Disney is in the midst of celebrating the live-action remake of Aladdin. The original 1992 animated film is an undisputed classic, leaving a legacy of award-winning music and unforgettable characters. It spawned a cultural phenomenon that includes two sequels, a television series, and a Broadway musical. But what about its theme park presence? For a film as revered as Aladdin, its inclusion within Walt Disney World is actually a bit surprising. Let’s take a look.
Aladdin’s Royal Caravan Parade
1992-1995, Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Disney-MGM Studios)
Prince Ali didn’t waste any time arriving at Orlando in grand style immediately following his film debut. Though it seems somewhat unheard of today, Disney used to devote entire parades to individual films. Aladdin’s Royal Caravan Parade was the first in a collection of parades at Disney-MGM Studios celebrating then-new animated movies. It was replaced when Toy Story received a parade of its own upon that film’s theatrical debut, at which time several of the Aladdin float elements were repurposed. The giant Genie float would be used again in Magic Kingdom‘s 25th anniversary parade, while the camel figures would be relocated to the now-closed Soundstage Restaurant before moving again to Adventureland in 2001.
Enchanted Tiki Room –– Under New Management!
1998-2011, Magic Kingdom
Why do bad things happen to good people? Tropical Serenade (also known as the Enchanted Tiki Room), an opening-day staple of Magic Kingdom since 1971, was drastically updated in 1998. The Audio-Animatronics show shifted hosting duties over to two new Disney birds: Zazu from The Lion King and Iago from Aladdin. A complete 180 from the timeless feel of the original attraction, this version contemporized the show with modern tunes and, well, had a lot of Zazu and Iago. Zazu isn’t so bad, but imagine an entire production with Iago as its central figure. No, thanks.
Despite the disdain it received from fans, Under New Management! (the exclamation point promising unfulfilled pleasure) continued performing until nature stepped in to set the record straight. In 2011, a fire broke out inside the show building and caused significant damage. Imagineers had a decision to make. No matter what they did, major work would be required to restore the theater. Was it worth rebuilding character figures and show sets that had received such a negative reception from Guests? Apparently not, as a remastered version of the original show returned to its former glory when it reopened as Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, which is still open today.
1998-2017, Downtown Disney
DisneyQuest was a five-story experience devoted to virtual attractions, advertised as an “indoor, interactive theme park.” It was a ’90s fever dream come to life, and Aladdin played a prominent role in the facility. For starters, a magical elevator transported Guests from the ticket lobby into the main plaza, and the host for this unique lift was none other than Genie. Appearing seemingly right there in the elevator on wall-mounted mirrors, Genie welcomed families to DisneyQuest with an impressive bit of Imagineering that set the precedence for the rest of the building’s contents. One of the main attractions inside was Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride, an exhilarating journey in which Guests donned virtual reality helmets to become monkey friends of Abu, soaring high over Agrabah on their own magic carpet. It was one of the most fun rides DisneyQuest boasted, and was the personal favorite of the 11-year-old incarnation of yours truly.
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
2001-present, Magic Kingdom
Aladdin finally received its own permanent attraction in a full-fledged park with the opening of The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, located at the center of Adventureland. On one hand, the ride recreates the film’s most iconic moment as you have the opportunity to board you own magic carpet (a real, tangible one, this time) and fly through the air. On the other hand, when it’s all said and done, this is still a traditional hub-and-spoke flight ride, just like Dumbo the Flying Elephant and undoubtedly countless other identical rides you’ve seen in just about every theme park anywhere. It’s a bit underwhelming when considering the scope of Aladdin‘s adventurous narrative and the withstanding legacy of the movie upon popular culture. Still, there are a few special details to enjoy here, most notably the way riders can control not only the height of the carpet, but also its tilting motion forward and backward. The audio narration also includes a hilarious transition into the Spanish safety spiel in true Genie fashion.
Various parades and shows
As an established standard of the Disney library and of animation at large, Aladdin has been rightfully included at Walt Disney World alongside other Disney classics in countless ensemble parades, shows, and fireworks that showcase a wide spectrum of legacy characters. A few noteworthy appearances include Jafar’s snake transformation in Fantasmic!, the outrageous Genie vehicle in Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade, Genie turning Jafar’s hair blue in Cinderella’s Surprise Celebration, Aladdin and Jasmine attending Cinderella’s coronation in Cinderellabration, and the more recent addition of the nighttime spectacular Happily Ever After, which sees a projected Aladdin scaling Cinderella Castle to fight Jafar as well as a wildly inventive, showstopping “Friend Like Me” number that dazzles with tech wizardry.
At other Disney parks worldwide, Aladdin has received similar, sporadic fanfare. An identical magic carpet ride exists at Walt Disney Studios Paris. The most significant Aladdin presence perhaps anywhere was Aladdin –– A Musical Spectacular, a live, Broadway-style production at Disney California Adventure Park that debuted in 2004 and was replaced by a Frozen show in 2017. It was this show that proved that the story could be successfully adapted as an artistic work of theater, and paved the way for a real Broadway show to get off the ground in 2014.
It’s appropriate that Aladdin would be used so frequently among the great Disney stories over the course of its nearly 30-year tenure. However, in comparison to other films that surround its release chronologically and equalled its notoriety culturally, it’s a bit surprising it isn’t represented in a grander way. The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast both received permanent shows at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and, though it took a while, their own dedicated, elaborate, immersive areas at Magic Kingdom. The Lion King found a secure home in Festival of the Lion King and one could even go as far to say that its existence serves as the backbone for the entirety of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Meanwhile, Aladdin is reduced to a hub-and-spoke ride and the occasional cameo appearance in a show. Hopefully one day we’ll get to experience a true E-ticket attraction, but until that day comes, we still have this rich history to look back upon.
What’s your favorite footnote of Aladdin history in Walt Disney World? What would you like to see in its future?
Theatrical poster, Tiki Room, and magic carpet images © Disney. Aladdin’s Royal Caravan photos from the personal collection of Kendall Foreman. Stars and Motor Cars Parade image belongs to author’s personal collection.
To learn more about Blake and read his recent post for the WDW Radio Blog, visit his author page by clicking the link on his name at the top of this post.