Last Update to this page: May 25, 2016
When people write “seriously” about Walt Disney World history, especially people who actually witnessed the first 25 years of their subject matter, they often overlook or downplay Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and make their seriousness look stupid for failing to recognize the attraction’s brilliance. WDW’s Toad wasn’t just some dark ride that was shut down because no one rode it anymore, it was a very popular and well-attended work of genius defying logic on unidentical twin paths of brightly colored chaos, standing apart from everything Disney had built before or since and continuing to pick up dedicated fans – like a theme park equivalent of Syd Barrett – long after its departure from this world. When its impending closure was announced, the public calls for WDW to save Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from destruction may have fallen on the company’s least sympathetic / imaginative ears, but there’s no chance that the mistake will ever be forgotten. To the contrary, MTWR’s absence has only made more hearts that much fonder of what I feel, truly, to be the best ride ever built.
Toad’s 1998 demise was a sad, clear signal that nothing was certain about park attractions or their longevity, and also that devoted pleas would not be enough to save favorites from destruction. It also broadened the perceptible criteria for WDW management’s justification of such action; an attraction didn’t have to lose its sponsor, as had happened with If You Had Wings and Horizons, to find itself on the chopping block. Nor did it have to cost a ton of money to staff and maintain, like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea or suffer from chronically depressed hourly visitor counts, like the Walt Disney Story or the Kitchen Kabaret in their later years. All it really had to be was a relatively easy give on the road to an alternate (somewhere in particular) destination. In the case of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, that end point was the Hundred Acre Wood. The company wanted to build a Winnie-the-Pooh ride in the Magic Kingdom – something to advertise, draw new visitors and move merchandise – and felt that the most economically apt starting point was within the walls of an aging, less tangibly valuable attraction. One of the unfortunate moments in life is the one where you realize that this is how many people at many companies think. It’s rotten, but true; there’s no useful metric for assigning something like Toad a value based on the artistry behind it, its inherent coolness or how many people stepped out of its motorcars forever 1% more puzzled about the universe. Instead, most of the time these decisions just come down to things like “return on investment” and “value engineering” – terms that drive creative people insane. Most of the time it’s just a sordid matter of the easiest way to save money, make money or make even more money.
So MTWR ended up being the oddball tenant on a piece of commercially desirable Kingdom real estate. Given the company’s 1995 decision to do away with Main Street’s charming but sinister House of Magic (in order to use the space as part of the new, much larger and infinitely less interesting Main Street Athletic Club sport clothing store), the prospects for quirky old-timers in the path of anything with busier cash registers was already grim. And in case you’re unfamiliar, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was a few steps past quirky. For those fortunate enough to have experienced it in person, Toad’s utter weirdness made it one of the key things that defined a trip to WDW – one of the attractions that made the trip worthwhile. And it always had a line or, rather, two lines, which often grew so long that in 1993 they replaced the original vehicles with larger ones to increase its hourly ridership. In a park where capacity is a paramount concern and visitation helps to justify attractions’ long-term prospects, how is a ride like that a candidate for replacement? When its replacement is expected to be (at least) equally popular and have a footprint that leaves room for a gift shop at the exit.
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 crazy singularity. Given the time period, everything about it made sense.
What’s 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, was a household name and a 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 Revue , 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 2/3 completely 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.
Given these facts, it makes the ride’s 27-year existence a happy accident filled with odd stuff not found elsewhere in the dark ride world: a truckload of bobbies shooting it out with a carful of armed weasels, a barmaid with stunning cleavage holding enough foamy beer to paralyze a horse, a full-blown gypsy camp in the midst of a musical celebration, a perplexed farmer dropping a bale of hay on riders’ heads, an elephant trophy head that trumpeted loudly from its wall-mounted plaque, a scandalous painting of a voluptuous nude woman and a suit of armor that toppled toward riders on cue. Toad Hall’s first expansive chamber was both stately and bizarre – ceilings decked with banners of nonsense heraldry, oak paneling lined with priceless paintings (whose subjects bore more than a passing resemblance to the master of the estate) and as its focal point a teetering marble statue of Mr. Toad himself. Town Square, where previously divergent cars were reunited for a spin around the heart of a busy English village, was stocked with panicked citizens trying to avoid the motorized onslaught of vehicles circling another statue of Toad – this one spinning atop the upraised hoof of his horse friend Cyril. And the whole of the ride presented a constant uncertainty as to just how one’s car would escape a particular environment: Would it be through the fireplace, a jail cell wall or a mountainous stack of barrels? No matter which way riders swerved or ducked, all roads ultimately led to a direct collision with a speeding locomotive in a pitch-black tunnel and an audience with Satan, surrounded by a horde of grinning red devils in the glowing volcanic bowels of hell.
Trying to quantify the beauty of all that lunacy is futile. Making sense of it is nearly as tough. According to the ride’s own mythology (Disney once had – and probably still does – printed ‘back stories’ on hand as training materials for every attraction, regardless of their simplicity), the action that takes place within is predicated on the conceit that it’s all part of Toad’s imagination, or in their words, Toad’s “crazy dream.” It sounds weak at first but has validity. 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 – the origin point for Toad’s canary-colored cart and Cyril – and also in Toad Hall’s Trophy Room and Kitchen areas where the domestics and service workers (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 quiet good nature, Rabbit appropriating Ratty’s fussiness 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. If, that is, he cared about rides.
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 – the same way 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 will endure as the real Bert in the general public’s collective consciousness, as he already has for over 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, even though Mr. Toad is patently brown, 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.
Not only was the WDW incarnation larger, with the aforementioned two tracks, but either half of the ride taken on its own was still a more involved and stylistically superior experience compared to the DL attraction. To a large extent, credit for this must be given to Disney artist Rolly Crump for his oddball, hyperchromatic design style. Crump’s contributions to DL and WDW are fairly well-documented, with his most enduring work having been many of the toys and kinetic elements of both parks’ It’s A Small World rides, his wild tiki designs and several props for the Haunted Mansions*. Some of the character designs he came up for WDW’s Toad evoke the character style seen in 1961’s The Saga of Windwagon Smith. In that short film one sees the genesis of the some animals and people that came to populate Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Florida. Molly Crum, who served drinks in the Star of the West Saloon, reminds me of the barmaid in Winky’s Pub. The little dog that spazzed out when the windwagon rolled into town is a close cousin to the panic-stricken dog in MTWR’s Town Square. And Mayor Crum shares nearly the same profile as the constable in the Jail scene. Only the characters that came straight from The Wind in the Willows film were not subjected to this treatment, and the blend of the two categories somehow worked.
Disneyland’s 1983 Toad ride attempts to infuse its confined spaces with third-dimensionality through trompe l’oiel painting techniques and a few sculpted pieces added where space was available (it borrows the statue of Cyril and Toad that first appeared in WDW’s Toad). But at Disneyland the scenic artwork overreaches in several scenes and the passageways often feel claustrophobic. WDW’s Toad was much more open in terms of its floor plan, with larger rooms that enabled several twists and turns in any given space. Town Square alone was massive, with both tracks circling a grassy planter and leaving enough room on the outer perimeter for a wide range of townspeople caught up in the chaos.
The Florida ride’s artwork was deceptively simple. Outside of the superb mural in the load area (with its warm, loving treatment of Toad Hall, the countryside and the ride’s key characters), the ride was very much like driving through a psychedelic coloring book. Although there was plenty of detail, less effort went toward lending its flat plywood characters and scenery false shadows or extra dimension than was the case at Disneyland. At WDW a few key pieces were completely three-dimensional, but most of the ride achieved its depth by staggering flat pieces out closer to the track – a theatrical technique that worked amazingly well. Disneyland’s Toad corridors are too narrow for this same effect to be given a chance to succeed. While some of the artwork inside is more detailed than was Florida’s, it is unfortunately not as outrageous, fun and colorful as what Crump perpetrated in Florida. And Disneyland’s generic human characters are missing the cohesive cartoon madness once found in the WDW version. So unfortunately there’s no longer a Disney attraction that truly matches the insanity WDW’s Toad sublimely offered for just over a quarter-century. Without expecting to capture its glory in words, I’ll try some further explanation of the ride’s main aspects.
* WDW’s Toad ride was in fact the closest that any Disney attraction came to being a realization of Crump’s “Museum of the Weird” concept. Although The Haunted Mansion saw a few of his prop designs come to life, MTWR was the first and only full-blown execution of Crump’s ‘Weird’ color scheme married to architectural and design motifs on any serious scale.
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 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 great 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 it was an original design element. 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!
The names of the cars, which repeated across the entire fleet, were Mr. Toad, Toady, Ratty, Moley, Mac Badger, Cyril, Winky and Weasel. The original cars were among the most visually appealing ride vehicles ever created: compact, clever and stylish one-seat roadsters that were perfect for whipping around tight corners and leaving chaos in their wake. The two-seater replacements that debuted in December of 1993 were, by comparison, oafish. All sense of delicate proportion and toylike charm was given over to boxy ‘boats with wheels’ that moved through the ride as if dragging anchors. In all probability the speed difference was negligible, but still noticeable to anyone who’d ridden the old cars ad nauseum. Not to mention the fact that it deprived the park of one more ride where you could be assured a modest amount of privacy with a companion for at least two minutes. Once the new vehicles arrived, your chances of getting paired with another couple or some unloved, sweaty single rider were virtually guaranteed if there was any type of line.
There were only a few other changes as a result of the 1993 rehab. Some of the three-dimensional animation didn’t appear to function any longer: Moley in Toad Hall didn’t tip his hat, the statue of Toad no longer swayed precariously on its pedestal and the smaller Toad statue on Cyril’s hoof in Town Square had also ceased to spin. Many of the interior scenes were repainted to give off a more radiant black light glow. For a moment in time the cars bumped over “railroad ties” when first enterting the train tunnels, but that effect was quickly retired. Finally, the ride’s original entrance facade and sign were rebuilt with a slightly more elaborate appearance (a statue of Toad was added within the marquee) and in the year following the ride’s reopening, decorative planters were added to both sides of the main entrance arcade. The last of the discernable modifications to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride took place in 1995 and 1996 when the background music tracks in the Load area and Toad Hall, respectively, were updated to match the Disneyland Toad song. If it weren’t for the new vehicles, though, most people wouldn’t have known the ride was altered in any respect from its original version.
That is to say, the ride was still criminally fun even in those bulky cars. Anyone who failed to appreciate the appeal of careening headlong through room after room of menacing ridiculousness, all whilst in the guise of an obsessed amphibian, needed a head check. And anyone who would willingly opt to see Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride gutted to make room for Winnie-the-Pooh would be just as suspect. Yet someone made the horrible final decision and let the demolition commence.
When rumors of MTWR’s impending demise made The Orlando Sentinel’s pages in 1997, the letter-writing campaigns and other efforts of earnest fans seemed like bittersweet exercises in futility. It was reassuring to discover how many people cared about the ride, but sad to feel as if its number was up just the same and that protesting would be in vain. And in many respects the park no longer deserved such a wonderful thing as Toad, having long since begun the process of expunging itself of magnificent curiosities. Fortunately, however, with the rumors and warnings there was ample opportunity for those who loved the attraction to set about preserving it in sight and sound. This at least ensures that it will perpetuate itself in multitude forms as time passes, making certain that in thousands of minds the ride will thrive as a source of fascination despite its physical absence.
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 epitomizes foolishness – you decide), but on a site dedicated to ex-WDW attractions there’s nothing too far “out there” 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 wacky 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 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 mindfuck. 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.
Since Toad debuted in Florida, the Dr. Seuss Sky Trolley (Islands of Adventure, 2007) has been the only other Orlando ride to offer the kind of two-track duality first established in east Fantasyland. But for as great as the Sky Trolley is – and I love it – as a 90% outdoor ride it isn’t able to throw the intense curve balls that bounced through Toad Hall and the various chambers beyond. It’s not THAT kind of ride.
Probably I’ve spent too much time thinking and writing about Toad. but whenever I find myself realizing that in the grand scheme of things there are far more important things than dark rides (which is, in point of fact, potentially true), there are also reminders that some rides just plain mattered to me and a bunch of like-minded others regardless of whether they should or not. Toad was as familiar to me by the age of nineteen as a family member, and its rapturous effect on my impressionable mind made for a constant in my life … I don’t get people who don’t get Toad. I’ve met people little more than half my age who, when they find out I like old Disney stuff, bring up Toad independently as one of their childhood favorites; I automatically know they are good people. Then I’ve met people older than me who, if I bring up Toad to gauge their interest, laugh the subject off as unworthy of discussion; I automatically know those people are jerks! Just the same, I’d rather hear people laugh it off than say, “Well, I liked it but I can kind of see why they got rid of it.” Come on! If you actually got to ride it – to take in that dark, twisted fantasy firsthand – can you rationalize its destruction without killing a part of your soul? Don’t make me watch you destroy your own spirit.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride will persist online and in our memories, and in years to come its removal from WDW will remain a black mark on the karmic record of those who caused it to vanish. No matter how strange its existence or how basic its execution, its destruction was completely avoidable. How could the same company who built this amazing ride not see, 26 years later, protesters upset about its impending closure as a sign that opportunities were being overlooked? Where was the Toad merchandise that would have tested park visitors’ true affinity for the ride back when it might have made a difference? Where was the “Save Toad Hall” campaign allowing guests to buy a piece of Toad’s estate in exchange for having their name etched on a plaque in the Town Square scene? Where was the argument that reversing the decision would have generated good will, especially after so many 20K fans were let down by the weightless statements Disney made about Nemo’s subs returning between 1994 and 1996? Where was the realization that a long-term win/win was infinitely more desireable than short-term cost savings? And where, seriously, was the slightest indication that the company did not in fact hold Toad fans in contempt by not even giving Winky ownership of the former Round Table and Lancer’s Inn next door … the same way Toad ran a restaurant in Paris? I mean, Gurgi from The Black Cauldron could underwrite a snack bar but Winky couldn’t?
That inability to detect something bigger afoot is sad, but what’s done is done. So when new hires are walked past Pooh during orientation and asked if they can name five characters from Wind In The Willows (Alison Matthews could!) and then asked if they can name five Winnie-the-Pooh characters, which anyone can do, they get a sense of the thought process that allowed all this to transpire. Again, it’s one of the unfortunate moments in life when the company that got rid of a ride this cool comes up with some kind of snarky, posthumous rationales for why it had to go down that way.
“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.”
A. A. Milne
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.
If you want to see Mr. Toad at Disney World today, you have to do one or more of the following: A. Ride The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh and look for the picture of Toad handing over the deed to Toad Hall to Owl (this image appears inside Owl’s windswept house). B. Look to the top of the pet cemetery outside the Haunted Mansion, where a statue of Toad was erected, supposedly with an epitaph referencing Pooh … but I can’t confirm that. The last time I was in the park the statue wasn’t there, so who knows. C. Go to the World of Disney store at Downtown Disney. There you can find his likeness and those of his closest companions, in a clerestory mural, where they are causing a commotion on an English street. The weasels are there also, being scattered about. D. Find the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride t-shirts that started showing up in Fantasyland (and maybe other shops – I don’t know) around 2009.
One great outcome of the WDW version of MTWR being so well loved is that it has inspired a phenomenal effort on the part of a Mr. Spencer Cook to rebuild the ride in stunning digital detail, right down to the black light glow bouncing off the walls. Although Spencer put the project on hiatus in 2008, he has left his work up to this point available for our amazement. Visit his Virtual Toad page
for a pleasant shock. A lot of Toad fans are hoping he’ll pick up where he left off in the near future.
There is of course still the Disneyland version of the ride, which should by no means be avoided for its failure to match the WDW incarnation. It is in its own right a very enjoyable experience and worthy of, as seems likely thanks to DL’s strong fan base, a long and prosperous existence. Additionally, for those fortunate enough to visit Disneyland Paris there is the quaint Toad Hall Restaurant which affords you the opportunity to stroll leisurely and dine within the charming estate through which those of us raised in the U.S. only got to drive motor cars.
More Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride Images & Video Links
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride Toad Hall Live Background Audio
mp3 file, 3.6mb, 3:55, recorded live in 1990
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride Town Square Live Background Audio
mp3 file, 1.8mb, 1:57, recorded live in 1990
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride Track B Barn / Chickens Background Audio
mp3 file, 8mb, 8:31, recorded live in 1994 – this is a good one to put on the ipod and use to annoy co-workers
The video below can also be found on WYW’s YouTube Channel (click here to visit)
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – Extinct WDW Attraction
Location: Fantasyland, Magic Kingdom Opened: October 1, 1971
Closed: September 7, 1998
Ticket Required: C (1971 – 1980)
Contributing Disney Personnel: Rolly Crump Descendant of: Disneyland’s original (1955) Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
Space Later Became: The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh
Remnants: Two allusions to Toad in Winnie-the-Pooh ride and a Toad statue in the Haunted Mansion’s pet cemetery
Influences Evident In: Disneyland’s renovated (1983) Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Disneyland Paris’ (1992) Toad Hall Restaurant
This page incorporates information and images provided to WYW by Christopher Merrit and Ross Plesset
All images copyright The Walt Disney Company. Text copyright 2016 by Mike Lee
First version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride page posted to WYW September 1998 Updated October 2002 (additional images & text), February 15, 2008 (additional image & sound files) and April 23, 2011 (page overhaul with new text, map, new images, new audio and video embeds), February 23, 2012 (additional images)
Page rebuilt May 25, 2016