The Most Disturbing Disneyland Attractions Ever
Disneyland is supposedly the happiest place on Earth, and it has certainly delighted millions of guests over the last 60-plus years. But it has also terrified more than a couple along the way. Despite its reputation for family-friendly entertainment, Disneyland is home to some of the most disturbing “children’s rides” this side of Six Flags Over Salò.
The content of some of these attractions is not shocking; you see a sign for something called the “Haunted Mansion” and you don’t expect a lot of rainbows and puppies (to be fair, the Haunted Mansion does have an animatronic dog shivering in terror at the edge of a graveyard). Still, some of Disneyland’s creepiest moments are found in the rides that you assume would be the most safe for young riders, the ones in kid-centric Fantasyland based on iconic Disney cartoons. Nope! They’re pure nightmare fuel!
For some, this list will serve as a warning; if you’re planning a trip to Disney with young children, you might want to think twice before dragging them to these spots. For others, it might be a trip down memory lane, to those good old days when you were traumatized for life by an animatronic of the Wicked Witch from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. And if you’ve never been to Disneyland, it might even convince you to book a trip to experience these gnarly scares for yourself. Don’t let Disney’s scrupulously mantained image fool you. This place is hardcore.
By and large, the Haunted Mansion is less spooky than kids expect it to be; look beyond the general ambiance of dread, and you’ll find singing specters, dancing spirits, and wacky hitchhiking ghosts. It’s mostly in good if dark fun. The main exception comes before the actual ride, in the pre-show known as the “Stretching Room,” where guests are herded upon their first arrival to the Mansion. It has no visible windows or doors, and the ominous narrator (Paul Frees) says there is no escape — except his way, at which point the lights in the room go out and the ceiling becomes translucent, revealing a corpse dangling from a noose attached to the ceiling. Yes, it’s Disneyland, the place where every single day, thousands of tourists are invited to hang themselves.
Nestled just behind Sleeping Beauty Castle in Fantasyland, in what looks like a handsome English manor, lies a truly bizarre journey. It begins harmlessly enough, in antique cars that careen through a series of sets designed to recall the 1949 Disney feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Then, all the havoc caused by your poor driving lands you in jail — and then, in the process of escaping a prison sentence, your car lands on some railroad tracks, right in the path of an oncoming train. You are summarily run over, killed, and sent to the actual, Biblical hell, an effect lent even more authenticity by the heat pumped into the ride to simulate the fiery depths of the abyss. You know, for kids! Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was an original Disneyland attraction in 1955, and if you want to make the argument that the company used to be a lot edgier than its sanitized reputation today, it’s a pretty solid Exhibit A.
Around the corner from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is a two-story Fantasyland attraction themed around Disney’s 1951 film Alice in Wonderland. While the early versions of the ride featured slightly more unsettling imagery (including an upside-down room and an oversized dandelion), its current incarnation is mostly harmless, with guests transported via giant caterpillar into brightly colored scenes inspired by the cartoon. Then you arrive at the Queen of Hearts, who demands your execution, screaming “Off with their heads!” In previous versions of the attraction, you blow past the Queen’s guards on your way out of the ride building, which gives the impression that you’ve escaped her royal wrath. As part of a refurbishment in 2014, most of the guard figures were removed, leaving just a door with a picture of some kind of swirling vortex on it. (That’s the version embedded above.) Without the guards, it ... kinda feels like the implication is the Queen beheaded you? And now your lifeless corpse is rolling down this hill back towards the entrance? What is a merry unbirthday, really, if not the day you are murdered by a cranky despot?
The abject horror that awaits tykes is right up on the marquee, which bills this dark ride (and truly, no dark ride has ever earned that name quite like this one) as “Snow White’s Scary Adventures.” Although Snow White gets top billing, she makes little more than a cameo appearance in the ride; instead the Wicked Witch pops up much more frequently, offering poison apples, cackling like a lunatic, and, in one particularly impressive practical effect, transforming from beautiful queen to wizened crone in a matter of seconds. It might look bad now, but it used to be even worse; this video on the evolution of the attraction, which debuted on Disneyland’s opening day back in 1955, shows how previous incarnations featured even more of the Scary Witch popping out from behind set pieces, and even, in one version, trying to bury you alive inside the Seven Dwarfs mine. Therapy bills for any permanent emotional damage may be sent directly to W. Disney, c/o The Walt Disney Company, 500 S Buena Vista St, Burbank, CA 91521.
Somewhat appropriately for a film franchise that strongly influenced the creation of the PG-13 rating to caution parents about troubling movies that weren’t strictly for adults only but too intense for little ones, the Indiana Jones Adventure located on the western edge of Disneyland is less an adaptation of the popular Steven Spielberg franchise than a catalog of mankind’s most deeply ingrained phobias. Guests board a rickety jeep, which then lurches through the “Temple of the Forbidden Eye,” home to decaying suspension bridges, vertiginous heights, giant snakes, volcanic flames, swarming beetles, reanimated skeletons shooting blow darts, and hundreds of human skulls. As an adult, I enjoy the gleeful excesses; it’s a non-stop three-minute parade of carnage. As a kid, there’s a solid chance it would have broken my psyche.
One of the coolest parts about Disney’s new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land is the way characters interact with guests. Rather than just hanging out in designated spots for banal meet-and-greets, the Star Wars characters who reside in Batuu wander around, making conversation and posing for selfies. That includes Kylo Ren who roams the area with two Stormtroopers looking for information on the Resistance. They “interrogate” tourists, asking if they have any intel on the Rebels’ location and demanding they stop “transmitting” vital data on their cell phones. The interactions are very clever — and sometimes a little unnerving. Kylo likes to pick on little kids, because it’s a great photo op for parents. But I also watched Kylo interrogate one sweet little girl, who almost immediately caved to his demands and pledged her undying loyalty to the First Order and the Dark Side. It was like the cutest fascist recruitment video humanly possible. “Awwwww, she’s ready to rat out her fellow man in an attempt to curry favor with the intergalactic warlord! So sweet!”