MickeyBlog Rankings: Movies Based on Attractions
When visiting Walt Disney World, it’s hard not to be reminded of our favorite childhood movies.
I’m often inspired to re-watch certain movies after park visits. Similarly, filmmakers were inspired to create movies based on beloved attractions.
Today, let’s look at some of the most (and least beloved films) in the Disney Attractions Cinematic Universe.
#7 Dinosaur (2000)
Arguably the least beloved of attraction-based films, Dinosaur was an expensive flop. Following the route of a less charming The Land Before Time (1988) plot, an Iguanodon dinosaur (named Aldar) and his adoptive lemur family must find a new home.
They meet new friends on their journey while being pursued by the scariest jump-scare dinosaurs of the ride, Carnotaurs.
All in all, the film can be summed up in a variety of chase scenes and forgettable conversations.
Despite some impressive visuals, the plot drags, the message of unity is predictable, and the film makes no significant impression. Its only lasting impact may be the Animal Kingdom ride’s namesake, which was called Countdown to Extinction before this film.
Regardless, neither the attraction nor the movie seems to be a fan favorite. Sick of hiding from that final T-rex, I’ve stopped riding it entirely. That probably won’t change.
Bonus Points: Impressively filmed with a combination of live-action backgrounds and computer-generated characters
#6 The Country Bears (2002)
Considering the Country Bears Jamboree attraction is a “love it or always skip it” show at Disney World, I’m surprised it inspired a film. Well, the movie was forced into production, and it shows.
The Country Bears movie stars the voice of Haley Joel Osment as Barry Barrington. As a young bear adopted into a human feeling, he feels … on the outs. In a search to discover himself, Barry seeks out his favorite band of fellow bears, The Country Bears.
Unfortunately for him, their hall is about to be demolished by an evil banker and the band has broken up. So, Barry goes on an adventure to reunite the band, save the concert hall, and discover the true meaning of family.
The film shines in special effects (as the bears aren’t CGI, but animatronics), but otherwise, it falls flat. The attempts at humor and the tired “get the band back together” trope just don’t hit the mark.
It’s fine for a movie night with the kids, but it won’t be topping Encanto’s (2021) popularity anytime soon.
Bonus Points: Appearance and original music by Sir Elton John; Christopher Walkin’s presence; Animatronic bear suits made by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop
#5 Tomorrowland (2015)
This is a bit of a cheater since the movie is inspired by a theme park land. The cast boasts huge names like Hugh Laurie, George Clooney, and the directorial hand of Brad Bird.
The film centers around Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (miscast by a mature-looking Britt Robertson). Frank Walker is a bitter recluse who’s been banished from Tomorrowland, a utopian universe inhabited by great scientists and their creations.
Casey is an idealistic teenager who’s distraught by the apathy/pessimism of modern-day society on Earth.
When Casey gets arrested for interfering with a plan to destroy a NASA launch site, she gets transported (briefly) to Tomorrowland via a mysterious pin that appears in her backpack.
After returning home, Casey launches an investigation and comes across Frank and his audio-animatronic friend, Athena. She learns that Earth is doomed and begs her new companions to take her to Tomorrowland, to beg for their assistance.
A sloppy sci-fi adventure ensures.
You can feel the effort in the screenplay. The writers were aiming for something epic and lasting.
Unfortunately, the film received a lukewarm reception and was considered a box-office failure. All in all, the movie’s biggest sin is its meandering and messy storyline.
Staying awake for this film is enough of a challenge, let alone following the plot. The passion is there, it just doesn’t inspire the audience to pay attention to it.
Bonus Points: Peek at the New York 1964 World’s Fair and the debuting It’s a Small World attraction
#4 The Haunted Mansion (2003)
This movie isn’t nearly as popular as the ride, but The Haunted Mansion has a respectable following. Starring well-known actors like Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Tilly, and Wallace Shawn, the movie has enough charm to (somewhat) balance out its flaws.
This origin Haunted Mansion story opens upon a tragic scene. The master of the house, Edward Gracey, commits suicide after discovering that his lover has taken her own life. The grand house lies abandoned in despair – or does it?
Years later, we meet the Evers family. Jim (played by Murphy) and his wife Sara are successful realtors. Rightfully accused of being a workaholic, Jim decides to take his family away for the weekend to recharge.
Before leaving, the family receives a call about a grand, dilapidated mansion that just hit the market. Unable to resist a juicy sale, Jim makes a pit stop.
Soon after arriving, the Evers family finds themselves trapped in a spooky (and decidedly haunted) mansion. Some of the ghostly inhabitants, like Master Gracey, are convinced that Sara Evers is his lost fiancée. The family must work together to avoid the ghouls, save Sara, and ultimately break a curse.
The jokes don’t always land and the movie struggles to balance the silly/foreboding atmosphere. But it’s still a fun ride and the special effects are impressive enough.
It wouldn’t succeed as a standalone film, but the ride references and solid performances make it worthy of a viewing. If you’re looking for another family-friendly Halloween movie, there’s room for one more in your collection.
Bonus Points: Haunted Mansion attraction Easter eggs, actual Dapper Dans providing their voices to the singing busts
#3 The Tower of Terror (1997)
This made-for-TV Disney movie was the first attraction-based film and holds up in its campy way. Starring Steve Guttenberg as a tabloid reporter (Buzzy Crocker), he makes a living fabricating stories with his young niece Anna (played by teenage Kirsten Dunst).
Buzzy Crocker’s life’s work is a farce until he is approached by an elderly woman (Abigail). Abigail swears that the abandoned Hollywood Hotel is haunted by the ghost of a witch and four guests she cursed in an elevator years ago. She begs Buzzy to intervene.
Intrigued by the possibility of real ghosts, he and Anna investigate and learn that the curse and the ghosts aren’t what they seem. A paranormal investigation turns into a race against the clock to save the spirits and mend broken hearts – before it’s too late for everyone.
The special effects are unremarkable, but respectable for a TV budget. The script isn’t revolutionary, but the story is clear, concise, and engaging.
All in all, Tower of Terror is an enjoyable, spooky-ish film that entertains viewers and most importantly, makes them want to ride the attraction. It does its job.
Bonus Points: Partially filmed at the Tower of Terror attraction in Orlando, Florida
#2 The Jungle Cruise (2021)
Love for The Jungle Cruise ride may cloud your judgment, but I feel this stands above most attraction movies. The plot is a bit muddy, but it successfully uses a corny ride to inspire a swashbuckling adventure.
Starring Dwayne Johnson as Frank Wolff (a skipper/explorer) and flawless Emily Blunt as Dr. Lily Houghton, this tale flows in its Amazon setting.
Both Frank and Lily seek the Lagrimas de Cristal Tree, a magical tree containing healing blossoms. Unfortunately, an evil monarch and a group of cursed, immortal conquistadors are also seeking the tree’s power and will dispose of whoever gets in their way.
While imperfect, The Jungle Cruise movie works for many reasons. First, the cast is superb and elevates average dialogue through delivery alone.
Secondly, the special effects are inventive, smooth, and boundary-pushing. And thirdly, the twists and curse details are delightfully original.
The Jungle Cruise may not be the king of attraction movies, but it’s a worthy silver medalist.
Bonus Points: Dad jokes and several callbacks to original attraction, score by James Newton Howard
#1 Pirate of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Speaking of the king though, could there be any doubt? The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl gained worldwide praise and spawned an entire franchise. It deserved to.
The cast and crew doubted the film in production, and yet they created cinematic lightning in a bottle.
Inspired by the Disney attraction, this film features a crew of immortal pirates. Cursed for stealing Aztec treasure, they have been trying to recover the gold coins by any means necessary.
Unfortunately for Governor Swan’s daughter Elizabeth, she has a piece. Taken from a shipwrecked boy, Will Turner, when they were children, Elizabeth has hidden the coin for years.
Unaware of its importance, Elizabeth is kidnapped by the pirates. Will Turner and double-agent pirate/scallywag Jack Sparrow try to rescue her. (Well, Will is trying to rescue her. Jack just wants to reclaim his ship, The Black Pearl.)
From that point on, there are no dull scenes.
From the opening scene to the final credits, this film is magnificent. A pristine script, enduring special effects, seamless fight choreography, and Klaus Badelt’s robust score culminate in an almost perfect movie.
I can’t say the same for the sequels, but I don’t care. You could never see them and be satisfied by the first installment.
The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl isn’t just a film all attraction-based movies should measure themselves against. It’s a movie that all movies should be measured against.
Bonus Points: This movie doesn’t need them.
Whether or not you agree with the ranking, I hope I’ve inspired you to have a movie marathon. After all, if you can’t be in the parks, Disney movie marathons are the next best thing.
Do you agree with these rankings of Disney movies based on attractions at the Parks? Let us know in the comments!
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Featured Photo Credit: Scott Miller