These days it’s perfectly normal to see intellectual properties that didn’t originate with Walt Disney in the company’s theme parks, with Star Wars, Marvel, and The Simpsons (all now owned by Disney) commonly seen. However, there was a time when non-Disney IP was a strange sight to guests and an odd fit in the parks.
Non-Disney intellectual property and franchises first began appearing at Disney’s parks in earnest in the late 1980s, headlined by the original version of Star Tours. The Star Wars-theme simulator attraction, which first opened to Disneyland guests in 1987, was immensely popular with guests, opening up the park to teenage and young adult demographics. The ride was ported over to Walt Disney World’s then-new MGM Studios theme park. The Studios also featured the Muppet Vision 3D movie as an opening day anchor attraction.
While both Star Wars and The Muppets were pop cultural institutions that would eventually be purchased by Disney, numerous other non-Disney IPs have come and gone from the parks in the last 30 years.
These are five franchises many don’t remember were ever in Disney parks.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at Disney/MGM Studios (1990)
As should be evidenced by the park’s previously mentioned inclusion of Star Wars and The Muppets, Disney’s vision of the MGM Studios theme park included a heavy dose of pop culture from the late 1980s and early 90s. During that period there were few franchises hotter than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
By 1990, the Turtles had transitioned from gritty-comic book characters to the focus of a mega-successful toy line, hit syndicated animated series, concert tour, and live action feature film. Beginning on June 30 of the year, the Turtles could add Disney theme park performers to their resume.
Beginning that summer, the Turtles starred in a daily show that took place in MGM Studios New York Street section. The Turtles and their reports sidekick April O’Neil would arrive in their Turtle Party Wagon vehicle, and perform a short demonstration of “ninja dancing” while April performed their theme song. Following the main show, the characters would pose for photos and sing autographs for guests.
The characters remained a presence in Disney Parks, including appearing in several holiday parades, from 1990 through 1996.
Barbie at EPCOT Center (1994):
Yup, you read that right, there was once a major Barbie presence at EPCOT.
In late 1993, the live stage show The Magical World of Barbie premiered at the American Gardens Theater (which received a large renovation for the show, including the addition of a covering for the stage and viewing area, the show’s true lasting legacy) in the World Showcase’s American Adventure pavilion.
The show itself was a musical that followed Barbie and friends around the world learning about different cultures, at least tangentially making it thematically appropriate for the park.
Footage of the show was shown during the 1993 Walt Disney World Christmas Parade broadcast and was later released as a VHS known as Barbie Birthday Party trough Barbie’s manufacturer Mattel.
In addition to the musical, Barbie and Ken characters would travel around World Showcase in a “Glam Auto”, AKA the repainted Mickey’s LiMOUSEine promotional vehicle, for meet and greet appearances. Barbie’s time in EPCOT ended in the mid-90s.
Ace Ventura at Disney/MGM Studios (1995):
Heading back to mid-90s MGM Studios, we find one of the oddest outside franchise appearances in Disney history: The Ace Ventura Pet Detective: Live in Action stunt show.
The show, which opened on November 10, 1995 (the same day Warner Brothers’ released the second Ace Ventura film, When Nature Calls), featured an actor playing the titular character gallivanting around parts of the New York Streets section of the park before meeting with guests.
The inherent issue with an Ace Ventura show at Disney parks should be obvious to anyone familiar with the Jim Carrey film. Namely, the humor in the series does not fit Disney at all, leading to a show that was creatively neutered in the eyes of Ventura films, yet wildly out of place to Disney fans. The show didn’t last much longer than the second film’s theatrical run.
Goosebumps at Disney/MGM Studios (1997):
Seemingly learning nothing from the Ace Ventura show, Disney once again brought in a franchise that didn’t mesh with its milieu at all to MGM Studios in 1997. That October, the park opened the Goosebumps HorrorLand Fright Show and accompanying funhouse attraction.
Based on the popular series of children’s horror novels by R.L. Stine that dominated bestseller lists in the 1990s, the show featured numerous characters and situations directly from the books and television series. The Goosebumps HorrorLand Hall of Mirrors featured a “maze of mirrors along with other props and gags from the series.”
The Goosebumps show lasted just over year, running from October 8, 1997, to November 1, 1998.
Power Rangers at Disney/MGM Studios (2002):
Our final franchise is a bit of an outlier in that it was owned by Disney… at least for a time.
In 1993, the television series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – a mix of newly produced American frame-story footage and dubbed action sequences from Japanese Super Sentai programming – became a sensation for Saban Entertainment. The ever-changing series, and it’s record-breaking merchandise sales, became a cornerstone of children’s entertainment over the nest decade.
In 2002 Disney purchased the Saban content library, including Power Rangers. In addition to producing new seasons, the company almost immediately began having characters from the franchise appear at the MGM Studios theme park.
Over the years, various Rangers (including but not limited to Time Force Pink Ranger, Lunar Wolf Ranger, Green Ninja Storm Ranger, White Dino Ranger, SPD Red Ranger, Mystic Force Pink Ranger, Operation Overdrive Yellow Ranger, Blue Jungle Fury Ranger, and the Green RPM Ranger) appeared with their own special vehicle as part of the park’s Superstars and Motorcars parade, as well as their own meet and greet.
In 2010 Disney sold the Rangers back to Saban (who continued releasing seasons until reselling the franchise to Hasbro in 2019). Nearly as quick as the Rangers appeared at the Studios, they disappeared once Disney no longer owned the franchise.
Do you remember any of these franchises from their relatively brief times in Walt Disney World? Do you wish any of them had become a permanent part of the Disney catalogue like Marvel or Star Wars did? Let us know in the comments below.
Turn the pages of Disney history at the links below.
- How to Get an Exclusive Preview of the Walt Disney Archives Exhibit!
- Five Places Disney’s Biggest Fans NEED to Visit
- NEWS: New Disney+ Series Will Take You Behind-the-Scenes of Your Favorite Rides!
- Five Franchises You Had No Idea Were Once Part of Disney Parks
- Walt Disney World Rides That REALLY Need an Overhaul
- “Boring” Parts of Walt Disney World That Are WAY Better Than You Think
- Everything You Need to Know About Disney’s Society of Explorers and Adventurers