There is perhaps no Disney fan who has a love of Disney History, classic attractions, animated feature films and the iconic Mickey Mouse shorts then myself. Don’t misunderstand, I still love the new offerings, Pandora’s “Flight of Passage”, “Soarin’ around the World”, “Smuggler’s Run” and cannot wait for the “Tron Light Cycle Run” and” Guardings of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind”. But despite all the modern electronics, computer controlled and enhanced attractions and films, a ride on a more “simple”attraction where you have to use your imagination more to experience the gist of the ride is how Walt, perhaps the world’s greatest storyteller was trying to convey in the days before all this high-tech augmentation came about.
With that said, I want to explore a classic attraction that was an opening day attraction in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. But these classics took two completely different paths; and thus, this is the story of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” …
The concept of the ride attraction came right after Walt’s phenomenal success of the first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Walt wanted to adopt another story into a feature length film to follow the triumph of Snow White. The idea came up about implementing the 1908 children’s book, “The Wind in the Willows”. Part of that story tells of a heedless driver named Mr. Toad. Walt then acquired the rights to the book in 1939. Two years after much planning, Walt shelved the idea, he was not happy with the quality and finish that would be gleaned.
In 1946, the Wind and the Willows was reconsidered and resuscitated into a package film, the studio’s last such film, ending the package film era of the 1940’s. It followed Saludos Amigos (1943), The Three Caballeros (1945), Make Mine Music (1946), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), and Melody Time (1948). The Studio would not produce another such film until 1977 with the many adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The film consisted of two sections… “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The first was by Author Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, the second, the “Wind in the Willows by British Author Kenneth Grahame. It was the eleventh such film in Disney’s animation norm. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is the only Disney movie to star Bing Crosby. The film was released in 1949, becoming another Disney success story.
It was a few years later when Walt was developing and planning a radical new theme park Disneyland, that the story of Mr. Toad would develop into a whole new entertainment venue. In conceiving the Fantasyland area of the park, there were four fairy tale attractions planned…Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Pinocchio. Pinocchio was cancelled and another, Mr. Toad would take its place. But the attraction did not follow the animation of the film, but was decided to be a wild and free ride going through many locations depicted in the book and movie.
The attraction building would be in the same one as Peter Pan and the Mad Hatter gift shop. All of the show scenes and the 1903 car touring car ride vehicle were constructed in the Burbank studios. The scenes were simple, due to budget limitations…The backgrounds were huge plywood flats, nothing like the 3D we expect today. Likewise, the track layout and vehicle testing were also done here. After the building was completed, everything was assembled inside, and the ride and Disneyland opened on June 17th 1955.
The exterior of the ride building was to be a rendition of Toad Hall, Mr. Toad’s house in the film, and most other Fantasyland buildings were also to be more ostentatious, but as previously stated, monies were short and the whole exteriors aped a medieval fair scene. Let’s go through a ride description on the original track, circa 1955…Outside, an enormous strikingly painted mural depicted scenes from the movie and from the attraction. You boarded your car (Each with its own name) and entered. This trackway was brilliantly conceived, it was a winding, frenzied path with numerous twists and turns. This allowed your car to appear to crash into walls, people and the like, just to avoid hitting at the last second. You enter Toad Hall, past paintings and statues and a fireplace and into the library. Here, two suits of armor in the shape of a toad, swung their battleaxes, your car veers in the other direction, and another suit of armor swings its mace at you. You then collided through a bookcase, and came into a dark room, exiting into the English countryside. Here you just miss crashing into a cabin. Moving haphazardly along, you entered an English town, with nonsensical names, almost hitting an antique shop.
You enter a narrow street, festooned with signs, “One Way”, “Turn Back” and “Do not enter”, and avoiding the headlights of an oncoming car. An English Bobbie blows his whistle to stop you, but your car continues down a broken-down pier, driving into a warehouse racing between towering rows of crates and kegs stacked with dynamite, blasting powder, and other dangerous items. At the end, a sign reads…” This Way Out”. Nearing the exit, a stack of kegs falls and blocks the way, the car turns and rams through a brick wall.
Back in the countryside, you avoid trees, more police officers blowing whistles. You approach the side of a cliff with a RR signal ringing and blinking, past a Railroad engineer, enter the RR Tunnel No. 13. You hear a train coming, see an approaching light and “Crash” into it. You then enter the large maw of a demon with teeth with the word “Welcome” in flames. You pass tiny horned devils atop hot stalagmites, wildly laughing. You finally exit the last set of doors, back to the queue zone.
Disneyland’s Mr. Toad’s Wild ride had two addition upgrades, so to speak. The first had the lease characters, sets, the basic of gags and the ride lasted only 98 seconds. To note, it was designed by Imagineers Claude Coats, Ken Anderson, Bill Martin and Robert Mattey. Its other shortcomings were a smattering of 3 dimensional figures, unlike its opening day siblings Snow White and Peter Pan, who also sported more scenery and characters.
A later upgrade in 1961, the attraction added new character flats, new police officers, Moley, MacBadger and Ratty in the village scene and a human butler in Toad Hall. Also included were new crash doors, full fashioned devils and red rock in the “Hell” scene. Even with these improvements, the attraction has always remained overpoweringly “flat” in appearance, despite the other Fantasyland rides which were considerably less so over the decades.
After Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride debuted as an opening day attraction at Walt Disney World in 1971 (More on that later!), it was decided to update Disneyland’s version. In 1983 during a general overhaul of Fantasyland in general, that Mr. Toad’s ride received some enhancements. Still with only one track, new scenes and characters were added from the movie. Using scenes from Walt Disney Worlds version, it contains a courtroom, though with a judge instead of a police officer, and copy of Mr. Winky’s bar. They also replaced some of the 2d flat boards with 3 dimensional characters. And in this version, the cars crash though the fireplace.
After entering Toad Hall, riders move past pictures memorializing characters from the Wind in the Willows. A mural foretells the upcoming adventure. On the mural is a reference to Walt’s love of trains; a train is named “W.E.D. Rail” The guest’ cars are named after characters from the movie… Mr. Toad, Toady, Ratty, Moley, MacBadger, Cyril, Winkey and Weasel. In this account, riders begin by smashing into a library, where you see MacBadger wavering atop a ladder with a stack of books. They next slam though the fireplace and thanks to fiberoptics, embers are seen scattering across the floor. After avoiding a suit of armor, they break through into Toad Hall, with weasels swinging from chandeliers, next the dining room where Moley is knocked over while eating dinner.
Guests now drive through the countryside, they pass Ratty’s house, scaring a farmer and his sheep. As before, they head toward the river on a dock, but make a quick turn into a warehouse with barrels and crates, filled with explosives. Next, you crash through a brick wall just as the explosives go up, end up in the streets of London, missing a delivery truck, enter Winkey’s pub where Mr. Winkey is holding two mugs. He ducks and the mugs are left spinning in the air. (This gag is used in the WDW version also).
Guest next enter town square, a working fountain with Mr. Toad and Cyril Proudbottom is in the center of town. You see Lady Justice peering out from her blindfold. You next enter courtroom, where you are pronounced “guilty” by the judge. Thinking you are now entering a dark prison cell, you end up on railroad tracks, where you hit a train head on. Like in the original 1955 version, you go through the gates of “Hell”. The room is heated, small devils bounce up and down and a demon resembling the judge is seen. Before exiting into the queue area, a green dragon with a glowing light at the back of its throat attempts to burn the guests to a crisp! All in all, a nice refurbishment.
Walt Disney World version…
Much like when Disneyland’s Fantasyland was being planned, there were several candidates for the land. Walt Disney World had Peter Pan, it’s a Small World and Snow White to begin, but Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride butted against three other offerings…An attraction called “Jolly Holiday” after Mary Poppins, another on the legend of “Sleepy Hollow” and another ride based on “Sleeping beauty”. Mr. Toad won out, mainly because it was more cost efficient. Walt Disney World’s version, with its larger “bankroll” and more space offered two attractions, so to speak. It had two separate tracks, giving guests a separate experience depending on what track they chose.
The queue at Walt Disney World was far more elaborate and detailed. Both tracks enter Toad Hall. Both vehicles entering at the same time would have a near collision. Track A enters Mr. Toads, trophy room. All of the props were on the wall, making it seem very empty. You then crashed into the kitchen, encountering Toad’s kitchen workers. Your next foray was a forest, and signage advertising a Palm reader, Sara, and this led into a Gypsy camp, with many colorful characters. You then enter a one-way street, driving the wrong way, where you encountered the car on track B, almost striking it. Both vehicles enter Town Square, the largest room in the attraction, and both cars saw essentially the same thing.
From Town Square, you enter Winkey’s tavern, passing a very “Sexy” for the time waitress and Mr. Winkey, holding two beer mugs, ducking down and the mugs left spinning in the air. (Same gag used in Disneyland) You now entered a storage room, filled with weasels hiding from the cops. A stack of barrels swing’s away and you enter the countryside, passing Ratty’s house, then almost hit a fisherman. You are now on the train tracks, ignore the warning signs of an approaching train, enter a tunnel, see the train headlight, crash and enter the same “Hell” as in Disneyland, but here Satan himself is present, and you come out into the loading queue.
After entering Toad Hall, this area is much more detailed and elaborate, than track A, exiting, you almost collide with track A’s car. You ram through the fireplace and end up in the library. You pass by MacBadger, almost get hit by a suit of armor, and crash through a bookshelf. You enter a barnyard, almost hitting several farm animals, you pass a farmer and run into a barn, with chickens flying overhead. As in track A, you enter a one-way street in the wrong direction, and almost strike the car from track A. Entering the identical Town square, and make a quick turn into a courtroom, and like in the feature, you are convicted of reckless driving. Going through the jail cells, you see a gang of weasels making an escape. You then enter a shootout scene with the police and weasels. And like track A, enter a train tunnel, hit the train, pass through “Hell” and exit onto the queue.
But the start of then CEO Michael Eisner’ tenure, pennies were being pinched and budget cuts were substantial. Many venues and attractions, too costly and outdated were shuttered and switched with new ones, believing to be more profitable. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was in the crosshairs, and although still very popular with guests, even with an upgrade to four passenger cars in 1993, raising ride capacity, Disney decided to shut it down. Many fans were outraged, and this started an amazing “Save the Toad” movement. In 1997 Disney announced it would replace Mr. Toad with a Winnie the Pooh attraction.
Fans world-wide were upset and many made their own T-shirts, posters and writing letters to broadcast the issue. Hundred of fans wore protest attire, held peaceful “Toad-In’s at the park. They rode the attraction persistently, and communicated their concern with other guests. All of these actions, abet peaceful and respectful, was not enough to discourage Disney. On September 2nd, 1998, fans announced in newspapers that they’d learned the ride would close in less than a week on September 8th. The ride closed on September 7th, 1998. Countless fans still turned out on the closing day to ride the quaint, two-track attraction one last time.
It is a shame such a “Classic” attraction had to shutter. Sometimes even the simpler things are more fun and enjoyable that the complex modern fare has to offer. Walt never wanted his parks to be a museum, he always wanted fresh and new for his guests. But with all the room here in Florida’s Walt Disney World, I think that Disney could have had enough room to put Pooh in another place. I Think that Walt would agree. Thankfully, we still have the Toad In Disneyland!