Just outside the eerie exit to Walt Disney World’s Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square is a small, fenced-in pet cemetery. Hiding – or haunting – in the far corner of this creepy collection of morbid marble is a small pale statue of a familiar frog.
This phantom frog bears a striking resemblance to one who was well known to the region for many years, none other than one J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq – best known as Mr. Toad.
Intrigued by this intrusion, JeniLynn (Agent J) and I (Agent M) took to the case to determine the origins of this special statue, tracing the path from the once esteemed Fantasyland resident took to wind up six feet under.
Infamous and eccentric Mr. Toad was first introduced to the world in 1908 Kenneth Grahame children’s novel, “The Wind and the Willows.” Toad, Rat Mole and the gang were popular in the Walt Disney feature (his 11th), “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.” This 1949 cartoon also included an adaptation of Washington Irving’s 1820 short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
This atypical amphibian arrived to the world of theme parks with the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim.
Initially intended as a roller coaster, the dark ride version we see today exists as Mr. Disney wanted “all-age” experiences. The attraction following Toad’s antics is one of the few remaining attractions still in operating since opening day, revamped in 1983.
When Walt Disney World opened in October of 1971, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was ready to receive riders at its Fantasyland location across from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Unique in having two different experiences in one ride, a right track and left track. Right-side riders wound their way out Toad Hall’s library into the countryside, into court, jail and a shootout between the weasels and police. On the left, guests passed through Toad’s trophy room, a gypsy camp, bar, and nighttime countryside. Both experiences end in tragedy as the ride jalopy “collides” with an oncoming train and everyone ends up in a camped-up version of hell.
Sadly, Walt Disney World’s delightful drive came to a halt in 1998, replaced by The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Curious (and hungry) guests can still visit Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland and also dine in Toad Hall when they visit Fantasyland in Disneyland Paris. The front façade of this eatery is an exact recreation of the entrance to Toad Hall from the Anaheim update to the ride. The inside is filled with references to the 1949 film
The Macabre Mystery
Armed with the above backstory, Agent J and I immediately jumped on the case to follow what happened next in this sordid story of one stylish, but somber statue.
Beginning in Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland, much had changed since 1971. Tents have now been replaced with stone walls and several original adventures are absent. Winding our way to where the wild ride once was, it is obvious that it too has vanished. Instead, the Hundred Acre Wood now resides where Toad once was.
Inside, a small photo is found on the wall of Owl’s home, indicating Mr. J. Thaddeus Toad indeed passed the deed to Toad Hall on to Owl. If this painting were to be believed, then Toad was alive and well when this event occurred. But is it the truth?
The imagery of Toad and Owl sparks a theory that discovering the statue’s origins may shed some light on this mystery.
Agent J suggested that the amazing amphibian’s statue might be a remnant from Toad Hall – either the stately statue that stood tall in front or perhaps one of the figures found within…
After perusing pictures online, we determined disassociation – there was no exact match in any of the attractions to the marble mystery figure.
Catching the Cryptic Culprit
But wait! “Figure” is indeed the right term. This is a familiar figure after all.
Back in the time of Pooh’s increasing popularity, large figures (or “big figs”) were all the rage at the Art of Disney stores. And, sure enough, one was created for Mr. Toad:
The big figure sold as a collectable matches the small statue seen in the back corner of this pet cemetery, almost perfectly.
It seems it was, in fact, Owl that indirectly caused the “death” of Mr. Toad. Pooh was the hot property at the time, so merchandising stepped in to put the proverbial nail in his coffin, sending him to marketing hell – so to speak.
But who crafted this exact statue? Perhaps an industrious Imagineer repainted the figure and placed it as a tribute?
That may be a mystery that is never solved. But we had ‘figured’ out the path it took to get from Fantasyland star to a permanent resident of The Haunted Mansion’s pet cemetery.
But that’s not all…
There is one amusing footnote to this whole story. Around 5 years after Mr. Toad materialized in the Mansion’s graveyard, Walt Disney World held a special event called Room For One More. There, attendees celebrated The Haunted Mansion with lively entertainment over dinner. And they left with a very special parting gift:
This smaller version of Mr. Toad was modeled after the statue in the Haunted Mansion pet cemetery, which was fashioned from a piece of merchandise, which was inspired by the attraction.
Additional, entertaining insight to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride can be found at Virtual Toad (including a computer generated virtual ride through).