Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort have some fantastic rides that are full of great characters and full of rich story. In several cases, those iconic rides have made their ways onto the big screen as Disney films. Some of them have been great… and some haven’t.
We are ranking those films based on classic Walt Disney World rides. We will be ranking them on a few factors. Does the movie feel like the ride? Are the characters compelling? Would we watch it again? Does it add anything to the Walt Disney World ride story?
We will start with the worst and work our way toward the best.
The Country Bear Jamboree is a classic animatronic show in Magic Kingdom. It is a fun and risque show full of bears singing country and bluegrass songs. If that was all the movie was, it would probably have been much better. The show in Disney World doesn’t have a lot of story to it beyond bears playing funny country songs in an old theater.
In the film we meet a bear, Beary Barrington voiced by Haley Joel Osment, who has been raised by a family of humans but never felt like he belonged in the world. He discovers an old band called the Country Bears, made up of bears, and finds that he has a place in the world. When the Country Bears break up and their theater is threatened with demolition, Beary travels around trying to get the band back together to save the theater.
If this sounds like a familiar plot, the exact same plot was used nine years later in The Muppets (2011). Where it shined in The Muppets, it fails in Country Bears. The characters aren’t endearing, and honestly the Bears look weird. The designers opted for bears that looked between real and the stylized ones in the attraction. With the unsettling-looking bears, flat characters, and mediocre dialogue, Country Bears just isn’t good. No even the acting power of Christopher Walken, Diedrich Bader, and Haley Joel Osment could save it.
Mission to Mars
Honestly, before writing this we hadn’t seen Mission to Mars, and at this point we kind of wish we hadn’t seen it. The film was based on the 1975 Tomorrowland ride of the same name that closed in 1992. The ride was dated and showed what went into a planned mission to space. Now in the film it is the futuristic year of 2020 and 2021 with electric cars, manned missions to Mars, and lots of Dr. Pepper. In the film a crew goes on the first mission to Mars, but things go wrong, and a rescue crew is sent for the astronauts on the surface. The film has some great actors like Don Cheadle, Tim Robbins, and Gary Sinise, but that can’t rescue the story. There will be spoilers in the following section, so if you don’t mind then continue reading.
Okay, so the story could’ve just been about a crew on a dangerous mission and had to rescue some of the crew after a storm on Mars, but, no, the movie got weird. There is a sentient dust storm, a giant stone alien head, a radio signal that turns out to be a a DNA-based puzzle, a pure white room, holographic space charts, and a giant alien that is probably a hologram. Apparently Mars was hit by a meteor and the Martians left to go to some other place, but sent some DNA spore things to Earth and started life on this planet. Gary Sinise’s character also makes a very questionable decision and decides to board an alien craft and find the Martians who left millions of years ago. The rest of the surviving crew launch off toward Earth. The end. We don’t know if any of them survive and what happens with the Martians.
The movie is nothing like the old Mission to Mars ride and isn’t a very good movie. We really don’t recommend watching this one unless you’re really bored. The only good thing to come out of Mission to Mars is it sort of inspired Mission: Space.
First off, Dinosaur is one of my favorite rides at Disney World. If only the movie was as good as the ride, but sadly it isn’t. Dinosaur the movie was one of those computer animated movies Disney did that had no Pixar involvement. So the animation quality is pretty low in this one.
The story in this are some prehistoric lemurs find an iguanadon egg and raise the dinosaur as one of their own. The main villain in the film is the same as the big, bad dino in the ride, the dreaded carnotaurus. The essence of the ride is in the film, except for the time travel aspect. We see tons of dinosaurs, and we get our clear good guy in the iguanadon and our clear bad guy in the carnotaurus.
What is missing from the story of the film is the great Dr. Seeker and Dr. Marsh from the ride and the time travel. Which is a shame, because Dr. Seeker is great and adds the much needed humor to the ride. At the end of the day this isn’t the worst movie based on a Disney attraction, but it is the worst animated one.
After the success of Pirates of the Caribbean in the summer of 2003, it seemed like Disney had figured out how to turn their attractions with rich story into great movies. Unfortunately the Haunted Mansion movie wasn’t great. The main story of the film is a typical family where the parents are both real estate agents and the father, played by Eddie Murphy, has no concept of separating work from his personal life. They are contacted by the owners of a mansion who are interested in selling. The family stops on its way to going on vacation, but a flood traps them there. Eventually they find out that everyone in the house is a ghost and some spooky antics occur.
Throughout the movie there are references to the Disney attraction, like the name Master Gracey, singing busts, hitchhiking ghosts, and Madame Leota. They tried to put in as much from the ride as they could, but the overtones of slapstick comedy and the forced humor took away from some spookiness. This was one of those cases where they couldn’t decide if they wanted to make a scary movie or a comedy, so it fails at both.
The over done CGI effects feel flat and are missing the charm and wonder that the practical effects of the ride have. The humor isn’t quite as dark as the ride and is missing the wit that we get in the Haunted Mansion. A few years ago it looked like we might get a new Haunted Mansion film led by Guillermo del Toro. He promised it was going to be scary and filled with lore from the attraction, but it was shelved. We’d love to see a new Haunted Mansion film or series. Hint hint Disney+.
Tower of Terror
Most people haven’t heard of this adaptation of the classic Disney World attraction, but it was released directly to cable in 1997. The basic story is a disgraced journalist who now writes for a tabloid is contacted by an old woman about when she was little and five people vanished when lightning hit the elevator at the Hollywood Tower Hotel. The journalist, Buzzy Crocker, played by Steve Guttenberg, and his niece, Anna, played Kirsten Dunst, decide to go to the hotel to get some photos of “ghosts” for an article. Buzzy has his niece dress up as a ghost for the photoshoot.
Some of this movie was actually filmed on the Tower of Terror attraction that was in California. The film has moments when the real ghosts show up that are actually kind of scary. There are headless characters with butcher knives, and ghosts holding nooses, and demonic flames. The basic story has touches of similarities to the ride, including the elevator being a central part of the plot. The story isn’t bad for a made for TV movie, and with a little work it could’ve been a great movie. There are a few entertaining twists and a nice resolution at the end.
The only part of the film that lacks is the budget for effects and music, this was before Disney had Disney+ and put a big budget behind their live action films. After Pirates of the Caribbean proved that rides can be turned into successful movies that changed the budget and caliber of creative people they hired. We’d love a sequel to this 90’s classic: Where’s Buzzy now? Does he travel the world looking for ghosts to help? Was Anna totally traumatized?
So this one may not be based on a specific attraction, but is based on the land of the same name in Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. The main story of the movie involves futuristic technology, a young inventor, and a hidden world of robots and science. There is a place called Tomorrowland that seeks out the best and brightest to make their world a better place. A jaded genius, George Clooney, missed out on his chance to go to Tomorrowland when he was a kid and now keeps everyone at a distance.
Another genius seeks out Clooney and tries to get answers about Tomorrowland. The story gets a little convoluted with secret organizations and people who are really robots, but overall it’s a lot of fun. There are some fun nods to Tomorrowland classics in the film, and the structures in the movie have that same futurist style.
Our favorite Tomorrowland attraction even gets a nod in the movie. In one scene where young George Clooney is showing his jetpack, you can hear “It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” playing in the background from Carousel of Progress. If you skipped this one when it came out, give it another shot. It’s not currently on Disney+, but is set to be added next year.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Of course Pirates of the Caribbean is the best of all the movies based on Disney attractions. Well, at least the first one, Curse of the Black Pearl, is the best. Some of the others are fine, and at least one is just bad. For the sake of this ranking we are going to focus on the original. The story and characters in Curse of the Black Pearl are phenomenal. It’s hard to imagine a world without Captain Jack Sparrow (and we don’t wanna).
In the case of Pirates of the Caribbean, there are tons of nods to the original ride in the film. We have the drunk in the pig pen, the cannon battle with the fort, the prison with the dog holding the keys, and the whole vibe of Tortuga that feels like the burning, pillaging part of the ride.
The film definitely adds to the story of the ride. After the success of the films, they added Jack Sparrow animatronics throughout the ride. The success of the films helped revitalize the whole section around the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. They added the character experiences with Jack Sparrow and Redd. We also got A Pirate’s Adventures, which is an interactive treasure hunt around Adventureland.
With the fun story, great characters, nods to the original attraction, and additions to the Pirates of the Caribbean of the story, Pirates of the Caribbean is the best of all the Disney attraction-based movies.
What is your favorite Disney movie based on an attraction? Let us know in the comments.