Despite the ride’s perennial favorite status among many visitors, Disneyland in Anaheim, California, plans to completely overhaul Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with a 101 Dalmatians theme. The ride is one the park’s few remaining attractions that dates back to its 1955 opening, although it was heavily modernized in 1983. The ride is based on the Mr. Toad character from Scottish author Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 masterpiece novel The Wind in the Willows and the various animated features that it inspired.
Newly-minted Disney CEO Bob Chapek insists this move was not a result of any specific complaints, but rather represents a long-overdue revision based on outdated amphibian stereotypes. The ride features a first-person vintage car driving experience, with numerous crashes, quick turns, and surprises.
Chapek shared his sentiments via an ABC interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America Friday, explaining, “While Mr. Toad’s ride was undoubtedly fun, much of its thematic imagery comes at the expense of toads, who are portrayed as greedy, capricious, and often careless. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Toads are a vital contributor to marshlands and riverine ecosystems.”
Revisions will be made throughout the 2020-2021 season to reflect the 1961 film 101 Dalmatians, specifically replacing the Mr. Toad vehicle with antagonist Cruella DeVille (who was also portrayed by Glenn Close in the 1996 live-action remake).
Sponsored by Cadillac, the DeVille character will be renamed “Cruella DTS” and will cruise smoothly through a series of sweeping turns with mild excitement. Dogs that enter the roadway will be unharmed thanks to the DTS’s automatic braking system. Disney Imagineers believe this decision will make the ride less scary for children, but will also appeal more directly to 85-year-old men who shouldn’t otherwise be driving cars.
The ride is not the only time potentially derogatory toad imagery has been initially embraced by the public, only to be rejected just a few short decades later.
Children’s author Arnold Lobel, who wrote the 1970s Caldecott award-winning Frog and Toad book series, was recently boycotted and saw thousands of copies of his works burned in the streets across the country. Protesters felt the Toad character was unfairly shown as lazy, depressed, and pessimistic in contrast with Frog’s upbeat and productive nature.
The Caldecott Award Committee has also considered rescinding Lobel’s awards unless the books are revised to reflect a hardworking and hopeful version of Toad. According to committee chairman Guy Montag, “It’s clear in the lens of today’s society that toads can do everything that frogs can, from growing gardens to exercising willpower with their cookie eating. While we appreciate Mr. Lobel’s contribution to childhood reading, it’s time to modernize or face the consequences.”
Mr. Lobel died in 1987 and was thus unavailable for comment.
Chapek also addressed Ms. Roberts’s comments over rumors that Disney planned to update the Dumbo ride to allow users to swoop down and kick animatronic “Karen” villains who are “cutting in line for a Fastpass.” Mr. Chapek explained that “These comments are unfounded internet chatter. Everyone knows Karens use the Disney app, not the Fastpass kiosks.”
The 101 Dalmatians decision is not without controversy, however. Nikola Markovic, president of the Croatian-American Anti-Defamation League in New York City, already took to social media to deride the choice, rhetorically asking “How long must our vibrant Adriatic people be callously portrayed as nearly-identical, sex-crazed dogs willing to bow down to the will of human masters?”