One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the commercials. That might seem like an odd thing to associate with Christmas, but historically, some of the best advertisements have been released this time of year. That includes spots for Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
Look no further than this year’s sensation, the Meeting Cinderella ad for proof. Between that and way too much time spent on YouTube watching old McDonald’s (my personal favorite), Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Hershey’s, 7-Up, etc. Christmas commercials (I’m not kidding–here’s a great compilation), I decided this would be a fun post idea. After all, why not turn my time going down this rabbit hole into something productive?!
In this post, I’ll do exactly that. Here are some of my favorite commercials for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Resort, and Disneyland Paris. (Sorry Hong Kong Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland–couldn’t find anything from either worthy of making the cut!) Just be warned–you’ll need the tissues for more than a few of these…
While I want to highlight my favorite Walt Disney World, Disneyland, etc. commercials, I want to also show “ads through the ages.” Each decade has its own style of commercials, and it’s fascinating to watch the various generations of advertisements as they evolve and are eventually replaced by a different style.
Except the aughts. That was an awkward time with a lot of bad CGI and an emphasis on cringey additions, perfectly summed up by this Stitch’s Great Escape commercial. Maybe some day we’ll look back on these with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. For now, the style of those commercials are like trucker hats and Juicy Couture jumpsuits–things we left behind in the 2000s that hopefully will stay there.
Anyway, here are the best Disney Parks commercials through the decades and around the world…
This character-centric spot is fairly representative of early Walt Disney World and Disneyland commercials, which were heavy on the characters, castles, or both. (Also, news rooms/call centers appear a lot for some reason.) It’s also historically significant in showing the shift from the A-E ticket books in favor of an all-inclusive park ticket.
Honorable mention to this “We Need a Vacation” Walt Disney World spot. It highlights another part of the formula in terms of music and glamor glow lighting. (The Dreamfinder cameo also scores it big points with me!)
A clever and funny way to frame a montage of attraction clips, this one is a really relatable premise–who among us hasn’t had to share the details of what they did for vacation with the class?
Who knows, maybe this is also where we can trace the origins of Disney FOMO. No parent wants to be the one with a kid telling the class about their misadventures with thieving raccoons and getting poison ivy.
If you watch Walt Disney World commercials over the years, certain styles and motifs appear. One is the “older sibling introduction” that reflects the type of sage advice often imparted by kids to one another.
The twist here, and why I love this commercial so much, is because this is wisdom many adults should really hear. Especially that random tidbit about Goofy.
This is part of what I’ll dub the “Stereotype Subversion” series that ran in the mid-1990s, each following the same formula. Details of the trip were shared or recounted via dialogue (usually by someone at home), while the footage plays showing what actually happened.
Individually, none of these are worthy of making the list, but I think this style of commercial is good and cleverly framed. More importantly, these helped reshape the image of Walt Disney World in the 1990s, and helped reestablish the “Vacation Kingdom” image from the 1970s and 1980s.
This commercial from the 25th Anniversary perfectly encapsulates the lighthearted and powerfully emotional commercials that Walt Disney World ran in the 1990s.
It’s a bit cheesy, yet the ending will put a smile on your face and also have you thinking, “we probably shouldn’t wait to visit, either…” So, mission accomplished, I guess!
Now we jump forward a couple of decades for the “You Can Fly” commercial. This has the same heartwarming mushiness as some of the 1990s commercials, but without the campiness.
The production value on this commercial is through the roof, with a ton of polish, and careful production to achieve equal parts wholesome earnestness and seriousness. Comparing this side by side with the earlier clips reflects the differences between 1990s and current Walt Disney World in the microcosm of commercials.
Here’s yet another newer style of commercial, the “Viral Bait.” These are newer spots crafted less for their endearing and compelling qualities that will directly result in new bookings when families watch around the television.
Rather, these are internet-centric spots with a smart premise and the right mix of humor, pop culture, and other ingredients it takes to go viral on social media. Disney has quickly honed these ads, with this Darth Vader one being among the best.
This combines all of the lessons learned about sentimentality, cheesiness, virality, and more to create what might be the greatest (and probably the most expensive) Disney Parks commercial ever.
As much as I’m a sucker for the earlier campy commercials, this Disneyland Paris spot and the next Tokyo Disneyland commercial are my two favorites. They hit all of the right notes and are bursting with creativity.
The next two are commercials from Tokyo Disney Resort, and illustrate cultural differences and similarities.
The first utilizes anime gorgeously and packs a powerful punch. It conveys a tremendous amount of emotion in a short span of time and evoke a similar sentimentality as the best Walt Disney World or Disneyland commercials. This underscores the notion that we are more alike than we are unalike.
This commercial is more or less the opposite of that. Long in runtime, featuring what can (charitably) be described as a “reluctant spouse” and with nothing overtly Disney about it, this is definitely not something you’d see for the U.S. parks.
Even though the premise hinges on Japanese cultural and relationship norms, the payoff is ultimately heartwarming and moving. There’s also stunning footage, a beautiful song, and the general “this is a theme park?!?” reaction that only Tokyo DisneySea prompts.
Hopefully this was a fun post that showcases some of Disney’s best theme park commercials, and demonstrates why the company is a titan of powerful advertising, right up there with Coke, Pepsi, Budweiser, and other iconic brands known for their memorable commercials. Disney is arguably the best of the bunch–as much as I love McDonald’s and Coca-Cola commercials, they’ve never made me want to race out and consume those things. By contrast, we’ve found ourselves pricing out airfare more than a few times shortly after seeing a Disney commercial!
What do you think of these Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Tokyo, and Paris commercials? Which Disney Parks commercial is your favorite? Do you have a favorite era of advertising? Other thoughts to add? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!