Every once in a while, a Disney attraction doesn’t quite meet your expectations—sometimes in the scariest of ways.
Throughout their history, Disneyland and Walt Disney World have had their fair share of scary attractions. You expect to be jarred to some degree on The Matterhorn, Expedition: Everest, the Tower of Terror, or even the Haunted Mansion. Some attractions made these intentions plain--like the aptly named ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter--while others at have at least given guests clues regarding the terrors to come, like Snow White’s Scary Adventure, Typhoon Lagoon’s Shark Reef, or even Blizzard Beach’s Summit Plummit.
The following cases are a little different… These are attractions throughout Disney history that have looked fairly innocuous on the outside but held surprising scares--some might even be based on really cute cartoons or not-particularly-scary films. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, these are the top attractions we found at Disneyland and Walt Disney World that turned out way scarier than some guests expected…
1. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
Video: YouTube, @ResortTV1
Expectation: A whimsical drive with a jolly Toad through the English countryside.
Reality: Mr. Toad drives while intoxicated, dies, and wakes up to eternal judgment
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is a much-loved classic ride based on a decidedly silly film—but, oof, is it hard to explain that ending. Both farcical tracks of the ride end in the same frighteningly macabre fashion—Mr. Toad’s motorcar is hit by a locomotive, and BAM! We’ve somehow gone from cartoon merriment to the fiery courtrooms of hell.
The really weird part is no part of this oddly disturbing ending can be found in either The Wind and The Willows or the original film. While not necessarily terrifying on the same level of some of the other attractions we’ll get to, this ultra-creepy ending definitely freaked out more than a few unsuspecting kids over the years.
2. Captain EO
Video: YouTube, @MJ Disney Channel
Expectation: Michael Jackson saves the universe with quirky intergalactic friends
Reality: Michael Jackson must appease Borg-Queen with the power of dance before she kills us all
Captain EO was Disney’s first truly great 3D film—there’s good reason so many fans think back on it fondly. It was also one of those attractions that almost warned you how scary it got…
We didn’t used to have YouTube videos to pre-check the scariness of rides in the 80’s and early 90’s—as a kid, you just trusted your parents and hoped for the best. Captain EO had all the makings of a kid-friendly adventure: Muppet-like creatures, Star Wars-esque spaceflight, a sweet logo, the presence of the King of Pop electrified with rainbow powers.
Then we meet the Supreme Leader…
Not that Supreme Leader… Rather, we mean corpse-marionette-Palpatine’s salty predecessor, played by Angelica Huston.
With tubes for hair, long curling nails, and a sinuous personality to make Shelob the spider jealous, she was the typical stuff of 80’s kid nightmare fuel. If her presence alone wasn’t enough to scare a good portion of the younger audience, watching MJ’s robo-buddy yank his own head off and turn himself inside out to become a cyber-drum probably elicited more than a few wide-eyed shudders. As a matter of fact, all Michael’s friends felt a little like they escape out of The Dark Crystal…
Despite this, it still made for one sweet 3D movie once we got past the heeby-jeebies!
3. The Great Movie Ride
Expectation: A living museum tour through the history of classic cinema
Reality: A living museum tour through the history of classic cinema, including the place where “No one can hear you scream…”
The Great Movie Ride was a wonderful attraction—as much as we’ve warmed up to Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, there’s no getting around the fact that the Great Movie Ride really captured the soul of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It had all the elements of greatness, from spontaneity to nostalgia to blood-curdling existential horror…
Forgot that part?
There’s no arguing that some parts of the Great Movie Ride were utterly scary. The living skeleton scene and our hijacker—er, host being vaporized were bad enough, but one scene really took the cake for scaring the tar out of Disney parkgoers.
The Great Movie Ride included a significant scene from Ridley Scott’s Alien.
This wasn’t just a quick nod to the movie with a quivering egg—guests were given a full slow motion tour of The Nostromo, complete with a nervous Ripley trembling with fear-sweats and two appearances from the murderous xenomorph. I will admit that once I grew old enough to open my eyes during this scene, I loved this section of the ride. I debated with many a fellow Disney fan as I got older who thought it should be removed, even some who were convinced that it had been.
I thought the whole thing was fantastic, but in hindsight, I do see that this was an unusually dark choice for a ride that some guests may have thought was primarily a romp through Mary Poppins and The Wizard of Oz. The Great Movie Ride wasn’t necessarily sold to guests as a thrill ride, and the themes behind Scott’s horror masterpiece were based on uniquely disturbing stuff. Despite the scariness, we do miss this classic attraction!
Expectation: A mysterious boat ride through the Spirit of Norway
Reality: Vikings. Floating Heads. Norwegian fishermen. An educational film, and of course, TROLLS!
I loved Maelstrom. It was an utterly preposterous attraction. Somehow Disney managed to fuse a Pirates of the Caribbean style dark adventure with a time-travelling stroll through a Norwegian fishing village, a troll-infested forest, an oil platform, and a rousing documentary. It made no sense at all. The whole thing played out like a Scandinavian metal music video, and it was magnificent. I miss it so much, on my last ride on Frozen Ever After (a good attraction in its own right), I plugged in some headphones and listened to the Maelstrom ride audio just for the heck of it.
That being said… I have to confess I kind of hated this attraction as a kid—mostly because it scared the rice cream out of me.
If you were the type of kid who didn’t handle boogeymen, bog-beasts, and multi-headed ogres well, Maelstrom probably wasn’t your cup of tea. This attraction felt like a confusing montage of childhood horrors—an entire ride about the things you hoped didn’t live in the closet or the woods or under the bed. To make matters worse, the gift shop immediately following the ride laid on the troll-creepiness even heavier—everywhere you looked, their distorted faces and beady little eyes loomed for you to take home to haunt you forever.
I still can’t stand that gift shop, but I grew to love the attraction. You stand upon the bones of greatness, snowman.