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).


Apprentices of the Magic Kingdom

As many of the great sites out there have chronicled recently, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom has officially debuted, and attempts to build on the Kim Possible experience at Epcot by doing two things:

  1. Ditching a second-rate TV animation star in favor of some heavy hitters from the Disney vault
  2. Ditching the expensive smart phone controller in favor of Pokemon cards
I’m not going to recount the basics of the experience (everyone else has done that). But I will offer an opinion. In spite of a lot of fan hype, this thing definitely has a thing or two to learn before it can wear the pointy hat and enchant the broomsticks. This is due mainly to a few glaring flaws with what it purports to be.
First and foremost, this thing desperately wants to be a “game.” It’s intended to take you beyond passive theme park enjoyment and put you in control of a storyline that will have you exploring the entire park in an attempt to stop the Villains from taking over. Hey, you guys wanted Villain Mountain for years. This is what you get.
I don’t have a problem with the storyline. In fact, I wrote my own video game a long time ago as a college project, based on the exact same idea. It was a sort of Myst meets Fantasmic, and I’ve toyed with putting it on the internet for everyone to ridicule. But it will probably remain locked in the Parkeology vaults for years to come. The storyline is so well-worn because it works. What doesn’t work is something all games require, and that is the possibility of failure. There is a distinct difference between “game” and “interactive.” A drinking fountain is interactive. A game requires you to learn the rules, master a skill, create a strategy, mentally challenge yourself. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom does none of these things. Provided you can read a map and face a camera, you win.
One of the few princess cards with a
legitimate weapon. Cinderella gets
sparkly ribbons, I think.
I suppose if one wants to get super technical, you can lose at SotMK. I saw two types of failure:  One, when people try to go to the portal at Uptown Jewelers and are met with “You’re at the wrong place” messages. This is a design error. There just happen to be two portals at Uptown Jewelers.
The other failure was an older couple who lost a battle with Cruella because the darn cameras wouldn’t read the spell cards they were holding up. This is a technical glitch, not a player failure, and I’m not sure the couple even realized they failed. There are  increasing levels of difficulty the more you play, but for an intelligent person, it seems almost impossible to lose.
The second failure is one of logistics. This is Magic Kingdom, after all, and it is crowded. It is not uncommon to run into lines 10 players deep at every single portal. Which means you are watching the same 2-3 minute video over and over, with very little variation. When it is finally your turn, you flash your cards and get directed to the next line. I know they are trying to tell a story and all, but they would do well to get each player out of there in 30 seconds or less. That’s enough for some rudimentary scene setting, and a quick one-on-one spell battle. Let’s face it, most of the time it’s some variation of “Cruella has captured the puppies. Stop her!” We’re not watching Inception here. Do the battles, move people along.
This card may soon be replaced
with Winnie the Pooh.
By far the most interesting part of the game are those collectible cards, and more importantly, the game that the guest has invented on their own: Trading. You get 5 of those babies every time you play — and you get them for FREE! These are actually super nice trading cards, with very detailed art work and a great style to them. They are several notches in quality above the videos you’re watching, which do a good job of featuring a wide variety of Disney characters (familiar and obscure), but destroy that good will by animating them in an atrocious fashion (think Saturday morning cartoon level).
But trading the cards can be fun, and kids apparently love this aspect of the game. There were lots of players with big stacks of cards, and while they dutifully played out the story at each portal, they were most excited by seeing what other cards the other people in line had. I can see Disney releasing new decks periodically (some sold at a premium), and even if you just get a handful of free ones, that’s a pretty nice souvenir for a kid. Better than a lot of the stuff sold in the gift shops.
Because everyone knows, a dog’s most
dangerous feature is his soot bucket.
So this is now coming off as a negative review. But it is only negative when it comes to today’s incarnation of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. I actually believe these flaws are fixable, and that Disney will quickly realize how to address them. Maybe not this summer, but I’m predicting that in a year or two, SotMK will be substantially improved and a huge hit. The beauty of this type of thing is that it can be adjusted on the fly. So much of it is digital content (videos, rules, etc.), and new facets can be swapped in literally overnight. It really might reinvent the theme park experience.
And because this is parkeology, I would be remiss if I did not catch some obscure little Disney detail that even the game designers botched.
When playing the game on Main Street, Merlin sets the stage for you by translating Pongo’s barks. Pongo is apparently telling you that Cruella is on the loose, and that “Perdita and all one-hundred-and-one puppies have been forced into hiding.”
Either Merlin can’t speak Dalmation as well as he thinks he can, or the game designers forgot to watch the movie before writing their script. There were only 99 puppies. It took Pongo and Perdita to take the count to 101.