Movies to Watch Before You Visit Disney World

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For many children, and adults, Walt Disney World can be an overwhelming place, filled with countless new sights, sounds, smells, textures, in an endless stream of stimuli. Sure you can surprise your family with trip to Walt Disney World, but you may have a better overall vacation experience if you give your kids some time to prepare in advance. At-home preparation for you kids might take the form of meeting costumed characters, practicing table manners, or learning to sleep in a particular crib, but one of the easiest, and most effective, ways to get a child ready for a Disney vacation is to show him movies related to your upcoming trip.

Cinderella is a must see before visiting Walt Disney World.

Cinderella is a must see before visiting Walt Disney World.

You’ll have a better understanding and appreciation of what’s happening in the parks if you’re familiar with the stories depicted in what you see there.

Some of these suggestions will be obvious. Your child will no doubt have a better grasp on something like the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor if he’s, you know, actually seen Monsters, Inc. Other suggestions will be more tangentially related to specific attractions, but will give a your kids a greater comprehension of the tone and flavor of Walt Disney World.

As always, use these recommendations with the caveat that you are the best judge of what’s appropriate for your specific child and his current developmental stage. For example, while most preschoolers will adore The Little Mermaid, a child who’s in fear-of-the-ocean mode might have a full-scale meltdown at the sight of Ursula. Similarly, some kids might be ready for a Star Wars marathon at age four, while others will need to wait until eight, nine, or even older. If there’s a movie that you haven’t seen since your own childhood, it might be worth doing a quick preview on your own before subjecting your child to potential overload.

You’ll no doubt note that many Disney and Pixar films are not mentioned on my list (Bambi, Hercules, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Up, etc.). This bears no reflection on the quality of the films, nor on their place in the canon, but rather speaks to their current relative lack of representation at the Walt Disney World parks and resorts. There are also a few non-Disney films listed here because, in my opinion, they do a particularly good job of evoking an atmosphere or time period represented at the parks in a more succinct way than any actual Disney film does.

I’ll also note that this list covers movies, not television or shorts. In many regards, your best bet for getting a preschooler ready for a Disney trip may just be to show him a few episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. But I’m guessing you’ve done that already :-).

And on with the show…

THE ESSENTIALS

Watch Cinderella because:

  • Well, there’s that big castle in the middle of the Magic Kingdom. Don’t forget to check out the lovely story mosaics inside the castle.
  • Cinderella Fountain behind the Magic Kingdom castle.
  • Related attraction at the Magic Kingdom (Prince Charming Regal Carousel).
  • Related character meals.
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • Makeover opportunities at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

Watch Beauty & the Beast because:

  • Attraction at Magic Kingdom (Enchanted Tales with Belle).
  • Related restaurants at the Magic Kingdom (Be Our Guest, Gaston’s Tavern).
  • Related character meals.
  • Stage show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Beauty & the Beast Live on Stage).
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Gaston’s Fountain at the Magic Kingdom.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • Makeover opportunities at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
  • General atmosphere at the France pavilion at Epcot.
  • Related material in Mickey’s PhilharMagic attraction, Magic Kingdom.
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.

Watch Toy Story because:

  • Attraction at the Magic Kingdom (Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin).
  • Attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Toy Story Midway Mania).
  • Exterior atmosphere at DHS (Pixar Place).
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Related restaurant at DHS (Pizza Planet).
  • Themed area at All Star Movies resort.
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.

Watch The Little Mermaid because:

  • Attraction at Magic Kingdom (Under the Sea).
  • Attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Voyage of the Little Mermaid).
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Related character meals.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • Related material in Mickey’s PhilharMagic attraction, Magic Kingdom.
  • Makeover opportunities at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
  • Tangential reference in attraction at Magic Kingdom (Peter Pan’s flight).
  • Themed area at Art of Animation resort.

Watch Peter Pan because:

  • Attraction at the Magic Kingdom (Peter Pan’s Flight).
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Character appearances during the Family Magic Tour (reservation and additional fee required).
  • Character appearances during the Pirates & Pals cruise (reservation and additional fee required).
  • Related special experiences (Pirate Treasure Cruises) (reservation and additional fee required).
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • General atmosphere in Magic Kingdom Adventureland.
  • General atmosphere of Magic Kingdom Pirates League.
  • General atmosphere of Pirates Adventure quest at Magic Kingdom.
  • Related Pixie Hollow character area at Magic Kingdom.
  • Related material in Mickey’s PhilharMagic attraction, Magic Kingdom.
  • Related themeing at the Neverland Club at the Polynesian resort.
  • Character appearance in Wishes fireworks.

Watch Aladdin because:

  • Attraction at the Magic Kingdom (Magic Carpets of Aladdin)
  • Related material in Mickey’s PhilharMagic attraction, Magic Kingdom.
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Related character meals.
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • General atmosphere of Morocco pavilion at Epcot.
  • General atmosphere of Magic Kingdom Adventureland.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • Makeover opportunities at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

Watch Lion King because:

  • Attraction at Epcot (Circle of Life, Land pavilion).
  • Attraction at Animal Kingdom (Festival of the Lion King).
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Character meet & greet experiences (occasional).
  • Themed area at Art of Animation resort.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • Related material in Mickey’s PhilharMagic attraction, Magic Kingdom.
  • Themed area at Animal Kingdom (Rafiki’s Planet Watch).
  • General atmosphere at the Animal Kingdom.
  • General atmosphere at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Watch Snow White because:

  • Future attraction at Magic Kingdom (Mine Train).
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Related character meals.
  • Makeover opportunities at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • General atmosphere at Epcot’s Germany pavilion.
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.
  • Related material in Wishes fireworks.

Watch Finding Nemo because:

  • Attraction at Animal Kingdom (Finding Nemo – The Musical).
  • Attraction at Epcot (The Seas with Nemo and Friends).
  • Attraction at Epcot (Turtle Talk with Crush).
  • Themed area at Art of Animation resort.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.

Watch Fantasia because:

  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Related character meals.
  • Related attraction at DHS (Fantasmic).
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Themed area at All Star Movies resort.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • Sorcerer’s Hat centerpiece at DHS.
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.
  • Related material in Wishes fireworks.

Watch The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (or other versions) because:

  • Attraction at Magic Kingdom (Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh).
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Related character meals.
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.

Watch Sleeping Beauty because:

  • Makeover opportunities at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
  • Character meet & greet experience.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • Related character meals.
  • Related special experience (Perfectly Princess Tea Party) (reservation and additional fee required).
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.

THE NEXT STEPS

Watch Dumbo because:

  • Attraction at Magic Kingdom (Dumbo the Flying Elephant).
  • General atmosphere at Storybook Circus area of Magic Kingdom New Fantasyland.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.

Watch Star Wars because:

  • Attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Star Tours).
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • Possible future Star Wars Land at DHS (rumored).
  • Tangentially related space themeing at Magic Kingdom Tomorrowland (Space Mountain, Astro Orbiter).
  • Character meet & greet experiences (Star Wars weekends).
  • Celebrity experiences (Star Wars weekends).
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.
  • Jedi Training Academy attraction at DHS. (Updated per reader comment.)

Watch Monsters Inc. because:

  • Attraction at Magic Kingdom (Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor).
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.

Watch Lilo & Stitch because:

  • Attraction at Magic Kingdom (Stitch’s Great Escape).
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Related character meal.
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Tangentially related themeing at Polynesian resort.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.

Watch Cars because:

  • Character appearance in attraction at DHS (Lights, Motors, Action).
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • General atmosphere at Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland Speedway.
  • General atmosphere at Epcot’s Test Track.
  • General atmosphere at DHS Lights, Motors, Action attraction.
  • Themed area at Art of Animation resort.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.

Watch Mary Poppins because:

  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • General atmosphere at Epcot’s UK pavilion.
  • Related character meals.
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.

Watch Pinocchio because:

  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Narration in Wishes fireworks.
  • Related restaurant at Magic Kingdom (Pinocchio Village Haus).

Watch Jungle Book because:

  • General atmosphere at Animal Kingdom.
  • General atmosphere at Magic Kingdom Adventureland.
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.

Watch Pocahontas because:

  • General atmosphere at Animal Kingdom.
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.

Watch Alice in Wonderland because:

  • Attraction at Magic Kingdom (Mad Tea Party).
  • Related character meals.
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Special related experience (Wonderland Tea Party) (reservation and additional fee required).
  • Tables in Wonderland Dining Discount Card.

Watch 101 Dalmatians because:

  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Themed area at All Star Movies resort.
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.

Watch Princess & the Frog because:

  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Related themeing at Port Orleans resort.
  • Makeover opportunities at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.

Watch Pirates of the Caribbean because:

  • Attraction at the Magic Kingdom (Pirates of the Caribbean).
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Related themeing at Caribbean Beach resort.
  • Makeover opportunities at Pirates League.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.

THE FINAL TOUCHES

Watch Indiana Jones series because:

  • Attraction at DHS (Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular).
  • General atmosphere at Magic Kingdom Adventureland.
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.

Watch The Music Man because:

  • General atmosphere of Magic Kingdom Main Street.
  • Magic Kingdom Main Street music.

Watch The Apple Dumpling Gang because:

  • General atmosphere of Magic Kingdom Frontierland.

Watch A Bug’s Life because:

  • Related attraction at Animal Kingdom (It’s a Bug’s Life).
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.

Watch The Right Stuff because:

  • General atmosphere of Magic Kingdom Space Mountain attraction.
  • General atmosphere of Epcot Mission Space attraction.
  • General atmosphere of Epcot Spaceship Earth attraction.

Watch The Muppet Movie because:

  • Attraction at DHS (MuppetVision 3D).
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.

Watch any of the Disney Nature series because:

  • General atmosphere at Animal Kingdom.
  • General atmosphere at Rainforest Cafe restaurants.

Watch The African Queen because:

  • General atmosphere at Magic Kingdom Adventureland.
  • General atmosphere at Animal Kingdom Africa.

Watch Dinosaur because:

  • General atmosphere at Animal Kingdom DinoLand.
  • General atmosphere at Downtown Disney T-REX Cafe.
  • General atmosphere at Epcot’s Universe of Energy attraction.

Watch Mulan because:

  • General atmosphere at Epcot’s China pavilion.
  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Character meet & greet experiences.

Watch The Aristocats because:

  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • General atmosphere at Epcot’s France pavilion.
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.

Watch The Three Cabelleros because:

  • Attraction at Epcot (Gran Fiesta Tour).
  • General atmosphere at Epcot’s Mexico pavilion.
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Related themeing at Epcot’s Mexico pavilion.
  • General atmosphere at Coronado Springs resort.

Watch Lady and the Tramp because:

  • Related restaurant at Magic Kingdom (Tony’s Town Square).
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.

Watch 1776 because:

  • General atmosphere of Magic Kingdom Liberty Square and Hall of Presidents.
  • General atmosphere of Epcot’s America pavilion and American Adventure attraction.

Watch Tangled because:

  • Character or film clip appearances in parades and stage shows.
  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Themed restroom area at the Magic Kingdom.
  • Makeover opportunities at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.

Watch Brave because:

  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.

Watch Frozen because:

  • Character meet & greet experiences.
  • Related themeing at Epcot’s Norway pavilion.
  • Merchandise sold throughout the parks.

Watch Show Boat because:

  • General atmosphere in Magic Kingdom Liberty Square.
  • General atmosphere in Magic Kingdom’s Main Street.
  • Reference in the Great Movie Ride at DHS.

OK folks, let me have it. What did I miss? What would you put in a different category than I did? I want to hear your take on the essential movies to prepare someone to visit Walt Disney World. Let me know in the comments below.

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Posted on November 20, 2013

31 Responses to “Movies to Watch Before You Visit Disney World”

  • Watch some of the ‘Song of the South’ videos on YouTube, so Splash Mountain makes more sense.

    • I vividly remember being shown Song of the South during school in 5th grade. Unimaginable now.

      I read my kids some of the Uncle Remus stories to prep them for Splash Mountain, but it’s not exactly the same. They still find it confusing.

  • We started this last week with 10 days out before our next trip. We have watched a Disney movie each night to get ready. We have been more than 10 times so my kids “get it” but it’s always fun to watch those movies again. It’s the only time I can get my 3 sons to watch princess movies.

  • If you are going to AK and considering the Wilderness Explorer program, you should watch Up as the basis of the program ties to that movie

    • Fair point. I had forgotten about this recent addition to the AK. But while I love, love, love Up, it’s still not as important to your overall understanding of the parks as many of the other films.

  • Princess and the Frog if you’re staying at Port Orleans Riverside or French Quarter!

  • I don’t see Swiss Family Robinson on your list, but it’s a great family movie and it definitely made my kids appreciate the treehouse more.

  • This is an impressive, comprehensive list! Thank you for posting it. For reasons to watch Star Wars, I would add the wonderful, immersive experience that is the Jedi Training Academy at HS.

  • Excellent list! I might add The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (or the 1973 Tom Sawyer, with songs by the Sherman Brothers) for Tom Sawyer Island. Ratatouille is another introduction to Paris and the France Pavilion.

    • Tom Sawyer is a good thought. I considered adding Ratatouille, and probably would have if they still had Remy at Chefs de France, but otherwise I thought the French feel was mostly covered by B&tB.

  • I created this list of WDW Attractions and their Movie References some time ago. Feel free to use it, and suggest additions or corrections: http://bit.ly/WDWmovies

  • “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.” A Frontierland and Fort Wilderness essential that reflects a number of items from history, music and displays.

  • Not that it will matter to little ones…

    But you mentioned UP isn’t regular referenced at Disney world.
    It’s more like a hidden mickey.
    The music from UP is regularly playing at magic kingdom main st area.

  • We just took our 2 year old. He doesn’t have the attention span for most movies and a lot of the standards are still a little too scary for him. He did well with the winnie the pooh movie, parts of mary poppins, mickey mouse clubhouse. We ended up getting a set of disney books to introduce him to the rest of the characters and that worked well. He loves the toy story characters and monsters inc characters and has not seen any of the movies. He got a lot more out of the character meals where he was already familiar with the specific characters.

  • Other reason to watch Pocahontas is the extended scene during Fantasmic. Other stuff to watch could include an episode of The Twilight Zone to appeciate Tower of Terror, perhaps the episode “It’s a Good Life”, which they use a part of to show Rod Serling during the pre-show.

  • There are a lot of villains that are projected on the water screen during Fantasmic! I remember specifically not knowing the identity of one of the villains until I later saw Hunchback of Notre Dame, and realized that the character was Frollo.

  • This is a great list, but my favorite part had to be: “Watch Cinderella because: Well, there‚Äôs that big castle in the middle of the Magic Kingdom.”
    Had me trying to smother my giggles at work! :)

  • Totally a “final touches” one, but we’re huge fans of the Main Street Electrical Parade, so I love Pete’s Dragon for that.

  • One thing not mentioned about the “Apple Dumpling Gang” is there are a few references to the movie in the Big Thunder Mountain queue now like a Wanted poster with Don Knotts and Tim Conway’s characters on it.

  • For a non-Disney Final Touches suggestion, I would recommend Singin’ In The Rain. Because of Being referenced in an attraction at DHS, General atmosphere at DHS, and the umbrella photo-op at DHS. (That umbrella is still there, right?) And I guess if a family goes to Disney World during a rainy time, they may find themselves singing in the rain anyway.

  • by daffystardust on November 20, 2013, at 5:31 pm EDT

    Great idea for a post!
    As much as anything, it reminds me how under-represented some of the great Disney movies are at WDW. The lack of Pinocchio references in the parks is really stunning.

  • by Angela from Ohio on November 21, 2013, at 12:25 pm EDT

    It’s not a movie but Sing Along Songs – it’s a small world circa 1990. On DVD 2005. Is a great way to show how large Mickey and Minnie are when kids meet them. It also shows parts of Main Street, frontier land, etc while introducing kids to classic songs like Zip-a-dee-doo-day and its a small world. Great list Erin – I’ll be sure to pass it on to my friends planning spring trips

  • I always watch Pollyanna or Toby Tyler, because they do a great job at representing the Main Street USA flavor, and they are fantastic Disney movies! And I think Swiss Family Robinson is a must! It’s such a great movie, and a great way to tell the Adventureland story!

    Also Meet the Robinsons is a great movie to relate to Tomorrowland, and I love that Walt quote they end with.

  • Not that I would recommend seeing this movie before going to the parks, but we had recently watched the old Julie Garland classic, “Meet me in St. Louis”, and the next thing you know they were clearing the Main Street USA street and did the Trolley Song from that movie (A group of six or seven in period costumes were in the trolley singing), “Clang ,clang, clang went the trolley
    Ding, ding, ding went the bell
    Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings as we started for Huntington Dell. etc.”
    So cute and so Main Street USA. It was all very magical for us.