I’ve been thinking a lot about the Magic Kingdom lately. Maybe it’s because the first phase of the Fantasyland expansion is due to open soon. Or maybe it’s because I recently calculated that a one-day trip to Walt Disney World for my wife and I would cost us around $370, and the Magic Kingdom is currently the only park on property worth that kind of money.
Whatever the reason, I got to thinking about which movies in the Disney catalog best capture the essence of the different lands of the Magic Kingdom. And after some deliberation, I came up with a list. Now, there are five Magic Kingdom parks around the world (and Shanghai will make six) and no two are exactly alike. But each of them includes, in some form, Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland. That’s why I’ve restricted my movie choices to those areas, and not selected, for example, a Liberty Square movie or a Critter Country movie. So, let’s kick off the Magic Kingdom Movie Marathon with my pick for the quintessential Main Street movie:
Yes, it’s The Happiest Millionaire. Although it’s set about a decade after the turn-of-the-century period that Main Street is supposed to depict, it still captures that area’s early-20th century exuberance. Some of its music can even be heard as part of the Main Street background loop.
Next up, the Adventureland movie:
Swiss Family Robinson. Not only is it one of my favorite films of all time, it’s got all the elements of Adventureland except Dole Whips: the jungle, the treehouse, and even pirates. Plus, it’s got that whole the-tropics-as-seen-through-the-lens-of-19th century Europeans thing going on. In fact, the only thing I don’t like about this movie is how Francis is the single most annoying film character not named Jar-Jar Binks or Chris Tucker. His obtuse stupidity is always endangering the family, and in real life a tiger would have eaten him ten minutes after they landed on the island.
Now we come to Frontierland. There’s really only one choice here:
What, you were expecting The Apple Dumpling Gang? Davy Crockett is the reason why Frontierland took up one-third of Disneyland’s acreage when it opened in 1955. Fess Parker’s version of the character was the Optimus Prime of the 1950s.
It was a little tough to choose a quintessential Fantasyland film, but I finally went with this one:
Really, I suppose you could have picked any of the “princess films” of Walt’s era, but I went with Cinderella because it’s the most polished and its songs are the most memorable. Also, Cinderella’s Castle at Florida’s Magic Kingdom has been used as the template for the castles in Tokyo and Paris.
And now we come to Tomorrowland, and the only film on this list that is not older than I am:
It was not a big hit, nor is it viewed as a classic like the other films listed here. But Meet The Robinsons is the perfect Tomorrowland movie, and not just because we get a glimpse of Space Mountain and the StarJets, but because it positively oozes optimism about the future, which is pretty rare in movies these days.
So those are my picks for the Disney movies that best represent the lands that make up the Magic Kingdom, but wait! There’s one more thing. Every day at the Magic Kingdom is topped off by a nighttime spectacular; a show that combines visual spectacle with a grand musical soundtrack. And so, the last entry in our Magic Kingdom movie marathon is quite properly . . .
Thanks for reading, and if you have your own ideas about what Disney films best capture the sprit of Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, or Tomorrowland, please discuss them in the comments!