For years, Disney has operated parks and resorts around the world in a way that no other company has truly accomplished. Concepts have developed, ideas have changed, and attractions have come and gone. However, one particular attraction ceased operation at Disney and moved to an entirely new location to operate once again. Today, the project has taken on an entirely new conceptual state, but the history of Midget Autopia is something that gets vastly overlooked in much of the Disney community.
The attraction began early on in the development of Walt Disney’s original foray into the theme park realm, Disneyland. When it debuted a short two years after the park opened (1957), the attraction welcomed strictly young kids to ride around a small track similar to what you would find on the larger Tomorrowland Speedway (WDW) or Autopia (Disneyland). Opposed to the larger variation, this shorter track operated much more like a “dark ride” similar to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, or even Under The Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid. Contrary to the larger scale variations, these simple attraction vehicles were not designed to be piloted by guests but rather guided along a route smoothly. Also worth noting is that the name of this attraction was not created as a result of the stature of the children riding it but rather the small nature of the automobiles themselves when compared to the full size iteration. In some ways, it’s similar to the naming of Daihatsu Midget mini truck which was in production at one point.
Overall, the design thrilled children for many years, but the attraction faced one main limitation, adults could not ride the small variation of the speedway concept. As a result, it didn’t end up being the best fit for Disneyland. In 1966, after a short 9 year run in the park, a new attraction, ‘it’s a small world’ (which is typically not capitalized) filled the void this simple attraction left. Despite it’s end of operation at Disneyland, the attraction was gifted and began new operation in Walt Disney Park in Marceline, Missouri. As one of many gifts to his childhood hometown, Walt left a true impact on the city that held a special place in his heart. While Walt was in fact born in Chicago, he’s been quoted many times about how much the city of Marceline meant to him.
While the use of Midget Autopia eventually came to a close 11 years after its second debut in Marceline, the profound impact this community had on Walt and Walt has had on the community in return spans many more years. Despite the majority of the original cars slowly falling apart, two near original cars still remain. One, which is proudly owned by the Walt Disney Hometown Museum, is on display today and leading the way for a project that may or may not come to fruition. The museum announced in 2015 that they intend to bring Midget Autopia back to Marceline in an operational state. While I have not heard a recent update on the project, and we have already passed the proposed opening date, it would be outstanding to see it return to that community for Disney fans young and old to experience once again.