30 Disney Facts That Will Give You a Child-like Sense of Wonder
Don't let these Disney secrets ruin the magic.
Everyone’s got those friends who are total Disney addicts. They visit the park once a year, they can quote their favorite films, and maybe they even have an impressively (er, disturbingly?) accurate character costume.
But no matter how intense your Disney fandom, it’s impossible to know everything. After all, the parks themselves boast 65 years of history (Disneyland opened its gates in 1955) and the first Walt Disney Studios full-length feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, came out in 1937. That’s a lot of Disney trivia to catch up on!
To get you up to speed on some of the finer points of Disney history—or to help you quiz your friend who thinks they know it all—we’ve rounded up the Disney facts even experts haven’t heard before.
Walt Disney’s first original character was a rabbit.
Mickey Mouse might be Walt Disney’s most well-known character, but the animator’s first creation was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Disney created 27 one-reelers about the anthropomorphic rodent in 1927, but just a year later, Universal Studios claimed the rights to the cartoon. After losing the character, Disney created Mickey Mouse. You might notice Mickey and Oswald bear a striking resemblance—but hey, when you’ve got a vision, you’ve got a vision.
The Walt Disney World Resort is about the same size as San Francisco.
The Florida resort, which covers nearly 40 square miles, is only 10 square miles smaller than the bustling city of San Francisco. That’s also the size of two Manhattan islands. For comparison, Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, is just 85 acres, or 0.13 square miles.
The actors who played Mickey and Minnie Mouse were married.
Wayne Allwine, the actor who gave Mickey Mouse his voice for more than 30 years, was married to Russi Taylor, the actress who voiced Minnie. Taylor says they met in a hallway when she was on her way to work on the 1988 musical television special Totally Minnie. Years later, they began dating and the cartoon romance soon became real life. The pair was married almost 20 years until Allwine’s death in 2009.
Dumbo almost made the cover of Time magazine in 1941.
Dumbo was such a hit in 1941 that Time magazine wanted to honor the beloved elephant as “Mammal of the Year”, in a nod to the magazine’s traditional honor of “Person of the Year.” However, there was a bit of bad timing. On December 7, 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the magazine quickly shifted gears on strategy. Although Dumbo didn’t make the cover, he was still appointed “Mammal of the Year” in the issue’s “Cinema” section.
Walt Disney kept live animals on the set of some of his productions.
Part of the reason why Walt Disney’s films were so successful was that the animator was incredibly dedicated to getting things right. To make the animals in his films as realistic as possible, he often brought live animals into the studio. During production for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, live rabbits, skunks, and horses were brought in for the animators to study. Similarly, two fawns roamed around during the production of Bambi.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios was meant to be a production studio.
The movie-themed park was originally introduced as Disney-MGM Studios in 1989 with the intention of becoming a fully functional television and movie production studio. In fact, Ernest Saves Christmas, among other films, was produced at the studio (which is now called Disney’s Hollywood Studios) before it opened as a theme park.
Walt Disney originally planned for Epcot to be a model community.
It sounds a bit creepy, but Epcot, which stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, was intended to be a “planned environment demonstrating to the world what American communities can accomplish through proper control of planning and design,” said Walt Disney in a documentary.
The original plan was to select 20,000 people to live in the city, which would have shopping areas, residential properties, theaters, restaurants, and more. The community was also intended to be built in a climate-controlled setting. After Walt died, the project was seen as unrealistic, and Epcot instead became what it is today.
Some of the food served at Epcot is grown inside the park.
The Land, a 2.5 million-square-foot pavilion dedicated to human interaction with the earth, is home to one of Epcot’s most popular rides, Soarin’ Around the World. But surprisingly, it is also the place where much of the park’s produce and seafood is grown. On the Living with the Land boat ride, guests can learn about agriculture and see where Disney horticulturalists use growing techniques to harvest foods that are later served at both Sunshine Seasons and Garden Grill restaurants.
You can order treats off of a secret menu at Disney.
Theme-park food can certainly be expensive, but there are some foods that are totally worth it. At Disney parks, there are secret menu items Disney fans can enjoy—but stay on your toes, because the menu is constantly changing.
Past treats include poutine with gravy and cheese curds and a cinnamon bun and candied bacon cheeseburger at the All-Star Movies Resort World Premiere Food Court. D-Luxe Burger at Disney Springs also has a secret menu that can only be accessed through your phone on the Walt Disney World app.
Disney held a Sister Summit for the movie Frozen.
As part of a brainstorm for Frozen, Disney Animation held a Sister Summit for women at the company to share stories about what it’s like to have sisters. According to Jennifer Lee, the film’s director and the current chief creative officer of Disney Animation Studios, the summit “really helped the movie.”
“The stories that came out, it was an energy; you could feel what’s at stakes with siblings and what that feels like. It really helped the movie,” Lee said in an interview.
The daughter of the Frozen songwriters got to sing in the movie.
Married songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez were the masterminds behind stunning music for Frozen. They credit part of their success to being the parents of two daughters and seeing the magic of a sisterly bond firsthand. One of their daughters, Katie, can be heard singing the first verse of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” as young Anna.
Walt Disney received a customized award for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
In 1939, Walt Disney received an honorary Oscar for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that featured a full-sized Oscar statuette with seven smaller ones in a row. (The award was given for the film’s “significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field for the motion picture cartoon.”)
The Oscar was presented by child star Shirley Temple. Years later, Temple told historian John Culhane that, at age 11, she had an issue with the trophy. “I thought that the big statue was for Walt and that the Seven Dwarfs were the little ones going down the side and that Snow White herself hadn’t gotten anything.”
You can have your own fairytale wedding at the Cinderella Castle.
Who says you need to be a princess to get married in a castle? Although you can get married at a number of locations at Disney parks and resorts, the most picturesque spot might be in front of the Cinderella Castle. A Cinderella wedding can include riding on Cinderella’s horse-drawn glass coach, fireworks, Disney characters, and more. Another popular wedding location is the Wedding Pavilion, which was designed by Disney Imagineers so guests can see the Cinderella Castle through the stained-glass window behind the altar.
The actor who played Bambi grew up to be a United States Marine Corps drill instructor.
It’s hard to imagine the voice of Bambi as anything but a sweet little deer navigating the woods without his mother. But it turns out child actor Donnie Dunagan, who aced the part in 1942, grew up to serve his country for 25 years in the Marine Corps, at one point as a drill instructor. Dunagan managed to keep his career as a child actor quiet during his military career, but has since proudly come forward as the voice of young Bambi.
Mickey Mouse became the first animated character to get a star in Hollywood.
In 1978, Mickey’s 50th anniversary was celebrated with the addition of his very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Four decades later in 2018, Minnie joined Mickey on the strip with her own bronze star.
The Lady and the Tramp spaghetti scene almost didn’t happen.
Walt Disney wasn’t a fan of the now iconic scene where the two dogs share a piece of spaghetti. In fact, he cut it from the first storyboards entirely. According to Steven Vagnini, a former studio archivist and a curator for the official Disney fan club D23, Disney thought that the idea of two house pets sharing a fine-dining experience would be too difficult to understand. He changed his mind once directing animator Frank Thomas created a rough version of the scene.
What you see at the Magic Kingdom is actually the second floor of the park.
It’s no secret that underneath Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is a series of tunnels called utilidors for cast members and maintenance crew to navigate the park. But what seems like a whole other world below is actually a system built on ground level. Due to Florida’s high water table, the Magic Kingdom was built as a second floor on top of the utilidors.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom doesn’t allow plastic straws inside.
There are many items that are not permitted inside Disney parks, but straws and balloons are strictly prohibited from the Animal Kingdom for the safety of the animals. In addition to making sure the animals steer clear of potential hazards, the Walt Disney Company also announced its plans to eliminate single-use plastic straws and stirrers at all of its locations to help reduce its environmental footprint.
Disney parks are popular places to scatter human ashes.
Disney World has been dubbed the happiest place on Earth—so it’s no wonder many people have requested it as their final resting place. Current and former custodians say that of all the places human ashes have been spread, the Haunted Mansion is likely the most popular.
The vultures in The Jungle Book were meant to be played by The Beatles.
During production, the filmmakers envisioned The Beatles making a cameo appearance as the vultures in The Jungle Book. The characters were even created to share similar hairstyles as the bandmates. Unfortunately, The Beatles were unavailable due to scheduling issues.
Disneyland has its very own colony of feral cats.
The California park has become home to up to 100 feral cats (nicknamed “cats members” by fans) that help control pests. To keep the cat population in check, Disney brought in veterinarians to neuter, vaccinate, and tag all the cats in the Magic Kingdom.
The Aristocats was the last film to be approved by Walt Disney himself.
The film was the last Disney movie to include “A Walt Disney Production” at the end. It’s also the first movie to be completed after Disney’s death in 1966.
Walt Disney collaborated with surrealist artist Salvador Dalí on a short film.
Disney and Dalí teamed up to create a six-minute project called Destino that combined animation and live dance. In the film, Chronos, a personification of time, falls in love with a mortal woman. The pair travels through works of art created by Dalí. Destino was discovered by Disney’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, in 1999 while he was working on Fantasia 2000. It was later nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
The voice of Optimus Prime is the same as Eeyore
Who would have thought that a robot and a donkey would have so much in common? Turns out actor Peter Cullen played both Optimus Prime from the original 1980s Transformers cartoon and Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.
The parks use a scent machine to fully engage your senses.
Your sense of smell is so closely tied to your emotions that the Imagineers at Disney decided no experience would be complete without an olfactory element. That’s why you shouldn’t be alarmed if you pick up the distinct smell of popcorn on Main Street—even when there’s no popcorn truck to be found. Blame it on Disneyland’s Smellitzer, a machine that emits a range of scents at different park attractions.
The Cinderella fountain at Fantasyland looks different to children and adults.
Disney World loves to give children the upper hand, and that’s especially the case at the Cinderella fountain in Fantasyland. When adults look straight ahead at the fountain, they see an almost sullen depiction of the Disney princess looking down. But when children look up at the fountain, they see a crown resting atop her head. Next time you’re there, crouch down and take a look.
You’ll never hear a Disney cast member say “I don’t know.”
Disney cast members go through extensive training to provide quality customer service and keep the Disney magic alive. In addition to always using two fingers to point when giving directions, cast members are also never allowed to say “I don’t know” when a park goer asks a question—even if they actually don’t know the answer. Instead, they are instructed to reach out to other cast members at the park to find an answer.
You can chat with the creatives at Disney World over lunch.
Everyone who’s been to Disney has had some questions about how the magic happens. And if you’re willing to shell out a few extra bucks, you can totally ask them. Disney World’s Dine with an Imagineer lunch is the perfect opportunity to get the inside scoop on everything that goes on behind the scenes.
Alicia Keys auditioned for the role of Princess Tiana three times.
When casting the role of Princess Tiana for Princess and the Frog, there were quite a few famous actresses who wanted the role, including Tyra Banks, Jennifer Hudson, and Beyonce. But according to casting director Jen Rudin, it was Alicia Keys who proved to be the most persistent, auditioning for the role three times. The job ultimately went to actress Anika Noni Rose.
The drawbridge at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle actually works
Not all of Disneyland’s architecture is just for show. The drawbridge at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, for example, is fully functional. Unfortunately, it’s only been used twice: Once when the park opened in 1955 and once again for the opening ceremony of a redesigned Fantasyland in 1983.
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