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

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

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

The second was by being named Diane or Sharon Disney.

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

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

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

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

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

There has been a lot of good.

There has been some bad.

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

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

Don’t hold your breath.

#10 – Melody Time

What the…? Huh? What is this movie?

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

#9 – Fun and Fancy Free

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

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

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

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

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

#8 – Make Mine Music

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

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

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

I think this will be my next cosplay.

I think this will be my next cosplay.

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

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

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

#7 – The Three Caballeros

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cutest store display on property.

The cutest store display on property.

#6 – Saludos Amigos

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

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

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

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

#5 – Bambi

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

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

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


There’s nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

#4 – Dumbo

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

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

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

The Eighth Wonder of the World

The Eighth Wonder of the World

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

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

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

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

#3 – Fantasia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We got mini-golf.

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

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

#2 – Pinocchio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1 – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The one that started it all…

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bittersweet ending to this series.

A bittersweet ending to this series.


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

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

Circus Bear Mix-Up

I have no wish to rant about Storybook Circus, but there’s Another Part of Me that wants to. Circuses may have been magical in the first half of the 20th century, but today they conjure up negative associations with animal cruelty, carnival freaks, and child endangerment. Which come to think of it are pretty much the three defining characteristics of both Dumbo and Captain EO.

Certainly the fan community is impressed. All it takes is one Carolwood Pacific reference and Disney will have us all eating out of their hands. And that carpet in the gift shop! Such beauty we have never seen before! Judging by my blog reading list, there have been reams of paper spent on the Big Top Souvenirs carpet (because who doesn’t print out their blog reading list?) But I’m a jaded old cat, so I say talk to me again in six months and let’s see how that carpet is holding up.

I tend to lump Disney geeks into three categories. At the top you have the really passionate fans who know everything about everything. They write blogs and stuff. They’re well aware that there used to be a Mickey Mouse Club Circus at Disneyland (it sank into the swamp), a Circus Fantasy parade/show (it also sank into the swamp), and an EPCOT Daredevil Circus (it burned down, fell over, and then sank into the swamp). But Storybook Circus stayed. These people would have spotted the Carolwood reference a mile away, without any self-congratulatory help from the official Disney Parks Blog. These people know that the original idea for Storybook Circus came from a 1972 model for Dumbo’s Circusland, and if you check out the pictures, you can see just how similar the idea is. It’s easy to see why the 1972 version was never built: It lacked a 60-second, barn-themed kiddie ride.

Flight of the Hippogriff

Practically de rigueur after this stunning masterpiece of theming!

In the middle are the normal fans. These folks may not know everything, but then again, they also have lives. They can name most of the major Imagineers (especially those with outrageous names like Xavier, Yale, Rolly, and Jim). They have some appreciation of history. They can quote Haunted Mansion word for word. They’re either transitioning into obsession, or are self-aware enough to recognize that a career in circus rants isn’t as exciting as it sounds.

At the beginner level are the Hidden Mickey guys. These are the people who just love everything Disney, including its lesser films like Anastasia. They know about all the secret things in Florida — the hidden tunnels and the collapsible castle and so forth. They also know that discovering three random, vaguely conjoined circles is either a super-secret hobo language invented by Leonardo DaVinci himself, or a possible indication that you live in an Olympics host city.

The Last Supper

Do you see it??

I don’t despise the Hidden Mickey fans. We were all there once, right? But the main point of the Internet is to find some other group to feel superior to, and the hidden mickey crowd just happens to be the Rebecca Black to our Justin Bieber. Also I find it terribly amusing when they stumble off the bunny slope onto the Black Diamond trails.

True story. This happened at Storybook Circus a few weeks back. There I am, minding my own business, when suddenly I recognize two of the most famous faces in all of the Disney podcastosphere (not exactly the population of China, but still!). George and Jeff from Communicore Weekly are in line behind me at Dumbo. I’m friends with these guys online, but had never met them in person. It helped that they were both wearing these:

Oswald EarsSo we’re spending a few minutes catching up, introducing the families, etc. And some more people rush up, who shockingly recognize none of us. They just want to know where Jeff and George got those awesome ear hats. The guys politely explain that they got them at the Emporium on Main Street. The lady is thrilled. She is a huge Disney fan and recognizes how unique these items are. She wants to know what that picture is on the little badge. “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit,” Jeff replies. He points to her companion’s Oswald t-shirt. “Just like you have there.” This woman is talking to two mega-fans who hosted their own live sold-out fan-event at Epcot, and one Parkeologist who makes up fake interviews with the sheep in Impressions de France. If there’s another level of Disney nerd above us, it’s reserved for people whose last name ends in “Lutz.” “Oh no,” she says. “That’s not Oswald. That’s Mortimer, before Walt changed him to Mickey.”

Like I said. Bunny slope.

Anyway, I have gotten so far off topic by now with my celebrity name-dropping, that I’m not even sure what my point was. Oh yes, Disney geeks and Storybook Circus.

My theory is that Imagineering often aims for the mid-level of geekiness because most Imagineers are themselves in this level. They work for the company, so they have a decent amount of knowledge. And they were probably fans growing up, because it’s a weird career choice otherwise. But it’s also their job. We all like to say we’re passionate about our jobs, but I’m guessing most of us aren’t obsessing about the rich history of Accounting or collecting Teacher trading cards. Imagineering has its share of obsessive geeks of course, and probably its share of hidden mickey lovers too, such as whoever dreamed up Paradise Pier (that’s actually insulting even to hidden mickey lovers). But most Imagineers probably don’t come home from work, trim their mustache, change into vintage Smoke Tree Ranch pajamas, and dine on chili and beans (I’m not the only one that does this, right?)

I don’t really fault them for this. In the end, it’s not how much Disney history you know. It’s whether you can built a great Disney attraction. Yet it still bothers me when they miss an obvious reference to Disney lore and culture. Take this, for instance.

Humphrey the Bear

One of the posters outside the gift shop.

Now the funny thing is, in many circles, this is actually considered a successful example of Imagineering geekiness. Humphrey is practically unknown to the vast majority of the people visiting Storybook Circus. I’d wager that 99% of the people there think this is just a random bit of artwork made up specifically for the circus poster, and that Humphrey has no history outside of this one-time use. Of course, Disney geeks know Humphrey starred in a few National Park inspired shorts several decades ago, and he has actually been making a bit of a theme park comeback (Humphrey merchandise was on sale in Frontierland not too long ago).

Lambert the Sheepish Lion

Hard to call someone who thinks he’s a sheep a “Man Eater”

Humphrey isn’t the only obscure character referenced in Storybook Circus posters. Lambert the Sheepish Lion, from a 1952 short film, gets his own poster, as does Salty the Seal, who originally starred in Mickey’s Circus all the way back in the 30’s. There’s even some character referred to as “Goofy” whose origins remain unknown.

But Humphrey bothers me. Not because I dislike Humphrey (I love Humphrey! Humphrey’s the best!), but because they have a whole 30 minute featurette sitting in their library, whose entire plot revolves around a circus bear. Bongo the Circus Bear is not just a major theatrical effort for the company. It’s also SEO friendly.

Bongo the Circus Bear

His whole shtick is that he’s good on a Unicycle! It’s like Humphrey is pulling some Single White Female switch on him!

You’ve heard of Mickey and the Beanstalk, of course. The Sir Mickey’s shop in Fantasyland already references this film. What you may not know is that it was only one half of a feature length movie from 1947 entitled Fun and Fancy Free. It was released during Disney’s anthology period, when money was scarce because of some war or something. It had two segments, stitched together with some Jiminy Cricket transitions. The Beanstalk made it into the parks. Jiminy made it into the parks. But Bongo has disappeared completely.

It’s strange to me that Imagineering built an entire Circusland in the parks, and had an obvious need for some kind of circus animal to not only add some background, but to also be the main face of their candy apple counter inside Big Top Souvenirs (Humphrey appears on the signage there too). They wanted a bear, and instead of tapping the only circus bear in all of Disney theatrical history, they opted for the comic foil of a stuffy park ranger.

John Muir

The Chuck Norris of Park Rangers.

Bongo, I feel like Imagineering owes you an apology. Either nobody over there has ever bothered to watch all 51 canonical Disney animated features (I’m not the only one that has done this, right?), or they’re all a bunch of Humphrey groupies.

I suppose I will just have to forgive this oversight, and accept that Bongo is never going to be the kind of breakout star we all hoped for, even though they did see fit to give him a Vinylmation. It’s like Bill and Ted, or Bosom Buddies. One guy goes on to get all the glory, the other guy is stuck waiting for the reunion show. And anyway, at least Humphrey is still a genuine obscure Disney reference, so it’s not a total failure.

Unlike that Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game. Disney, have you fixed this blatant Dalmation error yet???