When counting down a trip to Walt Disney World, there are a number of things that need to be done from deciding how many suitcases to take, to setting a souvenir budget, to breaking in that new pair of walking shoes. But for me, there’s one more thing that I always have to do when counting down those last few anticipation-filled days, and that’s refreshing my memory and getting in the Disney spirit with a few movies! Kicking back with some popcorn to revisit a classic Disney flick, or even checking out a film for the first time, will only add to your overall Disney World experience. So go pop some popcorn and get ready for a movie marathon with my list of movies to see before your Disney World Vacation!
But first, let me explain how I came up with this list. Naturally, I included a number of Disney animated classics, even though it was really really hard to narrow down my favorites; but just so you know, I based my selections on what films I felt were represented the most at Walt Disney World or a huge part of Disney World history. Secondly, my list is not just Disney animated films, but also live-action Disney films and non-Disney films which are either represented in the parks or, again, played a big role in Disney history or as Imagineering inspiration! But as always, if you feel that I missed an important movie, or would simply like to add to the list, please do so in the comments.
Okay, are you ready for the list? Here we go…
Disney’s first princess film since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella is one of the most beloved and important films Walt Disney ever made. The film’s release in 1950 was so successful that it revitalized the Disney Company after World War II and kick-started the decade in which we would get the first Disney Park: Disneyland. Why you should revisit Cinderella before your Disney World retreat is because the Magic Kingdom’s castle is called Cinderella Castle! Inside the castle, a sparkly mosaic tells Cinderella’s story and there’s even a themed restaurant, Cinderella’s Royal Table, where guests meet Cinderella herself and dine in a medieval, fairy tale setting. Characters from Cinderella are also known to meet guests around Cinderella Castle and throughout Fantasyland; and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa offers a special character meal at 1900 Park Fare where Cinderella, Prince Charming, and her dysfunctional family meet with guests as they dine. All in all, Cinderella is an important film at Walt Disney World and is definitely worth a watch before you pass through the park turnstiles.
Why is this film my first pick? Well, believe it or not this 1951 classic, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, inspired the Disney Park staple, The Jungle Cruise. Walt Disney saw this film himself and wanted to recreate the experience in his upcoming Disneyland Park. Although, he planned for guests aboard his boats to see live wildlife on the shores, just as the characters in The African Queen did! Of course, live animals wasn’t exactly doable at the time, nor would they be willing to appear and entertain when a boat passed by every few minutes; and so, the plan for live animals was scrapped in favor of one of Walt’s newest innovations: audio-animatronics. Walt’s vision for an attraction where guests could be entertained by live African wildlife was finally realized in 1998 when Kilimanjaro Safaris opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. In this way, The African Queen technically inspired two attractions at Walt Disney World! This is why I encourage anyone going to Walt Disney World to check out The African Queen. While I’ve always loved the Jungle Cruise, seeing the film which inspired it gave me a whole new appreciation for this classic attraction. Tip: Look for The African Queen poster on Sunset Boulevard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Beauty and the Beast became an instant classic when it arrived in theaters in 1991 and was actually Disney’s first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture! Beauty and the Beast is worth watching anytime; but you should definitely see it again before your Disney World Vacation, particularly if you haven’t been to Walt Disney World in recent years. Why? Because the Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland has a whole Beauty and the Beast themed area that makes you feel as if you’ve wandered right into the film! This new area offers the Enchanted Tales with Belle attraction, where guests enter Maurice’s cottage and then are magically transferred to the Beast’s library to meet with Belle herself! There’s also the incredibly detailed Gaston’s Tavern which proves Gaston truly does use antlers in all of his decorating. The best part of all is the Be Our Guest Restaurant, located inside the mountain topped with the Beast’s Castle. This restaurant has three themed dining rooms, such as the film’s signature ballroom and the Beast’s West Wing! Also, over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, fans can take in Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage. It’s an incredible show and Disney World’s version of a Broadway production.
Inspired by the classic book, The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss, Walt Disney’s film version tells the story of a shipwrecked family who must find a way to survive on a tropical island. The movie was a big success when it first debuted in 1960, and was popular and well-known to audiences in the following decades but has somewhat faded in prominence in recent years. One of the highlights of the movie was the elaborate treehouse the Robinson family constructed out of the ship’s wreckage. As the movie was popular in years prior, Imagineers had a Swiss Family Treehouse attraction that guests could walk through at both the Disneyland Park and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Disneyland’s version was replaced with a Tarzan overlay in 1999, but the Magic Kingdom’s has thankfully retained its original theme. If you haven’t seen Walt Disney’s The Swiss Family Robinson, I encourage you to do so before heading to Walt Disney World to fully appreciate the classic treehouse attraction and to see a piece of Disney history!
One of my favorite shows at the Magic Kingdom is the Main Street Trolley Show. I love the old-fashioned costumes, the dancing, the charm, and just how it brings Main Street, U.S.A. to life. The Main Street Trolley Show performers often, and rather appropriately, perform to “The Trolley Song,” which just happens to be from the classic film Meet Me in St. Louis. This 1944 film starring Judy Garland tells the story of a turn-of-the-century family coping with everyday life, the prospect of having to move to New York, and the upcoming 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. But “The Trolley Song” isn’t the only reason why you should see this flick before your Disney World Vacation. Meet Me in St. Louis is a little glimpse of what life was like in the time of Main Street, U.S.A. and when Walt was growing up. Also, if you’re a Disney historian, you know that World’s Fairs played a huge role in the creation of a number of Disney attractions; and since we don’t have World’s Fairs today, it’s fun to see how they impacted the people living at that time.
One of the most famous films of all time, 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain is a great film to watch in preparation or your Walt Disney World Vacation for a number of reasons. The first is for the sake of history. Singin’ in the Rain is set in the 1920s and is about how Hollywood actors and actresses had to make the transition from silent films to sound. Walt Disney was in Hollywood during this transitional period in the entertainment industry and was one of the first to use sound in his cartoons, most famously in Steamboat Willie. Another reason why you see Singin’ in the Rain is because it is represented at two Walt Disney World Parks. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, The Great Movie Ride features a scene from Singin’ in the Rain, and there’s even a little photo-op homage to the film’s most famous moment on the Streets of America! (Note: This detail may disappear as the Imagineers begin construction on Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land.) The next reference to the film is at the Magic Kingdom, but only big fans of the film will notice it because it’s in the form of a song. The song is “Good Morning” and it’s usually performed during the Magic Kingdom Welcome Show. Bonus: The lead actress in Singin’ in the Rain is Debbie Reynolds, who just happens to be Carrie Fisher’s mom. Hey, Princess Leia is technically a Disney Princess these days, so it’s worth noting!
The Indiana Jones films, with the exception of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull because I’m still not over it, are essential to American culture and have a strong presence at Walt Disney World, especially at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This park features the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, a live show which highlights some of the stunt work primarily from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Those who aren’t familiar with Indiana Jones will still enjoy the show, but it’s so much better if you’ve seen at least one of the movies. Also, Hollywood Studios offers Indy merch at two locations, the Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost and the Indiana Jones Truck. This particular point is awesome for Indy fans because, unlike Star Wars, Indy merch is hard to come by outside the parks. Indiana Jones is also featured in a scene in The Great Movie Ride at Hollywood Studios; but one of the biggest reasons why you need an Indy marathon before heading to Walt Disney World is the new Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar at Disney Springs. Jock Lindsey was Indy’s pilot in Raiders of the Lost Ark and this new destination is filled with relics and artifacts and a number of references to the Indiana Jones films. For an Indy fan, dining at this new restaurant is sort of an adventure within itself in trying to find all the fun Easter eggs and nods to Indiana Jones’ adventures!
You probably knew this was coming, didn’t you? Yes, you absolutely need to see Star Wars before going to Walt Disney World, especially these days as Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is a massive success and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is gaining Star Wars Land. For those that don’t know, Star Wars has had a presence at Walt Disney World since the early days of Hollywood Studios, previously known as MGM Studios, with the opening of the original Star Tours. The park had also hosted the incredibly popular Star Wars Weekends event for a number of years. But Star Wars Mania at Walt Disney World has reached whole new levels since Disney purchased Star Wars and released The Force Awakens. Nowadays, Star Wars merch is everywhere and, as I’ve already said, Hollywood Studios is in the process of gaining Star Wars Land and new Star Wars-themed entertainment! So to fully get the hype and the sense of anticipation at Walt Disney World these days, you just gotta see Star Wars. But which one? After all, there is seven and another is on the way. My personal opinion? If you’re new to Star Wars, begin with Episode IV: A New Hope and watch up through Episode VII: The Force Awakens if it’s still in theaters (or once it hits iTunes March 15). They have the strongest presence in the parks these days and I think they’re the best!
Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the most iconic, and popular, attractions Disney ever produced. Even those who have never been to a Disney Park know of Pirates of the Caribbean and its theme song, “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life For Me.)” In 2003, Disney released Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl which was inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean park attraction. The film also introduced one of the most popular characters ever, Captain Jack Sparrow. More Pirates of the Caribbean films followed; in fact, the franchise’s next installment, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, is slated to sail into theaters next year. However, the attraction which started it all hasn’t remained untouched by the success of the Pirates films. They have re-inspired the attraction with the addition of a few key characters from the film. This is why a Pirates of the Caribbean movie night is a great idea before taking a Disney World Vacation, just so park-goers can pick out and understand the new attraction details and enjoy the pirate mania! But like Star Wars, there are quite a few Pirates of the Caribbean movies. My pick? Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. It’s the first and, in my opinion, the best and not quite as self-indulgent and slapstick as the others. You will also fully get the all hype about the franchise and the character of Captain Jack just from this film. For major Pirates of the Caribbean fans, or for those with junior pirates in their families, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort offers special pirate-themed rooms so the pirate experience can continue even after you’ve left the park.
Pixar is a huge part of the Disney Parks and Resorts these days. Even though the first Toy Story arrived in theaters in 1995, it’s hard for me to imagine what the world was like before Buzz and Woody and Lightning McQueen and Mater and Mr. and Mrs. Incredible. But of all the wonderful Pixar Movies and Characters, Toy Story has the strongest presence at Walt Disney World and that is exactly why it’s included on this list. For starters, at the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland, Toy Story fans can check out Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin; and at Hollywood Studios, the awesome and incredibly popular Toy Story Midway Mania and Pixar Place. However, Hollywood Studios is about to get even more Toy Story action with the upcoming addition of Toy Story Land! Finally, the All-Star Movies Resort has a whole section themed after Toy Story which will truly make you too feel the size of a toy. So of all the Pixar Movies to revisit before your Walt Disney World Vacation, my recommendation is most definitely any of the Toy Story films.
So that’s my list of movies to watch before your Disney World Vacation. Did I miss any? I hope my list will help get you in the Disney mood, educate you on some Disney history, or at least help you to impress your kids by knowing that name of that certain Disney character. Be sure to tell me what movies you have to watch before packing your bags for Disney World in the comments below!