When you head to a Disney theme park, you expect to experience attractions that are based on the movie and TV studio’s famous characters. It’s true, you can immerse yourself in rides that tell the stories of everything from “Alice in Wonderland” to “Frozen” and from “Peter Pan” to “Toy Story.” Whether it’s Disneyland in Anaheim, California, Epcot or Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida, or one of the many other Disney theme parks around the world, the movie and TV show characters we’ve come to know and love from a lifetime of watching Disney properties are there to greet visitors throughout the parks.
However, that doesn’t mean each and every ride in Disney’s parks was inspired by an existing movie or TV show, or even if it was, that the ride doesn’t take that movie or TV show’s plot in new and unexpected directions. As a result, there are more than enough Disney parks rides that could be fodder for new movies. The company’s already seen the potential in attractions like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Haunted Mansion,” and “Jungle Cruise,” adapting them into blockbuster films — and in the case of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” a long-lived franchise. But there are numerous other rides in the parks that deserve similar treatment. These are our picks for the Disney parks rides that should be made into movies.
We know what you’re thinking: who wants to see a movie based on a ride that people mostly remember for its extremely repetitive, extremely annoying theme song? But “it’s a small world” — a ride that’s so synonymous with Disney that it’s available at five of the company’s parks across the globe — is much more than one (admittedly) irritating earworm. A boat ride through various locations around the world, each scene showcases children from each country singing, dancing, playing instruments, and wearing traditional clothing from their native lands. Then in the massive finale, all the children join together to display the unity of this supposedly “small world.”
The ride represents a hopeful vision in which all people everywhere are able to put aside their differences and come together as one. Yet, that idea also brings up some seriously existential questions about what it really takes to get along with those that seem different, if it’s only children who could successfully bridge the divides between people, and whether such a utopia could ever truly be achieved. An “it’s a small world” movie could tackle all of those themes, while gently shedding light on the barriers that prevent the citizens of the world from teaming up to tackle common problems and challenges.
The “Matterhorn Bobsleds” in Disneyland and “Expedition Everest” in Disney World’s Animal Kingdom essentially tell the same story: as riders travel along a snowy mountain, dipping in and out of caves, they encounter evidence of an abominable snowman (or, as “Expedition Everest” refers to it, a yeti) and are then confronted by the fearsome monster itself. While “Matterhorn,” the older and gentler of the two roller coasters, is themed around a mountain in the Alps and “Expedition Everest,” the faster and more heart-pounding of the two, is based on Mount Everest in the Himalayas, either location could make an interesting setting for a movie that follows the coasters’ basic storyline.
That’s because when it comes down to it, the thing that would make a movie based on “Matterhorn” or “Expedition Everest” work is the abominable snowman (or yeti) at the heart of the narrative. A story centered on a group of travelers that are stalked by an abominable snowman as they embark on a trek up a snow-covered mountain could make for a thrilling big-screen adventure. Plus, the story would offer a fun opportunity to establish a new mythology centered on the beast that could result in a brand new fan-favorite character.
Fans of early Disney animation will know that “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” in Disneyland is based on the 1949 film “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad,” yet, the ride includes details that weren’t in the film and could make quite an impression if they were adapted for a movie today.
In the ride, guests take the perspective of J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq. after he acquires an early-model motorcar. After careening through Mr. Toad’s posh residence, Toad Hall, the car continues into the streets wreaking havoc everywhere it goes until finally Mr. Toad is caught and found guilty of an unspecified crime. He doesn’t stay in prison for long though, and as soon as he’s out and driving again, he collides with a train. It’s at this point where the ride diverges sharply from the earlier movie as the collision sends Mr. Toad straight to Hell, a place full of fire, darkness, and demons.
A movie taking inspiration from the ride in which Mr. Toad is relegated to the underworld could tackle themes like the need to respect new technology and the consequences of one’s single-minded actions. As an exploration of wrongdoing and redemption, a film like this would be a little more grown-up than the first one starring Mr. Toad, but with a good story and a PG-13 rating, it could make for fascinating entertainment.
The “Soarin‘” rides, which are available at several Disney parks and called “Soarin’ Around the World” at California Adventure in Anaheim and Epcot in Orlando, take guests on a serene hang gliding tour of picturesque landmarks across the planet, from the Great Wall of China to the Eiffel Tower in Paris to Monument Valley in Arizona. While the ride doesn’t include a narrative beyond the fun of traveling around the world, that alone lends itself to an interesting movie.
Just like the movie adaptations of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days” and even the TV series “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?,” a “Soarin’ Around the World” movie could establish a group of characters who must fly around the world to achieve a goal of some kind. Maybe they want to prove they can hang glide anywhere on the planet. Maybe they’re looking for a member of their group that’s mysteriously gone missing. Whatever motivates the characters, the movie can use it as a jumping off point to show off noteworthy locations all over the globe, something that’s sure to delight and inspire viewers everywhere.
The roller coaster “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad” is one of the most popular Disney attractions. Available at four parks, each version tells the same basic Old West-themed story. Though it isn’t explicitly stated, “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad” takes guests through a haunted gold mine owned by the Big Thunder Mining Company. After gold was discovered there in the mid-1800s, strange things started to happen, including trains hurtling through the mine’s tunnels all by themselves. Guests board one of these self-propelled locomotives, and soon after they find themselves dodging explosions, dipping into canyons, and racing past dinosaur skeletons. Given all that, it’s no surprise Disney has already attempted to bring the ride to the screen once. Even though that effort wasn’t successful, another attempt could lead to a triumphant big-screen outing.
In 2013, Disney was planning to launch a TV show based on the ride called “Big Thunder.” The story was intended to focus on a doctor who moves his family to a frontier mining town only to learn things there aren’t as he expected. A version of this storyline could be refreshed and revived for a movie based on the attraction. Alternatively, the story could be an adaptation of the 2015 comic series that tells the story of how Big Thunder Mountain’s gold mine became haunted. Whether it’s one of those storylines or something else entirely, “Big Thunder Mountain” has what it takes to capture moviegoers’ imaginations.
To experience Animal Kingdom’s “Kilimanjaro Safaris,” riders board a rugged open vehicle that drives them into the Harambe Wildlife Preserve, an area Disney has set up to mimic the natural native environments of their menagerie of African animals. The ride offers a glimpse of this exotic wildlife, including hippos, giraffes, cheetahs, elephants, and lions, as the driver points out each species and shares interesting facts about them. Furthermore, while it’s no longer part of the experience today, when the ride first opened it included a narrative involving an elephant and her baby, named Big Red and Little Red respectively, who’d been taken by poachers. The safari was enlisted to help recover the elephants, and by the end of the ride, the poachers had been frightened away and the elephants were saved.
Although it didn’t stand the test of time at “Kilimanjaro Safaris,” this seems like an ideal narrative for a movie aimed at younger children about the evils of poaching endangered animals and what those who protect the animals have to go through to attempt to ensure their safety. The story of Big Red and Little Red would feel more organic as a movie than as a ride and it just might turn the two elephants into beloved, widely known characters.
The “Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover,” which Disney park die-hards simply refer to as the “PeopleMover,” is one of the breeziest, most fun ways to experience Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom Park. After hopping on a slow but continuously moving ride vehicle powered by magnets, the tram glides on an elevated track through and around attractions like “Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin” and “Space Mountain” and also shows off a model of Progress City, an old Disney project that eventually evolved into Epcot. Via the “PeopleMover,” all of Tomorrowland’s ideas about the future come together in one attraction, a concept that would work well as inspiration for a movie.
Disney already made a “Tomorrowland” movie in 2015 and it was a big disappointment at the box office — even with George Clooney in a starring role. But one of the biggest problems with that film was that it showed far too little of the title location. A film that used the “PeopleMover” as its core, however, would be rooted in Tomorrowland, enabling it to present an exciting picture of a magical place where people come together to envision the future.
Epcot’s “Journey Into Imagination” has gone through several incarnations since it opened in 1983, but through all those changes, the presence of the character Figment has been a constant. In the ride’s latest version, the little purple dragon with the whimsical personality disrupts guests’ tour of The Imagination Institute and demonstrates that imagination isn’t simply something to be studied but something that should be free to run wild.
Figment is one of the most well-known and beloved characters in the Disney parks that didn’t originate in a movie or TV show. As a result, it seems like Figment would be primed to make the leap to the big screen as the lead in his own film. Any film featuring Figment would have to be a madcap adventure where he uses his impressive imagination to come up with zany solutions to whatever obstacles he’s presented with. It’s a concept that could be a hit with children as well as their Figment-loving parents.
There are numerous movies about missions to Mars. Viewers seem to love imagining what it would be like to travel to the red planet, and even to set up colonies and live there. The attraction “Mission: SPACE” at Epcot takes that one step further by putting guests in charge of a space shuttle hurtling toward Mars. During the ride, each guest is cast as a member of a four-person space crew, and as the group performs their different jobs and experiences the magic — and G-forces — of space flight, they also must navigate through some unexpected challenges.
While the ride offers a first-hand experience the movies could never replicate, the idea of a “Mission: SPACE” movie could still be an exciting opportunity to offer all the heart-pounding thrills of the ride without the nausea caused by its centrifugal motion simulator. In addition, a movie could be a great way to introduce four new brave characters who come together as a space crew to navigate the highs and lows of the lengthy flight to Mars together. For space enthusiasts and sci-fi buffs, the premise would be irresistible.
“Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is an indoor coaster with high-speed turns and twists that riders adore, whether they’re familiar with the classic rock band Aerosmith or not. Yet, like almost all Disney parks rides, the coaster has a story to go with it: Aerosmith is recording in the studio when they’re told they’re running late for their evening concert. In order to get there, the band pile into a stretch limo that must dodge traffic through the congested streets of Los Angeles, an adventure that riders are invited to accompany them on.
It’s a thin plot, but it could inspire a film similar in spirit to “Get Him to the Greek,” in which Jonah Hill’s lowly record company employee does everything in his power to get Russell Brand’s out of control rock star to a performance at Los Angeles’ Greek Theater. The plot would be even better if it featured a real-life band, even if that band doesn’t happen to be Aerosmith. Alternatively, since documentaries offering behind-the-scenes looks at the lives of pop stars are extremely popular nowadays, a movie based on “Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster” could take a cue from that trend, by documenting Aerosmith’s real-life journey to a noteworthy concert venue. Intersperse the film with footage from the concert they’re heading to and Aerosmith’s fans wouldn’t be able to get enough.
“Spaceship Earth,” the white geodesic dome that strongly resembles a giant golf ball, is not only the symbol for Epcot, it’s also home to a ride that tells the story of human communication from cave paintings to the invention of computers and ending with a peek into the possible future. The slow-moving ride presents itself as a time machine that enables guests to travel to key moments in history that had a major impact on the advancement of communication. And it’s the possibility of creating a story based around time travel that makes “Spaceship Earth” ripe for a movie adaptation.
A movie could even stick to the theme of human communication with a plot that centers on what it takes to make the next advancements in the science and technology of media and computers. Perhaps the answer is buried in the past and a hero happens upon a time machine that enables them to navigate across history to find what’s needed to move communication forward. A “Spaceship Earth” movie has the potential to be an imaginative mashup of history and fantasy.
Different versions of the “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” are currently available at three Disney parks worldwide. The ride takes guests into the dilapidated Hollywood Tower Hotel where, on Halloween in 1939, a group of guests mysteriously disappeared while they were riding the elevator. After that harrowing explanation, riders board an elevator car of their own and travel through the hotel until finally they’re dropped from a great height, plummeting downward and upward in a sequence that could lead them to experience the same fate as the hotel guests who disappeared decades ago.
Given it was inspired by the iconic TV series “The Twilight Zone,” which started all the way back in 1959, “Tower of Terror” already takes its inspiration from a renowned screen property. However, the ride itself tells a new story that could easily work as a movie. Apparently, Disney agreed because in 1997, the studio produced a made-for-TV movie called “Tower of Terror” starring Steve Guttenberg and Kirsten Dunst. That film hasn’t exactly stood the test of time, though, so Disney is now preparing to bring the ride to the big screen. According to reports, Disney is teaming with Scarlett Johansson to make a new “Tower of Terror” film. Although no plot details have been revealed yet, the movie is sure to be a creepy frightfest that will attract the ride’s devoted fans.
If you’re a newer Disney parks fan, the log flume ride “Maelstrom” may not sound familiar. However, for over 25 years, “Maelstrom” was the main attraction at Epcot’s Norway Pavilion and only one of two rides in the World Showcase section of the park. Disney chose to replace it with the ride “Frozen Ever After” in 2014 as a way to capitalize on the success of its hit film “Frozen.” However, while “Frozen Ever After” more or less retells the story of the film it’s based on, “Maelstrom” told a completely original story about the history and mythology of Norway.
After taking a seat on a vehicle decked out as a Viking ship, the ride sailed past scenes of everything from polar bears to oil rigs. And as the journey continued, trickster trolls straight out of Norwegian folklore appeared to send riders in unexpected directions. While “Frozen” also has troll characters, unlike them, the trolls of the “Maelstrom” ride weren’t helpful or wise. They were suspicious and conniving and didn’t take kindly to strangers. As a result, a “Maelstrom” movie could focus on these mischievous beings and the trouble they make for unsuspecting people in Norway. Add in a few Vikings and the plot would be even more fun.
“ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter” is another defunct Disney World attraction. However, the terror it struck in the hearts of many of the guests who experienced it has made it infamous. Despite that, many people remember the ride fondly due to its incredibly effective story, and it’s that story that should live again as a film. The ride is themed as a public demonstration of a company’s teleportation technology. Unfortunately, when the people in charge accidentally teleport a deadly alien into the room and then let it escape, the audience finds themselves being terrorized and taunted by the beast.
The ride largely took place in the dark, which led guests to imagine the horror of the alien as they listened and felt it creeping around them. This worked extremely well for the theme park attraction, but an “ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter” movie could let viewers actually see what the alien gets up to. Even better, the alien could escape into the larger world resulting in further death and destruction, as the people who brought it to Earth must figure out how to bring it down and save the world. The movie practically writes itself, making it the perfect opportunity for Disney to resurrect the extinct attraction from the ashes so fans can experience it again in a whole new medium.