We’re in a truly remarkable era of intellectual property. Intellectual property as far as the eye can see, with everything from toys to books to TV shows being turned into films. And for the Walt Disney Company, theme-park attractions are also fodder for new movies. Walt Disney Studios’ biggest theme-park hit is Pirates of the Caribbean, the 2003 film that turned into a massive franchise, all derived from the incredible boat-ride attraction at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
This summer, Disney’s going to the well again with Jungle Cruise, a new adventure starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, inspired by the boat-ride attraction that gives new meaning to the phrase “the backside of water”. With that film on the way this summer, let’s think of 10 other Disney theme-park attractions that could spawn a movie. The only rule here is that an attraction has to be currently running at a Disney park. Here they are, in order of coolness (and also alphabetical order).
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
You may not realize it, but this roller coaster, purportedly the wildest ride in the wilderness, was the inspiration for a TV pilot that never got off the ground. ABC nearly turned Big Thunder Mountain Railroad into appointment television, but it never got past the pilot phase. Reviving the Western may seem more challenging to Disney, especially after the colossal box-office flop of The Lone Ranger. (Devotees of the film may recall that the third-act action setpiece involving a train felt like a slight nod to this attraction.) Yet there was once a time when reviving the pirate movie seemed next to impossible, and Pirates of the Caribbean found a way. With the right filmmaker (sorry to all the Gore Verbinski fans out there), a rollicking, action-packed Western set in a small town called Rainbow Ridge could easily become the next four-quadrant hit.
The Enchanted Tiki Room is an exceedingly weird attraction, which you can find at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. An audience enters a boxy little theater, at the center of which are four Audio-Animatronic (AKA robotic) birds of different nationalities. They lead fellow birds, and eventually flowers, Tiki gods, and more in a series of musical numbers that culminate in the Tiki gods literally raining down on the theater, angry “at all the celebratin’”. To turn this show into a movie, you’d only have to expand on what’s already there. The Audio-Animatronic nature of the characters is part of their charm, so keep the robotic versions of Jose, Michael, Fritz, and Pierre and delve into their backstory. Yes, that’s right, give these birds a backstory worth parroting, and it could make for a great film. (That, or go the Hitchcock route and turn this into a horror film a la The Birds.)
Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln
Your mileage may vary, but Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln is both a perfectly fine attraction and not at all what its title implies. The stage-set attraction at Disneyland allows its audience to watch an Audio-Animatronic version of our 16th President deliver a speech in line with the typically inspirational oratory best associated with Lincoln. But we don’t really go through moments of his life as much as a general speech delivered by an impersonator. So, here’s where the movie comes in. In a more Disney-friendly way (possibly, as the attraction does, not going into too much detail about Lincoln’s final hours), people could learn all about some of Lincoln’s life story through certain moments, bits of flashback sprinkled throughout as we perhaps visit Lincoln in the White House during the era of the Civil War. This would be in the vein of edutainment that Disney used to specialize in, and could make for a truly exciting film.
Disney’s California Adventure, the second park in the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, has gone through a lot of facelifts in the 20 years since it opened. One of the few attractions that’s hung around through all the changes is Grizzly River Run, a whitewater-rapid attraction in which guests ride a large circular vehicle through a large mountain whose top is shaped like a roaring grizzly. In the vein of mid-budget action films like The River Wild, a movie based on the Grizzly River Run attraction could be an extended watery chase through a mountainside area as a group of good guys — likely a large family, of course — are attacked by marauders of some kind. This one shouldn’t need any supernatural elements, just a lot of practical effects and maybe some real bears to boot.
What’s that? You say that this spookhouse dark-ride attraction has already inspired a movie starring Eddie Murphy? Well, here’s the thing. The language in the introduction clearly stated that there’s only one rule: That an attraction has to currently operate at Disney. The Haunted Mansion is the only attraction here that has inspired a film already, but considering that 2003 comedy’s general badness, why not go back to the drawing board? Guillermo del Toro was involved for a long time with a Haunted Mansion film, starring no less than Ryan Gosling. While del Toro might have wanted something a bit grimmer than Disney, there’s a perfect balance of hilarity and terror that a gifted filmmaker could strike, with a premise in which characters get trapped in a haunted house and are beset upon by grim grinning ghosts.
Now, listen. This list is a full-on wish-fulfillment fantasy, which really means I can throw out any idea I like, because there’s not any remote chance of any of them coming true. To wit, take It’s A Small World. You may well wonder how on Earth this calm boat ride through a series of scenes themed to different nations of the world, in which its childlike doll denizens sing the same refrain over and over and over, could become a movie. I propose to you the following: a bloodless horror film in which a young couple go on the attraction, only to find it stuck, the song becoming lodged in their brains as they try to outrun an onslaught of demonic dolls from turning them into model citizens. Will this movie ever come to light? Of course not, but boy, it’s fun to dream.
We’ll have to see what Jungle Cruise ends up being; in all luck, the new film will be quite entertaining a la the first Pirates of the Caribbean. If so, Disney may want to make similar films, not just based on a theme-park attraction, but also in the vein of adventure. So, consider the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In this ride, you hop onto a large Jeep and your driver takes you through a constructed version of the savannahs of Africa to glimpse real animals in a facsimile of their natural habitat. Though it’s not close to the real Africa, the safari ride is quite impressive. The story within the ride, at one point, involved some cruel poachers being thwarted by fellow safari drivers, and could easily be the jumping-off point for a film where, say, Dwayne Johnson teams up with fellow drivers to ward off selfish poachers in the middle of the African savannah. It’s a win-win.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster With Aerosmith
The Disney theme parks are known for many things, but extreme ride isn’t necessarily one of them. To wit, the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster with Aerosmith at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando is one of the few attractions that turns guests literally upside down, with a corkscrew in the middle of an indoor, in-the-dark roller coaster. The roller-coaster element may need to be eschewed in a movie inspired by the ride, in favor of just a kind of ticking-clock race to a big concert. Also, frankly, we might need to change out the band. Aerosmith was a much bigger deal when the ride opened more than two decades ago. Another popular band could work in their place, such as Maroon 5, with the lead character being a fresh-faced agent or manager, desperately trying to make sure the big show goes off without a hitch. Make it as much a comedy as a race against time, and you’ve got a winner.
Fun fact: there was a brief time when the in-the-dark roller coaster Space Mountain was going to be the subject of a big-budget blockbuster from Disney. (It was going to be written by Max Landis, so maybe we’re all better off.) The attraction itself is a fairly standard old-school roller coaster, with the twist that you’re barely able to see a single thing, as if you’re sailing through the farthest, darkest reaches of space. It’s both thrilling and terrifying, doubly so when Disney installs the Halloween-season version of the attraction, subtitled Ghost Galaxy. And wouldn’t that make for a hell of a horror movie? In the vein of something like Alien, though perhaps not quite as adult or mature as that film, we could get a truly spooky PG-13 film in which some intrepid astronauts are beset upon by galactic ghosts and have to fight their way out. Jaume Collet-Serra, director of the upcoming Jungle Cruise, has some horror-movie cred in his background with the remake of House of Wax. He could knock this out of the park (so to speak).
Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress
There’s one entertainment jewel that the Walt Disney Company hasn’t captured for one of its proper films (meaning, not something from a 20th Century Pictures or Searchlight or the like): an Academy Award for Best Picture. Well, good news to incoming Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who is surely reading this list in his free time: I have the answer to this problem. What could become a Disney Best Picture winner? An adaptation of Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress. This attraction in Tomorrowland at Walt Disney World takes its audience through four scenes with Audio-Animatronic characters throughout different periods of the 20th century to highlight how technology has informed our lives over time. A similar family unit glimpsed at four periods of tumult? The Oscars love to award such decade-spanning epics. Get a ringer director like Steven Spielberg involved and the Academy would have to throw Oscars at Disney’s feet.