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


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.

The Ones Not to Make:

6. Grizzly River Run.

Issue #1 – an intrepid group of eight explorers gets in a raft, rides down the river, gets wet.

Issue #2 – another intrepid group of eight explorers gets in a raft, rides down the river, gets wet.

Issue #3 – a third intrepid group of eight explorers gets in a raft, rides down the river, gets wet.

Get the picture?

5. Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln.

At Disneyland, the whole point of this attraction is to showcase an elaborate, animatronic Lincoln…but in true P.T. Barnum fashion, there’s a long build-up before they reveal him, during which we’re treated to some U.S. History 101, via narration and static images (watch the entire video above, if you can bear to). A comic could recreate that exactly…and then would be totally unable to deliver the payoff of having a realistic mechanical president right in front of you.

Unless you could do a rip-off of Westworld, with robo-Lincoln coming to life and killing tourists. That, I’d read.

4. Soarin’.

It’s a simulated hang-glider ride that’s only interesting because you’re in a hanging chair with free-floating legs looking at a huge screen. A comic that’s just images of America from the air would be boring as fuck.

3. Storybook Land.

Ride on a boat through Monstro the whale’s mouth, then meander slowly around elaborate miniature versions of the most famous houses and castles from Disney cartoons. It’s a ride that has all the fun of looking through a toy store with none of the joy of being able to buy anything at the end.

In comic-book form, it’d be the equivalent of that ad for Ozymandias action figures in that one issue of Watchmen. Took us years for Mattel to make them, and they never even did Bubastis or the Owl Ship when they finally got around to it.

2. Pretty Much Anything From EPCOT’s Future World.

Rides about the history of communications…or agriculture…or energy and natural resources make for fun edu-tainment when you want the kids to have all the enjoyment of a theme-park vacation combined with an insidious agenda of teaching them something. But if you’re giving them a comic book, they’re already reading, so give them a break on the other crap.

Journey Into Imagination, with its highly marketable Figment character, has the most potential…although by definition, one artist’s particular rendering nails things down one way without necessarily leaving much room for imagination. A conundrum indeed, one that a writer like Alan Moore could have some fun with. Good luck getting him to ever work for Disney, though – he prefers worshipping snakes to mice.

1. It’s a Small World.

Was there ever an iota of doubt that this would top the list? Everyone I know has a story of being stuck on this ride as that song just looped, and looped and looped…coming out of it they know how psychological torture feels…or just FAO Schwarz employment after an eight-hour shift of non-stop “Welcome to Our World of Toys.”

The story behind the ride is actually a much more affirming one than its current status as hate-bait would imply – the song and the attraction were conceived in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis to demonstrate how children the world over have more in common than their differences, and we needed to pay some fucking attention rather than go about the business of blowing up the world. The intention was never to make you wish the world would blow up so the song would stop…just an unfortunately ironic by-product.

I don’t even know how you could go about making the ride into a comic, unless it’s about a terrible form of purgatory where the spirits of damned children have to sing the same song over and over with no breaks. Maybe it’s punishment for the brainwashed child soldiers in Africa when they die. Maybe you do a sequel to Zero Dark Thirty in which getting stuck on the ride finally cracks Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

None of these are really plausible options.