I was curious: Is any Disney movie represented in all four Walt Disney World theme parks?
Classic films and timeless stories are at the core of the Disney experience. And there are definitely a few that seem to be favorites, used time and time again in various attractions and projects.
Once I asked myself that question, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had to know the answer. The easy response is “Mickey and Friends,” which is true, but I wanted to go beyond that.
The first step was to consider what the criteria of “representation” are. Many different types of experiences make up a day in a Disney park, from headliner rides to tiny snack stands. There were two categories I quickly decided didn’t count: food and merchandise. The sheer volume of items in both realms rendered the study less valuable for two reasons. For one, with nearly 50 years of stock in each category, it’s impossible to know for certain every film portrayed on an item. Secondly, I’d imagine that many products are sold property-wide and maybe even sold in all four parks. Meaning in actuality many, many films would be the answer to my question. That seemed unfair, though. As Syndrome says in The Incredibles, “If everyone’s super, no one is.” So I decided that food and merch didn’t count as full representation in a park. (However, this declaration is debatable if “food” becomes more of an experience. If a full restaurant operates within the premise of a story, like Pinocchio Village Haus, then that qualified as representing Pinocchio. In contrast, a generic popcorn cart selling a Sulley bucket didn’t qualify as representing Monsters, Inc.)
For the sake of this exploration, I defined representation in a park as something that could be experienced in a significant way to make a memory. This could include rides, shows, photo-ops, or character greetings (regular, dedicates greetings –– not random, inconsistent appearances).
Next up was to examine the specific contents of each park. I thought it best to examine the park with the narrowest inclusions and go from there. For example, there would be no use making a list of every film populating Magic Kingdom, as that spectrum runs almost as wide as the Disney brand itself. What about Epcot? Upon initial thought, it seemed a good place to start, as “the future” seemed a pretty narrow definition that few films could claim relevance with. But when considering the variety of characters present for autographs in World Showcase, the net was actually cast much wider. Disney’s Hollywood Studios experiences a similar phenomenon, with relatively few movies represented within its main attractions, but a huge host of them featured in Fantasmic! and the new nighttime projection show, Wonderful World of Animation. At the end of the day, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was the best place to start. Its subject matter –– animals and the natural world –– is so specific that few films match its theme. And over the years Disney hasn’t expanded its definition of what kinds of stories the park includes as drastically as, for example, Epcot has.
And so, we first look at which movies are represented in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The heavy-hitters are The Lion King, Finding Nemo, Avatar, and A Bug’s Life. Other subtle inclusions are Pocahontas, Tarzan, The Jungle Book, Moana, Brother Bear, Bambi, and The Rescuers Down Under (all in the newly revamped Rivers of Light: We Are One). Among these, Avatar, Brother Bear, A Bug’s Life, Bambi, and The Rescuers Down Under are not in any other park. Meaning, the remaining films are the sole competitors in the four-park test!
Since we’ve established Animal Kingdom as the park with the most narrow theme, let’s go through each of those films individually that we know are in other parks to see if they pass the test.
The Lion King has Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom, Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable at Epcot, Wonderful World of Animation and Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Festival of the Lion King, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, character greetings, and Rivers of Light: We Are One at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (it’s kind of a big deal there). That means… it passes the test?! But Circle of Life, though long-running and definitely qualifying as an attraction, closed in 2018. It’s extinct now. Should that count? Hmmm…I don’t think it should. Current representation only. It would just get too thick to comb through other possibilities over the years otherwise. So, The Lion King passed in the past (ok, ok…), but it doesn’t anymore.
Finding Nemo has full attractions in The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot and Finding Nemo: The Musical at Animal Kingdom and small appearances in Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom and Wonderful World of Animation at Hollywood Studios, which we’ve established do count. Meaning…Finding Nemo inarguably passes the test!
Pocahontas has the appearance in Rivers of Light: We Are One and a character greeting at Animal Kingdom, and is featured prominently in Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios, though isn’t included in anything at Magic Kingdom or Epcot.
Moana has brief appearances in Rivers of Light: We Are One at Animal Kingdom and Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios, with rather spotlighted appearances in Wonderful World of Animation at Hollywood Studios and Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom. Alas, though, without any Epcot features to boast, Moana doesn’t pass the test.
Tarzan again reels in Animal Kingdom representation with Rivers of Light: We Are One and gains a surprising prominence of two songs (!) in Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom. Though it doesn’t pull off anything else in either remaining park.
The Jungle Book carries the same credentials as Tarzan, but also adds Wonderful World of Animation and Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios to its list. Without Epcot, though, it doesn’t pass.
So, where are we at so far? Finding Nemo passes. The Lion King passes, but only when considering history.
Then my fellow WDW Radio team brought up an event I hadn’t thought about: Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. The annual crowd favorite includes quite a collection of character topiaries, and by my definition of “representation,” a photo-op counted. At first I thought this would broaden the selection wide again. But when really thinking about it, still the only films to pass on this criteria from the Animal Kingdom list are Bambi (which isn’t in any of the remaining two parks) and The Lion King. This still helped, though., since Circle of Life is extinct, this officially means The Lion King passes the test, too!
The “useless knowledge” file in my brain then remembered that there used to be dedicated character greetings at Animal Kingdom for Winnie the Pooh and Stitch (separately). The more I thought about it, both of those characters at one point were available to meet guests in every park. By my definition of representation in a theme park, that counted, which would add The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Lilo & Stitch to the list if the past counted.
Additionally, several others are very, very close. Frozen make the cut for three parks. If we extended our search beyond just the parks, films like Toy Story or Cars are represented in their own wings of resort hotels. (But then again, so are our champions, The Lion King and Finding Nemo.) That has to count for something, right? Surely it does in the scheme of things, but unfortunately not for our test. That title is reserved for, curiously, two films which each held the record for highest-grossing animated film when they released!
What do you think? Is there a movie we left out? What do you think qualifies something as being represented in a park?
(All images © Disney.)
To learn more about Blake Taylor and read his other posts on the WDW Radio Blog, visit his author page.