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“Mr. Who?” asks the wide-eyed child about to enter The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction, dragging his exhausted parents on for the third time today. Sorry, my friend, he isn’t the “lost” Power Ranger, he’s not “Experiement 213” from Lilo & Stitch, nor will you likely see him in the “House of Mouse” or “That’s So Raven” on the Disney Channel. No, Mr. Toad was born in 1908, a little but before your time, in a popular tale called the “Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame. In 1949, he and his oddly-named friends like Moley, Mac Badger, Ratty and Winky were adapted by the folks at Disney into the feature film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
The film was actually two movies in one – it was comprised of two Â½ hour tales (although both films were later re-released individually). The first, the “Wind in the Willows” was narrated by Basil Rathbone, while the second was the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. (The movies were linked solely because their main characters were prone to disaster). The Wind in the Willows centered on the wacky adventures of one J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq. Mr. Toad (as we will get to know him as), is quite well-to-do, and has an unquenchable thirst for adventure, and a bad habit of financial mismanagement. Recently, his attention has turned to the automobile, which further leads to ToadÂ´s peril. He eventually is caught stealing a car, jailed, escapes with the help of his friend, Cyril Proudbottom. YouÂ´ll have to buy the DVD to find out what happens to our little friend.
OK, enough of the background… how does this little amphibian end up with some prime real estate in Fantasyland, and where is he now?
Well, this unique fable first made its way into Disneyland in 1955, just a few years after the filmÂ´s release. Its success at the box office made it a perfect candidate to draw in adults and children alike to WaltÂ´s new family destination. In fact, it had everything Imagineers could ask for – adventure, wackiness, and low cost of production. A dark ride through Mr. ToadÂ´s adventures in London was a perfect fit. Oddly enough, though, although the attraction was (and continues to be) a hit in Disneyland, characters from the film and attraction do not appear elsewhere in the park, whether it be character meet and greets, or even cameos in other attractions or shows.
When Walt Disney WorldÂ´s Magic Kingdom opened on October 1, 1971, Mr. Toad had secured himself a place among other Disney greats in Fantasyland. Surrounded by such classic characters as Snow White, Peter Pan, and Pinocchio, Toad was clearly among Disney royalty.
In fact, Toad not only earned himself a full-blown attraction in WaltÂ´s second, grander theme park, but he had a unique distinction. He may not have appeared in the Mickey Mouse Revue with other classic Disney characters, but one thing that Toad DID have, though, was two attractions in one. Well…. sort of. Like other attractions such as Space Mountain, The Haunted Mansion (with its two stretching rooms), and others, Mr. ToadÂ´s Wild Ride has two different lines (or queues). However, unlike the aforementioned rides, each line for Toad gives you a different adventure altogether. While one side took you through a Trophy Room, Kitchen, Gypsy Camp, Pub, Keg Room (who said there was no alcohol in the Magic Kingdom?) and “Rain Room”, the other (Track B) flung you along in your car through a Library, Barnyard and Barn, Town Square, Jail, Prison and Shireland. So much for heading “Nowhere in Particular” as the attractionÂ´s theme song (also known as “The Merrily Song”) proclaimed! Both tracks led Toad to a similar fate, though. While he was able to narrowly escape the police, gypsies, and Judge, he couldnÂ´t avoid the oncoming train in the blackened tunnel.
This is where things got weird. Really weird considering you were in Walt Disney World. Not just WDW, but the Magic Kingdom. And Fantasyland, for goodness sake! So where were you after kissing the front of a train at incredible speeds? Why, Hell, of course. Yes, in clearly what can be called a radical departure from the cute and cuddly Disney holds so dear, you and your car-mates ended up surrounded by Satan and his demonic minions in the bowels of a “Disney-fied” Hell (which some have described as itÂ´s a small world for the 5 th time in a row. Yes, pitchforks and all, these long-nosed devils and their leader (complete with requisite horns and pointy moustache) showed you what happens to bad toads that get hit by trains. Of course, in typical Toad fashion, he (and you) found a way to escape this three minute attraction which brought you face-to-face with Hades himself to the peaceful sights and sounds of the nearest gift shop.
In the October 22, 1997 edition of the Orlando Sentinel, Walt Disney World sources revealed plans to close Toad in favor of a rumored Pooh and friends attraction. On October 23, 1997, the fan-based “Toad-Ins” began. Lead by John Lefante through a grass-roots internet website (savetoad.com), more than 1150 letters were sent to Disney, and green-shirted “toad-ins” began to appear in front of the attraction. With shirts that read things like: “Ask me why Mickey is killing Mr. Toad”, the fan outrage was demonstrated with actual protests. Even today, fans voting on an “If You Could Bring Back One Attraction” poll favor Toad as their selection. (http://www.disneyworldtrivia.com/forums/showthread.php?t=158)
Sadly, and much to the dismay of Toad fans, the former “C-Ticket” (remember the old A-E ticket books?) attraction closed on Labor Day, September 7, 1998, with no more than a weekÂ´s notice to “Toadies” – many of whom never got to take their last, ceremonial ride. Fans complained that Disney “lied” by not disclosing when the attraction would actually close and their plans to actually close the ride. Although the attractions still (surprisingly?) remains in Disneyland, the unique Walt Disney World version is no more, as it has since been replaced by “The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh”, which opened June 5, 1999.
So, why was this ride closed in Walt Disney World at all? Well, if you were to ask me (and I guess you are), I have to say that it boiled down to the dollar. What I mean is that Disney knew they could sell a heck of a lot more Pooh merchandise than they ever could of our little green friend. (No, not Kermit -Toad! Pay attention, please!). And I guess one might wonder how the whole “Hell” scene sat with a company that became so aware of “political correctness” that they changed the classic Pirates of the Caribbean ride to stop pirates from chasing women. Of course, the flat, two-dimensional figures and scenes in the attraction were clearly not very “high-tech”, or even 3D as in other dark rides like Peter Pan and Snow WhiteÂ´s Scary Adventures. Just add that as another strike against poor Toad.
So Mr. Toad, Toady, Ratty, Moley, Mac Badger, Cyril, Winky and Weasel (the names of the ride cars) were just snuffed out of existence, you say? Not quite. I believe that the fans werenÂ´t the only ones who were sad to see Toad go. In fact, there is more than one “hidden” tribute to him in the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride! In addition to the oft-cited mural showing Pooh handing over the “deed” to the building to Owl (near the beginning of the ride, look at the left wall of the scene in OwlÂ´s house), there is also a picture of Mole tipping his hat to Pooh later on in the attraction. In fact, one of the Cast Member break rooms in the Magic Kingdom was christened the “J. Thaddeus Toad Memorial Room.”
If you still want to see Mr. Toad, be sure to head on over to Disneyland, as one never knows when he may follow his Orlando counterpart. Take me along, too, if you can… I really would like to see the little green guy again.
This article originally appeared in the March 1, 2005, Issue #284 of ALL EARSÂ® (ISSN: 1533-0753)