Before Disney was the entertainment juggernaut that it is (owning the film and merchandising rights to Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, The Muppets and it’s own films) it was mostly known as the home of Mickey Mouse and the creator/godfather of the theme park industry.
Despite some slips along the way (we’re looking at you, EuroDisney), Disneyland and Disneyworld have been some of the most successful theme parks in existence and are looked up as wholesome family fun even through today. With rides like Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Tomorrowland and the Pirates of the Carribean becoming so entrenched in pop culture that they were spun off into films franchises of their own.
So, it may come as a surprise to people to know that there are a ton of attractions and rides that were proposed and even either almost built or nearly built (and then abandoned) over the decades of Disney Theme Parks’ existence as Disney seems to be a company that follows through on it’s ideas and seemingly can do no wrong. So, let’s take a look at the top 15 Attractions that almost became a part of Disney Theme Parks!
15. The Great Muppet Movie Ride
With Disney owning the rights to Star Wars, Marvel Comics and Pixar films it’s hard to recall that one of their first major film rights purchases came in 2004 with the purchase of The Muppets. While kids today may not think much of the Muppets, they were a major force under the direction of their creator (and the voice of Kermit) Jim Henson in the late-70’s really through the early 90’s with television specials, a gig on Saturday Night Live, movies and even shows for kids like the classic Muppet Babies that all 90’s kids remember.
However, after Henson died they lost their creative voice and had lost a lot of their luster by the time Disney purchased them. The decision made sense and wasn’t completely viewed as the people around Henson cashing in as Henson himself had met with Disney Imagineers in 1989 to … Imagine numerous concepts for a Muppet-themed park through the Disney brand. The plans were serious enough for Disney to announce their intentions publicly which included numerous sketches for the planned parks. The most promising idea to come from that was the Great Muppet Movie Ride, which according to Henson himself was going to show what went on behind the scenes of a movie (through the lens of the Muppets themselves, which was going to be as funny as it was incorrect).
14. Edison Square
Planned during the early stages of Disneyland but nixed because of budget constraints, Edison Square would’ve been an extension at the end of Main Street that would’ve been a more urban residential street than what it was connected to (Main Street, USA) that would’ve included a schoolhouse, a church, and even a haunted house. Because of those budget (and time) constraints, it wasn’t included in the final (and original) Disneyland but because of the parks success in early years it Disney came back to the idea before long. The idea reached the stage of having full-color representations created by people like Imagineer Sam McKim, who created a concept painting that showed the entrance to the suburban section of Main Street. In what looked a lot like the entrance to a gated community, the entrance was comprised of two red brick pillars that supported a curved electric sign that said: “Edison Square” (with a neon likeness of Edison kicking Tesla in the face?). Beyond that would’ve been a brick-paved street, turn of the century “Horseless carriages” and “brand new” electric street lights to replace the surrounding gas lamps.
13. Discovery Bay
Some entries on this list are more comprehensive than others and few are as comprehensive as Discovery Bay, which was imagined as an entirely new Disney park in and of itself. Designed by Imagineer Tony Baxter, Discovery Bay was essentially an imagined reality based on the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1800’s that would’ve been technologically advanced in a steampunk style. Think, a sort of above water BioShock set a few decades earlier. Discovery Bay was going to include attractions based on the books 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as well as The Island at the Top of the World as prominent features. Other proposed ideas included Discoveryland, which had a take on the Victorian science fiction (including airships based on the Nautilus and the Hyperion), Mysterious Island which would’ve included the 20,000 Leagues attraction as well as other attractions based on the work of Jules Verne, and finally a Journey into Imagination which was based on Professor Marvel’s Gallery of Illusion.
12. Enchanted Snow Palace
A lot of the most popular and beloved Disney animated films were based on stories written by Hans Christian Anderson (as Disney outbid the competition to buy the rights to his stories) and one of those stories was “The Snow Queen”, which was the basis for 2013’s mega-hit Frozen. However, the story was at the forefront of a lot of the people at Disney for years including Marc Davis the man responsible for designing Tinker Bell, Cruella de Vil, Maleficent and more. He also was the man responsible for designing parts of Disneyland like It’s A Small World, the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean.
In the late 70’s Davis was working on his next big addition to Disneyland which was based on the story of The Snow Queen, The Enchanted Snow Palace. Considering the fact that Disneyland is and was located in California, Davis thought that people would appreciate a ride that took them into an air-conditioned palace by boat. They would’ve seen the Queen and all of the things she created with her ice powers like polar bears, snow giants (like the one in Frozen) while also showing the interior of her castle with things like her ice throne (sadly, there was no Olaf, however). Sadly, it was not to be as the late 70’s brought more thrilling attractions and the brain trust as Disney decided to add more actual rides than simple attractions and the idea melted away, at least until around the time the movie Frozen was being made they decided to use Davis’ depiction of the Snow Queen when creating Elsa.
11. Beastly Kingdom
The first and only entry that would’ve been part of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Beastly Kingdom was going to focus on three different types of animal groups and really would’ve been different from anything Disney had ever done in their Animal Kingdom. First there would’ve been the animals that existed at the time the park was conceived (as we are technically in the middle of a massive extinction event), the second would’ve been the animals that used to exist but are now extinct (see the first type of animal, again), and the third would’ve been animals that only exist in the realm of fantasy (like unicorns).
On top of the three classifications of animals, the park was also going to be split into two realms, one good, and one evil. The evil side would’ve been dominated by the Dragon Tower, which would’ve been a decimated castle that was home to a greedy fire-breathing dragon who hoarded treasure (similar to Smaug from the Hobbit). There would’ve been a roller coaster that rode through the castle and scheming bats who were eliciting guests help to steal the treasure as well. The good side was the home of a unicorn that had a quest that would’ve led guests through a maze and an area called the Fantasia Gardens that would’ve been a boat ride through animal scenes from the classic and trippy Disney film, Fantasia.
10. Port Disney
When Michael Eisner joined Disney and the 90’s began, Disney started pushing the idea of the Disney Decade, in which they’d be expanding with new resorts, theme parks and attractions around the country. One of the largest aspects of that would’ve been Port Disney, which was a planned property that was to have been built on around 450 acres in Queensway Bay (next to the Port of Long Beach, California) and would’ve included a marine-themed amusement park, a marina, a cruise ship port and a gigantic retail, entertainment area as well as tons of hotel space.
Announced in 1990, Disney attempted to drum up support for the project by sending a “newspaper” to homes in the area title The Port Disney News, which was full of positive news about jobs and general Disney fun. This story is actually the most confusing of any on this list as Port Disney lost it’s bid to be built to another Disney property, titled WestCOT (which was part of their Epcot brand). The plan to build WestCOT was eventually canceled as well, with elements from that proposal ending up as part of Disney’s theme parks in Tokyo, Japan and the space eventually ended up as part of Disney’s Adventureland in California.
Part of the above proposed Port Disney complex was large enough to deserve its own entry on this list. Both were part of the Disney Decade, that ironically was one of the worst decades for Disney parks as they dealt with a decent amount of financial restrictions after perhaps over-expanding (which is why DisneySea was abandoned, at least in Long Beach, California). DisneySea was meant to ensure that people could “experience the marvels of nature’s secret world beneath the sea and to gain firsthand experience of how the oceans affect human life as well as the life of the planet”.
The centerpiece of the park would’ve been Oceana which was described as the focal point for the park that would’ve risen up from the center of the park in a series of “futuristic bubbles” that would’ve lured guests to a fascinating evolutionary journey through the world’s seas. It would’ve included a state-of-the-art, two-story aquarium as well and would’ve been as educational as it was entertaining. But the project went down when Port Disney lost out to WestCOT, although aspects of it ended up in Japan. Let’s hope the futuristic bubbles were part of it.
8. Walt Disney’s Riverfront Square
Walt Disney was born in Chicago but grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and loved his hometown so much that he not only integrated parts of it into his first theme park, Disneyland (Anytown U.S.A. was basically based on where he grew up) and actually planned on building his second theme park in Missouri as well. Before Disney World was conceived, Walt Disney planned on building on the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri, despite the fact that Disney had said publicly that he had no intention of opening other parks.
However, after meeting with the mayor of St. Louis during the time around the cities bicentennial, he decided to build a second park there. The park would’ve been located a few blocks from Busch Memorial Stadium, which was being built at the same time. The park would’ve had a lot of the same attractions as Disney Land and even made it to the stages of having attractions designed and drawings of the park created. It was also budgeted at $40 million dollars and was thought to be able to draw 25,000 visitors a day. However, after a public squabble with the owner of Busch beer, the idea of building a park in Florida had arisen and once a dispute arose over ownership of the park itself Disney decided to abandon plans and put all of his eggs into the basket that was Disney World. It appears that he made the right choice.
7. The S.S. Disney
Disney is in on the cruise business and has been for years. You can take your entire family on a Disney cruise and score some Dramamine off of a guy in a Mickey suit as you tour the Carribean for example. However, those cruises really only replicate one aspect of going to Disneyland or Disney World and that’s really the worst part (unless you’re a really small child) and that’s the aspect of meeting the “characters” from the movies. Beyond that, the closest thing to a ride would be if you fell off of the side of the cruise ship and pretended it was Splash Mountain (or I guess had a really cramped room down by the boilers and pretended it was The Haunted Mansion).
Perhaps because of that (but not in that detail), Disney actually was planning on building a theme park on a ship so that it could bring it from port to port for people who’d never gone to a Disney theme park. While it’d house only miniaturized version of some of the more famous attractions like Tomorrowland and Adventureland, it would’ve been an amazing experience and also an amazing impetus for people to go to the REAL Disney theme parks. However, the idea was pretty unrealistic as it would only visit each location once every five years and also would have been an engineering nightmare as it would’ve weighed an amazing amount, making the ship incredibly top heavy, which is basically the last thing you’d ever want in a ship that’s circumnavigating the globe. Although, it still sounds like an amazing idea.
6. The Dark Kingdom
If you live near a theme park you’ll be used to the autumn tradition in which the park gears up for Halloween and becomes an evil version of itself (for example, Valley Fair in Minnesota becomes Valley Scare). Now, imagine that going on year round! While Disney’s parks are building more and more attractions built on their recent acquisitions like the Marvel Comics and Star Wars, the heart of the park is still based on the cartoons that turned the company into the juggernaut it still is today (even more so). You can see characters like The Little Mermaid or Belle from Beauty and the Beast walking around and taking pictures with people but one thing you don’t see is the villains from those cartoons also out and about, even before Halloween.
Well, Disney planned to change all that by building The Dark Kingdom as part of Disney World in Florida. It would’ve basically been the Valley Scare version of Disney World, with a castle as the centerpiece (like Disney World), only this castle would’ve been Maleficent’s castle as opposed to the Castle from Cinderella. This park would’ve cost hundreds of millions of dollars and while both Disney World and Disneyland have been consistently growing and building since their inception and Disney is the largest entertainment company in the world, neither the land surrounding the parks nor the money behind them are unlimited. It’s thought that The Dark Kingdom wasn’t built because Disney had acquired both Marvel and Star wars around that time for around nine billion dollars combined, so there simply wasn’t enough money to go around.
5. Tomorrowland 2055
Disney’s original Tomorrowland was created in a time where the space race between the United States and the USSR was just beginning and because of that Tomorrowland was heavily focused on space (and strangely a lot of Monsanto sponsored chemistry labs). So, as time went on and Disneyland grew, Tomorrowland became outdated and was in desperate need of an overhaul. Enter, Tomorrowland 2055. The original plan was for Star Wars creator George Lucas to design an entirely new Tomorrowland that would’ve upped the sci-fi vision that the original touched upon (while avoiding making predictions like the original version did as to limit the outdated feel over the next few years to decades). Lucas’ vision was amazing but would’ve taken a few years to complete and would’ve cost a fortune so they decided to basically just update some of the attractions in Tomorrowland as opposed to completely tearing it down (they did implement one idea from Lucas’ vision, Alien Encounter, which was eventually torn down itself because it terrified children, much like the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy but for different reasons).
4. Disney’s America
A lot of people don’t know that Disney attempted to build a third park in the United States that would’ve rivaled Disneyland and Disneyworld in terms of size and ambition and also would’ve been a completely different sort of park than they’d ever really created. It was to be called Disney’s America and would’ve been located in Manassas, Virginia.
The idea behind it was that millions of people a year from around the world were traveling to Washington, D.C. anyway so in 1992 Disney thought that they’d open a theme park that was based on the history of America that people could stop at on their way to Washington D.C. to view the landmarks there. The park would’ve been divided into different sections, like Disneyland, with each section representing a different era in the history of the United States. The entrance, for example, would’ve been a Civil War era town where people would’ve boarded an antique train that would’ve brought them to a Native American village or Ellis Island where European immigrants were becoming US citizens.
Many people took issue with the plan for a myriad of reasons. Some thought that Disney was exploiting tragic events in the history of the United States, which is a history that is soaked in the blood of the “other”. There’s a reference to this in the Simpsons when Bart and his classmates attempt to visit a Civil War re-enactment that used to be free but now costs money because of Disney (with the slogan; “Sorry, there’s money to be had”). On top of that, the park would’ve been… On top of an actual site of an important Civil War battle as well so the local government blocked it and like the Confederacy Disney’s America was lost to history.
3. The Soviet Union at Epcot
If you’ve spent any time on the internet (or talking to that uncle that wasn’t allowed to babysit you as a child) you’ve certainly heard the conspiracy theories that say that Hollywood studios are both part of the Illuminati and also basically communists. So, after the fall of the actual communists in the Soviet Union back in 1991, after decades of a Cold War that literally was so tense that children in America were taught where to hide during a nuclear holocaust (because desks can stop anything!), somehow someone thought it’d be a good idea to include a recreation of the Soviet Union within the Epcot Center.
That one person actually happened to be the CEO of Disney at the time, Michael Eisner, which is where those conspiracy theories come in. Now, it actually does make some sense as the Cold War was finally over, America had won and it was really the first time that people in the US were able to look at Russia as anything but the scary place where onion (or stone) soup was the only thing one could eat. Since that veil of fear had been lifted, it’s easy to see why it might make sense to highlight that in a park as people were interested in seeing what life was really like in Moscow after decades of propaganda showed breadlines and snow.
The sketches of the park included a replica of the Saint Basil’s Cathedral (one of the most famous buildings in Russia, at least to us) and the rides would’ve been based on Russian myths and fairytales. However, Disney liked to include sponsors with their parks to offset the operating costs and obviously no American company wanted to be associated with Russia, Cold War or no Cold War so the idea went the way of the USSR.
2. National Harbor
Despite the rejection that was Disney’s America, Disney had done enough research into the DC-Metro Area and clearly liked what they saw in regards to the amount of people that were traveling in and out of DC either as tourists or as delegations from other countries. Because of that, Disney ended up purchasing 15 acres of land in Prince George County, Maryland, which was on the Potomac River in a town called Oxon Hill. A fairly recent entry on this list, Disney planned to build a 500 room resort on the site that was once a plantation the head building of which still stood on the land that Disney had purchased.
Familiar with the fact that basically every single plot of land in that area is somehow involved in either the creation of the United States or the war to keep the United States, United, which was part of the reason why Disney didn’t immediately develop the land. Beyond that, despite the fact that the area is in the same county as the Washington Redskins stadium, it was a decent drive away from most of what people come to the area to visit and isn’t connected to the main public transportation options and at the time of Disney’s involvement “readily accessible by car from Northern Virginia and parts of Maryland”.
Because of that and the fact that Disney had built another waterfront resort at the time, this one in Hawaii (as part of their Lilo & Stitch promotion), Disney ended up selling the land to a nearby developer despite the extreme disappointment of everyone there. Stay tuned for another failed project in the D.C. Metro Area come this time next year.
1. Roger Rabbit’s Hollywood
As the recent $2 billion dollar bailout of EuroDisney shows, it costs a lot of money to run a theme park. Part of offsetting that cost is sponsorships, which are readily apparent in parts of Disney World and Disneyland as even back during the first years of Disneyland there were entire attractions sponsored by companies like Monsanto. Those sponsorships also helped Disney begin to acquire its massive library of characters and the merchandise that comes with them and a big part of that. The best combination of those sponsorships and acquisitions was Disney-MGM Studios which opened at Disney World and displayed characters like Roger Rabbit (who Disney had recently acquired).
Because of the massive popularity of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Disney actually planned an entire park within Disney World around Roger. It would’ve been called Roger Rabbit’s Hollywood and would’ve included attractions based on people and places in the film. For example, it would’ve had Maroon (Cartoon) Studios (which is the studio from the film), the Acme Warehouse and much more. While that sounds more than amazing and a sure-fire hit (even now), Steven Spielberg got involved as his company, Amblin, believed that it had the rights to Roger Rabbit either too or also and the idea fell apart (although some rides were created and placed around the parks).