Home » 5 of the Weirdest Disney Attractions to Have Ever Existed

5 of the Weirdest Disney Attractions to Have Ever Existed

Portrait of Mr. Toad

As times change, so do perceptions. This definitely has held true for attractions at Walt Disney World. The recent news that Disney will be renovating Pirates of the Caribbean to replace the wench auction scene echoes this phenomenon. It’s easy to ignore when a largely disliked attraction (such as “Journey Into YOUR Imagination” or “The Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management”) is closed or altered, but even much-loved rides can fail to stand the test of time.

Indeed, when one really stops to think about some of Disney’s most unique attractions of the past, those unfamiliar might wonder how these rides passed opening day audiences in the first place.

I want to emphasize two things before we tread further. First, these were not necessarily bad attractions. Bring up any discussion of these rides, and you’ll find those who loved them and others who didn’t. Second, this exploration of bygone attractions and their eccentricities is meant in good fun.

With that in mind, what exactly were Disney Imagineers thinking when they conceived of…

1. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

Portrait of Mr. Toad

Put the tomatoes down…

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was a Fantasyland classic that opened in 1971 and remained a fan favorite until it closed in 1998. For those unfamiliar, the ride (which was one of the first to have two completely separate tracks with different scenes) followed the madcap shenanigans of the motorcar-manic Mr. Toad from The Wind in the Willows—a seemingly perfect fit for the Magic Kingdom.

Except that, for reasons unknown, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride took a strangely dark approach to the source material. Indeed, some fans have even gone as far as to describe the ride as “Mr. Toad’s DUI”.

Why the mega-dark assessment? The two tracks of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride explored two distinctly macabre versions of the original story. On one, we follow Mr. Toad as he steals a motorcar and evades police in a long chase, is convicted under a judge, and narrowly escapes jail. The other led us from Toad Hall through a gypsy camp to Winky’s Tavern (where the bartender left two beer mugs spinning in the air) then into the countryside. Both versions ended the same way…

The car is hit by a locomotive and the ride culminates in a trip through hell. The end.

Well, that escalated quickly…

Do note that last bit is nowhere to be found in The Wind in the Willows or the original film.

Now, stop and think about those two journeys very slowly, removing from your mind all association with the whimsical cartoon: a lavishly rich, possibly-intoxicated crackpot takes a mania-induced joyride through town, nearly plowing over dozens of shocked onlookers and evading police until his crime spree results in death and a trip to Dante’s Inferno.

Perhaps there’s a reason that, despite much love from fans, this particular kooky adventure didn’t stand the test of time…

2. Extra TERRORestrial Alien Encounter

Logo for ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter

Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

Tomorrowland’s Extra TERRORestrial Alien Encounter was an attraction like none Disney had ever attempted before—and indeed, would never replicate since. The ride’s history is a fascinating read, but here’s the short version. In an attempt to lure thrill-seekers and teens to Magic Kingdom, Disney set out to design a horror attraction called “Nostromo” based on Ridley Scott’s Alien. While the deal to use the Alien brand fell through (the R-rated film was deemed too intense for a Magic Kingdom ride), the influence of the series remained. Indeed, replace the ride’s malevolent “X-S Tech” corporation with Weyland-Yutani and turn the alien into a xenomorph, and you would have had the Nostromo attraction that never came to be.

Without the Alien brand attachment, several of the ride elements stood out as odd. Indeed, the ride summary might strain credulity for some of today’s readers.

The premise was that visitors played the part of guests given the privilege to watch an experiment in interspace teleportation put on by the ubiquitously slimy X-S Tech. The ride started off on a weird note with a pre-show that involved a Tim-Curry-bot named S.I.R vaporizing a cooing, cuddly alien named Skippy during a demonstration-gone-wrong. This was apparently done on purpose to weed out visitors with less-than-stalwart courage. It worked– as a kid, the pre-show sent me bolting out the exit doors.

The main ride involved being strapped to a chair in a round chamber surrounding a giant teleportation tube. The seat harnesses were roller-coaster style rigs, so unless you “hacked” the ride by leaning forward a little when they lowered, you were well and truly lashed in place for the show to come. As expected, the teleportation experiment goes horribly awry, and instead of beaming in the X-S Tech Corporate Overlord himself, they instead teleport a massive alien into the room. The alien itself looked a bit like a Dungeons and Dragons monster, but this was difficult to notice in the dark with fog blasting through the room. The lackeys scramble to try to fix the issue before the alien can escape.

Then the lights go out.

Just take a moment to listen to the audience from 5:22 on…

The rest of the attraction was entirely sensory. Strapped to the chairs, audiences had nowhere to run as the alien thumped unseen through the room. This was terrifying enough, but things got truly gnarly when you felt the alien pause behind you, dribble slobber on your arms, breathe on your neck, and finally—yes, this was real—flicker its tongue across your head.

Yes, youngins, Disney once had a ride where—after watching Stitch’s predecessor get disintegrated– we voluntarily allowed ourselves to be lashed into a chair in the dark while something breathed on our necks, slobbered on us, and licked our heads. It was a different time…

3. Body Wars

Body Wars sign

Image: Edward Russell, Flickr (license)

We’ve talked about Body Wars previously in our Lost Legends series. For those unfamiliar with this Epcot classic (which used to be part of the Wonders of Life pavilion), the best way to describe it is Star Tours inside the human body.

What could possibly go wrong?

I have a hard time picking on Body Wars because I actually liked this attraction as a kid. I couldn’t figure out why my family didn’t want to ride it again and again (or ever). Apparently, it was because a jostling ride through blood vessels, fat layers, capillaries, the brain, and the lungs was just a bit too much for the digestive tract of most visitors. Indeed, other than Mission: Space, there is probably no attraction that has held a more notorious record for “Code V” protein spills.

The premise of Body Wars made sense for Wonders of Life. Unfortunately, in the creators’ zeal for realism, the combination of navigating through giant landscapes of human viscera while being sloshed back and forth like a toy boat in a toddler’s bathtub proved a recipe for stomach-splitting nausea. It felt a bit like being flailed around while viewing sweeping footage of a colonoscopy (fortunately, Disney spared us a jaunt into that particular region).

The ride suffered frequent bugs which exacerbated the motion sickness issue, and they even had to cut a short segment featuring a trip through the lungs. Even had Wonders of Life not met its doom, it’s possible Body Wars still might have failed to weather the passage of time.

Still, the ride footage would make one sweet heavy metal video…

4. The Making of Me

The Making of Me sign

Image: Edward Russell, Flickr (license)

A Walt Disney World vacation is a special time for families, a unique opportunity not just for fun but for education and celebrating coming of age. Perhaps with this in mind, Disney gave guests the chance to use their vacation to address one of the most awkward questions your child can ask…

Where do babies come from?

No list of oddball Disney attractions would be complete without Epcot’s The Making of Me. Like Body Wars, this fifteen-minute film (hosted by Martin Short) was another attraction at the Wonders of Life pavilion. Now, you have to give it to Disney that they did a commendable job explaining reproductive health with charm, good humor, and a light hand on controversial issues. However, it’s inevitable that this attraction was a bit bizarre.

The film took a holistic view on reproduction, following a young couple through courtship, marriage, honeymoon, and beyond for most of the film. However, the short bit that did explain the, eh, plumbing of baby-making might be the strangest sequence ever animated by Disney. Specifically, it involved a group of cartoon sperm racing through the fallopian tubes to reach a flirtatious egg with a target wrapped around her waist. You can watch the full video here, if you dare.

The film was inevitably odd but not terrible. The real question you have to wonder about was who, on their Disney vacation, decided off-the-cuff to have “the talk” with their kids using the film as a catalyst? Did it make for a particularly awkward dinner at the Coral Reef? Were you one of these baffled youngsters? What did you think of The Making of Me?

5. Maelstrom

Maelstrom entrance sign

Image: HarshLight, Flickr (license)

Now, I want to emphasize that while I had mixed feelings about this attraction as a kid (aka, it scared the heebie-jeebies out of me), I loved Maelstrom as an adult—specifically because it was so wonderfully batty.

The individual elements of Maelstrom were completely logical. A thrilling boat ride through troll country was a great attraction idea. A short film about “The Spirit of Norway” made sense considering China, Canada, and France all had documentary attractions of their own. Even a gentle jaunt through a Norwegian fishing village meshed nicely with the pavilion’s approach to Norwegian culture.

What made Maelstrom so fantastically preposterous was that, at the behest of the country who sponsored the pavilion, all of these elements were mashed into one ten-minute ride.

The ride’s boarding area gave guests the impression of a “Small World”-style boat cruise, complete with a vast mural of hard-working Norwegians and upbeat flute music. Not ten seconds into the ride, the floating face of Odin and ominous narration gave the first clue that we were in for something far more unique. The first half of the ride whisked guests through Viking shores to a forbidding encounter with angry trolls—two ideas that meshed congruently enough. The trolls blasted your boat backwards past a towering polar bear to the edge of a waterfall. A mischievous wood troll diverted your path back the other way, sending you careening over a drop into…

An oil rig?

The ride continued exploring the threads of Norwegian culture in modern times with a leisurely journey through a Norwegian fishing village. This appeared to mark the end of the attraction as guests were helped off the boats. However, Maelstrom had one more oddity up its sleeve.

For the final stage of the journey, guests exited into a large movie theater. The Spirit of Norway took all the various elements from the ride and montaged them into a sort-of-harmonious film, throwing in a bit of Norwegian downhill skiing, military pageantry, sailing, ballerinas, and lots of children. The experience culminated in the gift shop where you could buy your own glassy-eyed troll to take home and fuel nightmares for a lifetime.

Ironically, this film too has the potential makings of a sweet heavy metal video…

Nothing about Maelstrom as a whole should have worked… and yet it did. In attempting to produce a serious exploration of Norwegian culture to entice tourists, the country of Norway and Disney Imagineers produced the most marvelously kooky attraction in Disney’s history. Unfortunately, even Maelstrom couldn’t withstand the passage of time and the changing winds of Hurricane Olaf.

What other Disney attractions left you scratching your head at one time or another?