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Disney Fans Fought to Save This Wild Ride... And Lost. Here's Why it Was Shut Down Forever.

On October 22, 1997, the Orlando Sentinel reported on a rumor that Mr. Toad was about to be evicted from Magic Kingdom's Toad Hall. Their sources noted that the ride would close forever, and soon.

Now don't misunderstand... any time Disney announces that they'll close (or even change) a ride (or even restaurant or gift shop or themed land), it's met with an army of fans who resist and revolt, often justifiably. But with Mr. Toad, Disney fans rallied with a fervor that outpaces their normal, already-impressive levels of defending doomed rides. The Save Toad campaign emerged the day after the Orlando Sentinel's article and would end up shipping hundreds of “Save Toad” t-shirts and gathering thousands of online submissions and memories. It was a hashtag-ready social-media blitz before hashtags or social media... and before Disney had even announced anything.

Still, word spread. The campaign led to a story in AP Newswire, which in turn earned articles from CNN and The Washington Post. Word was circulating and Mr. Toad earned what might be the first national media attention around a soon-to-be-shuttered Disney attraction.

Unfortunately, it didn’t slow Disney’s hand.  On September 2, 1998 – more than a full year after the Orlando Sentinel first reported the rumor – Disney finally came clean: it was true. Mr. Toad would take his last wild rides and the 1971-original dark ride would close forever... in five days.

Almost twenty-seven years after it opened alongside Magic Kingdom, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride closed for good on September 7, 1998. The Save Toad campaign was in attendance with a final “Toad-In” where members celebrated and mourned together. And that was that.

For generations of Magic Kingdom guests, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was a veritable park icon on par with Peter Pan’s Flight or Snow White’s Scary Adventures – a classic that harkened back to the park’s origins and, even further, to a Walt Disney original that opened with Disneyland. The announcement that it would close in less than a week was a low blow that stunned even those who suspected its time was short. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was an instant classic, a brilliant dark ride, and a fan favorite... So why would Walt Disney World close a beloved dark ride? 

1. Eisner

Image: Ed Schipul, Flickr (license)

When Michael Eisner started as CEO of the Walt Disney Company in 1984, his fresh vision and his background in films was exactly what the company’s then-stagnant studio and theme park divisions needed.  It was Eisner who kick-started Walt Disney Animation and ignited what’s today known as the Disney Renaissance – a golden age where Disney produced hit after hit after hit from The Little Mermaid and Aladdin to Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.

It was also Eisner’s philosophy that Disney could be a place where guests could “ride the movies” – a brave and controversial choice that led to the introduction of outside film properties like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Fresh from a stint as the CEO of Paramount, Eisner knew the power of films, and he also knew that Disney wasn’t making many good ones in the 1980s. That’s why he maneuvered into a partnership with MGM (who was then much more reputable) for the Disney-MGM Studios park.

Granted, we know that Eisner’s vision didn’t remain quite as visionary as it had been at the start. Today, Michael Eisner’s legacy is a tarnished one, tied to cost cutting, frustrating fans, cancelled projects, and an oversaturation of Disney characters. Eisner's short-sighted, low-budgeted last gasps even produced two theme parks so detested, they each earned must-read in-depth entries in our series Disaster Files: Disney’s California Adventure and Walt Disney Studios Paris.

2. A different time

Under Eisner’s watch, Disney bet big opening its first-ever European resort, Disneyland Paris, in 1992. From the start, the beautiful but overbuilt resort stumbled. Still today, more than 25 years later, Disneyland Paris fights tooth and nail to regain sound financial footing, and even as the number one paid tourist destination in Europe, it just… can’t. Seeing Paris’ meltdown, Eisner became infamously wary of any large-scale development.

So many of our Lost Legends entries pivot around Disneyland Paris's opening and end with a ride closing in the 1990s. That’s no coincidence. Right from the early ‘90s, Eisner’s outlook changed. Across the Parks division, large projects were scaled down to the bare bones or eliminated altogether. The decision to close Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride isn’t incredibly surprising – in a growing park, it was somewhat inevitable that such valuable real estate would eventually turn toward a more recognizable character (and not to mention a more marketable one with merchandise to sell).

In retrospect, we can see that poor Mr. Toad probably wouldn’t have survived the arrival of 2012’s New Fantasyland anyway. Wild Ride probably would’ve become the princess meet-and-greet instead of its neighbor and fellow Lost Legend: Snow White's Scary Adventures.

Image: Disney

What is surprising, even in retrospect, is the way in which Disney closed the attraction. Sure, any ride’s closing will earn groans and even protests from die-hard fans. But to announce that it would close forever within the week? The underhanded move meant that many fans didn’t have a chance to say goodbye, and in a pre-social-media world, tens of thousands of people likely arrived to Walt Disney World for their normal family vacation and were surprised to find that Mr. Toad simply wasn't there anymore.

Of course, the executives responsible for the quick closure are the same ones who had already permanently closed Magic Kingdom’s beloved Lost Legend: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Submarine Voyage under the guise of a temporary, seasonal refurbishment (with no notice to fans). Then, they'd go on to debut Disneyland's despised, low-budget New Tomorrowland in 1998, which closed a Lost Legend: The Peoplemover to replace it with one of Disney's most pitiful rides ever as chronicled in its own Disaster File: Rocket Rods. Some "New" Tomorrowland... 

Indeed, it was a different time and different management. Budgets came first, and no one seemed to give a second thought to the idea that, even if the ride did “have” to close, there are gentle and thoughtful ways of doing it.

3. The IP Invasion

As part of his knee-jerk reaction to Paris’ problems, Eisner seemed to double-down on his reliance on proven intellectual properties. Maybe it was a smart choice – why risk building am ambitiously creative original land like Discovery Bay if you have box office reciepts to prove that a Star Wars land will bring guests from around the world, right? Original stories and characters may be compelling to fans, but maybe your average, everyday visitors would be more likely to book a trip for Cars Land than they would for Mystic Manor. 

So, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride would become a brand new dark ride called The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, celebrating the highly marketable and sought after bear. And yes, the Pooh dark ride would take up only part of Mr. Toad's mega-sized showbuilding, leaving plenty of room for a complimentary gift shop. (We may sound incredulous, but to be fair, isn’t it odd that Disney World didn’t have a ride for such a beloved franchise as Winnie the Pooh?)

"Mainstream" Pooh replacing the "obscure" Mr. Toad was only the start of the character invasion.

Image: Disney

The Orlando Sentinel article that first predicted Toad’s closure and Pooh’s arrival noted that it wouldn’t be alone in closing. At the time, Tropical Serenade – another Walt classic harkening back to Disneyland, where it was called the Enchanted Tiki Room – had already closed for a radical transformation that would turn it into its own entry in our Disaster Files: Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management. You can read all the details in that standalone feature, but in short, the reborn attraction would feature Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion King, infamously turning the ultra-classic 1960s presentation into a slapstick cartoon nightmare almost completely devoid of the songs that had made the original show so timeless in the first place. (The “Under New Management” version was decidedly less timeless, dating itself almost immediately as a poor choice from the 1990s. It was finally exorcised when, in 2011, a fire in the attraction gave Disney the excuse it needed to return to the original, Walt-approved show.)

Meanwhile, a third Magic Kingdom attraction – Tomorrowland's Lost Legend: If You Had Wings and its aviation-themed successors – would become Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, a laser-shooting dark ride through the toy-sized reaches of outer space as seen in Disney / Pixar’s Toy Story 2.

Image: Disney

That spelled the end for the ambitious and still-fresh New Tomorrowland we highlighted earlier. By the end of New Tomorrowland's first decade, Alien Encounter, Timekeeper, and Take Flight had been replaced by Lilo & Stitch, Monsters Inc., and Toy Story 2, respectively. Yeah... weird. 

There’s no denying that, financially, a reliance on proven intellectual properties is safer and thereby smarter. But that doesn’t help fans who know that the U.S. Disney Parks will never get Tokyo DisneySea’s Modern Marvel: Journey to the Center of the Earth...

That Pandora: The World of AVATAR was chosen over a Possibilityland: Beastly Kingdom... 

That rather than having Tokyo’s brilliant 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the U.S. parks get Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage or nothing at all, and that Lost Legend: Maelstrom was Frozen over, and that the fan-favorite Alien Encounter now hosts the inexcusable Disaster File: Stitch's Great Escape...

Image: Disney

That the beguiling and beautiful 1920s lost Hollywood Tower Hotel at Disney California Adventure closed forever to become a "warehouse power plant fortress" owned by a futuristic sci-fi villain from a Marvel superhero movie. Yes, our series grew when the most stunning and unthinkable Lost Legend: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure fell to become the superhero action-flick-themed Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT...

At this rate, it feels to many that the stateside Disney Parks may never get another "original" ride concept, instead tying all new attractions to whatever's hot at the box office, even if it means cannibalizing classics.

Living on

The good news is that Imagineers usually find clever and thoughtful ways to pay homage to lost rides, shows, and attractions, and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is no different. While the lord may have been banished from the manor, traces of Mr. Toad and his absurd adventures remain hidden around Magic Kingdom for eagle-eyed guests to spot. 

Image: Josh Hallett, Flickr (license)

A morbid but clever nod to the great dark ride, the statue of Mr. Toad prominently displayed in the Entrance Hall found a new home... fans on the hunt will spot the now-oxidized, rusted statue as a gravestone teetering atop the pet cemetery at the Haunted Mansion. The perfect detail may provide some amount of closure and relief upon viewing.

But even better, designers made sure Mr. Toad's legacy lived on within his old property, too. 

Image: Michael Gray, Flickr (license)

Imagineers left a few hints of what used to be when they designed The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. In Owl's home, you just might spot a photograph hanging on Owl's wall of J. Thaddeus Toad himself handing over the deed to Toad Hall. In the same room, you can spot another photo of Pooh greeting Moley, Mr. Toad's sidekick.

It's not all doom-and-gloom, though. Disney Imagineers were one step ahead of management in Mr. Toad’s case, determined to let the attraction survive. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh dark ride would come to both Magic Kingdom and Disneyland come hell or high water. The characters from the Hundred Acre Wood were too desirable and too marketable to miss, and management wanted the boost sure to come from a Pooh gift shop on each coast. But, Imagineers were able to maneuver Pooh in such a way as to preserve two classics.

At Magic Kingdom, Pooh would replace Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Fantasyland.

At Disneyland, Pooh would replace the Lost Legend: Country Bear Jamboree in Critter Country.

While that did heartbreakingly eliminate a classic at each park, it also preserved one. Today, Country Bear Jamboree continues to play at Magic Kingdom, while at Disneyland, the graceful redbrick exterior of Toad Hall hosts Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Even in the starved-for-space Disneyland, Mr. Toad looks as if he’ll ride on for many more years alongside a host of other classic Fantasyland dark rides: Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, and Alice in Wonderland. While it may not be the same as Magic Kingdom’s expanded and upgraded version, rest easy knowing that Mr. Toad continues his journeys to nowhere in particular every day.

And even today, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is still the only Disney Parks ride we can think of that sends riders to Hell. And that is saying something.

If you enjoyed this in-depth look at the history of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, be sure to make the jump to our In-Depth Collection Library to set course for another Lost Legend.

Now it's your turn. In the comments below, share your memories and stories of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to preserve this unusual and chaotic ride experience for future generations. What was your first ride like? What about your last? Was this Magic Kingdom classic all it was cracked up to be? Is Pooh a worthy replacement? We'll see you soon with the next installment of Lost Legends! 

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There are 4 comments.

We rode it in 1996, and it scared my 3 year old nearly to death! The rest of us (two adults and a 9 year old) loved it. For the 9 year old, riding it without being scared felt to him like a rite of passage. He was so hoping for the time when his younger brother could ride it without fear. *sigh*

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was a classic. As a kid that last section always freaked me out. But I have fond memories of it along with 20,000 Leagues and the old Eastern sponsored IF YOU HAD WINGS ride, which was the predecessor to Dreamflight.

Disney today is a very different experience from what it was when I was a kid. While I don't mind some of the character replacements (e.g. As a big fan of Lilo and Stitch I was very happy to see Alien Encounter get redeveloped to feature Stitch), I do long for the old Disney World experience and get nostalgic from time to time.

Living in Hong Kong now, the Disney park here lacks my favourite experiences from the Magic Kingdom, namely the Haunted Mansion and the Carousel of Progress.

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is one of the few rides I still vividly remember from visiting the Magic Kingdom as a 6 year old back in 1974 (the other being The Haunted Mansion). I rode this ride with my dad, and can remember my reaction to the car suddenly turning onto the tracks into the path of an oncoming train! Thankfully the ride is still at Disneyland, and I hope to revisit it some day.

Mr. Toad was my mother's favorite ride at Disney World when we went every Fall as kids. She grew up in Florida, and her class went to the very first Senior Night and got to hear Paul Revere and the Raiders in the pouring rain.

I live on the West Coast now, and my parents came out to visit me for a dream-fulfilling trip to Disneyland last year. My surprise for my mother: taking her on their still up and running Mr. Toad! She was really excited, and it was as bizarre and wild a ride as ever.

Thanks for this article about the history of these awesome rides, it's really interesting to know what was going on behind the scenes!

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