In many ways, Walt Disney World emerged as a successful attempt to not only replicate the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California, but to make it even better. Many of the original rides in Magic Kingdom stemmed from attractions at Disneyland — but with new enhancements to improve the experience.
One such ride, which became a fan-favorite at Disney World until its controversial closing, was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. So hop aboard for a crazy spin through its history!
A Minor Yet Memorable Movie
Mr. Toad first appeared in a lesser-known Disney film in the 1940s, actually as a protagonist in just one-half of a double-feature: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad in 1949. The two-part movie lasted just over an hour, with Mr. Toad only appearing in the first half of the film. Yet out of the two parts of the picture, Mr. Toad’s segment is the best remembered by many, due to its exciting mayhem and fun and quirky characters – especially Toad himself.
Disney based Toad’s part of the animated feature off the classic children’s story The Wind in the Willows. The book details the adventures of various animals living in the English countryside – most notably mischievous, daredevil Toad. His wastrel habits and thirst for excitement leads him into constant danger, and a big part of the plot stems from his desire to drive a motorcar – and the trouble he gets into when he drives a stolen car.
Ironically, despite Toad’s motorcar escapade being the source of his troubles, we never actually see him drive a car in the film. But in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, you could experience Toad’s wacky vehicle escapades for yourself. In fact, the Disneyland ride takes you throughout Toad’s many adventures in the movie, and more. The original version opened at Disneyland Anaheim in 1955 as one of the park’s opening attractions. Though this first ride was the shortest and least detailed, it still left a mark on many riders and encouraged Disney to make upgraded versions.
You started out the ride by busting through Toad’s elegant family estate, veering through the mansion’s halls before careening out into the countryside. After that, riders passed – at a frantic pace – through first humble villages and then London itself. Then, following a harrowing escape from a warehouse filled with dynamite, you’d get caught up in a chase with the police and encounter a train – kind of like in the movie. But that wasn’t all! Just when you thought you were safe, it turned out you were now in literal hell, with devils pointing pitchforks at you. Though not as intense as a rollercoaster, Mr. Toad’s crazy antics set it apart from other dark rides of the time.
Double the Fun, and Better than Ever
Though the original form of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was certainly fun, it still could become better, and that’s exactly what Imagineers did at Walt Disney World. When Magic Kingdom first opened in 1971, Mr. Toad was one of the opening day attractions. The larger size of the Magic Kingdom in turn let the ride expand, adding in more scenes and scenery to make the (mis)adventures livelier for guests. For instance, guests could encounter Mr. Winky and the Weasels from the animated feature. There were also many fun little details to notice, like a note listing damage expenses for Toad’s escapades, or the fountain of Toad and his horse Cyril in the town square. And there were also three-dimensional models rather than only flat cutouts like the original.
However, the biggest difference from Disneyland came in a new twist: your car could go more than one way. At the Magic Kingdom, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride had two separate boarding areas, each connected to a different track. While the two tracks sometimes met briefly, they spun off in different directions, letting you experience two different scenarios. One track would pass by a gypsy camp, for instance, while the other would throw you right into a fight between the Weasels and the police. The best part was when, at several points in the ride, the two tracks converged in what looked like a head-on collision course. If the cars from both tracks left at around the same time, there was the chance they might nearly hit each other – certainly an exciting experience.
Nearly Another Ride Entirely
Interestingly, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride hadn’t been the only candidate for a ride at Disney World. Disney had also considered creating one of a couple new rides instead of Mr. Toad’s. For instance, they had contemplated making a ride based on the other half of the animated double feature: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Presumably, this would have had riders chased down by the terrible Headless Horseman. Another possible ride would have been inspired by Mary Poppins.
Given how other Disneyland attractions were replaced with new rides at Disney World, it’s plausible that the same could have happened with Mr. Toad. Yet, that never happened, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride ended up being the choice for opening day. Who knows what might have been different if another ride had made the final cut instead?
Improving Disneyland’s Version
The success of the improved Mr. Toad ride at Magic Kingdom encouraged Disney to revisit the original at Disneyland and upgrade it as well in 1983. This was part of a larger overhaul of Fantasyland in general. While the ride still has only one track, it got some pretty good improvements. New characters and scenes appear in the present ride, based on parts of the movie. For instance, the ride includes a copy of Mr. Winky’s bar like the Disney World version.
Also like the Magic Kingdom ride, the updated Disneyland version contains a courtroom, albeit with a judge rather than a police officer like Disney World’s. In addition, the overall quality of the décor was improved, too, with three-dimensional characters sometimes replacing previous 2D cutouts. Strangely enough, there is no Toad ride at Disneyland Paris, though that park does feature the similarly themed Toad Hall Restaurant. All this in part stemmed from continued interest in the ride, which we have the Magic Kingdom version to thank. Sadly, though, the Disneyland Anaheim version of the ride is the only one left today, with the more expansive Disney World version gone.
The Fight to Save Mr. Toad
During the 1990s under then-CEO Michael Eisner’s management, the Disney parks went through some significant budget cuts. Attractions considered outdated or too costly were removed or replaced with new rides believed to be more marketable. Such was the case with Disney World’s version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Even before closing, the ride had lost some of its appeal, as the new emphasis on efficiently pushing riders through limited the potential for near-crash gags between the two tracks. Yet the ride was still very popular for visitors, with the upgrade to four-passenger cars in 1993 boosting ride capacity. But then Disney decided to close Magic Kingdom’s version for good. However, the fans didn’t let Mr. Toad go down that easily.
In 1997, Disney tentatively released a statement that they were considering replacing Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with a Winnie the Pooh-themed attraction at Magic Kingdom. The initial statement was vague and indecisive, neither confirming for sure this would happen nor saying when specifically the ride would close. But when the Orlando Sentinel released the article on October 22, 1997, fans were outraged. Only a day after the initial news broke, John Lefante and later Jef Moskot started up a Save the Toad webpage. The site contained an “Electronic Toad Hall” for fans to leave comments as well as a mailing list for subscribers. And that was just the start.
Fans distributed their own shirts, posters, and other materials to publicize the issue, turning the closing into a national – and international – spectacle. Participants in the Save the Toad campaign regularly conducted peaceful “Toad-Ins” at Disney World. People came from all over the country and gathered outside the Magic Kingdom attraction. Wearing their protest outfits, the dedicated fans rode the attraction and shared their concerns with other guests. Though the protestors were overall polite, their numbers worried Disney enough to station guards around the ride.
However, despite numerous fans showing the continuing appeal of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, that wasn’t enough to dissuade Disney. On September 2, 1998, fans announced in newspapers that they’d learned the ride would close in less than a week on September 8. In fact, Magic Kingdom’s ride closed on September 7, 1998. Many fans were understandably upset at the incredibly short final notice. Tons of fans still turned out on the closing day to ride the whimsical, two-track attraction one last time.
Mr. Toad’s Magic Kingdom Legacy
The ride that replaced Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disney World, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, is a much tamer ride, but still lots of fun. It utilizes much of the track infrastructure for the previous ride, but there is only one track, as a good portion has been converted into a Pooh-themed gift shop at the end of the ride. Even so, many people of all ages enjoy the family-friendly ride, even if it lacks Mr. Toad’s unique charm.
Despite the replacement of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Magic Kingdom, you can still find signs of Toad at the park. In Owl’s portion of the new ride, you can find several fun paintings depicting Toad and his friends interacting with the Pooh characters. In fact, one painting has Toad symbolically hand over the Toad Hall deed to Owl, representing the change in ride. Also, the pet cemetery by the Haunted Mansion includes a small statue of Toad; try not to ponder on the implications too deeply, and just appreciate the thought instead. Plus, the Magic Kingdom’s cast members facilities include a room dubbed the J. Thaddeus Toad Memorial Room.
While Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is gone from Magic Kingdom, taking away the best version of the motor-maniac attraction, the ride still lives on at Disneyland. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and the effort to save it as Disney World, make it a key part of Disney’s history. Perhaps one day Mr. Toad will come back to Disney World, and we can once again enjoy the two-track, madcap adventure again.
Do you miss any now-gone Disney attractions? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check out many more articles on the history of the Disney parks.