To me, nothing screams “classic sitcom” like the Disney episode. For a kid, seeing these beloved characters having wacky (not to mention improbable) adventures at the parks was almost as good as actually going.
In our previous article, we looked at sitcoms new and old that made the trek to the Disney Parks with hilarious results. Today, we’re looking at five more times sitcom heroes traveled (or in some cases, stumbled) through the happiest and most magical places on earth.
Before Mayim Bialik was Dr. Amy Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, she was the titular character in Blossom, one of the quintessential teen sitcoms, and an icon of the early 90s. The season 3 episode “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men” isn’t just a glimpse into the Disneyland of the past, it’s also one of the earliest examples of a sitcom traveling to the parks, airing in February 1993, several months before the famous Full House episode.
In this storybook inspired episode, Blossom’s dad Nick gets a job at Disneyland, prompting Blossom and friends to travel to the park to see him perform, despite his protests. Why is he so embarrassed to have his kids see him? Well, while he’s playing a face character, he’s not so much a prince as a king… The King, to be exact.
That’s right. He’s playing Elvis, which at first seems like it’s a cheap sight gag, but is an actual thing that happens at Disneyland. Tomorrowland Terrace actually does host tributes to Elvis, with shows as recent as 2017. This is one of those sitcom situations where the truth really is stranger than fiction.
Of course, Nick Russo’s plight quickly falls to the B-Plot as Blossom and friends begin experiencing the magic of the park. Blossom’s brother, Joey, decides to use the park as an opportunity to pick up girls, with… mixed results.
Her best friend Six, however, finds that her crush is a skipper on the Jungle Cruise and becomes an impromptu skipper herself, treating audiences to groan-worthy snippets of spiel.
Older brother Nick is having relationship trouble, as every random character (from Tigger to Abe Lincoln’s Animatronic) seemingly having the hots for his girlfriend Rhonda. Also, there are some very inappropriate suggestions for how to use Minnie Ears to spice up one’s love life, which we are shocked made it to air. Seriously, Nick?
However, like any teen sitcom, the real drama comes about when Blossom’s boyfriend Vinnie refuses to ride the Skyway due to his fear of heights. While his exaggerated depictions of classic Disney rides are hilarious (who thinks the Matterhorn goes 100 mph?!), his choice to separate from the group provides Blossom with a perfect vantage point to catch him kissing another girl (gasp). Of course, it’s only his cousin (it’s a small world, after all), but Blossom isn’t buying it, leading to some hilariously surly moments. One highlight is her snapping at some unfortunate Dapper Dans strolling by as she discusses Vinnie’s apparent unfaithfulness. Of course, everyone finds love in the end… including Nick, with Belle of all people.
What makes this episode so interesting is how perfect a snapshot it is of Disneyland in the early 90s. Toontown looks brand new, the parking lot is still in its original, pre-California Adventure configuration, and they even slip in an ad for Disney Dollars! While many of the gags are as timeless as Disneyland itself, seeing it in this bygone form is definitely nostalgic. Though… why do they keep calling it the Magic Kingdom, of all things?
Sabrina The Teenage Witch
Nowadays, Sabrina is the star of an occult supernatural thriller where she struggles against the forces of darkness! It’s a huge departure from her original form as the lovable, if slightly inept teenage witch from Archie comics, or the star of TGIF’s most magical sitcom. Like Family Matters, Full House, Boy Meets World, and Step By Step (which we’ll cover later), the Spellmans were contractually obligated to take at least one trip to Disney World. The flimsy nature of this plot is, of course, explained in the most flimsy way possible: a witch did it.
One of the early conceits of the series is Sabrina’s quest for her Witch’s License, which subjects her to the whims of the Quizmaster and the Other Realm’s unusual standards of education. In this episode, the Quizmaster uses his magic to bewitch Vice Principal Kraft into sending the kids on a trip to Animal Kingdom, the hot new theme park at the time!
Unfortunately, Sabrina doesn’t get to enjoy the attractions. She’s got a test to finish, requiring her to collect all the ingredients for a potion. A potion which becomes much more urgently needed after she accidentally turns her best friend Valerie and romantic rival Libby into zebras. Meanwhile, aunts Zelda and Hilda go on their own misadventures, transforming a bone from Dinoland USA into a caveman and turning ‘Brina’s beau Harvey into the world’s most inept tour guide on Kilimanjaro Safaris. Meanwhile, Salem tries to indulge in that Disney Dining, living the high life at Coronado Springs.
This isn’t exactly the strongest Disney Parks episode in the world. It’s even just called “Disney World”; not a single pun to be seen. Still, Harvey’s complete inability to recall animal facts doesn’t fail to amuse.
Step By Step
Another TGIF staple, this sitcom about a blended family of step siblings was never quite as popular as Full House or Family Matters, but its theme song still remains firmly lodged in my head from reruns on the Disney Channel. Oh, and it has one of the better trips to Disney World in a sitcom! Grandma Lambert decides to give out her inheritance early by offering parents Frank and Carol a Disney Vacation for their anniversary. In fact, everyone gets to come, including Flash, the handyman.
Hm? You don’t remember Jake “Flash” Gordon? No worries, you aren’t going crazy. After Sasha Mitchell (Cody Lambert) left the show in Season 5, Jeff Juday’s hyperactive handyman joined the cast as a mid-season replacement. However, he only ended up appearing in four episodes, two of which were set at Walt Disney World. Honestly, if half of the episodes I appeared in on a major sitcom involved a trip to Disney World, I wouldn’t complain.
Flash is the crux of this two-part episode, going on a quest to do everything at Disney World to break the record set by a Russian. (Hey, the Cold War just ended. People had grudges.) This means that these episodes probably hold a record for “most Disney attractions ever shown in a sitcom”. Flash does break the record (complete with Rocky theme), but not before sacrificing some time to play Indiana Jones in the Stunt Spectacular. Maybe that’s why Flash left the show? He found his true calling as an Indy impersonator.
There are other neat scenes in this episode, including a trip to Pleasure Island and a touching moment between Frank and Carol as they watch IllumiNations. If you ever wanted to take a complete Disney vacation in an hour, this is probably one of the best ways to do it!
The Conner family was once the most beloved family on television, and not even a separation from the woman that once gave their show its name has slowed them down. It’s easy to see why; while many of its contemporaries involved upper middle-class families, the Conners were firmly wedged in the working class… though this didn’t mean they couldn’t indulge in a trip to Disney. After all, this is an ABC sitcom.
When Dan brings home his final paycheck from the Lanford City Garage, the Conners decide to celebrate with a trip to Disney World. The result, titled “Disney World War II”, ends up being one of the funniest (and most realistic) sitcom episodes ever set in a Disney Park. We start with an old-school rope drop, with the Conners planning to have a nice, relaxing day in the park… only for them to immediately start sprinting down Main Street. Then, when they get to the castle, Dan learns a horrifying fact; the park doesn’t sell beer. Cue Dan running back down Main Street as he goes to catch the monorail to EPCOT!
The main plot of the episode focused on Darlene, who is determined to not have any fun whatsoever and is making her boyfriend, David, miserable. Her frozen heart is eventually melted by Winnie-the-Pooh, who reminds her of the first book she read as a child. Awww.
However, unlike many other Disney Parks episodes, this one is absolutely played for drama. Darlene and David end up having a romantic night in their hotel, leading to Darlene discovering she’s pregnant. This sets off a chain of events that would lead to their sudden wedding, and Dan’s heart attack a few episodes later. In fact, it’s pretty clear that Roseanne’s writers weren’t super keen on these mandatory Disney episodes; the show is dripping with sarcasm, and the episode immediately following this one is a bite-the-hand parody of theme park corporate culture. If you took the Season 9 finale as canon, you could even say that Disney World indirectly killed one of the main characters, as that heart attack supposedly killed Dan… until the reboot revealed his death was just a book Roseanne was writing. Still, the show went over twenty years with a main character’s death being indirectly caused by a trip to Disney World. Talk about a bold move.
In many ways, The Middle is a spiritual successor to Roseanne, starring the lower-middle class Heck family as they face the trials and tribulations of everyday life. In fact, the show was created by former Roseanne writers Eileen Heisler and DeAnne Heline.
After Sue wins a trip to Disney in a contest, the Hecks embark on a road trip to Orlando. Unfortunately, their tickets are for Disneyland, not Disney World. This, ladies and gentlemen, is my worst nightmare: to embark on a long-awaited vacation only to end up on the wrong coast. This isn’t magically solved by Mickey Mouse, either; the Hecks have to go through Guest Relations to get their tickets converted to MagicBands, but the payoff is sweet… and suite. A DVC Suite, to be exact. The Hecks find themselves upgraded to a Grand Villa at the Grand Floridian, and immediately go nuts. They’re stealing toilet paper, drooling over the amenities, and even climbing through that weird window to the bathroom all these suites seem to have. In a show that is predicated on its protagonists being perpetually unlucky, the raw glee they experience over this room is adorable.
Of course, things go back to the Status Quo the next day, where a series of misfortunes (and Brick’s obsession with the perfect Mickey hat) lead to the Hecks missing out on all the rides. Still, it’s not a Disney Episode without a happy ending. The parents enjoy a romantic dinner at EPCOT (as Mike knows he could never take Frankie to the real Paris), and the kids bond over some rides. Everything ends in fireworks. It’s a cute finale to the season and definitely a sign of changing times.
Let’s be honest; these Disney episodes are advertisements for the parks. In fact, with the sole exception of Blossom, every show on this list and its predecessor aired on the Disney-owned ABC, and despite airing on a rival channel, Blossom was still produced in cooperation with Touchstone. These episodes are a contractual obligation, and some (like Sabrina) are pretty blatant about it. However, that doesn’t make these episodes bad. Disney World and all the tribulations of a family vacation provide a perfect backdrop for sitcom storytelling. Going to Disney isn’t easy. That’s why this entire website exists. But it injects just enough fantasy into an otherwise grounded show that it can lead to some truly memorable moments. The heightened emotional states of the Conners at Disney World only make their subsequent snap back to reality more poignant. The struggles the Hecks face in getting to EPCOT only make that final moment with the fireworks all the sweeter. We come a long way from random sitcom families getting VIP treatment from Mickey himself. Showing the Disney experience for what it is, warts and all, makes it that much more poignant. You feel like you’re really there, surrounded by people you care about.
Besides, just because something is basically an advertisement doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it. I’d take a sitcom trip to Disney over the average Super Bowl Ad any day.
Is there a prime time trip to Disney that we haven’t covered? Let us know in the comments!
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