Last Update to this page: February 23, 2012 (additional images and audio added)
PART I - Wasn't This The Best
Ride Ever? Are You Shire?
You could reason that, visitation aside, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride above most other MK attractions was in a precarious spot from the day it opened. Unlike Fantasyland's other opening-year dark rides, Peter Pan's Flight and Snow White's Scary Adventures, MTWR did not draw from "classic" Disney characters with a widespread domestic popularity base. Mr. Toad, Ratty, Moley and MacBadger hailed from a 1949 Disney adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In The Willows , first published in 1908. It introduced those characters and others who dwelled along the river bank and the Wild Wood, and gave an accounting of how their daily life was disrupted by their neighbor Mr. Toad's insatiable thirst for motor cars. While the story grew to be treasured in its native England, it never enjoyed far-reaching stateside success. Disney's film treatment of the tale - while in some ways magnificent - did little to improve that situation. The first Mr. Toad's Wild Ride opened at Disneyland in 1955. It was built when the film was only a few years old, and absorbed a motif that was perfect for a Disney incarnation of old amusement park dark rides: a manic spin in a motor car through Foggy London Town. The ride was put together on a modest budget but became a park favorite, no doubt due to its ceaseless energy and crazy singularity. Given the time period, everything about it made sense.
What seems inexplicable in hindsight
is that Disney chose to build an updated version of MTWR when construction
on WDW began fourteen years later. In 1969, Winnie-the-Pooh had
already made, three years prior, his screen debut and was well on his way to
becoming a household name and formidable merchandising presence. It
was by then clear that Pooh's impact on American culture was to be
infinitely more profound than that of Mr. Toad. As further evidence
of this condition, none of the characters from The Wind In The Willows
were given a spot in WDW's Mickey Mouse
whereas Pooh, Piglet and Rabbit had places in the show's orchestra.
So it's remarkable that Disney didn't choose to build on the hungry yellow
bear's snowballing popularity by erecting a
tie-in ride during Pooh's initial heyday...and even more so considering that
Mr. Toad was, again, getting his own attraction. This doesn't even factor
in the original three dark ride concepts that WED Enterprises
planned for Florida, based on Mary Poppins, The Legend of Sleepy
Hollow and Sleeping Beauty. Toad won out over those also. More than that, it wasn't
even a copy of the Disneyland original, but rather a sprawling
two-track version with numerous intricacies and details foreign to its
predecessor and multiple scenes that could only viewed by riding each
track separately. What other Disney ride ever offered that
added dimension? Space Mountain, Mission To Mars, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted
Mansion and the Grand Prix Raceway had either multiple lanes, tracks,
theaters, queue or pre-show areas, but WDW's Toad ride presented a different
ride experience based on which side of the queue
you chose. It was the only time in Disney park history this has
ever happened, and it happened for Mr. Toad.
Those who have seen Disney's film treatment of The Wind In The Willows could easily discern that only a fraction of the settings and characters that were present in the ride corresponded directly to the film - fewer still are mentioned in Grahame's book. The ride contained volumes of supplemental material in its depiction of scenes such as the gypsy camp - from whence came Toad's canary-colored cart and Cyril - and also in Toad Hall's Trophy Room and Kitchen areas where the domestics (butler in the Trophy Room, ice delivery man and cook in the kitchen) were found in snapshots of Toad's home life. This was some rich territory being mined and much of it had to come from Toad's own sphere of reference. Accepting that premise, the ride has to be set sometime after Toad came into possession of his stolen motor car via the weasels he first met in Winky's Pub ... also after his ordeal with the law, imprisonment and escape involving a stolen locomotive. The telltale marks of his documented escapades are rearranged here in a loud, unreal melange, making the dream theory the only "rational" way to account for a motor car being driven down the river where Ratty's house is found, inside a prison cell or through Toad Hall itself. So, yeah, for two minutes you were wheeling around in the noise-drenched carnality of a rich frog's fracked-up nightmare. But it's immaterial whether you can overlay any semblance of reason atop the ride. It is, after all, ultimately derived from a tale about anthropomorphic woodland creatures involved in human-like discussions and events. So at its heart, it's what more delicate people would call a trifle. But, of course, so is Pooh.
In both subject matter and setting, there are many common threads between The Wind In The Willows and the Pooh stories. The characters themselves invite direct comparisons, with Tigger sharing Toad's exuberance and bravado, Piglet possessing Mole's reticent good nature, Rabbit appropriating Ratty's fussy penchant for tradition / propriety and Owl borrowing a portion of MacBadger's grandfatherly wisdom. A.A. Milne was a great admirer of Grahame's work and produced a variation of it for the London stage in 1930, with Grahame attending the debut performance. So there is little chance that the similarities in the books are coincidental (the first Pooh book was published in 1926). Milne was reportedly anxious about Grahame's reaction to the show, fearing that it would disappoint the elderly author, which it did not. Imagine how Milne might have felt to learn that a ride based on his characters would one day uproot one based on those of Grahame.
Both authors might have been disconcerted had they known the extent to which their creations would one day be known largely across the globe for what someone else did with them - much as P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins is recognized almost exclusively as the province of Disney due to the immensely popular 1964 film of the same name and a more recent Broadway show. Travers attended the film's premiere and was dissatisfied, in particular, with Dick Van Dyke's portrayal of Bert the chimney sweep. Yet the Van Dyke Bert was not changed to satisfy Travers and in all likelihood will endure as the real thing in the general public's collective consciousness, as it has for nearly 50 years. Mr. Toad escaped this fate to some extent and has enjoyed several quality, non-Disney retellings since 1949, much like Alice in Wonderland. The Disney versions, however, doggedly persist in at least appearing definitive ... especially to children.
What's sad about the way things worked out between Toad and Pooh at WDW is how each of the literary properties couldn't score equal in-park representation. There's no question that a Winnie-the-Pooh ride was a sensible addition to the Kingdom. But the crowds that Mr. Toad's Wild Ride drew were sufficient proof demonstrating its value to park visitors. As mentioned above, the ride underwent a 1993 rehab to alleviate that situation; the 36 original ride vehicles, each of which could comfortably sit two adults, were replaced by new models which could accommodate four adults. The change only slightly reduced the average length of each queue because so many people wanted to go on this ride repeatedly. One outcome of the adulation was the spat of public outbursts in 1998 from a group that had learned about the impending shutdown. They gathered in the park, some wearing green shirts with Toad on them, carrying signs that read "Save Mr. Toad's Wild Ride." The Orlando Sentinel covered the "protests." WDW Employees got in on the act. It didn't matter - the ride closed for good on September 7 of that year.
Therefore the only remaining Mr. Toad's Wild
Ride is at Disneyland, on the site of the original same-named
attraction. It's not the same rudimentary Toad that opened there in 1955;
that original attraction closed along with the rest of DL's old Fantasyland
in 1981 and underwent a major renovation. The current version opened
in 1983. While its exterior, the fully-dimensional Tudor-style
Toad Hall, exceeds in presentation the original medieval tent entrance
(and that of WDW's Toad), the Disneyland ride itself is a little
compromised. I say that, of course, as someone who grew up with WDW's
version. I'm sure people who grew up with the original DL Toad love the new
one because it beats the socks off its predecessor. But WDW's Toad surpassed
both DL versions in every manner except for
the tent facade.
Approaching the attraction from any direction, guests could see past the entry facade and sheltered queue to the detailed Load area mural. At opposite ends of the mural were mirror image train tunnels from which emerged two neverending streams of motor cars, freshly returned from each track's satanic finale. Lining the bridge over each tunnel were the principal characters from the ride (Toad, Cyril, MacBadger, Ratty, Moley and Winky) along with some gypsies, weasels and bobbies. Leading away from the tunnels, past each track's Unload, Load and Dispatch points, was an idyllic depiction of the English countryside dotted with thatched-roof cottages and lush rolling hills. Throughout the Load area and queue echoed the lilting refrain of "The Merrily Song" (the only lyrical music from Disney's Toad film, written by Churchill, Gilbert, Morey & Wolcott) and the constant recorded instructions to "Step out to your right...when the car stops, step out to your right please." The focal point of the entire scene was stately Toad Hall, with its turrets, parapets and eleven (!) chimneys. Cars funneled into its central Tudor arch portal, where they separated and burst through the first of many walls in their catastrophe-bound journeys. Both tracks began in the Toad Hall scene, where they had their first of several near misses with both other cars and "obstacles" in their path. The marble statue of Toad swiveled toward the cars as if ready to crash, while opposite the statue the amicable Moley stood on a high-backed yellow chair and tipped his hat at riders.
From that point on the cars went their own way within the Hall and, as mentioned above, encountered unique situations along each route. Riders on Track A doubled back from the statue of Toad toward the doors leading to the Trophy Room and riders on Track B headed straight into the fireplace at the opposite of of the room, which gave way and allowed them into the Library. How the tracks played out scene by scene is charted above on either side of the ride map link.
A few of these areas, such as the two Blackouts and Train Tunnels on either track, were incredibly stark (the Blackouts were literally empty rooms with walls painted black). The Barn and One Way Tunnel scenes were also devoid of scenery save for, respectively, flying chickens and neon-colored warning signs. But most of the other rooms were rendered in full-circle, albeit cartoonish, detail. In the Kitchen, for example, there was a three-dimensional wood block table with a piece of steak and meat cleaver sitting on it...yet it was positioned in a spot that made it all but impossible for guests to see it. In the Jail scene, the walls were adorned with wanted posters for various Anglican rogues ... aside from Toad himself there were calls for "Liverpool Lill," "Picadilly Pete," "Malcolm the Mutilator" and others. The Town Square environment was stocked with storefronts that could scarcely be appreciated due to the speed and proximity of the passing cars.
Aside from the breakdown of separated scenes, there was a further curious dichotomy between the two tracks that may or may not have been planned. Track A, for example, was the only side with female human characters and it featured not one but five (six if you include the tantalizing painting of Rapunzel on the north wall of Winky's Pub). Track B was the only side containing law enforcement figures. It was also the only side where MacBadger could be found, while Ratty only appeared along Track A (Moley appeared twice for Track A riders but only once - in Toad Hall - for those on Track B.)
Furthermore, Track A took riders through the Gypsy Camp before the Town Square scene, and right before Track A led out of Town Square into Winky's Pub there was a balloon vendor who looked just like one of those gypsies. Track B took riders across the Barnyard and Barn scenes - past a pig, bull and the aforementioned chickens - before Town Square, and the first building in Town Square that Track B riders passed by was a butcher's shop with a bull's head over the door, plus a suckling pig and chickens displayed in the front window. If those weren't deliberate echoes, it's a maddening set of coincidences.
Rolly Crump stated in a 2003 interview that he had not engineered any sort of repeating motifs along those lines and thought that they may have been added later by other artists. The fact that the balloon vendor was an animated prop made out of metal, therefore not an easy addition as something would be if it were just painted in, suggests that these were original design elements. Crump may not have noticed the correlations, though, if they weren't done on purpose.
One thing he did intentionally, without question, was make sure that riders didn't have the same experience on both tracks. He said the reason for Toad's two tracks began with a dictate from Dick Nunis, then-director of park operations overseeing WDW's development, to build two Toad tracks side by side for Florida. Nunis requested this because Toad was the most popular dark ride at Disneyland (which helps to explain how it ended up in Florida) and he felt that double the capacity would be needed for WDW. Crump stated that he wasn't going to build two Toad rides but came up with the idea for one ride with two tracks that would provide guests with different scenery. If different members of the same family chose separate sides of the queue and compared notes later on what they saw, it wouldn't exactly match up. "I was playing with people's heads on it," Crump said, "that's why I wanted two different stories."
The most perplexing piece of minutiae, however, and
surely one of the most fascinating things about the ride for anyone who
knew about it, was found in the Library scene. On MacBadger's desk
there sat two inkwells and a solitary spindle upon which were affixed a
series of small note papers. Those who remember the first appearance
of MacBadger in the film will recall that his time at the desk was spent
tallying the various expenses that Toad's estate had incurred as a result
of Toad's destructive countryside rampages in the gypsy cart with
Cyril. In the ride, the top note on the spindle actually had a
hand-lettered breakdown of one account that had to be settled in the
amount of 100 pounds sterling. The damaged items were "1 Rowboat, 20
ft. clothesline, 1 Canary-colour Gypsy Cart and 6 Chickens." It
would have been a stretch to have expected riders to notice the spindle in
the first place, let alone ever detect that there was writing on one of
the notes. But to actually have a straightforward listing of things
Toad had demolished, in a place where no one could ever read it, was
irrevocably brilliant. How did one find out about this kind of
thing? You either A) walked through as an employee when the ride was
shut down and took notice of it or B) jumped out of your car while the
ride was open and ripped it off the spindle not expecting to find writing
on it, but you did, and a few months later did it again when you were just
as amazed to learn that the purloined note was replaced with another containing the exact same list of items.
Either way, MacBadger's accounting process was immaculate!
Contemplating the ride from this standpoint is maybe a matter of more gravity than recounting the features of a closed Caribbean Plaza game room, because it means coming to terms with the fact that WDW, which in 1978 was the absolute coolest place on the planet, had in the span of 20 years divested itself not just of some relatively minor oddities but also some of the most fantastic attractions ever built by man, of which Toad was certainly one.
Arguing for the supremacy of one theme
park ride over another borders on foolishness (or
embodies foolishness, you can decide that for
yourself), but on a site dedicated to ex-WDW attractions
there's nothing too far askew where Toad's concerned. I
can't actually prove to anyone that Toad was better than The
Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, If You Had Wings,
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Horizons, World of Motion, 20,000 Leagues
Under The Sea or The Haunted Mansion. I loved all those rides,
but for me Toad edges them out because its combination of
Crump's singular design elements, two distinct tracks, highly
unlikely subject matter and lack of adherence to a rational
script made the experience something one step beyond
any other ride I've experienced and also made it ripe for riding
again and again. As a kid it took me a short
eternity to remember which line to get into if I wanted to ride
through Winky's Pub, and if I chose correctly I got to see that
barmaid. If I was wrong, no problem, I helped weasels bust out
of jail. Florida's Toad was the end result
of Crump pushing the dark ride envelope as far
as possible within the parameters of a budget and Disney
source material. He worked beautifully with the former, using
inexpensive flats to their best possible effect, and just riffed loosely
on the latter ... creating supplementary characters out of thin air and
making Grahame's own cast accomplices to a zany black light
mindfrack. One's head spins thinking of what Crump
might have done had the Oriental Land Company challenged him to
top Florida's Toad in Tokyo, and why the Japanese missed out on
that opportunity is a mystery for the ages.
"One does not argue about The Wind
in the Willows. The young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in
love, and, if she does not like it, asks her to return his letters. The
older man tries it on his nephew, and alters his will accordingly. The
book is a test of character. We can't criticize it, because it is
criticizing us. But I must give you one word of warning. When you sit down
to it, don't be so ridiculous as to suppose that you are sitting in
judgment on my taste, or on the art of Kenneth Grahame. You are merely
sitting in judgment on yourself. You may be worthy: I don't know. But it
is you who are on trial."
|Part II - Beyond Closure|
Thanks to 1988's Who Framed Roger
Rabbit, the weasels from Disney's Wind in the
Willows were reincarnated back into a more common latter-day usage,
although now the Roger Rabbit hype is also vanquished. At least it
didn't settle before the weasels were committed to a fairly permanent home
in Disneyland's Toontown. Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, another dark ride,
houses a healthy array of the villainous vermin (fully sculpted,) wreaking
havoc on Roger Rabbit, Benny the Cab and Jessica Rabbit. Some of
today's young visitors to that park who have yet to see the pertinent
films must wonder exactly what the connection is between those weasels and
the ones in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride...the same way I used to wonder if the
teenage daughters from Space Mountain's Home of Future Living and GE's
Carousel of Progress ever called each other on the phone to talk about
Elvis or Blondie.
IMAGES - click on any of the thumbnails below for larger images
|more images coming!|
|AUDIO - click on the LP icons or track names below to hear or download audio files|
|VIDEO - the selections below can also be found on WYW's YouTube Channel (click here to visit)|
|Part IV - Links to other Mr. Toad's Wild Ride Sites & Resources|