What's your favorite Disney theme park fan theory?

June 1, 2017, 7:50 AM · I love using my imagination to "complete" the story on many theme park attractions. Why is this ride here? Where does it fit in the canon of the franchise it represents? What's the backstory? And what's the future hold for these characters, after I exit?

With their emphasis on narrative over thrills, Disney theme park attractions especially have elicited this sort of consideration from their fans. You give us a little bit of story, and our imaginations will take it the rest of the way. One popular term for this is "headcanon," and that's the topic of my Orange County Register column this week.

What's your favorite headcanon for Disney theme park attractions? Or for attractions from Universal and other parks, as they dive deeper into immersive narrative in their parks?

Stories that answer every question, tie every loose thread, and resolve every conflict, frankly, can bore me. As much as I love resolution in a story, it's nice to have something to think about — and debate with other fans — too. Was Snape ultimately a good guy? Why is the Pirates' treasure cursed? Why is Taneleer Tivan's collection in Disney California Adventure?

Reading or hearing other fans' headcanon often inspires me to think about stories I thought I knew in different ways. And that, ultimately, just makes me more of a fan.

I want to make clear here that we're talking headcanon and not urban legends. The difference? Headcanon exists in the world of fiction, while urban legends are about things that are supposedly real (Walt frozen under the castle, emu instead of turkey legs, etc.)

So what's your favorite, or most twisted and thought-provoking, headcanon from the stories we see in theme parks? (One of my favorites: From Snow White's perspective, the apple worked. Think about it from her perspective....)

Read Robert's column:

Replies (9)

June 1, 2017 at 9:29 AM

After Pinoqio left Gepetto the old clockmaker became depressed and whaled into his loneliness. Then one night he had a dream that told him to build a companion. When he got awake he clearly had lost his mind and started to make the most disturbing dolls he could think off. His inspirations were all the places his little wooden boy could have been. That's how It's a Small World was created.

June 1, 2017 at 9:50 AM

Damn. That was fast to get a winner.

June 1, 2017 at 10:10 AM

Not sure if this fits the topic but one of my favorite is the man in the rocking chair in the original POTC. Why is that man there and who is he? It's a prominent position as the introduction to this massive ride and just before the first drop. I have always imagined that he is one of the pirates in the ride reminiscing about his past, and we are experiencing his memories. Maybe the pirates life was too intense for him so he retired to a meager but peaceful life on the bayou. I have heard people criticise that rides like POTC lack a story but I have always disagreed. Part of the genius is that the ride allows you to make your own story and fill in the blanks. Anyways I have always had a hard time believing that Walt and his imagineers just randomly put him there.

June 1, 2017 at 10:18 AM

I always love to imagine that with POTC, by pure chance, TWO pirate ships just happened to pick the exact same time to attack this town. That's why you have one ship firing on the town with pirates already inside. It's why some are locked up, they ran afoul of the other crew and this is all something of a race to get at the town vaults first.

Now with the addition of Jack Sparrow to it, you can imagine Jack was just wandering around minding his own business when this happened and just took advantage so while the two crews fight it out, he runs off with all the gold.

June 1, 2017 at 2:35 PM

Let's indict the whole concept of a story in an attraction. They are irrelevant. There's no way to have a decent length story in an attraction that lasts a few minutes. Disney tries to have a story, but it is their fault that people are so wrapped up in a story that brings justification to the attraction. Before, stories began and end within a ride. Then, stories begin in the queue and pre-show. Now, the entire land and theme park must be consistent with the attraction.

This is partially why people hate Guardians of the Galaxy for it not only didn't fit Hollywood Land, it didn't fit California Adventure. (They also do this to Avatar for they say it doesn't fit in with Animal Kingdom.) Guardians could have at least had the pretense that it's a Hollywood movie and it belonged there as a staged prop, but this conceit ignores future plans that Marvel Land is coming. Yet how does it fit California Adventure... it doesn't. Bug's Land doesn't belong there either so half of it will become Marvel Land as rumored.

Eventually, they have to conclude that the name California Adventure is all wrong and go with something more generic. Or not. Just Deal With It Land.

Headcanon: Guardians Mission Breakout is about breaking out of the Collector's Fortress because we don't want to be kept locked up in a concept. It's just wrong. Dance it off. Shake it like a Polaroid.

June 1, 2017 at 4:37 PM

Inspired by Anton M's comment:

What people don't get about the Walt-era rides was that YOU were the protagonist in the story. Which made the storytelling simple. Present the attraction as a classic adventure people would like to be involved in. That's it.

You are exploring the bayou in Louisiana, encounter an old storyteller, and get whisked away into an epic pirate adventure.

You enter a haunted mansion. As you're exploring, the ghosts materialize, and gradually get closer and closer to you. Finally, you climb out the attic window, shimmy down to the graveyard and find yourself in the midst of a huge spirit jamboree! The ghosts finally even get so close that they sit right next to you and follow you home. It's all about YOU as the hero and gets especially personal there at the end.

Along the same line, there's the old story about the Snow White ride in Fantasyland. Everybody kept asking "Where's Snow White?" The Imagineers were flummoxed: YOU were supposed to be Snow White. Evidently people didn't quite get that. (They finally added her right in the beginning during the Fantasyland redesign later.) Nevertheless, ach of the Fantasyland dark rides still puts you in the hero's vantage point.

That's really all the story an attraction needs. It becomes an adventure you are a part of. You are exploring an interesting place. There were tons of very specifi backstory ideas and scenarios planned for the Haunted Mansion (including all that Master Gracy stuff) but that was all nixed for the final product. For very good reasons.

Cramming too much of a narrative into a ride results in your being left out of the equation, and that makes it less personal. It also results in people screaming at you all the time. The Submarine Voyage went from being a wondrous, contemplative exploration of the sea (if--admittedly--a low tech one) to a screaming cacophony as the hyper projections now race to squeeze in every joke from "Finding Nemo."

Splash Mountain tries MIGHTILY to merge three Uncle Remus tales together and maybe it works and maybe it doesn't but you leave it feeling like a bunch of animals were bludgeoning you with words the whole time. (It's still a fun ride! It's just that there's no part for "you" to play in it.)

Worse, too much story can actually be insulting to the guest. "Temple of the Forbidden Eye" spends tons of time in trying to position us in story. However, we find that--instead of being awesome adventure heroes like Indiana Jones--we are cast as complete idiots who can't be trusted to not look at the eye of a vengeful God. We need saving and are also unworthy of it.

The Guardians of the Galaxy attraction makes sure you know that you have to raise your hand. However, then at the end (after lots of screaming and noise and action and series in-jokes and cameos) the characters then deliberately mock your lack of real heroism. "Why are we thanking them? They didn't DO anything."

Now I will say that Star Tours 2.0 does the story thing really well. Putting one of the guests into the picture makes us all participants in a heroic journey through different cool places. Good job there, Imagineers!

I didn't mean to write that much.

Headcanon: Harold in the Matterhorn is actually one of the Hoth Wampa beasts! He grabbed onto a Starspeeder once and flew back to Tomorrowland with us.

June 2, 2017 at 8:41 AM

My personal favorite is the meta theme theory regarding the pirate Jean Lafitte and the entirety of New Orleans Square. Many Disney records and sources have gone on record to state that this meta theme was suppose to be implemented fully, but a slew of factors led to it becoming muddled and ultimately abandoned. When New Orleans Square was built, Jean Lafitte was meant to be the unifying character which tied all of the major elements of the land together. A notorious pirate(PotC), Lafitte's exploits brought him great riches which he used to build his stately mansion in New Orleans (The Haunted Mansion). After settling down after his wild pirate days, Lafitte was said to marry a beautiful bride, from which he hid his previous life from. Unfortunately for the bride and Lafitte, old habits die hard, and he constructed an elaborate series of tunnels which led beneath the catacombs of his mansion and New Orleans to a secret stash of his pirate gold on a nearby island (Tom Sawyer Island). Upon their wedding eve, the bride found out about his secrecy life. Consumed with grief, she killed herself by jumping off the large cupola of the mansion, thus causing Lafitte to do the same by hanging himself from the rafters of his mansion. Other version say that it was Lafita who killed his bride after the discovery. This was apparently the original plan when mapping and designing NOS and you can still see remnants of this meta theme throughout Disneyland today. The landing riders depart from in PotC is called Lafittes landing and there is also an anchor in New Orleans Square which has a plaque which states it belonged to Laffite.

June 7, 2017 at 11:45 AM

Space, the final frontier. Not in Tomorrowland!
How space got put in a mountain is the story about the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter attraction. 'But it was build after Space Mountain opened', I hear you say...was it?
During the testing of the teleportation tube in 1994 (before the opening of the ride) something went wrong and a part of space got pulled through a hole in space and time and appeared in the early morning of January 15, 1975 in the mountain building that was erected to house a huge cabana that could be rented for an astronomical amount of money (that idea never died). That morning sponsor RCA ordered a new sign changing Cabana Mountain into Space Mountain.
The teleportation tube continued to be troublesome picking up wrong aliens and transporting them to the guest. The last alien was a criminal whose crime is burping. The ride is going to be dismantled and shipped to area 51 in the near future and X-S Tech is under criminal investigation due to the death of thousands of workers who ended their life while checking out a noise.
As a revance X-S Tech will materialise another deadly, orange alien in the Hall of Presidents in the near future.

June 7, 2017 at 9:26 PM

For a long time, my mother convinced me that Little Leota at the end of the Haunted Mansion was actually Jackie Kennedy. I seriously believed that until I was like 9.

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