Disneyland; Where it all started with….a Toad?

I love taking my family to Disney. It’s fun, it’s easy, and the kids love it. And while pretty much everything there is fake, it’s a really well done kind of fake. I love the attention to detail, the hidden Mickeys and the fun little gags that they put into every corner of the place. But since I am a person who loves details, I can’t help but notice some of the stranger ones.

For example most of the rides and attractions at Disneyland are based on the characters and movies that we all know and love. Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo, and many others are instantly recognizable. Some require a bit of basic knowledge about the movie they feature, but I found most were pretty easy to figure out. But there were a few that had me baffled. So, of course, when I got home I had to get on the internet to find out the obscure back story behind some of these rides. And some of theme are pretty obscure. So, just in case there is anyone out there like me who can’t go past a ride called “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” without wracking their brain to try to remember which Disney movie featured a Toad, I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve found.

1) Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

Since I’ve already mentioned it, I thought I’d start with this one. I was vaguely familiar with the Wind in the Willows series of children’s books and sure enough, this ride is based on the movie, “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” which is partially based on the book series. Strangely enough, it’s also partially based on Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” I’m guessing that the main thing it had going for it to get it’s own ride at Disneyland was the fact that it was released in 1949, only six years before the park opened. And parents have been asking themselves, “Was that supposed to be a  depiction of us passing through the fires of hell?” ever since.


2) Gadget’s Go Coaster

This is probably the ride that really started me looking into this topic. Every time I passed by, I just couldn’t stop myself from wondering who on earth was Gadget? The only thing I could think of was Inspector Gadget and I was pretty sure that wasn’t right. Well, it turns out that Gadget is a character from the series Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers which aired from 1988-1990. Her full name was Gadget Hackwrench if  that helps. Yeah, it didn’t help me either. Once again, it’s probably a timing thing since Toontown opened in 1993, but even then it seems odd that Gadget has a ride, but Chip and Dale don’t. My only guess is that someone received orders to name a ride after a female character in the name of equality and this was the first one they could come up with. Of course, it doesn’t really matter if a character is male or female if no one’s ever heard of them.


3) Splash Mountain

Now, I actually did have a vague idea that this ride was based ont the movie “Song of the South” because I can remember having a children’s book when I was little that featured B’rer Fox and B’rer Bear and briar patches and cotton fields and tar babies. I’m pretty sure it would get culled out of any modern day children’s library pretty quickly. Anyone who looks into the history of the movie will learn that it was controversial right from it’s release in 1946  and has been widely considered outdated and racially insensitive for the last half a century or so. The Disney company rarely mentions it and has never released the movie to the public. Which makes it puzzling that they would have a giant flume ride based on a movie that they don’t want anyone to see. Still, that Zippity-Do-Da song is pretty catchy.


4) Matterhorn Bobsleds

Back in the day, the Disney studios did a lot of non-animated feature movies. Some were memorable, (Mary Poppins, Old Yeller, Davy Crockett) but most of them weren’t. I’m pretty sure that “Third Man on the Mountain” falls into the latter category, seeing as all I can find out about it is that it’s about a young Swiss man who conquers the mountain that killed his father. But, apparently it inspired the Matterhorn ride, although I can’t find any references to either bobsleds or yeti in the movie.

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5) Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 

This is one of our favourite rides and it has one of the more obscure movie references. The concept of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was taken from a brief reference in a movie called, “The One and Only Genuine, Original Family Band” set in North Dakota and based on the 1888 presidential race between Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison which was released in 1968. Because the 1888 presidential race in North Dakota was such a pivotal moment in the country’s collective memory apparently.It also takes some inspiration from the Don Knott’s comedy “Hot Lead and Cold Feet” with props from the movie making up some of the decor in the queue. Just in case you’ve always wondered.


So there it is. Now of course, while some questions have answers, others do not. I can tell you what movies the rides were based on, but what we may never know why. Why Ichabod and Mr. Toad have a ride but Cinderella has nothing.  Why Third Man on the Mountain made the cut but Mary Poppins didn’t. I could go on and on. But, when it all comes down to it, I love the obscure rides just as much as the famous ones. And it gives me something to do until I get to come back again.


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