On April 6 2021, a popular Imgur post involved a purported Disney fact — namely that Disney once conceived, then scrapped, plans for a “Dark Kingdom” theme park, with its branding focused around Maleficent’s castle:
The Imgur Post and the Original Source
Text over a rendering of a castle on a spire read:
Disney once considered building a park dedicated entirely to villains called Dark Kingdom, which would have featured Maleficent’s castle as it’s and [sic] iconic centrepiece.
No information was included alongside the post to substantiate the claims — and judging by engagements alone, a number of Disney fans would be interested in the Dark Kingdom concept:
“They should have. Make the villain merchandise easier to find there, like Chernabog and the Headless Horseman.”
“I want to go there! Make it real!”
“Wtf why isn’t this happening[?]”
“I wouldn’t pay for current Disney park without a great fucking deal. I’d bend over backwards to attend Disney Villain park.”
Incidentally, at least one Imgur commenter hypothesized that Disney operatives planted the image in order to measure reactions to the claim:
“This post may be their marketing department gaging [sic] interest– older fans are likelier to ditch for California Adv or EPCOT. Or Universal”
A search for the text on the post indicated that it was likely a screenshot of a now inaccessible Tumblr page of the blog didyouknowblog.com; reblogs of the original post were first crawled by reverse image engines in July 2016:
Om Imgur, the “did you know?” element was cropped out, and on the didyouknowblog.com/Tumblr version, a transcription of the image text was followed by a link labeled “Source.” “Source” led to a blog post on a site called WDWinfo.com, dated February 2 2011.
The Rumor and Its Basis
WDWinfo.com has no “about” page, but its “Contact Us” page begins with the following disclaimer (emphasis original and intact):
This site is NOT AFFILIATED WITH the Walt Disney Company, or Walt Disney World in any way. This is a fan based website. If you have questions or comments that you need to give DIRECTLY to Disney, then please visit their website here [LINK]. For a list of Walt Disney World Contacts, Click Here [LINK]
The February 2011 blog post from which the rumor appeared to stem began by emphasizing the perspective of its contributors and their knowledge base — lifelong fans of Disney and its theme parks:
Walt Disney was a man of ideas, endless ideas. Moreover, if he had endless cash flow, every feasible idea he dreamt up would have become a reality. Fortunately one of those ideas did – Walt Disney World.
Either with my family or with friends, I have been visiting Walt Disney World since February of 1972. From that very first visit, the World seemed huge to me. Today, with the four parks, assorted resorts and other activities, the World is enormous.
Discarded ideas fill The Disney Company’s trashcans and archives for every park and attractions at Walt Disney World. However, while a concept may not fit a given project at a given time, Disney knows the value of holding on to good ideas and using them when the time is right. Walt of all people understood that best – “Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it’s done right.” It is just at Walt Disney World the right idea does not always mean “right now.”
None of the introduction of the article descibed either Disney projects or the purported Dark Kingdom plan. Instead, the blog post kicked off with reasons the author liked Disney parks. In the post’s subsequent section (“Once Upon a Time in a Faraway Land,”) its author opined that until “recently, it was not cool to like the Villains” of Disney films. After listing off a few of Disney’s biggest villains (Maleficent, Captain Hook, Cinderella’s stepsisters, and Jafar among them), the post continued:
… Now not only do guests want to have their picture taken with Maleficent, Lady Tremaine and the Stepsisters, Captain Hook, Jafar, and others, but now the Disney Villains have their own Mix and Mingle Show during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Parade. In fact, a few years ago Disney considered giving the Villains their own theme park.
Dark Kingdom was being proposed somewhere on the Orlando property. In contrast to The Magic Kingdom, Dark Kingdom not only was to have had attractions based on Captain Hook, Ursula, and other Disney villains, but its own iconic symbol. The Park’s centerpiece was to have been Maleficent’s castle. This still could be a very viable, fun, and exciting park with the potential for some spectacular thrill rides and attractions, but with the recent acquisition of Marvel this park may just be too far in the abyss.
Also under consideration was Shadowlands, a new land in The Magic Kingdom. Contrasting with the Disney Heroes in Fantasyland, the Disney Villains and the Shadowlands section would have been located directly behind Tomorrowland. One of the reported attractions was to have been an Ursula the Sea Witch ride, which would have been a ‘spinner’ ride similar to Dumbo. Another reported villain attraction was Bald Mountain or Villain Mountain. It was to be either a log flume ride or rollercoaster on the former 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction site.
What followed was a very lengthy article (5,000 words in total), and the totality of focus on the “Dark Kingdom” rumor appears in the excerpt above. None of the scrapped, purported Disney projects discussed in the post (among them, Dark Kingdom) were supported by any specific citations.
A generalized list of references (including “Wikipedia,” “Walt Disney World,” and “Orlando Business Journal”) appeared at the bottom, but again, no specific material was referenced — only general resources. If the rumor had any basis, WDWinfo.com did not further explain it, nor did the site articulate the source for its claims.
We attempted to determine if any sources had referenced Disney’s “Dark Kingdom” concept prior to February 2 2011, using a date-restricted search. The top results were unrelated, including a 2006 New York Timesreview of an unrelated “Dark Kingdom” show.
First Traceable Mention
In fact, only a scattered handful of mentions of Disney’s Dark Kingdom concept dated before WDWinfo.com’s February 2 2011 blog post appeared in the search results.
One appeared to be in the comments of a thread on the extremely similar site ThemeParkInsider.com, and it was posted less than a month earlier, on January 9 2011. The topic of the thread was “Theme Park Apprentice Challenge 11: Final Theme Park,” in which forum participants presented their ideas.
In that January 2011 thread, a commenter by the name of Dan Babbitt wrote, perhaps referencing a July 2010 discussion on the site (“What happened to Disney’s Dark Kingdom?”), a version of what he thought it might look like:
Disney’s Dark Kingdom
The Villains. That we love to hate, has built there [sic] own Park!
After looking at my Disney movie collection and other Disney films I’ve concluded that Disney films all run along the same 4 basic parts that most of the times intertwine and mingle with each other. These basics have created a backbone for and catalyst for all Disney films and attractions that writers and imagineers adhere to for all projects. This will be the basis for the lands at Disney Dark Kingdom!
Malecifant [sic] and other Disney Villains are fed up and outrage that all the ‘good characters” are always in the getting the attention and accolades, while the Villains are always treated like second-class citizens. But she feels that without them being such an important part in the story then there wouldn’t be a these epic battles with good against evil!
So she has decided to construct her own Kingdom, and build her own Castle and with the other Villains rule and use the Realms of Magic, Fantasy, Adventure and Tomorrow and summon and even greater power and try to take over the “Happiest Place On Earth”!
Disney Dark Kingdom will be the 5th gate at Walt Disney World and will be eerily similar to the Magic Kingdom with the spoke and wheel format with a castle being the hub and center of the park but with an…..evil feel to the Park. Unlike the MK the castle will less likable, the foliage wont be as kept up like the MK and the place will feel gloomy and unkempt. The park will have 5 lands when built starting first with Briar Rose, then right to left with the Realm of Fantasy, Realm of Adventure, the Realm of Tomorrow, and then the Realm of Magic.
The Briar Rose
Here is the first experience when Villains take over a Kingdom. Malecifant needs to have a village and so took over this tiny 17th/18th Century French village of Perrault which lays just outside of Paris but seems so far away because of the evil looming castle that is hovering over it at the end of the street!
You enter though the gates and immediately walk into a forest with tall trees and thick foliage and then into the Briar Rose. The Briar is the path that Malecifant walks to get into and out of her Kingdom and gave you the privilege to use it. The buildings are well kept and in good condition because this is what Malecifant [sic] sees and like they include Courtroom, Jail, Armory, and high wend Boutique Stores that the Villains and Malecifant [sic] would frequent. All these buildings will be various stores and sells what you would normally see at theme parks.
Babbitt even included a mockup of his idea:
With the exception of that post — presented as an entry in an informal message board contest — we were unable to find any other early information corroborating the WDWinfo.com post.
Some of the results were misdated, such as 2019 post on a third Disney fan site. That post was emblematic of the manner in which the Dark Kingdom rumor was regularly revisited in highly speculative terms among Disney fans:
It is believed to be bigger and with more attractions than the other theme parks, which makes it exciting for Disney fans to anticipate that it will be constructed in the near future by Disney.
Up until now, all the stories and rumors that have been going on the Internet have been called a false alarm by some of the Disney officials, yet a statement saying that it is not a possibility is yet to come, which gives Disney fans the hope it will be constructed someday.
The rumors started back in 2010 when Disney opened the floor for discussions about the Dark Kingdom Theme park among its fans who offered their ideas and suggestions. Many fans were in favor of the construction of the Dark Kingdom, but Disney has maintained silence on the topic ever since.
If the theme park is created, according to most fans, the major shows and attractions will shift towards the Dark Kingdom which will shine all year around in attractions and various shows.
WDWInfo.com’s 2011 post mentioned a man named Jim Hill, who is known as a “Disney Historian.”
A 2017 Thrillist.com piece about the Disney “Dark Kingdom” rumor also mentioned Hill, and it included Hill’s input on the source of the claim:
Every post devoted to the Dark Kingdom features the same basic skeleton: Disney had (or has?) plans to carve out part of its Walt Disney World complex and hand it to the brand’s rogues gallery. Instead of being relegated to the parks’ Halloween celebrations, villains like Ursula, Captain Hook, Maleficent, Gaston, the Evil Queen, and even Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas would get their chance to shine year-round in ghoulish shows and attractions.
Except that this park never existed — not even in some rough conceptual form. As Disney historian Jim Hill told me, “The idea of the Dark Kingdom seems to have basically come from the internet, with no basis on anything concrete.” Or, as one former Imagineer familiar with actual proposed projects and the online rumors puts it, “An entirely villains-centered park is complete bullshit.”
Hill cited another factor possibly exacerbating the confusion — but also a data point against the concept:
Muddying the waters further is the fact that a Disney Park with a deceptively similar name to the so-called Dark Kingdom was very much in the works in the late 2000’s. In early 2008 historian Jim Hill wrote a huge report on Night Kingdom, a $520-million project akin to Sea World Orlando’s insanely popular Discovery Cove. But instead of swimming with dolphins, Night Kingdom guests would observe nocturnal predators as they went about their business. “Night Kingdom was never going to be about the villains,” Hill pointed out. “Between looking at nighttime animals like hyenas and the spelunking bat caves and zip lines and all of that, it was never built around the villains.” Disney themselves knew that the name was confusing and, in the months that followed, changed it a number of times before abandoning it altogether. By the end of 2008, plans for Night Kingdom fell by the wayside, in large part due to the hiccuping economy and guest surveys that suggested that people weren’t all that interest in an exclusive (and expensive) nighttime-only park.
In April 2021, a popular Imgur post claimed that Disney had “once considered building a park dedicated entirely to villains called Dark Kingdom, which would have featured Maleficent’s castle as its iconic centerpiece.” The claim in that format has been circulating since 2016 on Tumblr. The source for the initial Tumblr post was an extremely thinly-sourced blog post on WDWinfo.com — which coincidentally appeared about three weeks after a ThemeParkInsider.com user presented their own “Dark Kingdom” concept as part of an ongoing forum-wide game. It was possible both that user and the WDWinfo.com blogger heard similar rumors, but we found no evidence the rumor existed prior to the ThemeParkInsider.com game in January 2011. Although fans quickly latched on to the idea, sources close to Disney were firm in their insistence the idea was never a working concept.