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3. Aladdin (1992)

ALaddin poster
Image: Disney

Box office: $504 million

First anchor attraction: Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular (2003 – 21 years after release)

It would be difficult for any film to match Beauty and the Beast. Smartly, Aladdin was content being its own thing, and was rewarded with an even bigger box office. It’s a testament to the smarts of directors John Musker and Ron Clements (reunited from Mermaid) as well as composer Alan Menken and lyricists Tim Rice (stepping in for Howard Ashman, who passed away during the production of Beauty) that Aladdin diverts heavily from the former two Renaissance titles. Eschewing strictly European fairy tales for an adaption of an Arabic tale from One Thousand and One Nights, the film was developed as a stylized buddy comedy built around the Genie, played by the incomparable Robin Williams. 

As for its presence in the parks… you guessed it: mostly entertainment. Like Mermaid and Beauty, the biggest presence for Aladdin in the parks is almost inarguably by way of “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World,” which are practically prerequisites for parades, fireworks, and nighttime shows. Otherwise? Well... 

Debuting the very year that Disneyland Paris opened, a whole sub-section of the French park’s Adventureland is stylized as a Middle Eastern bazaar. But even then, the only direct allusion to Aladdin is Le Passage Enchanté d'Aladdin, a walkthrough of stylized dioramas depicting the film’s key scenes. 

Image: Disney

Aladdin has also earned a theme park stage show. But unlike the “temporary” Mermaid and Beauty shows in Orlando, Disney California Adventure’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular was a true showstopper. Bucking the trend of 20-minute theme park fare, the show was a full 45-minute artistic stage retelling that packed the house at every single showing of its 13-year run thanks in part to its unscripted Genie, who riffed on pop culture and stole the show. It was closed in 2013 in favor of a more strictly word-for-word retelling of Frozen

If you think Aladdin’s legendary magic carpet ride would make a perfect Disney Parks attraction, the good news is that Imagineers are one step ahead of you! The bad news is, they’ve come in the form of three lightly-dressed, Dumbo-style carnival spinners: The Magic Carpets of Aladdin in Magic Kingdom (2001), the embarrassingly barren Magic Carpets Over Agrabah in Paris’ Walt Disney Studios Park (one of just three rides there at the park’s opening), and the beautifully-decorated Jasmine’s Flying Carpets at Tokyo DisneySea.

Image: Disney

The latter, at least, is part of DisneySea’s Arabian Coast – an agonizingly beautiful land that kinda sorta alludes to Aladdin, but (like the rest of the park) feels like a real, habitable place rather than a direct recreation of the movie’s fictional Agrabah. Arabian Coast does contain The Magic Lamp Theater – an original 3D film starring the Genie. It also, coincidentally, offers the not-Aladdin-related Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage which features a theme song written by… Alan Menken! 

Oddly, Aladdin has more physical rides dedicated to it than Mermaid and Beauty combined, even if they’re not exactly anchor attractions. Still, it’s wild to think that Disney still doesn’t have a dark ride themed to Aladdin when a Peter Pan’s Flight style tour over miniature wonders of the world seems so obvious. Perhaps Disney’s reclamation of Epcot’s Morocco from the sponsoring country will invite a bit of an animated change to the pavilion… We’ll see!

4. The Lion King (1994)

Lion King
Image: Disney

Box office: $968 million

First anchor attraction: Festival of the Lion King (1998 – 5 years after release)

While Beauty and the Beast may have been an early creative crescendo for the Disney Renaissance, there’s no denying that financially, The Lion King was its pinnacle. While not explicitly based on a fairy tale, The Lion King famously reads like a retelling of Shakespear’s Hamlet with elements of the Biblical stories of Moses thrown in for good measure… and y’know… lions. While it may have seemed like a massive divergence from the fairy tale formula, The Lion King earned nearly a billion dollars, by far the highest grossing animated film of all time at the time (and remains so until exactly two decades later…)

In the parks? Yep, first and foremost, it’s got to be the score – this time composed by singer-songwriter Elton John. “Circle of Life,” “Hakuna Matata,” “Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” and “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” must rank among the most-sung songs in Disney shows. The Lion King was made for entertainment, and like the rest of the Renaissance classics, that’s where it shines. Disneyland’s The Lion King Celebration parade stepped off in 1994 with massive “Puppetronics” figures. 

Shortly thereafter, in 1995 Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa made their way into Epcot's The Land pavilion (one of the first character infusions into the park's Future World). Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable largely re-used footage from the pavilion's former film, "Symbiosis," but softened the environmental messaging with an animated frame story... and of course, a performance of "Circle of Life." (It played for a jaw-dropping 23 years, ending only in 2018.)

Image: Disney

Meanwhile, Magic Kingdom opened Legend of the Lion King, a mostly-puppeted stage show located in the Fantasyland Theater. It lasted until 2002, meaning it actually overlapped with a much more well known stage-show based on the film just a few miles away: 1998’s Festival of the Lion King at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (which was itself intended to be temporary). Animal Kingdom’s show actually reuses Disneyland’s parade floats and adapts the film’s songs into a high energy, celebrational, acrobatic, singalong experience based on the costumes and styles of traditional African dress and Swahili tradition. Oddly, Animal Kingdom park is surprisingly short on outright references to The Lion King outside of the stage show, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, and the short-lived Rivers of Light: We Are One character-infused variation of the park’s nighttime show. 

Image: Disney

The Lion King was the highest grossing animated film of all time when it was released in 1994. And exactly 25 years later, it regained the crown… Kind of. 2019’s “live action” remake of the film technically isn’t live action at all; it’s entirely CGI. Photorealistic, but CGI nonetheless. With that in mind, its own remake stands as the highest grossing animated film of all time with a $1.7 billion gross of its own. While the remake inspired lots of temporary promotional entertainment offerings in Disney Parks, so far there doesn’t seem to be any indication that this film – the pinnacle of the Renaissance – is on its way to a full fledged dark ride. 

Yet even without a true anchor ride, The Lion King has fared better than all five of the next Renaissance films combined... Read on...

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Comments

I have a nit-pick about The Lion King entry:
You put 1993 in parenthesis, but the movie was released in 1994... 25 years before the 2019 CGI movie.
And The Lion King had a presence at Epcot back in 90's: the "environmental fable" Circle of Life at The Land pavilion at Epcot. Plus, this was a completely original movie with no references or rehashing of the movie.

Great catch! I made that change. Thanks for reading!

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