This weekend, Jungle Cruise heads upriver towards the deep, dark heart of box office success, marking the eleventh feature film or TV movie based on an attraction at a Disney theme park. The studio’s return on these projects has been, let’s say, uneven: The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has been wildly successful, but the second-tier of Disney rides adapted for the big screen is a parade of embarrassments like The Haunted Mansion, oddities like Mission to Mars, and outright weirdness like the 1997 Tower of Terror TV movie starring Kirsten Dunst and Steve Gutenberg, a kid-friendly riff on The Shining that I promise actually exists:
As Disney tries once again to create cinematic greatness out of amusement park rides, here are some of the Disney attractions that are most overdue for screen adaptations.
The Hall of Presidents
Look, you can’t create something as unholy and terrifying as the Donald Trump figure in the Hall of Presidents and not make a movie where it kills people, that’s just mad science. The obvious choice for a Hall of Presidents movie would be a riff on Westworld or Five Nights at Freddy’s, but this might work best as a Frankenstein-type story, as the audio-animatronic Trump cuts a bloody swath through the Imagineering department trying to find his creator and get him to admit he began life as Hillary Clinton. Maybe the Trump robot could team up with what’s left of the original “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln” figure from the 1964 New York World’s Fair, who looks like he’d like to have a word or two with whoever stole his clothes:
Verhoeven would knock this out of the park.
The Wonderful Wizard of Bras
The Wonderful Wizard of Bras was the corporate mascot of the Hollywood-Maxwell Company, makers of the “V-Ette Brassiere,” and according to their ads, you could write the wizard himself for a free copy of a pamphlet called “Between Us Girls.” The Wonderful Wizard of Bras’ spiral eyes were meant to echo the “whirlpool stitching” that was Hollywood-Maxwell’s trademark, which meant he was a creepy-looking little fucker, even for a 1950s corporate mascot. Here he is in a 1954 ad from Seventeen:
The next year, the Wizard of Bras got a character redesign, and it was this turbaned version of the character, seen below in an ad from Vogue, that ended up becoming the unlikely basis for a Disneyland attraction.
When it opened in 1955, one of the shops of Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. was operated by Hollywood-Maxwell and offered “Intimate Apparel, Brassieres, Torsolettes.” Inside, according to an advertising supplement from the Long Beach Independent, a cartoonish statue of the Wizard of Bras presided over:
…a revolving stage, on one side of which is a complete re-creation of the fashions and intimate wear of the 1890s and on the other side a showing of the fashions of today—inner and outer wear.
On stage, acting as a master of ceremonies, via a tape recorder, is the Wonderful Wizard who, with presto-change charm, explains the basic theme of the show—“This is how it was … Now … This is how it is.”
The Hollywood-Maxwell shop in Disneyland only lasted about six months before closing, but a Wonderful Wizard of Bras movie franchise could last for years, no matter what direction the filmmakers decided to take the idea. The character’s original design is pure horror, and would be well suited to scuttle around sorority row causing trouble. Or if Disney wants to return to the tradition of hardcore body horror the studio mostly abandoned after The Shaggy D.A., they could give the concept to David Cronenberg. “This is how it was … now … this is how it is!” the Wizard could chitter and howl as he forged the New Flesh with his magic wand and scissors.
Alternatively, maybe this concept could be turned into a family-friendly fantasy adventure, somehow.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
Probably the strangest attraction in any Disney park, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is modeled after Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s book The Wind in the Willows. In the original text, Mr. Toad is obsessed with motorcars, but his reckless driving lands him in prison. In the theme park ride, Mr. Toad does run afoul of a magistrate, but he also crashes head on into a locomotive and gets sent to hell, making this the only Disney ride that ends in eternal damnation. It’s kind of a lot:
The Wind and the Willows has been adapted for film and TV many times, including by Disney, but none of those adaptations have captured the ride’s single-minded Protestant obsession with the saved and the damned. Disney paired Mr. Toad’s story with an adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which meant they couldn’t go too deep into the supernatural on their first attempt:
It’s been long enough for a reboot, so Disney should finally get around to making Mr. Toad’s Inferno.
The Country Bear Jamboree
The Country Bear Jamboree is not the most exciting Disney attraction, but everyone agrees it’s the only one where guests get to attend a jamboree where bears play country music. Here’s a tape of the original version of the show:
Wow! That’s terrible! Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be hard to turn the concept into a children’s movie, and maybe even a good one. Most kids’ movies these days are modeled after action and superhero films, complete with interminable third act battles, so anything drawing from other cinematic traditions automatically has a leg up. Specifically, The Country Bears Jamboree, with its menagerie of thinly-drawn country bears, would work perfectly as a road movie / getting-the-band-back-together story in the tradition of The Blues Brothers. The choppy structure of any kind of “assemble the team” movie is a gift to filmmakers and audience alike, since each sequence devoted to recruiting a new member of the team is a new chance to not suck. Getting the band back together has a further advantage: Instead of staging a clever heist, fighting a supervillain, or solving a mystery, the big finale in this kind of movie is a concert or musical number, which is a lot more straightforward. A film adaptation of The Country Bears Jamboree would be a pretty difficult thing to screw up, which is probably why Disney already made a Country Bears Jamboree movie back in 2002. It’s just that no one remembers The Country Bears, because they screwed it up:
The trailer for The Country Bears does an excellent job of communicating what sucks about the movie, but it undersells how bizarre it is. For starters, the villain is played by Christopher Walken, and the cast also includes Queen Latifah, Stephen Root, and Stephen Tobolowsky, all of whom are reliably delightful in everything except The Country Bears. There are cameos from Elton John, Brian Setzer, and Willie Nelson, plus Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley providing singing voices for the bears. Unfortunately, The Country Bears is considerably less than the sum of its parts. Maybe it’s harder to make a feature film out of a theme park ride than it looks.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
I bet with a little work, you could make a pretty good space opera out of this!