Six Disney Theme-Park Attractions That Deserve Comic Books, and Six That Don't

By Luke Y. Thompson in Comics, Daily Lists
Monday, October 21, 2013 at 6:00 am


It was hinted at at D-23, and formally announced a couple of weeks ago - Disney's ownership of Marvel is going to bear new fruit in the form of a new "Disney Kingdoms" line of comics, based on theme park attractions. The first title, Seekers of the Weird, will be based on an attraction that never even came to fruition - a Ripley's Believe it or Not-style addendum to the Haunted Mansion that was proposed but didn't get made.

If you feel your cynicism radar starting to go into pre-beep mode, that's only natural, as this worked out with decidedly mixed results for movies. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies weren't for everyone, the Haunted Mansion film was hardly for anyone, and fans of The Country Bears flick with Haley Joel Osment and Christopher Walken have still not emerged from the skunky smelling, smoke-filled room in which they created the appropriate viewing conditions. But having recently spent a week at Disneyland, I can tell you firsthand that there are stories in some of these rides and attractions worth exploring. There are also some that absolutely are not.

You may be surprised to learn which are which, at least in my view...

The Ones to Make:

6. Captain Eo.

For obvious reasons, there can never be sequels to the movie. But comics? Assuming MJ's estate is okay with it, there's a whole universe to explore here.

5. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Yes, I know full well that this is a ride based on a cartoon based on a classic novel, The Wind in the Willows. Where it departs from both is what interests me, and if you've been on the ride, you know damn well what I'm referring to. After cartoonish adventures in a badly driven car, you get hit by a train, die and go to Hell.

The existence of Hell in the Disney multiverse is what interests me. Who ends up there? Will Donald Duck be damned because of his anger management issues, or are Chip and Dale inferno fodder for tormenting him so? Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, so how will Winnie the Pooh fare on judgment day? Mr. Toad himself wasn't such a bad sort, just reckless; if he can face eternal hellfire, Tigger is far from safe.

No canonical movie from Disney can or will ever explore such a thing. But if we can get a version of "What if..." in the Disney Kingdoms line, this is the first place it should go.

4. Splash Mountain.

The problem of Splash Mountain is that it's a hybrid of two distinct mythologies that don't necessarily fit together, not unlike the way the 1980s UK toy line Action Force took G.I. Joe toys, repainted them, and mixed them in with original items and a totally new backstory. On the one hand, it features characters from America Sings, a revue of classic American tunes, sung by animals, and loosely based on an unfinished movie called Chanticleer. On the other, Song of the South.

We don't have the space to get into every issue with Song of the South - suffice it to say that the movie, based on Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus tales, is deemed too racially insensitive to ever release or fully acknowledge domestically. Overseas is another matter - the chief problem, if there is one, is that like every other Disney movie, it presents a sanitized, G-rated world...but when that world is a plantation right after the Civil War, there are obvious uncomfortable, unaddressed questions. (Ironically, the original stories and the movie - which won an Oscar for its African-American lead actor - were considered progressive in their day.)

So Splash Mountain keeps the lovable cartoon critters from Song of the South (without changing their broad, Uncle Remus-like dialects that some would suggest are also problematic), surrounds them with new characters, and omits key story elements, among them the famous Tar Baby character, whose name alone is a problem despite possibly deriving from a Cherokee myth that predates Africans in America.

My point? If you're not going to acknowledge the original mythologies, create a new one that incorporates only the PC stuff, and explain how it all comes together. Parents who can deflect any uncomfortable questions from kids who like the ride will be forever grateful. And I liked my Action Force comics as a kid, dammit - I even dressed as Baron Ironblood for Halloween.

3. The Enchanted Tiki Room.

There are ways to do this one, and ways not to. A comic about singing birds with foreign accents might work for the very young, but it makes me want to Dole whip some ass - I saw Rio, and I'm not interested in a retread. The real attraction here is the Tiki gods from the outside waiting area that shoot fire and make drumming noises; there's a whole mythology to be had there that few (if any) comics have gone into.

I want to know about Maui, who "roped the playful sun." How did Rongo and his brothers separate their divine parents to create night and day? What happened to Tangaroa that allowed him to father both fish and reptiles? And in the Disney version, how come they all look like stylized building blocks with googly eyes?

Just kidding - that last one can and should stay a mystery. Force people to accept it. After all, I haven't heard from any ancient Polynesian fundamentalists lately, so the title would be safe from blasphemy protests.

2. The Haunted Mansion.

According to Disney lore, if not necessarily actual count, there are 999 ghosts inside the mansion. That's a lot of death stories. Make a Tales From the Crypt-style anthology series, hosted of course by disembodied head Madame Leota, and you've got yourself a guaranteed well from which to draw. Sure, you'd have to PG it a bit with more of a comical/accidental tone than murder most foul, but the guarantee of a whimsical afterlife automatically takes some of the edges off.

And yes, I know there won't be exactly 999 stories - the dueling ghosts in the banquet room presumably offed one another in a shared tale, and not all the pets buried in the front yard would have led fascinating lives. But you'd have the potential for one great guest star - Jack Skellington's makeover of the mansion each year has never been fully justified in a storyline, and comics are just the place to go into all that. Plus goth parents who must buy every Nightmare Before Christmas item ever are a guaranteed consumer base.

1. Space Mountain.

The ride most frequently used by Ric Flair as a euphemism for his penis often leaves me with more questions than just, "Why do I deliberately subject myself to something that bangs me about and makes me sick?" Like: how do you have a mountain in space? When being hurled through the galaxy, why do I hear music playing? What's with the fireworks on the way back in to space dock?

More than any of that, though, I'm curious about the Ghost Galaxy variant that plays during Halloween. Who is this giant, mummified corpse made of nebulae, and why does he keep tossing my spacecraft around like a toy? How did he make all the power go out on my space station, and if he did, where's the life support coming from? And am I being sexist assuming it's a he? Would a galactic ghost species have identifiable space boobies, or no?

Point is, I have questions.

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