A New Wave of Disney Movie Rides
When Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl sailed into theaters in 2003, no one expected the film to break records or launch one of the most successful film franchises of all time with three sequels and a fifth film scheduled for a 2013 release. Based on a 36 year old dark ride with a catchy theme song and starring the then-indie Johnny Depp who hadn’t yet proven himself as an A-list leading man, the movie seemed like a long shot, especially after the failure of Disney’s previous ride-based films.
And now, more than $3.7 billion dollars later, Pirates of the Caribbean stands as a testament to the potential blockbuster hidden inside the plastic veneer of every Disney theme park attraction. Walt Disney Pictures is well-aware of this potential and the company has a long history of ride-inspired feature films with even more on the way. From the made-for-TV Tower of Terror to 2013’s Magic Kingdom and Jungle Cruise, here’s a list of all of the Disney films inspired by theme park attractions.
Tower of Terror (1997) – In this made-for-TV movie based on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, five people – singer Carolyn Crosson, her boyfriend Gilbert London, child actress Sally Shine, Sally’s nanny Emeline Partridge, and bellhop Dewey Todd – disappear in 1939 while riding an elevator to a Hollywood party on the top floor of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.
More than 50 years later, newspaper reporter Buzzy Crocker (Steve Guttenberg) and his niece Anna (Kirsten Dunst) get caught up in the mystery of the disappearances when they try to reverse the spell that has trapped the five spirits in the haunted hotel. As its name affirms, the 13-story Tower of Terror attraction which inspired the movie is based on the Twilight Zone TV series which ran for 156 episodes from 1959 to 1964.
Mission To Mars (2000) – Two years before Disney’s animated Treasure Planet bombed in theaters, Disney’s Touchstone Pictures released Mission to Mars, a live action sci-fi bomb inspired by the Tomorrowland Mission to Mars attraction which operated at the Magic Kingdom from 1975 to 1993 and was later replaced by ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter in 1995.
The film is set in the year 2020 when a mission is launched to bring humans to the planet Mars for the first time. The Mars I mission crew meets with disaster on the alien planet, and the crew of Mars II is sent to investigate the tragedy that ended the first mission and to rescue any survivors. The Mars II mission meets with tragedy of its own and the crew makes extraordinary discoveries about the history of Mars and their own home planet, Earth.
The Country Bears (2002) – Based on the animatronic Country Bears Jamboree attraction at the Magic Kingdom (and formerly at Disneyland), this film was another Disney flop, grossing a meager $18 million on a budget of $35 million.
The film stars Haley Joel Osment as Beary Barrington, a young talking bear raised by a human family who leaves home to trace his roots. He meets up with the Dixieland Country Bears, a broken-up-band he helps to reunite for one final concert. Beary and the Country Bears outwit a greedy banker played by Christopher Walken and manage to save the the Country Bear Hall, a concert hall where the Country Bears used to perform in their heyday.
Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise (2003, 2006, 2007, 2011) – It all started with 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl and the notorious Captain Jack Sparrow and his determination to rescue his ship, The Black Pearl, from the cursed crew who mutinied and left him for dead. The film, inspired by the 1967 Pirates of the Caribbean dark ride at Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, was such a blockbuster hit that three more films were made to continue Captain Sparrow’s adventures.
The Pirates franchise is far from over with Johnny Depp having signed on to film a fifth and possibly even a sixth film. Co-stars Orlando Bloom (Will Turner) and Kiera Knightly (Elizabeth Bloom) left the franchise after the third film, At World’s End (2007), but there departure didn’t stop 2011’s On Stranger Tides from grossing more than $1 billion at the box office, despite poor critical reviews.
The Haunted Mansion (2003) – A few months after Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl grossed more than $650 million in theaters, The Haunted Mansion, a family-friendly film based on the dark ride of the same name, came to theaters where it grossed a respectable $182 million.
The film stars Eddie Murphy as Jim Evers, a workaholic real estate agent who drags his family on a “weekend away” at the creepy Gracey Manor in the bayou swamps near New Orleans. At the manor, the family encounters the ghosts and other spooks made famous by the dark ride, including the ghost ball, the singing busts, the fortune teller Madame Leota, and the ghostly Elizabeth Henshaw, the former lover of Master Gracey. The family learns that all of the mansion’s residents are ghosts who are cursed to remain trapped in the haunted house until Elizabeth and Master Gracey are reunited, and Jim must break the curse to save his family from vengeful spirits.
Magic Kingdom (2013) – Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) is set to direct and produce a movie about the characters and attractions of the Magic Kingdom coming to life. There are few details on the project at this point, but the film is tentatively set for a 2013 release.
Jungle Cruise (2013) – Originally scheduled for a 2007 release, the adaptation of the exotic riverboat attraction at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom is currently set for 2013. It has been announced that Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, the voice actors for Woody and Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story trilogy, will reunite as the stars of this live action adaptation.
A savvy reader reminded me about director Guillermo Del Toro’s planned reboot of The Haunted Mansion which has yet to confirm its cast or release date.
Del Toro is best known for directing the twisted Spanish fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno – one of my favorites!) and the supernatural and sardonic Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. He was also briefly attached to the new Hobbit films before Peter Jackson was reinstated as the director.
Although details are scarce, at 2010’s Comic-Con Del Toro revealed the teaser logo for the live action 3-D film and promised that unlike the 2003 Eddie Murphy adaptation, this new Haunted Mansion will be deeply scary and not for the kids.