, shunning their Magic Bands for the old rubber-stamp paper tickets and the UV ink handstamp for re-admission, they can’t possibly be purchasing enough film to keep these stores in the black.

Yes, I know the camera and film selection at these places has dwindled significantly over the years, but it assumes that not only are there people out there who tote these cameras around on vacation in a giant diaper bag (as opposed to a phone in their pocket), it also assumes that these people, in their absentmindedness, forgot to buy film for their family heirloom. Invest in an iphone, people. You’ll be better off in the long run. Which leads me to…

Pay Phones

The number of pay phones sitting out in the open is incredible. I have not seen an individual use one of these in at least 5 years. And yet at every bathroom, you’ll find a bank of 2 or 3 silver plated privacy cubbies where some relic receiver from a 1950s police show is hung on a braided silver wire, just waiting for you to drop in a quarter or try to call someone collect (do people still do that?)

"Operator? Yes, can you get me Directory Assistance for 1972, please?"

“Operator? Yes, can you get me Directory Assistance for 1972, please?”

There must be hundreds of pay phones across property, and while I’m sure the maintenance budget on those things is small, how much cash can they possibly be raking in? A buck-twenty-five every week or so? What kills me is that each and every one of these phones has a nice shelf beneath it, upon which sits a paper-bound volume the size of an encyclopedia, which I presume is the Orlando Area Yellow Pages. Trees are dying for this, and as proof of how useless they are, I bet half of you don’t know what an encyclopedia is either.

In today’s google-centric world, I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to page through one of those phone books in search of a good pizza place for after I’m done touring the parks. They should rip every one of those phone banks out and replace them with device charging stations.

The Electrical Water Pageant

Let’s be honest: As much as we might like the old school Disney charm of something that has been a mainstay at the resort for more than 30 years, how has this little water parade managed to stick around? They trot it out every night, with its 1970s tableau of primitive Christmas Tree decorations synchronized to music. It floats past three or four hotels like a funny little ice cream truck, then rolls back into its cave and goes to sleep.

It’s not an attraction. It barely warrants mention in any of the marketing materials. I don’t see it advertised much at the resorts, other than an occasional line item in the standard resort newsletter. There are no Designated Water Pageant Viewing Areas. Nobody is booking a stay at the Contemporary because of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Electrical Water Pageant. But I like it because it is quaint and low-tech and it reminds me of Walt Disney World’s more innocent past. But for a company as forward thinking as Disney, I’m surprised this bit of obvious nostalgia has survived.

Half the Games at Disney Quest

DisneyQuest is the great second-tier theme park experience that tragically remains perpetually stuck in 1998.

When DisneyQuest opened, it was supposed to be a mix of current arcade favorites and several signature attractions that weren’t quite theme park rides, but were unique premium adventures far beyond anything you might find in Dave and Buster’s. The arcade games continued to be updated on a regular basis, but the premium attractions have remained mostly unchanged since opening day.

It’s that whole iphone thing again. Everyday technology blows it away. When DisneyQuest opened, the top video game consoles were the PlayStation 1 and Nintendo 64. Think about that. If you think the Nintendo Wii looks out of date now next to Xbox and Playstation 3, remember that the Wii is TWO GENERATIONS after the Nintendo which was popular when DisneyQuest opened its gates.

Have you taken a ride on the Virtual Jungle Cruise lately? It’s a polygonic forest. What about that Aladdin Magic Carpet ride? It’s like watching a 1950s 3-D. And you can keep going right down the line. Ride the Comix can’t match the performance of Wii Bowling. ExtraTerrorestrial Alien Encounter is — well, okay, the only place you can still experience Alien Encounter. Treasure of the Incas has been paved over and replaced with shooter games. Mighty Ducks Pinball (what’s the Mighty Ducks? Also, what’s Pinball?) is abandoned. Cyber Space Mountain is just a sickening ride through low-res 3-D environments that look like an architect’s slick presentation from 1989. The Buzz Lightyear AstroBlasters is still popular, but ironically is the lowest tech attraction in the building. And the Pirates of the Caribbean game (the ONE attraction that has been updated from its earlier Hercules incarnation) is, I suspect, only trading on the popularity of the Johnny Depp franchise, and not because of its wow factor.

It’s ironic that the most fun part of DisneyQuest today is in visiting all the old arcade games on the top floors. That, and having pay-one-price access to all the current games. The idea of blending an arcade with premium experiences has fallen by the wayside. I don’t know how long they can keep Virtual Jungle Cruise going. Speaking of which…

Specialty Stores at Downtown Disney

Downtown Disney has always had a baffling selection of specialty shops, and a lot of them don’t make it very long. It kind of wants to be a funky spin on the idea of a mall, but I don’t know what some tenants are thinking.

The list of failures is a long one. They had a Magic Shop, for crying out loud. Do kids still buy magic? Especially of the floating-penny and card-trick variety. I loved the charm of the Main Street Magic Shop, but I never really understood why there was a magic store at Downtown Disney. Or what about that shop that was nothing but magnets. “Thousands to choose from, in every shape, size, and color!” An entire building of magnets. It was a West Side staple for years. Whenever I saw it, I was always reminded of that fake Saturday Night Live commercial, about the bank whose business was making change. “How do we make money? The answer is simple: volume.” Magnetron still exists over at Marketplace, in one of those cramped little side booths. I always pass by it and think it should be holding a little cardboard sign and a tin cup: “Lost polarity. Need help. God bless.”

For the life of me, I can’t understand how the Pop Gallery stays in business. I swear they must have a leprechaun minting gold somewhere in there. Who is going to this funky little Disney mall and coming home with thousands of dollars worth of ceramic Elvis hound dogs or Suessian primary color dinosaurs?

Nothing says "classy art" like sticking your store on the side of a multiplex.

Buy our art. Or not. It doesn’t matter, we’re independently wealthy!

A few of the high-end resorts have Wyland Galleries and the like, and that sort of makes sense. The resorts are more upscale, with a quieter setting and usually decorated in the sort of classy sculptures and paintings that are on display, with a clientele passing by who is rich enough to afford them. Half the time, the only people hanging around outside the Pop art store are the people in line for the next Johnny Depp movie at the AMC.

And finally we have…

Postcards

It’s a shame, because Disney postcard art is sort of a classic Disney collectible, like mouse ears or trading pins or light-up spinny gizmos that your kid breaks four minutes into the parade. But I’m just not sure this merchandise is selling anymore.

Certainly nobody is mailing postcards, which renders all those mail drops moot. If kids want to say hi to their friends back home, they’ll text them. They’re not going to carry around the snail mail address, drop 40 cents on a stamp, and dig a pen out of mom’s purse in order to write “Wish you were here!” on the back of a picture of Big Al.

Where once every shop had a little round turntable full of a colorful assortment of postcard options, they’re actually kind of hard to find now. You have to look in the big flagship stores: The Emporium, World of Disney, Mouse Gear, etc. It’s a bit of theme park merchandise that has again been rendered obsolete by that ubiquitous device, the camera phone.

But on the plus side, this little composition at Epcot always makes me chuckle. Mail. Male.

So that’s my list. What other things are still hanging around Walt Disney World well past their shelf life? And please don’t say Eric Idle.

 

The First Disney Pixar Movie

2012 is the Bizarro Year.

This year, we hailed California Adventure, Hong Kong Disneyland, and the Magic Kingdom as shining beacons of incredible theming. Tokyo Disney Sea’s newest rides are a transplanted carnival game thing and a Magic Carpet spinner.

At the box office, Spiderman and Batman got beat up by second tier superheroes like Iron Man and Thor.

George Lucas managed to rekindle the excitement for millions of fans across the globe. And also released Red Tails (remember that? Yay, Disney gets it!)

And Disney Feature Animation and Pixar decided to dress as each other for Halloween.

Back in the summer, Pixar released its first real “Disney” movie: A princess story involving a magical transformation, female empowerment, and jaw-dropping fairy tale visuals. The only things missing were a wise-cracking monkey and Alan Menken.

On Friday, Disney Feature Animation will release its first real “Pixar” movie, about a tall, lunkish character who gets fed up with being the bad guy in his own life story and tries switching careers.

Also called “The Michael Eisner Story”

Brave did decent, but not “Pixar Juggernaut” box office. Meanwhile, I’m predicting Wreck-It Ralph turns out to be the biggest Feature Animation hit in almost 20 years ago. It has all the elements of the best Pixar films: A unique world. A touch of childhood nostalgia. Geek street cred. Strong voice casting. And that killer, killer idea that makes audiences want to see it, such as pairing a multi-Oscar winner with the star of Jungle 2 Jungle.

There’s a buzz around Wreck-It Ralph that was never there for Princess and the Frog (a return to hand-drawn animation!), Bolt (Miley Cyrus is — or possibly has — a dog!), or Meet the Robinsons (something vaguely goofy that kind of has to do with time travel and a genius family but it’s hard to talk about oh just go see it!). One has to go all the way back to the heady days of the early 90s, when Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Lion King reacquainted audiences with the magic of Disney animation. Oh, and Rescuers Down Under. Mustn’t forget that.

Like any cyclical business, it was feast or famine. After the Katzenberg glory years, Disney started putting out things like Brother Bear, Home on the Range, and Chicken Little. All of which went on to become some of the most timeless classics ever watched by Roseanne Barr. That allowed Pixar to step in and steal the animation crown, along with Dreamworks, which somehow is well respected in spite of releasing both Shark Tale and Bee Movie.  It somehow seems wrong that after 80 years of making animated features, Disney Feature Animation owns only 5 of the top 40 highest grossing animated hits, and one of those is a live action movie starring Bob Hoskins. Only Lion King is in the top 10.

If Wreck-It Ralph can deliver the goods story-wise (and from everything I’m hearing, it does), then it’s a good indication that Disney Animation might be all the way back. Tangled was a very strong effort a couple of years ago, but Ralph has “breakthrough” stamped all over it. It’s the sort of movie Pixar used to make, before they got distracted with movies that were either all about marketing (Cars 2), or impossible to market (Brave). Those movies still did well at the box office, but not up the standards Pixar had set for itself.

If Ralph does blow people away, it opens up a whole new franchise of opportunities for the theme parks. Imagineering already has Marvel stuff ready to go. You just know they’re going to do the same with Star Wars (and of course Howard the Duck). But the world of video games may be the most untapped intellectual property in the theme park universe. And no, Toy Story Mania does not count.

For the first time in history, virtually the entire relevant theme park demographic has grown up with video games. There are still a few older park goers who didn’t, but families and their kids have never known a life without Mario and the rest. I’ve been saying for years that Legoland should have been licensing video game characters for their rides, to define themselves as the true “Toy Land” in the theme park lineup. Now Disney has a chance to do it for real.

Wreck-It Ralph is starting to make the usual “new release” appearances in theme parks. The merchandise is on the shelves. The “making of” displays are up in the Magic of Disney Animation. The character greeting area opened on Sunday. The first “inappropriate touching” lawsuits were filed on Monday.

Fix It Felix game at Hollywood Studios.

But there are signs that this could turn out to be more than just another Up or Wall-E. Those movies came and went with the same character meet-and-greets and art displays. Once the movie disappeared from theaters, so did all the park stuff. You might find an occasional Wall-E for sale at Mission Space, or Dug photo op, but there’s no real demand. Ralph can change all that.

I haven’t seen it myself, but apparently there are rows and rows of “Fix-It Felix” game cabinets dominating one floor of DisneyQuest. If any attraction could use some rejuvenation, it’s DQ. Can you imagine it re-themed as a true “Video Game Park,” with Ralph as its host? Imagine it stripped of its current disjointed levels, replaced with familiar themed environments from Mario Brothers and Zelda and Halo and Skyrim. Get rid of old polygon attractions like Virtual Jungle Cruise, or wildly irrelevant Mighty Duck pinball activities, and replace them with supercharged video game experiences. Why not a FPS (First Person Shooter) Lazer Tag arena themed to the classics of the genre? How about a Mario Kart (or Sugar Rush) go-kart track? Maybe even a life-sized, human-catapult Angry Birds experience?

I know I’ll be in line this weekend for Wreck-It Ralph, and I’m sure many of you will as well. With Carsland, Fantasyland, Lucasfilm, and the Avengers, Disney is already having an incredible year. I think Wreck-It Ralph may turn out to be the icing on the cake.