Planning your first trip to Disneyland? Depending on your child and how much “Disney-saturation” they’ve have, they might be unfamiliar with some of the movies and characters. I think it’s important to familiarize kids ahead of the trip by watching some of the Disney features so they’ll recognize characters and themes before their visit. No sense in waiting in line to meet the princesses if your child has no idea who Anna and Elsa are, right? This is my break down of the Disney movies to see before your trip. On this Disney movie list are must-see or highly recommended. I’ve included other suggestions that you should watch if you have the time.
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Movies to Watch Before Disneyland
Last year a friend of mine was taking her 4-year old niece to Disneyland for the first time. Knowing I’m a Disneyland regular, she asked me what movies she should show her niece before the trip so she’d be familiar with more of the characters that are featured on the rides and in the shows/parades.
I have a decent collection of the classics that I was able to lend her and they watched one movie a week leading up to their vacation. She’d been able to watch Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Dumbo, Snow White and Alice In Wonderland.
A few days after the trip, my friend asked me if I had Mary Poppins because her niece had met her outside Jolly Holiday Bakery and had no idea who she was! But now she was smitten because Mary Poppins took her by the hand and told her, “Spit Spot” as they walked together down Main Street U.S.A!
Rides at Disneyland Based on Movies
So many of the rides at Disneyland are based on the movies that preceded them. This is especially true in Fantasyland. While kids will still enjoy the ride just as a ride, you could also give them some back story before your trip. Naturally if a ride is just plain fun, they don’t necessarily need to watch the movie first but it sure is fun to point out the details on the ride and have them know the character names. By watching movies ahead of time, kids know a bit of the story background so they’ll know what the ride is about.
Sleeping Beauty – This animated feature has two very special features in Fantasyland, one being an icon of Disneyland…Sleeping Beauty Castle. There is a walk-through attraction that takes you through the Castle with elaborate dioramas. Another can’t miss is King Arthur Carrousel, which features hand painted scenes from the movie on the inner part of the ride.
Sleeping Beauty is a *MUST SEE*
Dumbo – Dumbo the Flying Elephant is just simply joyful and always a kid favorite. Check out Timothy the Mouse standing on top of the ride as well! Casey Jr. Circus Train is the accompanying ride to the Dumbo movie.
Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs– This classic “dark ride”, Snow White’s Scary Adventures is named as such because of the heavy presence of the evil Queen throughout. You can even spy her looking down on you from a window above the ride entrance. Touch the golden apple out front and see what happens! You can meet Snow White in the Fantasy Faire Royal Hall. Even the evil Queen makes an appearance for photos at times, so I’d recommend this is a movie to watch.
Guests can also see the statues of Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs located to the right of the Castle, near the Wishing Well.
Pinocchio – Pinocchio not only has a ride (Pinocchio’s Daring Journey) in Fantasyland, there is also a restaurant with Pinocchio-theming and artwork as well (Village Haus Restaurant). You can also find Figaro the cat on a perch in the Fantasy Faire area as well.
Alice In Wonderland – If kids aren’t familiar with Alice’s story and the Caterpillar, White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat and Queen of Hearts, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland might not make much sense (not that it makes much sense anyway, right?!) The Mad Tea Party spinning teacups are also Alice-themed!
You’ll also find Alice and the Mad Hatter in person. They often greet guests at the entrance to the Park. They also host a musical chairs game outside of Refreshment Corner. Alice In Wonderland is *HIGHLY RECOMMENDED*
The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad – I’ll admit that I’d been on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride dozens of times but had never once read the book Wind in the Willows or had seen the animated feature. After watching it last year, I have a better understanding of what this ride is all about. Now I know why Mr. Toad is going crazy!
Peter Pan – Soar above it on all Peter Pan’s Flight, based on the book and movie. Kids will see all the familiar characters, including Peter, Wendy, Captain Hook and Tinker Bell while “flying” above the action. Want more Tink? You can also meet with her and other fairy friends in Pixie Hollow. Peter Pan is a *MUST SEE*
Featuring several Disney movies, the Storybook Land Canal Boats is a peaceful boat tour. You’ll see the city of Agrabah from Aladdin, the castle (and pumpkin carriage) from Cinderella and even the village of Arendelle from Frozen.
Toy Story and sequels – Though you don’t have to have seen the movies to enjoy Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, I still put these on the must-see list. Toy Story characters are also heavily featured in the Paint the Night parade. The Toy Story series are *MUST SEE*
Finding Nemo and Finding Dory [Blu-ray] – Even if you haven’t seen the movies, you’ll still highly enjoy the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. An abbreviated version of the story is told from your view through the porthole in a very cool way.
Star Wars – With the anticipation building for Star Wars Land, this franchise is all the rage throughout Tomorrowland. If your kids aren’t old enough to watch the action-packed space adventure movies, at least acquaint them with the general characters. They might still be shaking in their shoes when they meet the very intimidating Kylo Ren in the Star Wars Launch Bay!
No need to have seen the movies to enjoy Star Wars: The Adventure Continues or Hyperspace Mountain. Kids 4-12 can participate in the Jedi Training, though little ones might be nervous or scared to be on the stage alone with the characters if they aren’t familiar with the movies.
The Star Wars series is *HIGHLY RECOMMENDED* (depending upon age and maturity of kids)
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Who Framed Roger Rabbit – All of Toontown is based on this movie! Eye-popping sights and colors accompanied by a dizzying ride, Roger Rabbit’s Car-toon Spin is fun regardless of if you’ve seen the movie or not. But elements and characters will make more sense if you have. Watch out for the “dip”! This one is PG-rated and more for older kids.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers – Not based on a movie but a TV show, Gadget’s Go-Coaster is a great first coaster for little ones (it’s only a minute long). No need to have seen the show but fun to point out the “gadgets” and unique found items that compose this ride.
Indiana Jones – Given the 46″ height requirement, Indiana Jones Adventure is for an older set of kids, just like the movie series (which is definitely too graphic for little ones). This is a fantastic ride, but no need to have seen the movie series to appreciate the ride.
Tarzan – Take a tour of Tarzan’s Tree House and you’ll be able to view vignettes from the movie. You don’t have to have seen the movie to understand this attraction.
Winnie the Pooh – Perfect for the very young, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh stands alone as a sweet and colorful romp. You can also meet Pooh and friends just outside the ride afterwards.
Song of the South – Splash Mountain was based on this movie, which very few have ever seen. Naturally, you don’t have to have seen the movie to enjoy this ride (because only a handful of people have even seen it!)
If your little one is in love with princesses, you may need to brush up on a few Disney films before a visit to Fantasy Faire. In particular, you may want to watch Tangled before greeting Rapunzel and her mile-long locks and view Beauty and the Beast before twirling next to Belle and her lovely golden gown.
I love a parade! And it’s a great way to see lots of different characters. In Mickey’s Soundsational Parade, Tiana from the Princess & The Frog waves from atop her float. You can also meet her sometimes in New Orlean’s Square. Mary Poppins and Bert also have a jolly time on the parade route and as I mentioned before, they also do a meet n’ greet.
The Paint the Night parade is also chock full of characters, including a finale with Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia. I appreciate that the show Mickey and the Magical Map features movies that aren’t as prominent in the Park, like The Jungle Book, Pocahontas and Mulan. You don’t have to have seen the movies to understand and enjoy the show.
Disney California Adventure Park
Walk across the promenade to Disneyland Resort’s other Park! There are lots of great Disney movie inspirations here too, including Pixar films.
“a bug’s land”
This entire Land and all of it’s attractions are inspired by the movie “a bug’s life”. From the 4D show (It’s Tough to Be a Bug) to the rides, everything is themed to this movie. But you don’t necessarily need to watch the movie to “get” this area for everything stands on its own.
A Bug’s Life is *HIGHLY RECOMMENDED*
Another Land that was entirely inspired by a Disney/Pixar movie, this time it’s Cars. While you don’t have to know the movie plot to enjoy the scenery, it’s impressive to see how the tiniest details were captured in this area. And it’s a good idea to watch the movies to familiarize yourself with the characters since they are heavily featured in the ride and attractions. Cars is a *MUST SEE*
The Little Mermaid – Ariel has two rides and a restaurant inspired by her life “under the sea”. King Triton’s Carousel doesn’t feature Ariel, per se but her father is on a large mural and her underwater friends are the “horses” on this merry-go-round. Swim around the Pier to Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, an enjoyable dark ride. We also met Ariel in her “human state” at Disneyland’s Fantasy Faire. The Little Mermaid is highly recommended.
Toy Story – Another reason to watch this Disney/Pixar trio, Toy Story Midway Mania features the characters from all three flicks. The characters also have a float in the Paint the Night parade.
The Toy Story series are *MUST SEE*
Monsters, Inc. – Sully, Mike and Boo take you on a tour of Monstropolis in the dark ride, Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sully to the Rescue! If you haven’t seen the movie, the ride and characters will be confusing (especially Roz, the slug who greets you at the close of the ride!). Also there is a Monsters, Inc. float in both the Pixar Play and Paint the Night parades. Monsters, Inc. is *HIGHLY RECOMMENDED*
Finding Nemo – Kids who haven’t seen the movie will still enjoy Turtle Talk with Crush, an interactive question and answer show where kids can talk directly to the turtles from the movie. Finding Nemo is featured in two attractions and the Pixar Play Parade. Finding Nemo is *HIGHLY RECOMMENDED*
UP – The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is a stand-alone attraction, with rope bridges, rock climbing, slides and other “burn off some excess energy” outdoor activities. Russell from Up is there to help you earn your Wilderness Explorer Badge and there is a meet n’ greet once you’ve completed the tasks but there is no need to watch the movie to do the activities.
It’s all about Frozen so this movie is a must see, especially if you have a princess in your group. Meet and greet with the sisters at Anna & Elsa’s Royal Welcome, then warm up your singing voice at Frozen – Live at the Hyperion. For this alone, it’s worth it to watch the film and at least familiarize yourself with the award-winning soundtrack. You don’t want to be hitting the wrong notes when every else says, “Let it Go”. Frozen is a *MUST SEE*
The Pixar Play Parade is a perfect place to see all the favorites, including The Incredibles characters (whom you can often meet in Hollywood Land). You’ll also see Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo characters on their own floats.
In World of Color: Celebrate!, dozens of Disney films are featured including 101 Dalmatians, Wreck-It Ralph, and Big Hero 6. Snippets are short and there is no reason to watch all the films to enjoy this water and light show.
Some Rides Came Before the Movies!
Yes, some of Walt Disney’s unique creations have been so popular over the years that movies have been made based on the Disneyland attractions. There are movies about Disneyland rides and attractions! There is the popular series of Pirates of the Caribbean movies, of course. The Haunted Mansion, Tower of Terror and Tomorrowland are also movies that spin off of Disneyland attractions.
Movie Watching is Part of Trip Planning
- Figure out how many movies you’d like to watch before your vacation and schedule them out, perhaps once a week for an at-home family movie night. Write them on the calender to create excitement!
- Pinterest is a great place to go if you’d like to make the event even more special, perhaps with themed snacks, decorations or crafts.
- If you don’t have the movies in your own collection, consider purchasing a few of the classics that you know you’ll want to watch again and again. Ask friends if you can borrow the movies that they have in their collections. Or request the films from the library, which is something we do quite frequently.
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