Did you know that Disney California Adventure’s new Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout ride exists in a time loop created by fellow Marvel character Doctor Strange?
Or that Taneleer Tivan, the owner of the collection within which the Guardians are trapped, wanted to plop his museum on top of the old Hollywood Tower Hotel because he’s an attention hog who enjoys making people mad?
Or that Pirates of the Caribbean is just a dream sequence, with the drop at the beginning and lift at the end symbolizing our descent into – and rise back from – our subconscious mind?
You didn’t? That’s OK, because none of these “facts” about Disneyland Resort attractions are official canon. Instead, they are part of my personal “head canon,” the facts that I – and many other Disney fans – make up to “fill in the gaps” of Disney’s official attraction narratives.
Great stories don’t always answer every question that they raise. The most engaging stories leave room for readers’ and viewers’ imaginations. While they usually tie up the major plot points, great stories also raise questions about characters’ backgrounds, motivations and actions that leave fans plenty to think about and argue after the show’s done.
Think about some of Disney’s animated classics. Could Anna and Elsa’s mother really have survived that shipwreck, then given birth to Tarzan while stranded in Africa? What would have happened if some other woman in the kingdom had Cinderella’s shoe size? Does anyone realize that, from Snow White’s perspective, the apple worked?
Head canon allows us to connect the stories we love most and to answer the questions not fully explained within them. To use a theme park industry buzzword, it’s one more form of interactivity for fans. Creating head canon is a way that we can continue to engage with stories, even after watching, reading or riding them.
By the way, I’m going with the explanation that Cinderella’s step-mom bound her feet to keep her from escaping, explaining Cinderella’s abnormally small feet.
Perhaps the most famous example of Disney-fan head canon is “The Pixar Theory,” which connects all of the studio’s animated features into a single narrative universe. But Disney’s theme park attractions have spawned countless fan theories, as well.
Let’s not get into the urban legend stuff, such as Walt’s cryogenically frozen body being buried under the castle. Head canon is making things up in the fictional world. Do it for real stuff, and you’re just trafficking in conspiracy theory.
The Haunted Mansion probably has inspired more head canon fan theories than any other Disney attraction. Disney’s Imagineers never could settle on a single narrative for the ride, so they threw in a bunch of gags and illusions and let fans find a way to connect them.
Which they have, concocting stories about vengeful brides, sailors lost at sea and even one theory that the whole attraction represents the…