This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at 6 Movies Filmed Inside Disneyland and Walt Disney World! Over the years we’ve covered many television shows that were shot at Walt Disney World including Full House, Boy Meets World, and Hulk Hogan’s Thunder in Paradise (a show so awful it makes Baywatch seem as well written as Game of Thrones by comparison.) Today we are going to look at movies that were filmed inside the Disney parks, both in Florida and out in California. The movies shot on Disney property are wide ranging; from big budget films starring George Clooney and Tom Hanks, to small independent guerrilla filmmakers who shot their scenes on the sly without Disney’s knowledge. Consider this a SPOILER WARNING, as we’ll be discussing plot points of each film. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at some of the more notable Silver Screen entries, starting with…
# 6 – Saving Mr. Banks
A film clearly designed to be “Oscar bait” yet surprisingly ended up with almost no Oscar nominations, Saving Mr. Banks is the story of how Walt Disney convinced author P.L. Travers to let him adapt her Mary Poppins book into a movie. Featuring a cast filled with Hollywood heavyweights including Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, and Colin Farrell, Saving Mr. Banks is an interesting look at two creative people at loggerheads over what became a beloved film. At one point in the movie Walt Disney (played by Hanks) invites Travers (played by Thompson) to Disneyland. Here we get some nice moments, including Walt handing out pre-autographed cards to fans, and a thoughtful look to the window on Main St. dedicated to Elias Disney, the father of Walt Disney. Walt and PL walk through the castle and make their way onto King Arthur’s Carrousel, where we get another charming moment when Walt tells Travers he won a $20 bet by being able to get her on a ride. The two don’t spend much time in the park, and theme park fans will easily spot the differences between the Disneyland park of 2013 (when the movie was filmed) and the one in 1963, when the movie takes place.
# 5 – Escape From Tomorrow
If there was a single movie that could define the term next level bonkers, Escape From Tomorrow would be it. Before its release, Escape From Tomorrow received a lot of buzz from the theme park community, as the majority of the movie was filmed at Disneyland and Walt Disney World without Disney’s permission. Many expected Disney to bring an immediate lawsuit once the film was actually released, but instead the film came and went without one peep from The Mouse. Unlike SeaWorld, who reached out to media before the movie Blackfish was released and ended up just causing more people to search out the film, Disney let Escape From Tomorrow come and go without any fanfare.
For theme park fans, there is something fun about Escape From Tomorrow in seeing the sheer amount of attractions and areas used in the film. Unfortunately, if you are a theme park fan who would like to see something like that, you are almost punished as the film uses scenes shot from Disneyland and Walt Disney World in the same sequences. It will drive you nuts. Speaking of nuts, the story of Escape From Tomorrow revolves around a man (Jim) on a Disney vacation with his wife and two kids. On the last day of the trip Jim is fired from his job via phone (a call which he takes while out on the balcony of his room at The Contemporary.) The family goes to the parks, and Jim soon becomes obsessed with a pair of French teenagers who ride with the family on the monorail. At the park, Jim begins having hallucinations, as well as creepily following the teenagers. We the viewers do get to see the family enjoy a lot of rides, including it’s a small world, Autopia, and even Snow White’s Scary Adventure, but the story itself may cause you to drink more than Jim does at Biergarten. The final act of the movie is pure insanity. It takes place “under” Spaceship Earth and has scientists informing Jim he has been part of a long-term experiment by the Siemens corporation. It all ends with the Jim dying and being replaced by a replica Jim, checking into The Contemporary with a new family. Of all the movies on the list, Escape From Tomorrow needs, nay, demands to be an episode of How Did This Get Made?
# 4 – 40 Pounds of Trouble
Made in 1962, 40 Pounds of Trouble is about a casino manager (played by Tony Curtis) taking care of a 7 year old child whose father has recently died. The kid wants to go to Disneyland, and for 20 minutes the film follows their adventures in the park. It is like a commercial for Disneyland, except this movie was made by Universal. Theme park fans are going to love this look at Disneyland, as there are absolutely gorgeous shots of the Matterhorn, Skyway, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and even Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland. The movie was the product of the 1960s, so this was a time when men were portrayed as devilishly handsome playful cads, while women were either their conquests or bitter shrews. As they say, it is what is, but at least you can enjoy one of the best looks at early 1960s Disneyland.
# 3 – Tomorrowland
A movie written by Lost‘s Damon Lindelof, directed by The Incredibles’ Brad Bird, and starring George Clooney. A pedigree like that guarantees a hit, right? Wrong. Tomorrowland was a heavily anticipated film by the theme park community, but it never connected with the more casual film audience as the heavily promoted movie (which cost almost $200M to make) grossed less than $100M domestically. There is a lot to love in Tomorrowland, and when the movie starts off at the 1964 World’s Fair it is wonderful. Here we get to see Clooney’s character as a child experience it’s a small world. The scene was actually filmed in Disneyland. There was going to be another scene featuring Carousel of Progress, but it was cut from the film and can only be seen as part of the bonus features. Many theme park fans (including Captain Cruseline who has pictures of when Tomorrowland was filming at Magic Kingdom’s Carousel of Progress) wanted more of this part of the story. A Pixar animated short of Plus Ultra, the group of men and women that founded the city of Tomorrowland (a group which included none other than Walt Disney) was also cut (but can be seen HERE.) Many blamed the marketing for Tomorrowland’s lack of success, with the general feeling that the ads just didn’t get across what the movie was actually about. Sometimes the “mystery” of a plot can help a movie or TV show (with Lindelof’s own LOST being a great example) but oftentimes if an audience isn’t sure what they are about to get into, they don’t give it a chance.
# 2 – The Florida Project
One of the surprise critical hits of 2017 was The Florida Project, a movie which takes an unflinching look at a class of people living right outside Disney’s doorstep. The film explores the daily lives of Halley and her 6-year old daughter Moonee, who live in The Magic Castle, a motel near Walt Disney World. Both funny and heartbreaking, it would have been interesting and gutsy choice for The Florida Project to have Moonee’s mom be a Disney Cast Member, as many CMs have very similar lives. Outside of a couple scenes involving MagicBands, the film doesn’t involve Disney much until the controversial ending. About to be separated from her mom by Child Protective Services, Moonee runs to a friend’s apartment. Moonee and her friend then “escape” by running all the way to Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The last two minutes of the film are a stark contrast to everything that came before it, and the Disney scenes were all filmed on an iPhone compared to a traditional camera. The ending is left for the audience to decide what is real and what is not.
# 1 – The Further Adventures of Walt’s Frozen Head
The Further Adventures of Walt’s Frozen Head is an independent film that is set to be released later this year, but thanks to some Bothan spies, we were able to get a copy of it. Funded by the Disney fan community via Kickstarter, the movie is about a theme park employee who bumps into Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen head during his annual “de-thawing.” Walt’s Frozen Head – played by Ron Scheinder of Dreamfinder fame – convinces the employee to “kidnap” him and the both of them go to Magic Kingdom for the day to fulfill Walt’s final dream. A labor of love that comes across on the screen, The Further Adventures of Walt’s Frozen Head is filled with humor and heart, just like the best theme park dark rides. Made by theme park fans, for theme park fans, this is one film to check out when you get a chance.
Be sure to follow WaltsFrozenHead on the Twitter machine for more updates on the film (along with quality theme park zaniness.) As of this writing the account actually has more followers than Your Humble Author, which makes even less sense than the plot of Escape From Tomorrow.
Honorable Mention: Ernest Saves Christmas
Fun Fact: Ernest Saves Christmas is one of the rare Hollywood studio movies to be filmed almost entirely in Orlando, Florida. Urban explorer Adam the Woo has a great video looking at some of the Orlando locations used during the shoot, but a large part of the 1988 film was also shot at the then-unfinished Disney MGM Studios. While most of the scenes were filmed in the production sound stages, there is a moment in which Ernest arrives at a house that was featured on the Studio Backlot Tour.
So there you have it: Six Movies Filmed in Disneyland and Walt Disney World! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, Tim Grassey co-host of the brand new Marty Called podcast (be sure to check that one out!), and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with goofballs co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde , while fellow Potterheads may enjoy Meg’s work on the Central Florida Slug Club.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2018 Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now!