Animated movies have always been at the heart of Disney theme parks. Even on Disneyland’s opening day in 1955, some of the most popular attractions were based on the already classic Snow White and the relatively new (at the time) Peter Pan. While rides like these two have stood the test of time, others have come and gone as the parks continue to make changes based on what films are most popular at the box office. These changes can be for better or worse, depending on your point of view, but either way, it is inevitable that some classic Disney animated films, and attractions will begin to fade into memory. Here are my top recent Disney animated films that I think have caused the biggest changes to the parks.
Disney’s partnership with Pixar animation has been nothing but a gold mine. With a long string of box office hits over the last 20 years, it only made sense for the parks to start incorporating them into attractions.
Disney and Pixar’s first, and longest lasting franchise, Toy Story, makes a strong showing at almost every Disney theme park. You can find a variety of Buzz Lightyear related attractions in the Tomorrowland section of the parks around the world, as well as the incredibly popular (and incredibly fun) Toy Story Midway Mania in several parks. Plus Toy Story Playlands in two parks and two more on the way. Then if you take into account all the parades and meet & greets with Woody, Buzz, and other characters, plus countless pieces of merchandise in all the gift shops (I mean, the characters are toys already, how could you not?), you can see there is been a real Toy Story takeover!
When Disney’s California Adventure opened in 2001 it was not an immediate success. For just over an entire decade, park attendance was low and reviews were negative. In 2012, a large $1.1 billion park expansion opened that included Cars Land, and things started to turn around. When Disney is willing to devote over a billion dollars and a full 12 acres to a single franchise, you know it must be box office gold.
With movie related rides and attractions like Radiator Springs Racers, Luigi’s Rollickin Roadsters, and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree Card Land really sort of reinvented the wheel (no pun intended) on how to build a “land” at a Disney park. The detail and the theming is all so incredible, that you truly feel like you have stepped into the film. It has become the gold standard by which all other new park areas are judged.
Frozen is the highest grossing animated film of all time. The oscar-winning musical adventure catapulted the characters of Elsa and Anna right into the center of the already popular Disney Princess campaign. With success like this, there was no way that the parks were not going to be effected.
In 2016 the Aladdin show at the Hyperion Theater in Disney California Adventure was replaced with a live action Frozen show. Over at Epcot, the long-standing Maelstrom ride in Norway (a personal favorite of mine) has been changed into Frozen Ever After, a similar ride now with a Frozen theme. Not to mention Elsa and Anna meet and greets and appearances in nearly every parade. With a sequel currently being made, there is no telling how much more Frozen related park changes we will see in the future!
Disney animation will always be an unstoppable force in popular culture and, for good or bad, that will always mean new changes and alterations to our favorite park attractions. Whether you keep your memories alive with pictures, souvenirs, or original animation artwork, your original experiences will undoubtedly remain your favorite. What Disney films do you wish had more of a presence in the parks?