Top Ten Armchair Imagineering Pitches for Walt Disney World

Spend time on any Disney theme park forums and threads, and you’re bound to come across more than a few malcontents espousing how different the parks would be if THEY were in charge. Of course, it’s the internet, so it’s par for the course, but Disney fans unhappy with something makes them very vocal. A common diatribe goes a little something like this:

“Disney’s using too many IP’s in their rides!”

If you aren’t a frequent visitor to the parks, you might be a bit confused. After all, why are people mad about Disney characters being in Disney rides at Disney World? The long and the short of it is, basically, that the best known and best loved rides – Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, It’s A Small World, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Test Track, Expedition: Everest, Journey into Imagination, and most notably the Haunted Mansion – are not based on any previously-established films. In the Eisner era, the man popularized synergy to a frightening degree, and it led to some controversial choices, like adding Zazu and Iago to the Tiki Room, replacing the Country Bears with Winnie the Pooh, and replacing ExtraTERRORestrial with Stitch. Because of this, fans are, at best, wary when they hear a fan-favorite ride is going to be removed and replaced with something clearly focus group-tested. That’s why fans are so leery when it’s announced that Frozen is replacing Maelstrom or Pandora is taking over Camp Minnie-Mickey.

Me, on the other hand, I think adding Disney IP’s to the attractions is pretty cool. And that has become the basis for my thinking about how to improve many of these rides. Not intentionally, mind you, but it kinda became that way. And when I start thinking about if I were to do the same (Yes, I know I called myself a malcontent) this is where my imagination tends to go. I often wonder how cool it’d be if they added little things like Amos Mouse from the short Ben and Me on a lamppost in Liberty Square, or Lucky Jack from Home on the Range at the Fastpass entrance to Big Thunder Mountain. Or what if we got canonical eateries like Le Ratatouille, Tiana’s Place, or House of Mouse?

But for this list, I wanted to focus on attractions. If I could devise ten rides and shows at the parks to increase attention in some corners of the resort and reinvigorate what they already have (Some details clearly need to be worked out, obviously), what would they be? Well, allow me to elucidate:

10. Mickey’s Philharmagic: The Adventures Continue (Magic Kingdom)

Mickey’s Philharmagic in Fantasyland has been wowing guests since its premiere in 2003 and is one of my favorites at the park. Its concept is criminally simple, yet effective: it’s a 3D show starring Donald Duck who gets swept up in the fracases of various classic Disney animated musical numbers. Aside from various tricks, like the widescreen expansions, the splashes of water, and the aroma of pastry smells, it has a simple story, great use of characters, and is a welcome respite from the unforgiving Florida heat. In the story, Donald steals Mickey’s sorcerer hat and he accidentally causes a whirlwind that drags him into the banquet hall where Lumiere is singing “Be Our Guest”, then gets splashed by brooms from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, floats with Ariel in her grotto as she sings “Part of Your World”, gets knocked around various surreal imagery in “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”, flies with Peter Pan, and whips through Agrabah on a magic carpet, all in pursuit of Mickey’s hat. It’s charming, sweet, nostalgic, relaxing, and fun.

I like Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Lion King fine. I got nothing against them. But have you noticed Disney treats these four like Al Bundy treats his treasured memory of scoring four touchdowns in a single game? They will NEVER let you forget them, as though it were the only time they did something great and recognized. Mermaid and Beast have their own mini-lands less than two minutes away with attractions that simply recreate their respective movie plots, as well as stage musicals that do the same at Hollywood Studios. Aladdin got its own recreation at California Adventure for over a decade. Animal Kingdom does a “greatest hits” show over at Festival of the Lion King, and prior to Philharmagic…the theater was a puppet show recreating the movie called Legend of the Lion King.

Disney does know they made more than four animated cartoon musicals, right?

What I suggest: In 2011, Disney unveiled Star Wars: The Adventures Continue, which provided many changes to Rex’s last flight to Endor, but its most significant alteration was in the randomized sequences. The ride’s technology switches up various locations where riders visit, making each ride a unique and varied experience. You go to two planets each time, but there’s a total of six places total you might drop by.

Now, let’s apply that randomizer over to Philharmagic. Each sequence is a imaginative opportunity to flash some cool visuals, interacts with the audience, and provides some Donald-centric slapstick. Going on that, what if you could apply that with:

I’ll Make a Man Out of You (Mulan)

One Last Hope (Hercules)

The Merrily Song (The Wind in the Willows)

Why Should I worry? (Oliver & Company)

I Got No Strings (Pinocchio)

Pink Elephants on Parade (Dumbo)

Let it Go (Frozen)

I Wan’na be Like You (The Jungle Book)

Higitus Figitus (The Sword in the Stone)

Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride (Lilo & Stitch)

Trashin’ the Camp (Tarzan)

Topsy Turvy (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

Friends on the Other Side (The Princess and the Frog)

How Far I’ll Go (Moana)

Ev’rybody Wants to be a Cat (The Aristocats)

Just try to imagine Donald getting caught in Shang’s training montage, the insanity of Dumbo’s bubble nightmare, or dodging the various-flung items in the Porter’s African camp. Just imagine being surrounded by NYC traffic, bubbles dropped from the ceiling, or the temperature plummeting to Arendelle’s winter levels. Imagine going into the fantasyland theater and not knowing which four you may get to experience. Honestly, I think this would be a worthwhile investment and really give the show a chance to update its dated CGI graphics and breathe new life into it.

This made number ten because I’m simply suggesting an enhancement to a currently-existing ride, rather than an overall overhaul. But don’t worry, I’m going to really shake things up here soon.

9. El Rio del Recuérdame (Epcot)

El Rio del Tiempo was the first and only ride in Epcot’s World Showcase when the park opened in 1982. Back then, true to Epcot form, the ride was long on education and short on fun. It was a slow, uneventful cruise through the history of the country: Space Mountain, it was not. In 2007, the attraction got a much-needed overhaul and became the Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros. It’s a decidedly a low-tech, few-frills ride, where Panchito Pistoles and José Carioca are rushing all over México in search of Donald Duck, who’s busy sightseeing. Honestly, I love it. In fact, it’s my most favorite ride in all of Epcot. It’s a great love letter to the movie, as little known as it is, and is a great tribute to classic short cartoon slapstick with great scenery.

What I suggest: I…kinda don’t want Gran Fiesta Tour to go. But let’s be honest, aside from Coco being a far more familiar property, it’s also much more faithful to the culture of Mexico. Donald is American, obviously, but José is from Brazil, and even in recent years, Disney has called him the Spanish-pronounced “HO-say” instead of the Portuguese pronunciation “JOE-say”. Panchito is a bit of a caricature, with the six-shooters and the sombrero. As much as I love these three, World Showcase is meant to give us a better look at the culture than them.

Coco has great characters, great music, and gorgeous scenery, three things that can make an incredible attraction. Héctor can escort us foolish mortals to the Land of the Dead, where we can see the sights and sounds of the realm. We might have to take the boats instead of the petal-covered bridges since they can’t risk any guests staying there (why not? Make it work, right?), and the initial pyramid backdrop can be reworked into the great background we see in the film. Once inside, we see Miguel’s family and many other inhabitants getting ready for Héctor’s show, even tearing down old Ernesto de la Cruz posters, everyone singing “Poco Loco”. The finale scene is Héctor singing a show stopping “Remember Me”, and the exit scene is, of course, Dante and Pepito bidding us adíos.

This would be a better fit to represent Mexico than the Three Caballeros. Loathe as I am to see them go, this is hardly the worst thing to replace it with.

8. Living with the Robinsons (Epcot)

Meet the Robinsons is such a forgettable movie released in Disney’s second dark age (2000 – 2008), but it’s not without merit. It’s plenty charming, but there’s a reason it hasn’t permeated portrayals at the parks beyond meet and greets with Lewis, Wilbur, and Bowler Hat Guy. But on the other hand, the theme of the movie is about the future (Roughly year 2037) and Lewis/Cornelius’ inventions. If there’s one thing Future World at Epcot is about, it’s that same sentiment of optimism.

Living with the Land has always had this conflicting aspect to it. It’s the kind of attraction that isn’t more than just educational, it’s kind of necessary. As an active greenhouse, it actually provides food to various restaurants on Walt Disney World property, and it does carry a pretty important message about Earth’s ecosystems and what it means to cultivate as much food as we can to make sure everyone has been has enough to eat.

What I suggest: In the first part of the ride, we go through various biomes to showcase a sample of what they look like. The rainforest, the desert, the grasslands, and even your average American farm, but these tableaus have nothing to really look at, and worse, take you out of the theming. Suppose the plot was Lewis (Perhaps as his grown-up, Tom Selleck-inspired persona) would develop the greenhouse and mini-biomes as a means to further help the future of mankind, as is Lewis’ raison d’être. And due to his family’s eccentric but otherwise kind nature, have devoted some time in helping maintaining the various ecosystems. Maybe Uncle Gaston is having trouble controlling the fans for the desert scene, or Aunt Billie is irrigating the jungle. Maybe Uncle Art is cultivating fresh ingredients for his pizzas, and maybe Tiny the T-Rex is greeting his alligator brethren in the tanks. Maybe Franny is teach frogs to sing in the rainforest, and maybe Spike and Dimitri would greet guests from their respective potted plants. Of course, throughout the ride, Lewis would be guiding us through the tableaus and showing how cool cutting edge science is. After all, it’s Epcot, where we Keep Moving Forward.

7. Zorro’s Epic Stunt Spectacular (Magic Kingdom)

One of my favorite TV shows Disney ever made isn’t Dinosaurs, Gargoyles, DuckTales 2017, and sure as Smoo ain’t The Mandolorian. No, one of my absolute favorites in the 1959 series Zorro, starring Guy Williams, Gene Sheldon, and Henry Calvin. Despite being made over 60 years ago, it still has drama, action, intrigue, and adventure in every legitimate sense. It’s kind of a shame the legacy of the Fox So Cunning and Free hasn’t gone much further beyond the Antonio Banderas movies. After all, it was he who inspired a certain caped crusader from Gotham to become the dark knight.

Frontierland is a remnant from Walt’s day when Americans were fascinated by the romance of cowboys and indians, and thus, Walt dedicated the land not just to the American west, but also to his earlier TV success, the Buckskin Buccaneer himself, Davy Crockett. Nowadays, Disney has had very little to do with anything western-themed (Home on the Range, anyone?), so if they’re to keep the theme, why not bring it with Disney’s arguably first Hispanic hero? Plus, there happens to be a section of Frontierland that is themed to nothing truly Disney at all (1995’s Tom and Huck notwithstanding). So let’s see if they can really take advantage of a certain fort at the westernmost corner of the island?

What I suggest: It starts off with us dumb tourists wandering over to Fort Langhorn, on the westernmost corner of the island. When the great log doors shut, the commandante emerges, telling us they indeed did entice us with the promise of having us meet the one and only Zorro, but it was a lie! He now intends to use us as bait to capture Zorro! We can only look around in uncertainty as the Commandante continues to set up his trap, unaware that his/her men keep mysteriously disappearing whenever their head turns. Eventually, the Fox appears, and demands we be let go, leading to a tense and exciting sword fight between Zorro and the Commandante. When Zorro defeats his nemesis, he throws them into the jail cell and urges Bernard (Who is most likely out of sight) to open the gates and let us go, ending our time with the Very Unique Señor Zorro, as his theme plays out.

Aside from drawing more guests over to Tom Swayer Island, it would also feature one of Disney’s few non-stereotyped Spanish characters, which would not just draw out more Latin guests, but also encourage more Latin cast members for face performer roles. A stunt show in this tiny corner need only a green room for the performers a few tweaks to the set, so why not? It’s perfectly in theme, needs only minor adjustments to the fort itself, draw interest for Hispanic guests, as well as Batman fans, and create an exciting show in the process!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to talk about my next idea. Con permiso.

6. Hiro’s Open House of What Could Possibly Go Wrong?! (Magic Kingdom)

One of the most popular templates in crafting a theme and storyline in theme parks is the “Open House” plot. We tourists are voluntarily drawn into a fascinating building, a character openly welcomes us, gives the basic exposition, shows us some cool things, all before something bad happens – an emergency, a bad guys breaks in, or simple clumsiness – and we are helpless to go along for the ride. In the end, we’re told something like “Phew! That was crazy! Sorry, folks! We’ll get it right next time! Bye!” Is it a lazy template? I guess, but it’s used so much for a reason: it works. It draws guests in, there’s a reason for characters to over explain who they are, why the conflict happens, and why we’d want to come back.

The space formerly known as Stitch’s Great Escape, formerly known as the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, has been empty for a few years now, and there have been rumors that it will become home to a Wreck-it Ralph-themed attraction, but announcements have yet to materialize. While I have plans for Ralph and Vanellope further down the list, I think the 2014 hit film Big Hero 6 could make itself nice and cozy here.

What I suggest: Best themed to the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, Hiro Hamada has been chosen to helm the open house, and display some of the new tech. Of course, Hiro may feel a bit overwhelmed, but it’s okay: Wasabi, Go Go, Honey Lemon, and Fred are all there to support him, as well as his robot pal, Baymax, who scans the preshow crowd, detecting elevated levels of serotonin in most of the crowd. Hiro gets us amped up for his next demonstration, in the theater.

We sit, and soon, things are ready to begin…but Fred is nowhere to be found. The affable slacker then bursts in, a bit panicked seeing as he somehow messed around with some new tech, it’s causing some serious trouble, and now it’s up to his friends to do some damage control.

It’s difficult to really imagine how they might stage some of the action scenes, but the use of screens might be most effective, and Baymax, being a robot, would be arguably the easiest animatronic created. My ideal suggestion for the plot at hand is that some microprocessor chips got into the Stitch toys that were tucked in a closet nearby, and thus, not only riff on its predecessor, but also utilize whatever effects left over from Stitch’s Great Escape.

5. The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under Newer Management! (You’re Welcome!) (Magic Kingdom)

The Enchanted Tiki Room hasn’t had much luck when getting IP’s infused in it, but that was because Under New Management shoehorned Zazu and Iago in solely because they were tropical talking birds. Plus, that show had nothing to say beyond “The old show was lame! Time to get hip!”, which cheesed off a number of fans. But if there was one thing it did right, it was give the show a three act structure. Now, what might a better show do with this in mind?

It’s worth noting The Enchanted Tiki Room opened in Disneyland in 1963, back when Americans were tiki-crazy over anything Polynesian. But it’s now the 21st century, we’re more culturally aware now, and Disney has since released two movies that take place in the Pacific Isles: Lilo & Stitch and Moana.

What I suggest: First and foremost, not only do José, Michael, Pierre, and Fritz stay, but they sing and complete the perennial favorite “In the Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room” (Under New Management would have Iago cut them off after one verse.). Maui pops in, thinking the tourists and the attraction is a temple to him, so he changes into his giant hawk form to blend in, taking his “rightful” place in the central column. Thinking he has blessed us with his presence, Maui sings “You’re Welcome”. Maui and the four parrots continue to sing various songs, including “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride”, “He Mele No Lilo”, “How Far I’ll Go”, and “We Know the Way”, all with a much more authentically tropical theme and tone without dumping on the previous incarnation. If conflict were to be added, it’d take little effort to show the Kakamora peeking in the windows, and a song is what soothes savage pirates, urging them to leave the tourists alone.

4. It’s like America, but South! (Animal Kingdom)

I love Animal Kingdom, but the park’s focus has always been weird since day one. See, in honoring animals of yesterday, today, and fantasy, they did two of those. They put a dragon in their logo, which still exists to this day. But to claim it still holds up because the park has the Yeti and the Na’avi is disingenuous at best. Dinosaurs are cool and all, but there’s awkwardness to it now. Chief among them the tawdry Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama section, which is pretty much every antithesis to Disney theming. So what to do?

What I suggest: So we have a park where there are Africa and Asia sections. There’s a ride based on the Indiana Jones tide at Disneyland where in the famous opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy was exploring a temple in…South America. A few years ago, this was the leading rumor at the time, so what to do if they lean into this?l. Why not transform the whole land of Dinoland U.S.A. into South America?

For one, just imagine the pathway between Dinosaur and Restaurantosaurus ending with a forced perspective backdrop of Paradise Falls from Up, complete wth Carl and Ellie’s house. Second, while I understand the animals take up a huge part of DAK’s annual budget (A huge factor in why Beastly Kingdomme got cut), they can serve DAK’s purpose as a zoological park by having llamas, sloths, tapirs, toucans, and maybe even a spectacled Bear. Third, the Boneyard could be reworked into Tepui-inspired rock maze not dissimilar to Kevin’s home in Up. Fourth, as I mentioned in my other top ten, why not transform Chester and Hester’s into Kuzcotopia? That’d fit the tacky style, plus they could rework Primeval Whirl into the meme-demanded Yzma’s secret lab coaster that even starts every launch with “WRONG LEVER!!”. You know you want it.

It’s themed to some popular movies, it reworks into the theming of the park, and it removes some of the tacky sting from Chester and Hester’s. Also, Disney World is known for having massive crowds coming in from Latin America, particularly Brazil, and they might love seeing José Carioca of The Three Caballeros fame having his own permanent meet and greet spot.

As a side note, I’ve wanted an Australia section of DAK for far too long, complete with a statue of Marahuté the eagle, but the only realistic place for it is currently Pandora, and we all know that ain’t happening.

3. Bing Bong Studios: A Subsidiary of DreamFinder Ltd (Epcot)

The Imagination pavilion has been a source of contention for over twenty years. Besides the complete disaster of watching Figment’s ride degrade – twice – watching its sister venue, the theater, is worse. Honey, I Shrunk the Audience lingered far longer than it should have, Captain EO’s resurgence similarly took too long a time, and now it just shows a smattering of Pixar and Disney cartoons and calling it a Disney theme park attraction. Ugh. It really needs something…imaginative.

What I suggest: The cool thing about imagination is that it is the most liberating thing conceivable. Even magic has to be portrayed in some grounded way like saying magic words or thrusting out a wand or something, but imagination? I’m the kind of guy that has those dreams where a person can say “How will you get there with that mountain lion on your back?” Only to find that said feline has suddenly appeared on my back yet simultaneously been there for hours and I had only just realized/knew it the whole time. So let’s say say fan favorite park character DreamFinder has reclaimed literally forgotten Inside Out breakout star Bing Bong. The movie also introduced Dream Productions, a movie studio whose responsibility is to perform Riley’s dreams. DreamFinder places Bing Bong as head of the studio, and the cotton candy/elephant/cat/dolphin hybrid is happy to show you around the lot. Once again, as we sit in the theater, literally anything can happen, so the experience can be as completely off the wall, nonsensical, and chaotic as can be imagined, and of course, we can even encounter a set filming a nightmare, giving us a conflict to react to. The script writes itself: Richard Kind, who played Bing Bong, is a masterful comedy genius, and he could make virtually any line utterly hilarious.

2. A Hawaiian Not-Roller Coaster Ride (Magic Kingdom)

Disney released Swiss Family Robinson in 1960, and it was a box office success. So successful, in fact, Walt decided that the family’s treehouse ought to be an attraction in and of itself. The treehouse opened at Disneyland in 1962, and it became an opening-day attraction in Florida. It’s a nice enough treehouse, I guess, and though I’ve seen Swiss Family Robinson, I’d be hard-pressed to say I remember much from the movie, let alone treehouse, as ingeniously clever as it is for something supposedly built in the early 1800’s. In 1999, the OG attraction closed and was renovated into Tarzan’s Treehouse for the movie released that summer. Now, I like Tarzan, and aside from the treehouse, the only other time it’s seen at the parks was the 1999-2006 stage musical Tarzan Rocks! at Animal Kingdom, so it’s tragically underrepresented. But let’s try something different. Perhaps a movie that doesn’t owe royalties?

What I suggest: Stitch’s Great Escape tainted Stitch’s presence in the Magic Kingdom, but there might be a way to salvage his reputation. By taking advantage of the lush flora of Adventureland, they could really bring the treehouse to life and even subtly add a few sci-fi elements to it, courtesy of Jumba.

Lilo’s Treehouse, as I call it, would be Lilo Pelekai’s home away from home, a place where she and Stitch could just be themselves. Of course there’d be a bedroom full of Elvis records and drawings of Stitch’s badness level, but there might also be a room where she keeps Jumba’s hologram inventory machine, one that kids can play with and scroll through to find images and information on the other 625 experiments from the TV show. There might be even LED screens or limited-motion animatronics that might show Stitch prowling around, getting into various shenanigans. And while “Swisskapolka” isn’t the worst song in the parks…let’s get the film’s composer, Alan Silvestri to put something light, tropical, and fun. I mean, the guy gave us the scores to Back to the Future, The Avengers, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and probably most appropriately, Ferngully, the Last Rainforest.

It doesn’t really need a plot, but it would remove the old world aesthetic Swiss Family Treehouse has for a movie that doesn’t really get that much attention to begin with. It would really bring some color and energy to another corner of the Magic Kingdom.

1. Sugar Rush: Tomorrowland Drift (Magic Kingdom)

There’s very few Disney attractions I despise, and I’m sure I’m not alone in saying on that short list is the Tomorrowland Speedway. I’ve ridden and even operated go-kart attractions before, and it’s disheartening to see just how little is different as a Disney ride. First, it reeks of gasoline. Second, the load/unload system may be continuous, but it’s cumbersome and clumsy. It’s ungodly noisy, ruining the Fantasyland vibe when you’re trying to spin on the teacups when you’re inhaling gas fumes and hearing the roars of twenty lawnmower engines a hundred feet away. The racing theme has nothing to do with Tomorrowland (Though that has more to do with Autopia in Disneyland, where back in 1955, driving on a freeway was the future.), and the cars are old and always feel like they’re going to break. Those guardrails completely defeat the purpose of being able to steer, and serve to make the experience even more bone-shakingly jarring. It just flat out sucks. But luckily, I have an idea.

What I suggest: Now, let’s see…is there a movie released in the past decade where both racing and futuristic landscapes were featured? Together, no, but hear me out: Wreck-it Ralph.

When you board your kart, slickly designed to look like the sickest vehicle ever, Ralph, Vanellope, Calhoun, and Shank welcome you to the pit, and help you settled. These cars are souped up and ready, and the three have put together the track as the ultimate immersive and challenging experience. The landscape of Hero’s Duty, the in-universe game Sergeant Calhoun hails from, has added a race track for us to race through. But of course, something goes wrong. What exactly? I haven’t pinned down the antagonist, really. I think the Cybugs might make the ride too intense for kids, but so might the insecure Ralph clones of the sequel. But if this is to take place in Hero’s Duty, it just might have to be the former.

So by changing the ride system to the one used in Test Track and Radiator Springs Racers – eliminating the smell, the noise, and the rough rattling – cars race through the landscape, dodging the Cybugs. But here’s the kicker: the track ends back at the pit by Fantasyland. So after a key moment where Vanellope urges us to get out of there, we speed through a tunnel and wind up in…Sugar Rush! Seriously,, this would be an unbelievable missed opportunity if they decide to go in this direction.

*************************************

If these ideas are too much, I get it. And Disney now most likely won’t implement them now that I put them out there. But regardless, I think these would really increase interest and excitement at the Most Magical Place on Earth. But what do you guys think? Hit me up with suggestions and I’d like to see what you guys would like to see!

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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