Throughout the Disney parks are references to animated features–little details that serve as themed decor and also nods to a specific movie or character. For example, this sign in Liberty Square:
Disney is pretty well known for their animated films (I’m shooting for “understatement of the year” with that one), and they’ve made a handful of them, so it makes sense that they’d reference some of these great films in Walt Disney World. They’ve also made a whole lot of live-action movies over the years, many of which can be truly considered classics. Some of these films may not be as well known, especially to modern audiences, but that hasn’t stopped clever Imagineers from hiding some nods to them in the parks as well.
What follows here is a short list of some of these references, though please be aware that this is by no means all of them. Also, while I’ve tried to include photos where I can, I haven’t been able to get shots of everything. So some will just be written descriptions, and I apologize for that (and it just means that I need to take even more photos the next time I’m at the parks).
The Apple Dumpling Gang
Starring Don Knotts and Tim Conway as hapless outlaws in the Old West, The Apple Dumpling Gang came out in 1975. The slapstick comedy was one of Disney’s most successful films in the ’70s, spawning a much less successful sequel and even a short-lived (and also unsuccessful) TV series. Given the popularity of the first one, though, it’s makes sense that there’d be some mention of it in the parks!
As far as I’m aware, all of the references to the movie can be found in the queue for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
As an aside: I recently watched The Apple Dumpling Gang, after not having seen it in probably a few decades, and it really does hold up. It’s full of goofy comedy that’s really fun, plus it’s just got a campy-but-innocent “classic Disney movie” feel. It’s entertaining, and it’s worth seeing again (or for the first time). As an aside to that aside: I don’t think I’ve ever actually had an apple dumpling, but I like both apples and dumplings. So I think I should really try one someday.
Summer Magic, a 1963 musical film starring Hayley Mills and Burl Ives, tells the story of the Carey family (a widow and her three children) as they move from Boston to the tiny town of Beulah, Maine. Ives plays Osh Popham, the owner of the local hardware store, and Hayley Mills plays young Nancy Carey, one of the three children. Osh helps the family get back on their feet in what is a sweet (if a little aimless) story.
There are a couple of references to the movie on Main Street USA.
There is (or at least there used to be — things change often at Walt Disney World) a photo behind the counter of The Chapeau. The two women in the picture are said to be Nancy and Julia Carey, all grown up and now the proprietors of the store.
At one point in time, music from Summer Magic could be heard as a part of the Main Street USA loop. I haven’t been able to hear it personally, and I’ve read conflicting reports as to whether or not any of the film’s songs are still included in the loop. So the music may very well still be there, or it may have been taken out.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is one of my favorite films. Released in 1954, and starring Kirk Douglas, this adaptation of the Jules Verne novel tells the tale of Professor Pierre Aronnax and his assistant as they try to solve the mystery of a “sea monster” that’s destroying ships. Over the course of their adventure they team up with sailor Ned Land (Douglas), and they meet the mysterious Captain Nemo. There’s also a cool submarine, a giant squid, and a pet seal named Esmerelda–honestly, I don’t see how it’s not one of everyone’s favorite films!
There aren’t too many references to the movie in the parks themselves, and of course the ride directly based on it is long gone, but there’s some 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea love happening on property nonetheless.
In the movie, there’s a small scene about a penal labor island called Rura Penthe. Supposedly, somewhere in the Agrabah Bazaar shop in Adventureland, there is (or was) a reference to this. It’s said to be high up on a shelf, mixed in with the various boxes and such that make up the decor. I’ve seen pictures of it, and the item looks to be a dark-colored urn with a shipping tag that states delivery is to be made to the “colony of Rura Penthe”. The urn’s tag also includes some cremation jokes, as it’s apparently addressed to “Sirius Burns” at the “Ashes to Ashes Mortuary”. However, no matter how hard I’ve searched (and I have done so multiple times now) I haven’t been able to see the item for myself. Perhaps I just don’t know quite where to look, though it’s also entirely possible that this nod to the film has long since been removed.
Outside of Magic Kingdom, at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto (in the Polynesian Resort), you can find multiple references to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Near the picture of the Nautilus (and I apologize for not being able to take a pic, but the lighting was terrible) is a framed photograph of Walt Disney himself holding one of the giant squid tentacle props from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. So that’s not just a reference to the movie, but an actual photo from its filming.
All of this is making me realize that I need to sit down and watch 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea again (and again, and again). Also, and I don’t know about you, but I have a sudden craving for calamari…
The movie Tomorrowland wasn’t exactly a huge hit, though I rank it as one of my personal favorites (you’d be surprised how often “not a huge hit” and “one of my personal faves” coincides). Even though it didn’t do well at the box office, though, there’s still a reference to it at Magic Kingdom. If you happen to see the new robot character iCan wandering around Tomorrowland, check out the logo down by his feet (or wheels, in this case). The word “Tomorrowland” is printed on a plaque there, and it looks exactly like the way the movie’s title was presented. The font, and the “O” being an atom, is the same. So the movie was based on the land, but in this case a bit of the land was then influenced by the movie. It’s like the circle of life, but with a robot.
Note: Unfortunately, while I have seen plenty of photos online, I have not personally encountered iCan and as such have not been able to get a photo of the logo. I’m hanging my head in shame even as we speak.
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes
Over at EPCOT, Journey Into Imagination has a couple of hidden (and obvious) references to live-action movies. For example, early on you’ll see portraits of some “inventors of the year”. One of these is Wayne Szalinski, the scientist who shrunk his kids (and later himself) in the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids franchise. Next to him is a portrait of Phillip Brainard–who created the substance known as “flubber” in the film of the same name. Both portraits are of the actors who portrayed them: Rick Moranis as Szalinski, and the late Robin Williams as Brainard (from the 1997 remake of the original 1961 Absent Minded Professor). At the beginning of the ride, too, you can see doors with these same names printed on them, suggesting that these scientists are now working on new experiments at the Imagination Institute.
A little further into the ride, there’s a room full of computers, and if you look at the floor to the right of the door you may see a pair of red sneakers. There’s also a sign in the window, warning visitors that there are “no tennis shoes allowed” inside this computer lab. These are both references to a 1969 Disney comedy film called The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, starring Kurt Russell as a college kid who accidentally gains the processing power of a computer.
Note: Through a combination of lack of foresight (I didn’t know I was going to write this post when I was last at EPCOT) and just failed photography skill (I tried to get some shots on the attraction, and they didn’t come out) I don’t have any photos to share of these particular references. Sorry.
As I said at the start, these are by no means all of the live-action film references hidden around the parks. I’m sure that there are plenty more that I’m not aware of (and if you know of one I missed, please politely let me know here in the comments), but these are at least some examples of the neat ways that Imagineers have payed tribute to classic Disney movies. It’s cool to see that even as they create exciting new films and franchises, they’ll still offer nods to what came before.