Disney Releases Original Cinematic Universe on Disney+

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A collage features a black-and-white image of a man in a suit at the center. Surrounding him are images of a man holding clay, an anthropomorphic car from the Disney Cinematic Universe, a white fluffy dog wearing glasses, and a green goo-like creature.

Credit: Inside the Magic

Marvel Studios’ MCU might be the first thing most think of when they hear the words “cinematic universe,” but the concept existed for decades before Stan Lee ever put pen to paper. Moreover, Walt Disney himself might have been a pioneer of the genre without even knowing it.

Credit: Universal Pictures

Many film buffs cite the Universal Monsters series as the first example of a shared cinematic universe, pointing towards such films as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) and House of Frankenstein (1944) as examples. However, Disney had its own contribution to the field with multiple films under the supervision of its prolific founder.

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While some might instantly jump to the timeline theory surrounding the masterpieces of Disney animation or even the famous Pixar Theory, Walt Disney developed a setting that would be used for not just a series but multiple series and even a theme park attraction at the EPCOT center at the Walt Disney World Resort long before. It all starts with a little place called Medfield College.

The Walt Disney Cinematic Universe

The Absent-Minded Professor Flubber Scene
Credit: Disney

Inspired by Medfield, Massachusetts, Medfield College served as the setting for multiple Disney science-fiction films released throughout the ’60s and ’70s. Most might recognize the name from The Absent-Minded Professor movies with Fred MacMurray and Flubber (1997), a remake starring Robin Williams. However, it’s not just the name that was reused.

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Medfield College was the setting for all three Flubber films, but it was also the backdrop for the “Dexter Riley Trilogy” starring Kurt Russell in the title role. The themes of change and sci-fi experimentation from the Flubber movies persist, but the two leads aren’t the only factors that pin things together.

Keenan Wynn as Mr. Hawk in Herbie
Credit: Disney

Although Herbie the Love Bug is based in San Francisco, he shares a rival with Professor Brainard in the form of Alonzo Hawk, a sinister billionaire played by Keenan Wynn in not one but possibly three Disney series. Not only did Hawk try to run Medfield College into financial ruin, but he also came after Herbie and his friends in Herbie Rides Again (1974), but he was far from finished.

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The third series tied into this already six-entry-long universe might be another appearance by Wynn, semi-reprising his role in The Shaggy D.A.(1976). Although the character’s name was changed to John Slade, the setting remains unchanged as Disney returned to Medfield, suggesting that it was indeed intended to be the same character.

Going Deeper

The exterior of Journey Into Imagination With Figment.
Credit: Ed Aguila, Inside the Magic

Including The Shaggy D.A., Walt Disney’s cinematic universe now consists of eight movies spanning four franchises. However, where would Disney be without a connection to the Disney parks?

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While not necessarily the strongest thread in the spool, multiple references to Medfield, Professor Brainard, Dexter Riley, and their corresponding movies all exist in the same attraction. After students complete their core work at Medfield College, they might want to venture to the Imagination Institute to further their education.

Left: Three young men are standing at a control panel, looking intently at the buttons and screens, as if navigating a cinematic universe. Right: A sign on a window reads "No Tennis Shoes Allowed" with a crossed-out image of a tennis shoe, next to hanging red items.
Credit: Inside the Magic

Journey Into Imagination with Figment at EPCOT hosts several props and references to some of Disney’s best sci-fi films, including The Absent-Minded Professor and Flubber. However, one damning piece of evidence lies in the computer lab where riders can see a coat rack with a Medfield letterman jacket next to a sign that reads “NO TENNIS SHOES ALLOWED,” tying back to both the setting and the Dexter Riley films.

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Marvel might monopolize multiverses and connected films, but the MCU isn’t the only set available on Disney+. Although the Dexter Riley series is missing Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972), the rest of Walt Disney’s cinematic universe remains intact and ready to be binged.

Have you stumbled into the Disneyverse? Let Inside the Magic know in the comments down below!

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