Home » The Scariest Disney Parks Attractions (That Weren’t Supposed to Be That Scary)

The Scariest Disney Parks Attractions (That Weren’t Supposed to Be That Scary)

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

Wait, what?…

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!

4. Maelstrom

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.

5. It’s Tough to Be a Bug

Expectation: A cheeky educational film based on a really cute kids movie

Reality: Cartoon bugs seek merciless revenge on human oppressors. Chameleon saves us. All hail the chameleon.

We picked on this surprisingly-controversial attraction at length recently, but I’ll recap the basic premise here. It’s Tough to Be a Bug shouldn’t be a particularly complicated show. It has all the makings of an adorable 3D romp from cute bugs, to silly humor, to quirky characters from a charming film…

Unfortunately for some audience members, It’s Tough to Be a Bug ultimately plays out like a complicated psychological experiment to see how close Disney Imagineers could push audiences to madness while still maintaining the guise of a kid’s movie…

I respect that many fans like the show—that’s fine and good—but if you are squeamish about bugs, there are so many things wrong with this attraction. From act one on, it feels like it never stops trying to convince us we’re back in middle school—it shoots pointy things at us, sprays us with termite spit, farts in the face of its trapped audience… and that’s not even the worst part.

The two minutes after Hopper shows up are some of the most intense minutes in any Disney parks attraction—in the span of seconds, we’re gassed in a dark room with noxious fumes, ambushed by murder spiders, and even treated to a simulated hornet sting—literally stabbed in the back by Disney magic. By the time the chameleon finally shows up to the save the day, many audience members are coming completely unglued, shrieking as genuine fears are tapped without mercy.

Oh, and if that’s not enough, they make sure you don’t leave without the charming sensation of 1000 palmetto bugs tickling your legs… jeebly-jeebly-jeebly-jeebly….

6. Injun Joe’s Cave on Tom Sawyer Island

Expectation: Side quest to explore a curious cave on Twain-inspired playground island

Reality: Hapless parkgoer is lost forever in labyrinthine murder dungeon

My favorite article I ever wrote happens to be about Tom Sawyer Island, and I stand by what I said in that partially-satirical piece: Injun Joe’s Cave might be the scariest place in Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

Many guests have never had the pleasure of venturing out to Tom Sawyer Island. It’s easy to miss on the average Disney day—the island is often closed depending on park hours, capacity, and renovations. If you get the chance, I recommend every guest make it out there at least once. It’s a delightful place, a massive playground full of mystery mines, historic buildings to explore, peaceful porches, and even a serial killer cave.


Those unfamiliar with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer may not know Injun Joe, owner of the island’s namesake cave. In short, Joe is a homicidal maniac–a bad, bad dude… Like the type of guy who digs up dead bodies and carves up sweet old ladies and squishy park guests.

It only takes a few minutes for you to realize there’s something off inside Joe’s cave… It’s dark—like “I really hope I don’t walk face-first into a wall” dark. The winding underground path is lit only by a few dim lanterns here and there. It’s particularly bad if you’re the only person inside—or is it? Is that a snickering child who just brushed past your leg or something else?

Dark pathways lead to Moria-like cages, bottomless pits, and leering skulls with glowing eyes. Haunting voices wail within the very walls—the souls of Joe’s victims? Every passing breeze feels like the breath of a machete-wielding psychopath. You pick up the pace, your walk hastening to a panicked sprint—you freeze, paralyzed as a figure looms between you and the light. It can’t be…

“CARL!” it roars.

You tremble, a scream hanging on your lips… Your name isn’t—


A quivering soul in a set of Mickey ears emerges beside you, glancing at you nervously as he returns to his family and the realm of the Daywalkers. You share a look of understanding, for you have both withstood the baptism by fire which is Injun Joe’s Cave.

7. Countdown to Extinction / Dinosaur

Expectation: A rousing time travel adventure with a friendly iguanadon

Reality: Foolish guests are transported to final moments before fiery mass extinction—unhappy murder-saurs choose you as final meal

Dinosaur has one of the most complicated attraction histories of any ride at Walt Disney World—it’s the only attraction I’m aware of that our resident Disney history expert didn’t know how to classify when he recapped its incredible history. Is it a Modern Marvel? A Disaster Story? A Lost Legend?

A little bit of all three, but one thing is for sure—it’s scary as all get out.

The decision to transform Countdown to Extinction to the presumably-tamer Dinosaur remains a truly puzzling choice on Disney’s part. Someone basically said let’s take one of the most terrifying Disney attractions ever made, retheme it after a docile kid’s film, but keep the ride almost exactly the same.

The original version of this ride didn’t necessarily hide how scary it was–Countdown to Extinction was pants-peeing-terrifying. The backstory for the ride was a little bleaker, and the actual ride took place almost entirely in the dark, only interrupted by one shriek-inducing jump scare after another. Countdown to Extinction wasn’t just a simple thrill ride—it tried to outdo Jurassic Park at its own game. The entire ride was out of the frying pan, into the fire—meteors blast the earth as the final moments of the Cretaceous period barrel towards you. With the exception of your iguanadon target, every creature in sight wants you dead, culminating in a terrifyingly real chase with a horned carnotaurus who physically sprints after your vehicle as you race time itself.

It was a confusing time for the Walt Disney Company, and it seems Michael Eisner had really set his hopes that Dinosaur would be one of their most successful films ever. He seemingly put so much stake in the film that Countdown to Extinction was ultimately rethemed after it.

Needless to say, Dinosaur isn’t too many people’s favorite Disney film… most kids may not even realize it is a Disney film.

Adjusting Countdown to Extinction to sort-of match Dinosaur’s tone meant cutting some of the scariness from the ride. The ride was made less jostling (allowing for shorter riders), the audio was toned down, the dialogue adjusted, and the carnotaurus was adjusted to give audiences a little more of a head start. Instead of racing ravenously after us, he sort of awkwardly glides into our path. All in all, the ride isn’t nearly as scary as it was before…

But it’s still pretty terrifying for a ride named after a cuddly kid’s film…

8. It’s a Small World

Expectation: Happy dolls just want everyone to get along

Reality: Doll army drives generations of parents mad through repetition of earworm melody

Just kidding! Unless you have a fear of glassy-eyed singing dolls… Jeebly-jeebly-jeebly…

Enjoy this article? Keep reading to find out why one of the controversial attractions mentioned is just the worst for some fans or to dive into 10 Crazy (And Adorable) Things You Might Have Done as a Disney Kid.