Make ’Em Laugh: Top Ten Funniest Disney Park Attractions
Boardwalk Times very own Traveling Salesman gives his top ten funniest Disney Park attractions!
This past Memorial Day weekend saw the debut of the new thrill ride “Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission: BREAKOUT!” at Disney California Adventure. The attraction, formerly “The Twilight Zone Tower of Tower” has turned from a suspenseful haunted scare to an exhilarating, rocking experience that is much more comedic in tone. Of course, this is because the attraction is based on the mega-hit Marvel franchise “Guardians of the Galaxy”, starring an intergalatic misfit gang whose sole mission is to protect the galaxy and bicker while doing it, which is famous for delivering powerhouse laughs.
Whether or not the attraction earns as many guffaws as its film predecessors, I’ll let our other intrepid reporters comment on. But let’s look to the past and present to scour the top ten other Disney park attractions that did prove their comedy chops. As a note: in constructing this list I had to leave out live shows, so those furious about the lack of DCA’s departed “Aladdin” show, well,it wasn’t my intention to rub you the wrong way, I was aiming for the lamp! (rimshot)
If you haven’t left me for that stinker yet, let’s get this show on the road!
Back in the mid-2000s, Epcot was receiving many complaints about their tired and dated CircleVision 360 show “O’Canada.” Disney responded in kind by spearheading a new, modern film starring famous Canadian comedian Martin Short.
Directed by Jerry Rees, the two flipped the complaints on their head as Short immediately pokes fun at the old film’s stereotypical and hokey take on Canadian as merely a Northern Tundra. Instead they look at Canada as a modern country, producing robust cities and great talent. And of course, Short highlights himself as the greatest Canadian talent of all. (see above)
Of course, some people are a bit stand-offish when it comes Marty, but I’ve loved him ever since playing the optimistic and quick-draw Ned Nederlander in “Three Amigos.” His energy, passion and the script’s own meta wit is enough to keep me coming back. The panoramic vistas don’t hurt either, but it’s Canada, so who cares?
In other news, I’m being informed that I’ve been banned from all ten provinces. And I’m no longer allowed inside a Tim Horton’s.
HIGHLIGHT QUOTE: “I was born on skates! In fact, I just happen to have some footage from my glory days in pee-wee hockey. Isn’t it great that my parents owned a Circle-Vision camera? What are the odds?!”
9IT’S TOUGH TO BE A BUG
While this 3D show based on Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life” is more known for scaring the daylights out of younger guests, many forget how zany and fun this attraction can bee. (it also features groan-worthy bug puns like the one you just ever so unfortunately read)
Dave Foley “returns” as Flik (even though the attraction actually opened prior to the film’s release), but this time with a bit more of a dry, deadpan wit to him. Him and his bug friends (none of which are from the Pixar film) are here to turn the audience into “honorary bugs” as they shrink down to their size. There, they put on a lively revue show to illuminate the good that insects do and how their predatory instincts help them achieve that cause.
In contrast to Flik, the bugs have a Looney Tunes-esque quality to them as they keep mucking things up and endangering the audience off stage. One of my favorite bits is the “Termite-ator” (complete with Austrian accent), whose acid shooting is challenged by an animatronic bug offstage. “Oh yah?” the termite cooly responds, followed by immediately killing him. It’s a surprisingly dark, yet quickly paced joke… and probably another reason for why parents are so hesitant to bring their kids in.
Of course, the emergence of Hopper and some unnerving 4D effects (including a hornet sting and spiders) has a lot to do with it. But if you have braver souls with you, I’d highly recommend checking this show out if you’re at Disney California Adventure or Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Also be sure to spot all the posters in the queue, which both cheekily parody various Broadway shows and educate you about habits of the insect kingdom.
HIGHLIGHT QUOTE: “Well, it still has a few bugs in it, but that’s our show. And now that you all are honorary bugs, remember: magnifying glasses are for looking at little things, not for burning little things.”
8MONSTERS INC. LAUGH FLOOR
There’s little doubt that “Monsters Inc Laugh Floor” is a controversial attraction: it replaced a fan-favorite (which, don’t worry, is on this list), is poorly shoe-horned into the otherwise futuristic Tomorrowland and in some parts feels rushed and cheap. Hell, it may be a bit controversial in this article to place it considering that it involves live performances and audience participation, but it’s wrapped around a CGI sheen that makes it feel less improv than it is.
Based on the ending of “Monsters Inc” (prep for spoilers for a 16-year-old movie!), Monstropolis has learned that humans aren’t toxic and their laughter is more powerful than their fear. Since these vocal elements provide the power to their world, they have invited us to a comedy club. We get some laughs, they get electricity… it’s a win/win! (unless you wanted to figure out how sound is channeled into energy to power a lightbulb, which in that case, it’s just a show and you really should just relax)
While certain portions of the attraction are a little hokey, including the poor animation and dreadful Billy Crystal and Charlie Day impressions, the show is brought together by the very thing it’s attempting to gain: energy. By sheer will, it manages to charm you over through running gags, deadpan humor and making the use of its real-time access. Guests are allowed to submit jokes via text (usually “dad jokes” from children), read from various “comedians” in the set held in the theater. A particularly beloved running gag is “that guy” which selects a “lucky” guest from the audience, usually a middle-aged dad and picks on them the entire show.
At first glance, Laugh Floor may produce a cringe, but it’ll beat you into submission until you’re smiling hard. Let go of your cynicism and have a laugh or two.
(and yes, for those still cynical minded: I’m aware of the acronym. And you got some attitude thinking about my mother like that, mister!)
HIGHLIGHT QUOTE: “The more you laugh, the more power we collect. The less you laugh, well… we may not have enough power to open the exit doors.”
7 WORLD OF MOTION
It’s fun to be free in this extinct Epcot omnimover attraction, where unlike many others, championed comedy to tell its story. Sponsored by General Motors, the World of Motion attraction took guests through the history of transportation via gag-based vignettes. The entire show was overseen by Ward Kimball, who in turn brought in a psuedo-“Haunted Mansion” reunion with the team of Claude Coates and Marc Davis designing the scenes and humor, and X. Atencio and Buddy Baker to pen the hummable song “It’s Fun to be Free”. (thus the intro)
The result was as expected: a massively enjoyable attraction with a wealth of audio-animatronic characters that has yet to be beat. What was unique, however, was the way in which it executed every scene. Guests riding in car-like vehicles would glide past historical gags such as the invention of the wheel, the boat and what have you. Gary Owens would deliver a stoic, but upbeat narration about the innovation being perfected… while the scene itself would spell the opposite.
So you would have expected to see the “safe travels” of a steam locomotive, only to see a train robbery in process. The “infallible combination of man and machine”, the bicycle provides comedy in men embarrassing themselves in front of their ladies by slipping their bikes into a mud pit complete with laughing pigs. Comedic irony is used throughout the entirety of the attraction, but it never gets old thanks to Davis and Coates’ charming and hilarious gags. The most extravagant has to be “the world’s first traffic jam”, which features an entire city street shaken up as numerous methods of transportation, including buses, horses, wheelbarrows, cars, bicycles and what have you collide into a mass frenzy. Although no longer there, World of Motion certainly made enough of an impression through YouTube videos and old photos alone to make this list.
I also have to mention “The Bird and Robot Show”, an at-the-time rare outsourced post-show element from BRC Imagination Arts. A clever show about car manufacturing robots, it featured an animatronic, wise-cracking bird teaching guests about “Tiger”, a robotic arm. The show was hilarious as Tiger would quite often get the best of the boastful bird.
HIGHLIGHT QUOTE: “It’s fun to be free!” (c’mon, it’s a visual gag show, give me a brake here!)
6 COUNTRY BEAR JAMBOREE (ALL VERSIONS)
Speaking of Marc Davis, the last thing he ever showed Walt was a wacky animatronic bear show he was cooking up for the abandoned Mineral King Ski Resort project. Walt cracked up at those silly bears and we know to always trust his intiution. Sure enough, the Country Bear Jamboree was a smash hit upon opening in the Magic Kingdom, spawning a Disneyland copy mere months later and two different variations: the Christmas Special in 1984, and the Vacation Hoedown in 1986.
All three feature an animatronic flurry of bears singing country songs and cracking jokes at each other, but not all of them roar. Melvin (a moose), Max (a buck) and Buff (a bison), three busts hanging on the while often bicker at each other during the show. Of course, Henry, our host, is there to shoosh them as they interrupt… that is, when he’s not dealing with a skunk tap dancing on his head.
Hijinks are common in the Country Bear playhouse, as a fuse would blow and we’d hear Rufus trudge up the stairs to fix it… panting heavily of course. And who could forget Big Al ruining the ending of every show by simply not knowing when to stop, much to the annoyance of the other bears. Wendell would often overstep his numbers, while Trixie and Teddy would flirt with Henry. The Sun Bonnet Trio has their humorously tragic sob stories displayed on a screen as they sing. (“Ev’ry guy who turns me on, turns me down!”) Although the only show that plays stateside is a truncated version of the original show at the Magic Kingdom, you can catch the full version and the two others online or even via audio for a comprehensive listen.
When Sammy tells everyone “y’all come back, ya hear?!”, you’ll bearly be able to resist, cause at with the Country Bears, you’re all one big happy family. And the less said about the film version, the better. Don’t make me sic Big Al on you!
HIGHLIGHT QUOTE: (after Wendell snaps a photo) “There’s no flash photography allowed during the performance. And that goes for everybody, Wendell!”
5 ELLEN’S ENERGY ADVENTURE
In 1996, Disney freshened up its otherwise drab and overly-serious Universe of Energy attraction at Epcot with an entirely new film. What once was the equivalent of a dry school filmstrip on a massively large scale is now a lively, “energetic” mash-up of Ellen’s sitcom, an old-school Bill Nye the Science Guy episode (pre-Netflix) and dinosaur-filled animatronic dark ride.
It’s probably for the best that the attraction tickles the funny bone as much as it does, as it’s the longest theme park attraction ever created, clocking in (with pre-show) at near forty minutes! Intermingling between numerous theaters and show scenes on “traveling theater cars” (six enormous 80-seat vehicles that form to make “seating” but can separate), guests watch a film about Ellen DeGeneres having a dream in which she’s on the game show Jeopardy. All of the questions are about, what else, energy… and she’s failing big time. Taking control of her nightmare, she enlists Bill Nye to take her back in time and teach her (and us) all about energy, where it comes from, how we use it and what else we can use when those sources dry up. Also, some dinosaurs and lots and lots of one-liners.
This along with our next attraction are fantastic examples of teaching with humor. It does help that Ellen’s Energy Adventure is beautifully shot, has a wonderfully dynamic score by Bruce Broughton and is fast-paced, but it’s brought together mostly by our two leads, their humor and the witty writing. Ellen of course, is a blast in the preshow sequence where she talks to the audience about how surprised they may be to see her there of all people and even schools those walking in late to the preshow, and she doesn’t let up even as they encounter the big bang that created the universe. (she treats it like a plane arrival) Nye, on the other hand, lends the know-how of his show combined with his own presence. For example, when arriving to the second theater after the dinosaur show scene, we hear excerpts from “K-NRG” (my favorite Disney pun of all time), which describes the time periods as if they were play-by-plays of a baseball game. There’s also many fun sight gags, such as Albert Einstein placing third (with a negative loss) in the Jeopardy game.
Even though the attraction has seen better days (and it may be on its way out the door), it still delivers a likable enough show to justify the near-hour experience. And hey, it’s dark so if you want to rest, relax, even nap, Ellen and Bill Nye make for two great bedfellows. Get there before the grid or the Guardians arrive and we finally run out of energy. (and possibly brain power)
HIGHLIGHT QUOTE: “It gets really weird from here: now some person I don’t even know reminds me there’s no eating, drinking, smoking, or flash photography allowed in my dream.”
4 CRANIUM COMMAND
Years before “Inside Out” became a new Pixar classic, “Cranium Command” delighted guests in the now (somewhat) defunct Wonders of Life pavilion at Epcot. One of the two major attractions featured, it was a multi-media based animatronic show about the relationship between mind and body. It also happened to be a total quotable laugh riot.
That would be mostly thanks to the project’s overhaul during production. Once an outsourced, dry educational show that the executives hated, director Jerry Rees was tasked with fixing it. The problem? They only had four months! Rees fled to Disney’s own Feature Animation department and amazingly got the job done, complete with a fully-animated preshow. Turns out the pressure and raw talent led to an amazingly funny, unique and witty script, easily making up for the attraction’s otherwise complete lack of themeing. (aside from some signs and the actual stage, there wasn’t much but wall carpet)
The plot involved “brain pilots” taking the helm of human brains, driving bodies all over the world. The Cranium Command’s commanding officer, General Knowledge, a brash, fierce drill sargent (think “Full Metal Jacket”) assigns bumbling recruit Buzzy to take on the mind of a 12-year-old boy named Bobby. The main show was set inside the boy’s head as we looked out his eyes, with Buzzy as an animatronic. Naturally, chaos would reign as Buzzy would struggle to take charge of Bobby’s stressful day at school as he misses the bus, falls in love, starts a food fight and nearly gets detention.
Of course, that’s not to mention all of the famous comedians of the time playing the body organs. Charles Grodin, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, Dana Carvey, George Wendt, Bobcat Goldthwait all appeared in the show, who only added to the humor. Especially of note was the preshow, which was almost funnier than the show itself. General Knowledge would berate the recruits calling them “Minnie Mouse meatheads” and threatening to throw Buzzy into a chicken. Or worse as he growls, “throwing you into a chicken is cruelty to animals! I’m gonna stick you into a squid, a lungfish, a TALK SHOW HOST!” At the same time, he also manages to shout out actual facts about the brain, “did you know that the brain can process up to three million bytes per second?!” (I did not, General, uh, I mean, sir).
The main show definitely kept up the comedy, and somehow with all of those big stars the Hypothalumus, voiced by animator/director Kirk Wise stole the show with his Ben Stein-esque deadpan delivery. (“I don’t do it for the glory, sir, it’s just my function”) It also helps that the story was charming, as Buzzy learns about stress management and ended up getting Bobby out of trouble and even getting him a date! Before closing in 2007, Cranium Command was often referred to as “Epcot’s hidden gem”, but sadly Disney was not very mindful of that.
HIGHLIGHT QUOTE: “Hey folks this ain’t no spectator sport! Where do you think you are, DISNEY WORLD?! Get your strollers in line and hustle, MOVE IT, MOVE IT, MOVE IT!”
3 THE TIMEKEEPER (FROM TIME TO TIME)
Only two words to say about this long-gone Magic Kingdom CircleVision attraction: Robin Williams.
Don’t get me wrong, Rhea Pearlman does a fantastic job in her role as well, but it’s the late Williams’ sharp, quick, fierce delivery combined with his incredible improv chops that earns “The Timekeeper” its number three spot on this list.
Originally produced for Disneyland Paris, Timekeeper opened in 1994 with Magic Kingdom’s New Tomorrowland. An innovative use of CircleVision technology, the show starred Timekeeper, a robot inventor, and Nine-Eye (Pearlman), a flying robot who has nine camera lens eyes. As per his name, Timekeeper has invented a time machine, and is sending Nine Eye through it. (who both appear in the show as audio-animatronics) As a result, we get a full panoramic view of the past and future. However, on a visit to the Universal Exposition of Paris in 1900, they pick up an accidental hitchhiker: famed sci-fi author Jules Verne! Hijinks ensue as Jules marvels at the wonders of the modern world.
Much like Cranium Command, Timekeeper was fast-paced and constantly hilarious. From the insanely speedy preshow to Timekeeper screaming at guests as they enter the theater (“Please form double rows. DO IT! YOU’VE BEEN WAITING OUTSIDE FOR A WHILE, JUST DO IT!!! …thank you!”), to Nine-Eye and Timekeeper squabbling at each other (“Hey tinselhead, you’re gonna put real people in this thing?” “Quiet, blinky, I’m on a roll!”) to just… pretty much everything that comes out of Timekeeper’s mouth. This is Robin Williams in his Aladdin/Genie prime, spitting out punchline after punchline, impression after impression, and just you reading these quotes here almost does a disservice to them. Do yourself a favor and catch a video of the attraction if you haven’t already, you’ll be in for a real treat.
Even though Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor is a cute, fun attraction, it’s a still geniunely a bummer that such a unique, hysterical and wonderful use of CircleVision is now a mere memory. If only we had a time machine to experience it in person again, but they probably threw that away, too.
HIGHLIGHT QUOTE: “ Well, time flies, and now I’m going to go browse through the Library at Alexandria, check up on Columbus before he got to Ohio, give Freud a piece of my mind and say, ‘Oedipus, Schmedipus!’”
2 MUPPET*VISION 3D
Who doesn’t love the Muppets?! Well, besides Statler and Waldorf…
MuppetVision 3D opened in 1991 at the (then) Disney-MGM Studios, which at one point was supposed to be its own entire land called “Muppet Studios.” A neighboring attraction was “The Great Muppet Movie Ride”, a parody of the existing Great Movie Ride attraction… except here the film scenes would be replaced with an all-Muppet cast, and craziness would ensue. Sadly, Jim Henson passed away before any of this happened.
However, “MuppetVision 3D” was the last thing Henson worked on before his passing, and although bittersweet, still shines with his spirit to this very day. The premise is simple: Muppet Labs is inviting you for a tour with Kermit has your host. You step into the old Muppet Show theater complete with those heckling old men in the balcony as your 3D tour begins. Throw in a CGI character on the loose, Sam Eagle’s insanely over-the-top patrotic displays (“a salute to all nations, but mostly America”) and Miss Piggy’s diva attitude and you have a recipie for pure Muppet mayhem.
Every single piece of this attraction drips comedy, from the rarely seen extended queue (with instructions on how to wear 3D glasses), to the lobby (with a closed office complete with key under the mat) to the preshow room (with a net full of jello… get it?) to the preshow, main show, all show, everything. The preshow, of course, has classic Muppet jokes like Gonzo and Rizzo actively trolling Sam Eagle trying to recite the safety spiel. The most memorable part is Rizzo coming out as Mickey Mouse. When Sam balks at him, Rizzo responds, “They’re tourists, what do they know?!” It’s that wonderful irreverent taste that makes you almost depressed that the rest of Muppet Studios wasn’t built.
But let’s not wallow, for the main show is just as good. Featuring an animatronic penguin orchestra and a live actor as Sweetums, guests marvel at how all the action occurs around them as much as they laugh. Not to mention that the show has so much joy at poking fun at “cheap 3D tricks”, of which Fozzie can’t seem to help himself. Of course, Statler and Waldorf tell him off just as quickly. (“What are you guys doing here?” “We entered a contest!” “Yeah, we lost! Dohoho!”) Waldo, a wacky CGI character created by Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, wrecks havoc all over the film all the way until the entire theater is blown up via cannon! Of course, Kermit in the end wishes us well from the ladder of a fire engine telling us that the theater only suffered minor damage, except that there are holes in it everywhere we look. Ah well!
There are too many jokes to list that I absolutely love. Of note, one of my two absoulte favorites occur back-to-back, when Bean Bunny runs away.
Gonzo: Hey Bean! What’s up?
Bean: I’m goin away, forever!
Gonzo: Oh great, could you get me a sandwich? (turns to the audience) Would any of you like anything, since he’s going out — FOREVER?!
Gonzo then runs away, and Sweetums enters the scene playing with a paddle ball, which whallops straight to the audience. Fozzie then pops in telling him, “Hey, Sweetums, that’s a great 3D effect!” Sweetums then swats off and leaves.
It’s wordplay and just bits random nonsense humor like that which earns MuppetVision 3D this slot. It’s one of my favorite all-time attractions and I’m still completely bummed that it has been fully removed from Disney California Adventure (it played there from 2001 to 2014), but you can still catch it at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Do so just in case the theater blows up for good one day!
HIGHLIGHT QUOTE: “If you’ll come this way, I can show you our secret laboratory. You see, we invited distinguished scientists from all over the world to come and work here. Unfortunately, none of them showed up.”
And the number one funniest Disney attraction ever is…
1 JUNGLE CRUISE
Funny thing is, the world-famous Jungle Cruise wasn’t very funny at all when it opened in 1955. Initially a serious compliment to Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventure film series, the Jungle Cruise took guests on a faux voyage through the rivers of the world to encounter exotic animals. The skippers on board would point out the creatures as they traveled through their harrowing journey. Of course, the animals were all fake, not to Walt’s liking: he wanted real ones, but was dissauded when he learned that they would all sleep during the day.
The humor of the Jungle Cruise came about in the early 60s, when attendance for the attraction was down. Walt knew he needed to plus the attraction, and turned to Marc Davis to create the new scenes. However, Marc being Marc, the scenes were comedic and fanciful. As Walt passed and the scenes changed to be more comedic, the skippers loosened up as the animals became more and more glaringly fake. They would start to crack jokes and engage the audience, and so a tradition was born.
Decades later, almost all of the existing Jungle Cruise attractions still retain their comic edge, and practically bathe in it. While some of the jokes can be hokey (“ginger snaps!”) to a bit dated and controversial (natives, anyone?), the reason why it’s the frontrunner on this list is the skippers. Thanks to their live spiels, no cruise is ever the same. And when the river is backlogged at the end, one can look to their skipper to just keep cranking out the jokes. They can adjust to the times, on what’s happening, make current day humor or even personalize it for those onboard. Of course, there’s no messing around with the classics, as we’re always going to enjoy the eighth-wonder of the world: the backside of water! Even the queue has become comedy-based, as radio reports come in talking about the craziness of what’s going on out in the jungle, and every now and then skippers will interrupt. “Please be advised — there is no picture taking in the queue. We nailed them to the wall for a reason.”
Jungle Cruise skippers have become a pop culture lexicon, being featured in songs (Weird Al’s “Skipper Dan”), movies, TV shows (too many to count), and even though most of them make fun of the fakeness of the attraction, the attraction happens to be in on the joke. We know everything is fake, and so do the skippers. The vignettes are cheesy but always funny and can be made even funnier by the skippers. (that rhino will always get the “point” in the end) Yet there’s something about the culture of the attraction, and why it’s so beloved. Guests go to the Jungle Cruise to laugh, Imagineers have built numerous companions to the attraction based around its humor. The old Adventurer’s Club, the Skipper Canteen and Trader Sam’s all inhabit that Jungle Cruise spirit. Skippers are there to make puns, goof around, throw barbs and most importantly: make you smile.
Even though it was never Walt’s intention, the Jungle Cruise has become a comedy classic inside and outside the attraction, and I hope that never changes.
HIGHLIGHT QUOTE: “If you’ve enjoyed this cruise, my name is Ryan. If not, my name’s Zach and this was the Liberty Belle Riverboat.”
Well, that’s the list! I hope that Disney continues the tradition of incorporating comedy into their attractions, as there’s decades of laughs still yet to be had.
Let me know in the comments what attractions you thought I missed, and if you disagree with any, well then you have a really poor sense of humor and I’m going to request that you leave.
…I’m just kidding! But still, you’ll have to leave, after all, the article’s over.
Traveling Salesman is a Columnist for the Boardwalk Times.