Which Themed Lands Would Walt Disney Have Loved?
While Walt Disney built the first theme park of note and popularized the idea for an entire industry, he unfortunately missed a lot.
Since the artist died in 1966, he never set foot in the theme park that bears his name, Walt Disney World.
Similarly, even though Walt Disney planned the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, he never saw his dream come to life.
I think about this a lot when I write about Disney, and I’ve been especially obsessed with one question lately.
Which themed lands would Walt Disney have loved? I have thoughts…
First, I’ll acknowledge that I’ve ruled out anything that Walt Disney witnessed during his lifetime.
Since Magic Kingdom’s themed lands mimic those of Disneyland Park in many ways, that one rule wipes out plenty of options…but not all of them.
Mickey’s Toontown opened in 1993. At the time, it championed one film above all others.
Yes, I’m talking about Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the oddly forgotten Disney movie that legitimately saved the company in the 1980s.
In 2022, Disney acknowledged that many elements of the themed land had grown long in the tooth and were no longer attracting guests.
So, Imagineers modernized Mickey’s Toontown in time for a 2023 reopening, 30 years after it opened in the first place.
Today, Mickey’s Toontown isn’t a themed land inasmuch as the world’s most immaculately detailed playground.
Since Walt Disney lamented the family entertainment options in his day, I’m confident that the wonders of the 2023 version of Mickey’s Toontown would delight him.
Pandora – The World of Avatar
The following two lands would require at least some explanation.
While Walt Disney personally relied on intellectual property to sell his theme parks, he’d have zero understanding of Pandora’s story.
Then again, Disney wouldn’t need that. He’d look in the sky, admire the Floating Mountains, and wonder what theme park wizardry had created that.
At first, Disney might even believe that a scientific breakthrough had enabled levitation in architecture.
Once Imagineers explained the tricks to him, he’d be that much more impressed by the design, especially when shown the visuals from the film.
Similarly, Na’vi River Journey would wow him; Disney couldn’t have dreamt how much better dark rides would become over time.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
Oddly, Walt Disney might struggle with this one the most, as he’d lack the context regarding Star Wars, which arrived 11 years after his death.
Still, we’re talking about someone who admired space travel.
At the first sight of the Millennium Falcon, Disney would…well, he’d probably wonder if it were based on a real spaceship.
Once he learned humanity hadn’t explored much of Mars yet, he’d recalibrate his expectations about Disney building a full-sized spaceship for a theme park.
That’s a stunning achievement in and of itself. Once Imagineers explained the detailed theming of Black Spire Outpost, his admiration would grow.
In a way, Galaxy’s Edge signifies the pinnacle of modern Imagineering.
As the person who built the company and the theme park industry, Walt Disney would lose himself for hours in exploring all the nooks and crannies here.
Toy Story Land
Walt Disney loved ideas that appealed to families. He also built his career on family-friendly storytelling and state-of-the-art animation.
The thought of computer-generated animation would have blown his mind.
Once introduced to the characters of Toy Story, I suspect Disney would have wondered why he hadn’t thought of that!
Then, after a few steps inside Toy Story Land, the theme park innovator would have quickly deduced the brilliance of this place.
You shrink down to the size of a toy to experience the story from their perspective!
The immersion and innovative Imagineering tricks delight all the guests here, but they would have resonated with Walt Disney himself.
Please remember that Walt Disney was an environmentalist and someone who treasured nature.
For whatever reason, biographers underreport this aspect of Disney’s life and especially his career.
Starting in 1948, True-Life Adventures showed the world Walt Disney’s passion for the great outdoors and the beasts who live there.
As a filmmaker and entrepreneur, Disney never cut corners in this field, either. That’s why eight of his Academy Awards come from this nature series.
How well do you believe Walt Disney would react to the wonders of Journey of Water | Inspired by Moana?
I can easily envision the childlike wonder and glee on his face as he watched the interactive water elements for the first time.
Similarly, as someone who created 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, wouldn’t Disney have gazed in awe at the saltwater tanks at The Seas with Nemo & Friends?
No, Walt wouldn’t have any idea who Nemo is, but that’s beside the point.
He’d see fish living in a giant aquarium, and he’d feel pride over the work of his Imagineers.
Finally, the first time Walt Disney rode Soarin’ around the World, I suspect he’d realize that modern Imagineers are capable of more than would have seemed possible back in his day.
World Nature SCREAMS Walt Disney to me, but it’s still not the place I believe he’d enjoy the most. That honor belongs to…
The World Showcase
Okay, this one is a gimme, but I still must mention it. In truth, the World Showcase is probably number one on this list.
I say this because Walt Disney loved international gala events. We can trace many of Disney’s planned projects to Uncle Walt’s attending such exhibitions.
For example, during the 1960 Winter Olympics, Walt Disney suddenly fell in love with the idea of building a ski resort. It didn’t happen, but he wanted it.
Similarly, after the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Disney envisioned the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
We DID get a version of some of Uncle Walt’s ideas for that project. Most notably, the World Showcase evolved from this idea.
During the World’s Fair, Disney adored the communal nature of the event. He also relished the international cuisine that was readily available.
Disney envisioned a place where nations could come together at E.P.C.O.T., share ideas, and break bread together.
In a general sense, that’s precisely what the World Showcase has become.
No, this themed land doesn’t live up to Walt’s lofty goals for the project, but that’s because he died 15 years before it opened.
Had Disney lived, I’m confident that the World Showcase would have mirrored the ideas in his head.
Still, as a realist, Uncle Walt would have admired how much his successors have gotten right with the World Showcase, an exquisite hangout spot.
We somewhat take for granted the fact that the World Showcase is a cultural melting point where people from other nations leave their homes to work at EPCOT.
That bit of authenticity ensures that the spirit of the World Showcase matches Disney’s dreams for the place.
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Feature Photo: (Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort)