50 Greatest Park Characters: The Oddballs

If you missed Ted’s cards from last week, click here!

I hold in my hand the last five cards. Well, not the last last five. Ted will reveal those next week.

But this is my last chance to talk about the super cool deck of vintage trading cards from the 80s, a deck that dared to declare itself the authoritative source on the 50 greatest theme park characters of all time.

As I look back on this series, I think the creators of the deck got it right. There are fan favorites that would make everyone’s list.

And then there are the oddballs.

The five cards in today’s post definitely fall into the oddball category. Only one of them is still with us today. The rest have sailed into Yesterland.

Let’s start with the surviving member of today’s class.

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Sonny is a fantastic animatronic that has seen only a few changes over the years (including a regrettable combover look). And he is virtually unheard of outside of the super fans. But he’s been performing his act at Cosmic Ray’s for a couple of decades now.

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The same cannot be said for the next card on this list, a fellow Tomorrowland animatronic who debuted about the same time as Sonny.

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Technically the Timekeeper originated in Paris, but he made his way to the States only a short time later, voiced by the inimitable Robin Williams. Who knew we needed a backstory for Circle-Vision?

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Timekeeper might be Robin Williams’ most prominent theme park gig, but it’s not his best. That honor goes to an animated version of himself, as a fictional lost boy in the original Magic of Disney Animation tour.

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I’ve spoken before about how much I love this film. To me, it is the perfect theme park movie–hilarious, informative, and with an indescribable magic. The call of Peter Pan’s pipes as Robin follows Wendy and the gang back to Neverland is a special moment.

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Speaking of lost filmed characters, here’s a true blast from Epcot’s past that even most super fans have never heard of:

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Julie and I/O teamed up to present Backstage Magic in Communicore. I/O was the wordless dancing sprite to Julie’s proper Disney tour guide persona, and was fully lovable in his own right.

But it was Julie who got to shrink down to the size of Little Leota and walk across Epcot Computer Central before our very eyes, thanks to the magic of Pepper’s Ghost.

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Julie and I/O left in 1993, only a few short years after the debut of another Epcot character, the last entry in today’s pack of cards.

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The three-headed troll of Norway made riders “Disappear! Disappear!” for many decades before Maelstrom closed to make way for the Frozen ride.

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It seems fitting that they should wind up today’s episode since recent rumors have the Frozen ride opening by Memorial Day. It’s doubtful the trolls will remain. If anything, they have probably been replaced by lovable, matchmaking, projection-mapped play-doh creatures telling us that we’re a bit of a Fixer-Upper.

These scary guys might be gone for good, but we’ll remember them forever.

Tune in next week when Ted brings us the final 5 cards!

 

50 Greatest Park Characters: We Want the Redhead(s)

Last week Shane reached the midway point on our list of the 50 Greatest Park Characters of all time by focusing on some Disneyland originals. His odd obsession with Wally Boag not withstanding it was a pretty strong list.

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Unlike Shane who stores his cards wrapped in a dirty sock kept under an old tire in the garage I take great pride in preserving my cards… GEM MINT BABY!

Today I dug out 5 more of these classic vintage trading cards. While the cards feature characters from several parks they all have one interesting fact in common; none of them have official names. It goes to show you that even though many of our favorite characters are secondary players they often make the largest impact on guests.

First up is someone that you know had to make this list, the famed redheaded wench from Pirates of the Caribbean. She has stolen the show for nearly 50 years and will likely still be “for sale” 50 years from now.

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She may not come cheap but the boys in the rouges gallery will accept no substitutes.

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The next card features yet another unnamed ginger. She may not be the most famous redhead from the parks but she more than carried her weight and drew the attention of many early EPCOT Center visitors (perhaps the same ones who were already fired up over the also unnamed “Aztec Dancer”).

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The caption of this card repeats the “We Want the Red Head” call out. Either the creators were very lazy or perhaps were trying to pull some cross-park, cross-generation tie-in. I’m not sure but it marks the third time in this post (fourth if you count this caption) that the phrase has been used. Now who are you calling lazy!

I’m happy to see that some of these lesser-known characters made the list. They may not be the marquee headliners with household names (or any names at all for that matter) but they often are the most interesting.

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Sticking with Horizons our next card showcases a non-human character that became so popular he appeared on merchandise and was routinely featured in promotional materials.

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The Robot Butler managed to capture a sense of whimsy and optimism that exemplified the 1980’s version of EPCOT (in other words the best EPCOT).

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Shifting gears to yet another absolute iconic classic is a character who not only has no name but not even a body!

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The Ghost Host is often thought to be “Master Gracey”, the groom, a ship’s captain or any number of hypotheticals but the truth is that he has no official name or physical being. Perhaps he is the body hanging in the portrait gallery stretch room but that is about as close as we get to discovering who his is (no, the aging portrait in the lobby is not him). Despite having no name or frame he makes number 2 on the list, impressive indeed.

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Finally one of my favorites and a character that is often overlooked despite her huge size: the unnamed dragon that lives under the castle at Disneyland Paris is the exact type of special detail that separates a good park from a great one. She is rendered with incredible skill and while she does not have red hair I can assume that she has eaten many redheads in the past.

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Though people frequently assume she is Maleficent she is not. She is actually meant to be Merlin’s pet / friend and ties into a larger and fairly obscure backstory. Despite not having a name she certainly has a physical presence second to none.

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That wraps up this weeks reveal, but we still have 20 cards to go! Next week Shane will dig deep into the archives and find 5 more of the most obscure, strange and all around wonderful park characters of all time.

Movie Career Got You Down? Try Martin Short’s 4 Steps to Theme Park Dominance!

Which Hollywood star has headlined the most Disney attractions? The answer might surprise you.

When Disney needs name-brand talent at theme park pricing, they turn to one man and one man only.

The Razzie-nominated Worst Supporting Actor from Santa Clause 3.

The man who at 40 played a 10-year-old named Clifford.

Everyone’s third-favorite Amigo.

Martin Short.

Martin Short and Nick Nolte in The Three Fugitives

Pictured: Comedy gold.

How did a Canadian comedian famous for nerdy SNL characters parlay a subpar film career into the biggest name in Disney theme parks?

One step at a time.

Step 1 – Martin Short is Not Afraid to Team Up

Let’s be honest. If your career as a leading man has culminated in being held like a baby by Nick Nolte, it’s time to step aside and let an A-lister share the heavy lifting.

And it helps if you’ve worked with them before.

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Martin Short reunited with Three Amigos co-star Chevy Chase to host The Monster Sound Show, a sound effects presentation with Chase as the straight man and Short hamming it up as a serial killer who preys on salesmen.

Though Chase was by far the bigger star at this point in their careers, thanks to a string of 80s comedies like Fletch, Caddyshack, and the Vacation movies, Short received equal billing on the press material.

And Disney execs must have liked what they saw, because Short was tapped almost immediately to headline another Disney attraction.

This time, his destination would be EPCOT Center.

Step 2 – Martin Short Adopts a Non-Threatening Persona

The Wonders of Life opened in Future World five months after the Disney MGM Studios. The new pavilion focused on health and the human body, and it seemed Disney was intentionally courting controversy when they elected to include a movie about human reproduction.

Having “The Talk” with your parents in the privacy of your home is awkward enough. Having it at a Disney theme park minutes after riding Body Wars has the potential for some serious childhood trauma.

What’s a brand-sensitive mega corporation to do?

Find the least-threatening actor around and hope they can navigate the potential minefield of talking about sex with spring breakers.

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There be squalls ahead.

Martin Short plays a dual role — himself and his own father — in The Making of Me, which ran for 18 years — long enough for some teenagers to see the movie, get pregnant, raise a kid, and then repeat the cycle all over again before the attraction closed.

Short brings exactly the sort of deft touch Disney surely hoped for. The film wisely stays away from the mechanics of the process (at least at the Tab A/Slot B level) and sticks to the cellular domain, culminating in a street race by cartoon sperm.

Step 3 – Martin Short Embraces the International Market

“Weird Al” Yankovic once made a “style parody” of Frank Zappa called Genius in France, which is basically 8 hilarious minutes mocking France’s love affair with Jerry Lewis.

Martin Short is no “Weird Al” Yankovic. He may not even be Jerry Lewis. But when Disney needed a star to magically interact with classic American movies for a new theme park show in Paris, they immediately thought of someone from Canada.

Cinemagique involves a rude person (hey, it’s France) interrupting a presentation about film history through that tired theme park chestnut, the “audience plant.” The magician in the movie zaps the fake audience member into the film, and we find out it’s Martin Short.

He stumbles his way through several classic films in the pursuit of the luminous Julie Delpy, and finally elects to stay permanently in the movie by joining her on the way to Oz.

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Hot French chicks love Ed Grimley, I must say

The Paris park gets a lot of flak for its overall quality, but Cinemagique feels legitimately “Disney.” It’s an enjoyable second-tier attraction, at least for American audiences familiar with its movies.

And though Delpy’s name lends some star power (step 1), Martin Short is the undisputed headliner as the non-threatening (step 2) love interest.

Step 4 – Martin Short Leverages His Heritage To His Advantage

In 2007, when Disney needed a Canadian star to interact with Canadian scenery for a CircleVision update for the Canada pavilion, they immediately thought of …

American voice actor Corey Burton.

Burton begins the movie talking about how much snow there is in Canada, before being interrupted by Martin Short, a real live Canadian who claims there’s more to his country than frigid temperatures.

Short then handles hosting duties for the rest of the film.

The 2007 update to O Canada (as well as the transformation of the Mexico boat ride into the Gran Fiesta Tour that same year) marked a departure from the serious, respectful presentations of World Showcase’s youth.

Donald Duck and Martin Short took things in a different direction.

While neither attraction is irreverent, the treatment is more casual. By this point in his career, Short had graduated from critically reviled sketch comedy shtick to legitimate theater star, with scene-stealing turns in other peoples’ movies to round things out. He had become one of comedy’s elder statesmen.

In fact, O Canada is the culmination of the entire Martin Short park catalog.

He’s decidedly non-edgy in his role as Canadian tour guide (step 2) and not afraid to embrace the internationality of the experience (step 3). There is no team-up (step 1), but the film slyly makes the suggestion that Celine Dion would have been a better choice.

In short, it’s the first of Martin Short’s many Disney attractions that put his Martin-Short-ness front and center.

And in spite of some weak writing, he carries it off like a professional.

BONUS – Have At Least One Memorable Disney Character Under Your Belt

One of the bright spots in Martin Short’s film career is that of wedding planner Franck, in fellow Amigo Steve Martin’s two Father of the Bride movies.

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At the Walt Disney World Wedding Pavilion, the Bridal Studio takes its name from the character, serving up a lavish setting for the those willing to sell their first born for the right to get married on the shores of a man-made Florida lagoon.

Martin Short himself is nowhere to be found. But hundreds of marriages begin in a recreation of his character’s studio, possibly by couples who have also seen The Making of Me. And that’s got to count for something.

Summary

So the next time you find yourself on the outs with the critics, slogging your way through some other less-talented-but-more-famous comedian’s screwball comedy, do yourself a favor and remember the lessons taught by Martin Short.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll host your own Circle Vision movie someday.