The Disney parks have always featured rides based on the beloved films from the storied animation studio and as time has gone on corporate synergy has seen rides based on movies become the default over original concepts. Yet in 2002, Disney chose to take things in the opposite direction, using one of its rides not based on a Disney film as inspiration for one. That film was The Country Bears.
That didn't work out so well, but a year later Disney took an even more famous ride and made Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Five films and over $4.5 billion dollars later that decision looks like a wise one. The link between the Pirates of the Caribbean films and rides has become a symbiotic one as well, with Jack Sparrow and other movie elements showing up in the park attractions.
Disney has had a few misfires when it comes to ride-to-theatrical film adaptations at both Disney World and Disneyland, but the House of Mouse is hoping that lightning strikes again with 2020's Jungle Cruise starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. Disney is also apparently rebooting the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Expedition Everest - Legend Of The Forbidden Mountain
Part of what sets Disney World rides apart from your standard amusement park fare is that they really try and tell a story. From the moment you get in line to the point when you exit through the gift shop, everything you see, hear and touch serves to immerse you in a narrative that enhances the ride experience. In few places is this better exemplified than Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest.
The queue takes guests from a travel agency, to a temple, to a Yeti museum all on their journey to climb Mount Everest, where they meet the mythical Abominable Snowman. All the while you feel a sense of wonder and mystery as your rational mind succumbs to your spiritual surroundings and opens itself up to the possibility that the Yeti is real. The bones of the story are already there in the ride; Disney just needs to flesh this story out for an adventure film.
What It Could Be About: The story could follow a group, perhaps even a family of mountaineers, seeking adventure on the world's highest peak, who discover that avalanches, crevasse falls and exhaustion are not the only things you need to fear when exploring the wilder parts of the world.
The Enchanted Tiki Room
The Enchanted Tiki Room is the very first audio-animatronics show and one of Disney Park's most enduring attractions. Adventureland's musical show features a cast of tropical birds, colorful singing flowers and the mystical and powerful Tiki gods. The only potential pitfall with an Enchanted Tiki Room movie is its story could end up being close-ish to Disney's own Moana.
What It Could Be About: Disney could do a couple of things to differentiate The Enchanted Tiki Room movie. One could be to do this movie in the live action realm. The Jungle Book has already shown how photo-realistic animals can still be made to talk in a "live action" setting and that same method could be used for the birds of the Tiki Room.
The story could also be kept smaller and mostly confined to the Tiki Room itself, perhaps focusing on the macaws José, Michael, Pierre and Fritz, with their constant banter back and forth providing an endless source of comedy. The film could also see them welcoming a new member to join the tropical serenade. Give the movie some great songs, stunning visuals and fun characters and the Tiki birds can soar on the big screen.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Of all the rides on this list, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is perhaps the easiest see as a movie franchise. Basically Disney can just take the basic formula of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, in terms of tone and style, and just plug in cowboys instead of pirates and boom, you've got a franchise.
What It Could Be About: While not directly communicated at the parks, the story of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is that in the late 19th century, gold was discovered on the titular mountain in the American Southwest, which gave rise to a mining town. But the land was sacred to the Native Americans and thus the gold was cursed. This led to natural disasters and the abandonment of the town. But the mine train was still cursed, running around the mountain through the night.
The Disney Kingdoms comic book sees the daughter of the greedy mine owner robbing her father's gold amid the natural disasters and a movie could take a similar approach, mixing the cowboy type elements with the supernatural. Interestingly a pilot for a Big Thunder Mountain TV series was once ordered at ABC but that never went to series.
An attraction we wish was still around is the lost and lamented Maelstrom. Once one of the only rides in EPCOT's World Showcase, the Maelstrom was swept away in Elsa's ice storm and Frozen Ever After now stands in its place in the Norway pavilion. This brilliant and quotable ("Disappear! Disappear!") longboat ride took guests on a journey to discover Norway, exploring its history, culture and folklore.
What It Could Be About: Viking stuff tends to skew young like How to Train Your Dragon or very mature like History's Vikings and I think there is a middle ground that a Maelstrom movie could slide into. I'd like to see a PG-13 Maelstrom movie featuring seafaring Vikings and huge trolls that maintains the fantastical and unbridled strangeness of the Maelstrom ride.
Trolls are part of Frozen but I'd like to see the larger trolls of Norwegian folklore realized onscreen on the scale Disney could achieve with modern special effects. Who doesn't love Vikings, and the blend of action-adventure, fantasy and comedy that made the Pirates of the Caribbean films such a success could work just as well for a Maelstrom movie.
Journey Into Imagination
EPCOT's Journey into Imagination features Figment, who is probably the most recognizable character in a Disney park that doesn't hail from one of the company's movies. Figment, as in the figment of your imagination, takes guests on a journey to discover all that their imagination is capable of.
Figment is a recognizable and popular character, making it somewhat surprising that he doesn't have a big screen movie already. Fortunately, our imaginations don't have to work too hard to think of how the orange and purple dragon can make the transition. A feature film could draw inspiration from the original Journey into imagination and the Figment Marvel comic series under the Disney Kingdoms line.
What It Could Be About: The original ride featured a character called the Dreamfinder and the comic book explores the Dreamfinder and Figments relationship in a steampunk fantasy set in 1910 London. The Dreamfinder is initially a student and an inventor who brings his childhood imaginary friend to life. Through a series of events the two wind up in an alternate dimension of fascinating colors, sights and sounds. Disney could really go wild with imagination with a Journey into Imagination movie featuring the popular Figment in a psychedelic world.
BONUS: The Haunted Mansion
The first Haunted Mansion movie failed to capture the magic of its inspiration and was met with derision from critics and mostly apathy from moviegoers. Truthfully I'd like to see Disney take another crack at both The Haunted Mansion and Tomorrowland, but another Tomorrowland movie seems unlikely any time soon, if ever. A reboot based around The Haunted Mansion, however, seems inevitable.
The Haunted Mansion is a rich concept and one of Disney's most popular rides so the company needs to take a mulligan on this one and it has at times seemed like that's exactly what was going to happen. Guillermo del Toro has had his name attached to a Haunted Mansion reboot going all the way back to 2010 but it is unclear what is happening with the project at the moment.
What It Could Be About: Hopefully the Oscar-winner ultimately does make The Haunted Mansion because his sensibilities can deliver exactly what we want from a movie based on the Disney ride. The Haunted Mansion should be fun but also at least a little scary and weird and full of creepy creativity. It would also be served better as an action-adventure/horror film with comedic elements instead of leaning on the comedy as the first attempt did.
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