If you ask a child of the 90s or a Gen Zer their favorite Disney animated movie, there’s a good chance you’ll receive an answer that is not represented by a ride at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or any of the other parks. (Unless their favorite is Toy Story, in which case boy are they in luck!)
In reviewing lists of Fantasyland-style dark rides at each Disney park around the world, one thing sticks out: there’s very little representation from the last few decades. In this post, I’ll take a look at which classic Disney movies I think have been snubbed, and offer vague ‘Armchair Imagineering’ on what a good ride would look like to me. (Note that this is specifically about movies that don’t have rides. Some of these animated films already have in-park representation via restaurants, shows or…bathrooms.)
As this is a “Tom’s Top 7” rather than a standard top 10 list, there’s little to no objectivity here. In terms of which films “deserve” rides, that could probably be determined via some complex formula factoring in box office results, home video sales, merchandise revenue, longevity, and other factors to determine in-park worthiness. I’m more concerned with which movies I’d personally enjoy as rides.
While the Disney film pantheon now includes Marvel, Star Wars, and a range of live-action movies that plenty of people (even fans) probably don’t associate with Disney, I’m going to stick to just the Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar films here.
Because my focus is primarily Fantasyland-style dark rides, I think the animated libraries are the most fitting focuses of this list. I mean, I think we can all agree that National Treasure: Book of Secrets and The Ugly Dachshund need mega-budget E-Tickets in every single Disney park, so I don’t want to fixate on the obvious. With that said, here are the films I’d like to see have rides in the parks…
7. Beauty and the Beast – This is my favorite Disney animated film, but I’m putting it last for a couple of reasons. First, it already has a mini-land, restaurant, and an attraction (Enchanted Tales with Belle) in Magic Kingdom, plus a stage show in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It just doesn’t have a ride, which feels like a technicality given all it does have. Second, it’ll soon have the most lavish Disney dark ride of all time in Tokyo Disneyland.
With that said, since it is my favorite, I’m going to leverage that “no ride right now” technicality and insist that it still could use more of an in-park presence. This is particularly true in the parks where it is not represented at all but really should be, like Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. There are so many iconic scenes that individually could form the basis of a ride, and given the enduring popularity of the movie and its artistic accomplishments, it really deserves a ride…or several.
6. Zootopia – One thing I dislike about a lot of Fantasyland-style dark rides is that they end up being passive, CliffNotes retellings of the movie. The ride doesn’t immerse guests in an experience, but rather, shows them a condensed story. Attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride work, despite their age, because guests actually fly over London or go to hell, as the case may be.
I’m not as huge of a Zootopia fan as some, and I worry that any Zootopia attraction would fall into this storytelling trap. However, the film’s epic scale of world-building is so exceptional that I’d feel remiss not to include it on this list. I don’t have any good ideas for a Zootopia attraction, but I think a simple, leisurely monorail ride above these districts without any attempt at telling a story, just an experience of scenic beauty and details–would be ideal. (Perhaps it could be like Hogwarts Express?)
Alternatively, set a story in one specific district and tell a new story from that locale. Whatever a Zootopia attraction ends up being, it shouldn’t try to do too much.
5. Lion King – This is another movie that has an in-park presence via a show, restaurant, and other offerings, but still no ride. Still, it makes the list because it’s my second-favorite Disney animated film, and I think it features an excellent cast of memorable characters, great music, and some interesting options for a dark ride.
This is another one I fear could be a CliffNotes retelling of the story, since there are so many memorable scenes, each of which feature different songs and highlight different characters. Personally, I’d punt on all of this, instead focusing solely on “Circle of Life” while drawing inspiration from the film’s opening, which features vignettes of many different animals.
Use this to make this a quasi-educational attraction and it becomes a perfect fit as a much-needed family dark ride in Animal Kingdom. Or Imagineering could take it in a totally different direction–I think there’s a ton of unrealized potential for Lion King in the parks.
4. The Aristocats – If it hasn’t happened by now, the Aristocats is probably never getting a film. I realize this isn’t the most popular film, so it’s tough to say a ride is “deserved” here. Nonetheless, several of the cats are still popular and have a strong merchandise presence in both Japan and Paris. Plus, everybody wants to be a cat!
Ultimately, it’s these cats themselves that could carry a ride concept, and make for something really fun. Here, I envision a ride that’s part the scurrying around Paris of Ratatouille: the Adventure (with less screens and more physical sets) and part the finale dream sequence room from Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. In that room, a Heffalump band performs, with some characters actually in a trackless ride vehicle ‘mingling’ with guests. This would be a great climax of an Aristocats ride, complete with the Alley Cats performing a jammin’ finale…before tiring everyone out and the cats falling asleep at the end, as cats do.
For me, there’s a lot of appeal in a redux of Cranium Command that features the emotions from Inside Out, but covers entirely different ground. This is one film that could use the premise of the film for something totally different and fresh, potentially with randomized sequences a la Star Tours: the Adventures Continue. Having the 5 emotions be Audio Animatronics would also give the attraction depth, making it more than just a screen-based ride.
Alternatively, I think a Bing Bong rocket wagon ride would be the great starting point for a silly and endearing trackless dark ride. Personally, I’ll take more Bing Bong anything; any way we can get a greater in-park representation of this character (short of replacing Figment) is fine by me!
2. Tangled – This is all about the “I See the Light” floating lantern scene. That’s one of the most beautifully evocative scenes in any Disney animated film, and would be jaw-dropping brought to life. The technology is there (or almost there) to recreate this as a three dimensional scene in the finale of a Tangled boat ride.
Disney could make this happen with drones in a nighttime spectacular instead, but I think it’d be much more powerful for the guest to be in a boat with lanterns taking flight above them, reflected in the water.
1. The Princess and the Frog – Dining at Tiana’s Place aboard the Disney Wonder was actually the inspiration for this entire post. I kept thinking, “how does this movie not have a ride yet?!” Now, that’s partly rhetorical, as I realize it didn’t do the best numbers at the box office. On the other hand, that was when Walt Disney Animation Studios was stuck in a decade-long funk. If the exact movie were released today with the benefit of several successive artistic and commercial successes by WDAS in front of it, it’d perform much better. I also think it’ll develop classic status over time, especially as new audiences discover it.
I don’t really have a strong idea of what a Princess and the Frog ride would include. I’m assuming it’d be a mysterious boat ride through the bayou with voodoo effects, transitioning into a New Orleans’ setting with jazz and a jovial and optimistic spirit. For me, the mood is key and what would make a Princess and the Frog attraction a slam dunk. I already think of Princess and the Frog as something of the “anti-Frozen” when it comes to the film’s presence in the parks–it’s under-utilized and steals the show whenever else it’s featured.
There are easily another dozen movies that could be on this list, from new classics like Wall-E to older gems like the Fox and the Hound. It’s hardly a comprehensive list–and as a fan of Disney Parks first and films second, I also don’t want to see a bunch of rides based on movies at the expense of original attractions. Nonetheless, I thought it was a fun exercise, and hopefully you enjoyed it, too.
Which Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar movies would you like to see represented more in the parks? Any particular scenes from these movies you think would make for a memorable Fantasyland-style dark ride experience? Any other thoughts or questions? Share in the comments below!