If you’re a fan of the Disney theme parks, you may have come across the term “weenie” before. If you’re not a fan of the Disney theme parks this video has probably already gotten a little weird for you. So what is a Disney Weenie and where did it come from
Walt Disney was obsessed with the design and construction of Disneyland. That’s just the kind of person he was.
As a result, he spent most of his days and nights not only overseeing his company, but also planning and overseeing Disneyland as well. So it wasn’t at all uncommon for Walt to get home late during those early years.
As the story goes, according to Disney historian Jim Korkis, on nights when he got home late, Walt would often enter his house through the kitchen since it was closer to the garage. There, he would grab an uncooked hot dog to give as a treat to their family poodle, Lady. He noticed that as long as he had the hot dog, Lady would follow him anywhere just to get to that treat.
Later, when designing Disneyland he realized that the park similarly needed ways to coax visitors not only into the park, but into different parts of the park. I guess he knew that uncooked hot dogs weren’t going to do the trick, but in any case he decided to honor his dog Lady and so the structures that would win the attention of guests were called weenies.
However beyond being the element that would pull guests in from Main Street, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle was intended to be the weenie that would draw guests back out of each of the lands at the park. You see, when Disneyland opened in 1955, almost none of the lands were connected to one another. They were essentially dead ends, so guests who wanted to go from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland had to walk back out to the hub first to get there.
With that design, the castle would be a visual anchor with which guests would be able to get their bearings and return to the hub whenever they needed to. It wouldn’t be until later that pathways between the lands were created to help guests get around.
The castle wasn’t the only Disneyland weenie though. Virtually all of the lands were designed to have their own distinct weenies to draw guests in. Over in Tomorrowland there was not only the World Clock at the entrance of the land, but also a TWA Moonliner Rocket at the back.
Peering into Frontierland, guests would see the docked Mark Twain Riverboat, welcoming guests into the past. Fantasyland had the castle of course, and even Main Street USA had it’s own in the form of the Disneyland Railroad station, which acted as a weenie for guests leaving the park.
The only land that didn’t have it’s own weenie was Adventureland and that was, like most things at Disneyland, intentional. The logic behind the decision was that Adventureland was meant to be mysterious and exciting, and that getting a clear view of what was in store for the land would defeat the purpose of the land altogether.
Beyond just being a visual magnet intended to draw guests in, weenies were also tools to establish the visual language of the area. When you look at Big Thunder Mountain, it tells you everything you need to know about that land’s theme, and it’s only as you approach the attraction would a newcomer to the parks even realize it is an attraction. They help establish the aesthetic language that the area is going to use to transport you to another world, and creatively hide details so that only exploration would allow you to see everything.
Speaking of hiding, another important element to designing a Disney weenie is know where to place it so that it doesn’t interrupt the sight-lines from other areas of the park. When you’re in Tomorrowland, it’s important that you can’t see Big Thunder because that just wouldn’t make much sense. You’re in tomorrowland! Unless of course you can design a Disney weenie to have two different themes from two different angles.
With a little bit of care and planning, what can look like a creepy Hollywood Hotel from one perspective, is just another building in the Moroccan skyline from another. Of course, if care isn’t taken to sightlines and design, as was the case when Michael Eisner was placing the, at the time, new Swan and Dolphin resorts, you end up with a visual inconsistency that breaks the theme.
Expedition Everest. Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Spaceship Earth. The Tower of Terror. Yeah, they may have a silly name, but weenies are an important aspect of Disney history that have guided the design of Disney parks and attractions for decades.