Did you know that the Happiest Place on Earth contains a portal to Hell? No, this isn’t metaphorical and no, I’m not joking. A cheeky attraction at Disneyland has the darkest ending imaginable for a dark ride. People get run over by a train and sent to Hell. How is that even possible? Let’s go behind the ride to discover the tricks that Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride plays on unsuspecting guests.
The Experience: Bringing the story of The Wind in the Willows to life
The Trick: Choosing to have form follow function
Fittingly, Ichabod Crane is partially responsible for the journey to Hell. Had his tale of woe taken longer, Walt Disney would have created an entire movie from the premise. Instead, Uncle Walt chopped the tale of the Headless Horseman into half of a film called The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The second half of the animated classic retold the story of The Wind in the Willows, the classic children’s novel by Kenneth Grahame. And a simple modification of that tale became the basis for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
When Disney constructed the Happiest Place on Earth, he chose Fantasyland as the themed area that would replicate his movies. It’s the reason why Fantasyland at Disneyland has so many attractions. They’re largely based on Disney animated tales, and it was especially true for the rides available on opening day.
As Imagineers culled the list of potential attractions, they realized that the arrogant J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq. and his passion for motor vehicles naturally led to the perfect ride construct. They could recreate the wild ride that led to Mr. Toad’s incarceration in the books, but the way they chose to implement it was surprising.
The ultimate form was a modification of an earlier concept. Did you know that Mr. Toad’s Wild Road was intended as the first roller coaster at Disneyland? Yes, years before the Matterhorn debuted, Disney executives had already debated a coaster, one that would have been there on opening day!
Arrow Enterprises, the construction group that built the hardware, was an expert in coaster design. Disney spoke with them about the idea of a roller coaster that would bounce haphazardly through the park and offer guests the fear that they were about to wreck into vehicles at Disneyland’s parking lot. For understandable reasons, Uncle Walt felt this idea wasn’t family-friendly enough, but he still loved that elegantly simple concept that drove the pitch: a wild ride. The question was how to bring the idea to life.
Three of the original Disneyland attractions show rather than tell events from famous Disney films. Those attractions are Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. In each example, Imagineers attempted to place the audience in the shoes of the protagonist. For Peter Pan and Snow White’s presentations, many guests left the ride feeling a bit confused. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, on the other hand, received instant acclaim due to the cleverness of the design.
Guests bordered a vehicle, and then they hurtled along a seemingly random path of unlikely places, each of which presented more danger than the last. The form of the ride naturally followed its function. It was a chaotic trip through London that caused harm to Toady, his friends, and virtually everyone else in his path. In short, the title of the attraction aligns more tightly with its underlying premise than anyone had ever seen before or ever would again at Disneyland.