December 09, 2023

Opinion: A favorite niche

There is a very specific movie niche I am obsessed with; movies that are based on Disney attractions. As someone who is already a huge Disney fan, the idea of finding easter eggs from the ride in the movie is way too exciting.

Probably the most famous of the ride-to-movie adaptations is the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series featuring Johnny Depp. While it might be surprising for some to hear, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride came far before the first movie.

The ride first came to California’s Disneyland in 1967 and was the last of Disney’s rides that Walt Disney got to participate in designing. For those unfamiliar, the water ride starts off in a peaceful bayou until coming upon a pirate’s warning, leading to the first drop at 18 feet. You start through some colorful caverns, surrounded by traces of pirate booty, before a second, shorter drop hits. Then, you are in the pirate world, going past shipwrecks, a battle between the pirates and an armada, as well as a number of other scenes of pirate mischief as they look for treasure.

Since 1967, there have been a number of changes made to the ride. Some changes went with what was considered appropriate, such as the pirates selling village women. Others came about with the popularity of the films.

The first of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” came out in 2003. By 2006, Jack Sparrow animatronics had been added to the ride, as well as a skeleton transforming into a live pirate.

The films, aside from being loosely based on the ride, feature a number of scenes that are direct allusions to the ride, such as the attack on the fort, the jail scene and the famous song, “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me).”

While “Pirates of the Caribbean” may be the most famous of the ride-to-movie adaptations, it is certainly not the first. In 1997, “Tower of Terror” came out as a TV film, based on the ride “The Twilight Zone” Tower of Terror. Other ride-to-movie adaptations include “Mission to Mars,” “The Country Bears” and “Tomorrowland.”

In 2021, Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt starred in the “Jungle Cruise.” The Jungle Cruise ride has been a part of Disney parks since the beginning, appearing as a ride on Disneyland’s opening day in 1955. The ride, a favorite of guests due to the myriad of bad jokes from the skipper, has barely changed since opening day, save for the holiday layover of the Jingle Cruise.

The ride is more or less a slow boat journey through the jungle, the skipper pointing out animatronic animals along the way. The movie is a little more exciting, following researchers in 1916 as they search for a magical tree in Brazil. The movie features Johnson as the reluctant skipper, bringing the classic jokes from the ride, as well as the park’s famous Trader Sam and Dr. Albert Falls.

While the film, delayed due to COVID-19 and released simultaneously in theaters and digitally, was well-hyped, it did badly in the box office. Despite this, a sequel is being worked on.

The ride with the most adaptations, and my personal favorite ride, is The Haunted Mansion. While this attraction first came to Disneyland in 1969, it had been in the works since before the park opened.

In The Haunted Mansion, attendees start out in a creepy room which seemingly extends as the “ghost host” narrator talks of the 999 ghosts that haunt the walls of the mansion. They’re looking for one more to join them, and you might just be the perfect fit.

The majority of the ride takes place after this room, riding in Doom Buggies through various rooms in the mansion. You are introduced to a number of members from the haunted household, including the medium Madame Leota, bride Constance Hathaway, the infamous Hatbox Ghost and a large birthday (or deathday) party in the ballroom.

For some reason, this has always been my absolute favorite ride in Disney. Because of this, I have seen all three film adaptations of The Haunted Mansion (all this month again!).

The oldest is the 2003 movie featuring Eddie Murphy. Murphy plays realtor Jim Evers, who gets trapped in the house with his family after hoping to sell the property. The ghosts trapped in the mansion house are stuck there until a curse is lifted.

The next adaptation is a Halloween special with The Muppets. Released on Disney+ in 2021, this film focuses on Gonzo and Pepe as they attempt to stay in the mansion for one night. Various muppets appear as famous ghosts, with the humans involved played by a number of celebrities.

The most recent of the adaptations came out this year in July. It technically bombed in the box office, but I think it’s a spectacular film. It also includes a large number of celebrities, such as Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito and an uncredited Winona Ryder. Similar to the ride in plot, there are 999 ghosts and an evil entity is looking for one more soul to gain full power.

Each of these three movies have a number of fun connections to the ride, besides the obvious. However, my favorite takes place in The Muppets Haunted Mansion. The maid for Madame Pigota is Kim Irvine, the daughter of the original Madame Leota from the ride.

Disney has a number of upcoming ride-to-movie adaptations in the works, including for the rides Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and cult-classic Journey into Imagination featuring Figment.

Erin Henze

Originally from Wisconsin, Erin is a recent graduate from UW-Stevens Point. Outside of writing, she loves to read and travel.