50 Greatest Park Characters: The Final Chapter – Saving the Best For Last

Two months ago Parkeology unleashed what is indisputably the most popular series about possibly fictional 1980’s vintage theme park trading cards ever to appear on the Internet. In fact the response has been so overwhelming that it is perhaps only rivaled by our explosive expose on Martin Short. In case you somehow missed them you can start from the beginning by clicking here or catch up on Shane’s penultimate post last week by clicking here.

50 Greatest Park Characters- Welcome Letter

This welcome letter may in fact be even more rare then the cards themselves!

We have reviewed many original park characters, some famous, others infamous and a few pretty much unknown and now we have finally made it the end of the line. Much like the cards themselves it is extremely unlikely that a series two will ever be produced, in other words this is it!

Today’s group is a rag-tag band of misfits to say the least. They span four parks, two continents and decades of time. They share nothing in common other than being on this list and yet there is one very special surprise. You see the list is not actually 50 characters but 51. There is always that one ultra rare “bonus” or “chaser” card and I am proud to say that we have it and I think it is in fact the single greatest park contributor of all time… but more on that later.

The first card up is Lord Henry Mystic from Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland.

50 Greatest Park Characters_henry_mystic

A fellow member of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers

Lord Mystic shares much in common with his fellow 50 Greatest list-mate Harrison Hightower but is much more benevolent and animated in his appearance. Mystic Manor can be thought of as the spiritual cousin to the Haunted Mansions found in other Disneyland parks and Lord Mystic is the final character from an overseas park to make the list.

50 Greatest Park Characters-Mystic-Back

Coming back stateside our next character has had his role slightly truncated in recent years but is still a key player in the marquee attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

50 Greatest Park Characters_warden_wilson

Keeping an eye from above.

Warden Wilson Matua is always ready to greet guests to the Harambe Wildlife Reserve with a warm smile and a sincere message of conservation. He is our “eye in the sky” as he used to patrol the reserve via light aircraft.

50 Greatest Park Characters-Warden-Wilson-Matua-Back

Warden Matua used to have a guest on his plane; Miss Jobson. While she did not make our list Mr. Johnson did.

50 Greatest Park Characters_mr_johnson

Mr. Johnson never sent anynone to the moon but he sure looks like someone who may have.

Mr. Johnson was in charge of mission control for risky Missions to Mars. He worked parks on both coasts and was a cult fan favorite.

50 Greatest Park Characters-Mr-Johnson-Back

Speaking of cult favorites our next character was my personal favorite from the long defunct Kitchen Kabaret from Epcot’s Land pavilion.

50 Greatest Park Characters_dairy_goods

They really don’t make them like they used to.

Mr. Dairy Goods did make the jump to the far inferior show that replaced the Kitchen Kabaret (Food Rocks) but if you wanted to see him at his peak you had to visit 80’s EPCOT Center in all it’s original glory.

50 Greatest Park Characters-Mr-Dairy-Goods-Back

And now we hit the last entry on our list not including the special bonus card.

50 Greatest Park Characters_tiki_gods

A great 8 for 1 special is going on.

This card is another slight cheater in that it has not one but actually 8 characters! The Tiki Room Gods from the original Enchanted Tiki Room have withstood the test of time and are as beloved today as they were 50 years ago.

50 Greatest Park Characters-Tiki-Gods-Back

As I mentioned earlier the creators of these cards (whoever they may be) managed to really keep an ace up their sleeves. There was one major Disney park contributor who was conspicuously absent from the list. When these cards first came out I recall being very concerned about this obvious omission and then it was finally revealed that he was reserved for what must be considered the single most important card in the series.

50 Greatest Park Characters_uncle_theodore

Simply the best.

The unbelievably rare (there are only two known examples) bonus “chaser” card features a man who not only has the coolest name ever but also has made a massive impact on pop culture both inside Disney and out.

50 Greatest Park Characters-Uncle-Theodore-Back

While Thurl Ravenscroft is depicted here as only one of a multitude of impeccable, brilliant and memorable park characters (Uncle Theodore), if the truth is told Thurl had previously landed on our list. He gave such widely diverse performances as Tony the Tiger and is loved by all as the singing voice of the Grinch who Stole Christmas.  Throughout the   years Thurl contributed to the parks in immeasurable ways.

Buff from the Country Bear Jamboree, The Enchanted Tiki Room (Fritz), the classic Pirates of the Caribbean, The Disneyland Railroad, the Mark Twain Riverboat, Splash Mountain and the Sailing Ship Columbia. More than a mere song and dance man or some silly grimacing stage clown mugging for applause he was a quintessential entertainer.

Surely Thurl was a legend among Disney legends. He was in fact there on opening day ushering in the opening of Sleeping Beauty Castle. He lent his voice to a whose who of characters; everything from big classic movies like Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland to Kirby from The Brave Little Toaster.  It is abundantly clear to see that Thurl Ravenscroft is a spectacular finale to our list of the 50 greatest of all time.

And on that very appropriate note we will carefully file away our cards back into their protective archival sleeves, snap them into acid free binders and place them back on our temperature controlled shelves for another generation to discover one day. We love these cards, it is a real shame that they never found a wider audience and ended up lost in oblivion; there is just no accounting for taste I guess.

Thanks for hanging in there… all three of you who made it to the end!

Did we errrr I mean the original creators of these cards miss anyone?

 

Ship of Theseus Paradox Endangers Universal Studios

In the first century A.D., noted Greek philosopher and one-time Hunger Games architect Plutarch proposed a thought experiment called the Ship of Theseus.

In this puzzle, the Athenians carefully preserved the favorite vessel of hilarious jungle skipper Theseus, setting it up in a permanent museum called One Greek’s Dream, where they charged admission to school children and generally turned him into a demigod.

The ship stayed there for many years. As it fell into disrepair, the planks of its deck and hull were replaced one at a time, until not a single original piece remained, much like Michael Eisner’s soul.

And so Plutarch posed the question: If not a single element was part of the ship when Theseus was its pilot, is it still the Ship of Theseus?

Last Ride Standing

I read an article last week that the last Back to the Future the Ride would be closing for good next month. It’s the one at Universal Studios Japan. The ride transitioned to the Simpsons years ago in the States, but Japan held on.

I had not thought about Back to the Future the Ride in many years, but this news made me take notice.

Parkeology typically stays focused on Disney parks because that’s what we love, but Disney and Universal have a symbiotic relationship. What happens to one affects the other. They are much like the Gungans and the Naboo in this regard.

Jar Jar Binks

We’ll let you decide which one is Jar Jar.

I remember having endless debates with Universal fans back in the 1990s over which one was better. And while humanity has long ago put aside such petty internet disputes, I have to wonder…

If you were a fan of Universal in the 1990s, does your park still exist?

The Paradox Takes Hold

When Universal Studios Florida opened in 1990, it was an epic disaster. Its highly touted E-ticket rides were so prone to break down, the park frequently issued return vouchers for a different day, so that guests could experience an entirely different set of epic breakdowns.

Kong became the first disco yeti, his complex movements severely curtailed in order to keep the ride operational.

Jaws was notoriously closed within months of opening, its makers sued into oblivion by an irate Universal leadership team. It wouldn’t reopen for another two years.

Jaws

The ill-conceived “Jaws Sings Your Favorite Broadway Tunes” exhibit was likewise shuttered.

E.T. routinely flipped off customers with his glowing middle finger and spouted profanities that would make a sailor blush. He only survived because no one could understand a word the little potato creature was saying.

In 1991, Back to the Future the Ride opened, ushering in a new age of nausea. And then things really began to change.

The Ghostbusters Spooktacular special effects show was closed to make room for a demonstration based on 8-time Academy Award Winner Twister.

The Mummy replaced King Kong.

Christopher Walken replaced Earthquake.

Even the Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show was replaced by 8-time Emmy Award Winner Fear Factor.

Jaws, of course, got eaten by Harry Potter.

Of Universal Studios Florida’s original opening day attractions, only E.T. and the Horror Make-Up Show remain, with both of those clearly on their last legs.

It’s the Ship of Theseus paradox on a massive scale. If the Universal Studios that opened in 1990 has no original attractions left, is it still Universal Studios?

The Ship of Theseus Remains … Or Does It?

What about Universal’s evil twin, the Disney-MGM Studios? What (if anything) remains of the park that beat Universal to market by one year?

The Great Movie Ride. That’s it.

Of course, the Disney park has been trying to re-invent itself for awhile now. It has conceded the destruction of its old way of life. When Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land open, there’s a good chance that the park will change its name entirely, something it has already done once. It no longer calls itself the Ship of MGM. It’s the Ship of Hollywood now.

Universal Studios Florida is trapped by the paradox. On the one hand, it presents the face of its original self, the same park that has been thrilling guests for 25 years.

But all the thrills have changed. The park has turned the corner towards something completely different. And, most would argue, much better.

Earthquake the Big One

Remember the days when every theme park stimulated the destruction of civilization for your vacation pleasure?

It’s a testament to Walt’s influence that Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, and Epcot have not fallen into the paradox (though Epcot has teetered very close to it). Heck, most of Disneyland’s opening day attractions are still around, 60 years later.

Could this be one of the reasons why we used to have those Disney vs. Universal arguments back in the days of primitive internet tribes, before online discussions became civil disagreements?

I suppose that is the point of any thought experiment. To make us stop and think. And while I enjoyed mocking Universal’s original attractions for their failings all those years ago, there’s a part of me that’s sad that none of them made it.

We’ll get Kong again this summer, but it’s not the same Kong. We’ll have to wait for the inevitable inferior Hollywood reboot of Jaws for that one to make a comeback. Speaking of which, there’s hope for you yet, Ghostbusters Spooktacular!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go ride E.T. again to remind myself how bad it is.

Disney VS. Trump: We Reveal Big Changes Coming to WDW

It all seemed like a joke some months back when Donald Trump (along with Melania, his European trophy wife) took a torturously slow escalator ride down to what certainly must be the most bizarre presidential campaign announcement in history. Backed by approximately a thousand flags and cheered on by a crowd that looked to be straight out of a high school track meet (poster board signs and all) the master of the universe announced his intentions to run for President of the United States. Surely it was all just some sort of surreal exercise in absurdism, a prank for his TV show perhaps?

Disney Trump

Getting ready for a long ride down a short escalator, Trump surrounded himself by pretty women in white (one his wife, the other his daughter, oddly both roughly the same ages)

Now 42 debates, dozens of twitter feuds, a couple of penis references, and a particularly insane campaign later the joke is over, Donald Trump has emerged as the presumed Republican candidate. Putting all political preferences aside Disney is left in a somewhat difficult position; they operate the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom, a stirring tribute to democracy featuring a cavalcade of presidential audio animatronic figures. In more recent years the park has not only installed life-like representations of each president to be but has also had him (or now possibly her) record dialogue to incorporate into the show. This takes a level of cooperation that Trump is typically adverse to.

As one might imagine, negotiating with the president on a mutually acceptable set of terms is never easy. Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson are dead, they have no real say. But today’s politicians maintain carefully crafted appearances and demand not only input but also ultimately final approval of their depiction at the Hall of Presidents. The Walt Disney Company does not wish to get on the wrong side of the government (who they share a very productive relationship with) and therefore enter into discussions with each party’s candidate up to a year prior to the actual election. This allows for the terms to be negotiated and in place by the time the eventual winner is sworn in, it also provides Disney a jump start to have the new figure and show elements ready to be installed in a timely manner.

Disney-vs-Trump

FIGHT!

Disney approached Trump about a month ago once it was clear that he was the front-runner and likely representative of the Republican Party. Trump used this discussion with Disney as a showcase of the negotiating skills he has promised to bring to his presidency. Past deals with presidential candidates have tended to be cordial and brief. Generally there is a script presented to the candidate’s advisors, after a review and input from the handlers and council a second draft is presented, often with specific phrases added or removed as to better reflect the individual’s speaking style and message. Normally that is more or less it. Contracts are signed, photographs are taken to help create the likeness and show dialogue is recorded. The presidential candidates have generally been very happy to cooperate with Disney and help spread their particular message of hope and optimism for our country.

Disney Trump Art of the Deal

After all, he literally wrote the book on it…

Trump has proven to be much more challenging. He considers himself a master negotiator and has actually hung much of his campaign on the idea that he would “win” negotiations with companies and countries alike. Trump was never going to simply agree to Disney’s boilerplate terms but rather used this as a showcase of his expertise at getting what he wants on his terms. By all accounts it was not easy but after an intense month-long back and forth between the lawyers of Disney and Trump an agreement has been struck.

Trump will lend his likeness and voice to the new Presidential show however his tough negotiating has led to several compromises on the part of the Walt Disney Company; these are in many ways unprecedented in scope.

Bob-Iger-Trump-DIsney

Chairman and CEO Bob Iger was personally involved with the Trump negotiations.

Bob Iger (Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company) issued the following scripted statement:

“Today the Walt Disney Company is proud to announce that it has come to terms with Mr. Donald J. Trump and is pleased to announce a mutual agreement that will ensure Mr. Trump’s participation at the Walt Disney World Resort as well as his involvement with the beloved classic attraction “The Hall of Presidents.”

As a great corporate leader and respected businessman Donald has a proven track record of excellence. He has built some of the world’s most iconic buildings and resorts and the Walt Disney Company is proud to partner with him and his team as we forge an exciting future that is traditionally Disney while also majestically Trump.”

Trump

By contrast and in his signature unscripted off the cuff style Trump added:

“Listen, I build the best buildings in the world OK? I hire the best people in the world; I have the classiest resorts in the world. I have several homes and projects in Florida; I know Florida, Florida loves me, alright? Together we will create attractions that are unrivaled in the world of amusements OK? The Best! They will add the magic and I will add the class and together we will make Disney great again OK? OK… that’s enough.”

Hall-of-President

Changes will be both big and small

The details for the upcoming changes to the Hall of Presidents and the Walt Disney World resort have been released some highlights are as follows:

  • The “Hall of Presidents” will be renamed the “Hall of President”. A subtle change but one intended to single Trump out.
  • While all 43 previous presidential figures will remain present on stage (this was hotly contested by the Trump camp who preferred them to be scrapped) the new Trump figure will not only be front and center but also elevated on a golden pedestal while the past presidents will all be pushed off to the rear of the darkened stage and seen mainly in silhouette. Additionally none will move or speak and will appear as static mannequins rather than how they have been featured in the past.
Hall of Trump Concept

Concept art gives a glimpse of the lavish Trump style soon to added to the Hall of Presidents.

  • At Trump’s insistence lasers, lightshows, confetti and other “tasteful demonstrations of wealth” will be added to the newly named “Trump Hall of the President” theater. The interior of the theater is expected to get remodeled with the addition of Corinthian columns, extravagant use of 18k gold and “Other classy additions, this will be the single classiest show at Disney I guarantee it.” will be added.
Melania-Classy-Painting

The theme parks will soon receive a dose of “class”: Trump style.

  • The “Hall of Flags” at the American Adventure located at Epcot will be replaced with the “Trump Portrait Gallery” featuring large oil paintings of trump and his wife (some in which Melania will be depicted in a “tastefully nude” state). When asked about the artwork Trump commented that they will be created by “Some of the finest and most expensive artists in the world and trust me, I know great art.”
Hall-of-Trump Disney

Disney has provided the above concept art depicting the updated Hall of Flags now to be known as the “Trump Portrait Gallery”.

Outside of the parks Disney has also agreed to allow Trump to take over management of its hotels and will be permitted to construct a new 100 plus story tall “mega-tower” hotel and casino on the resort’s property. The cleverly named “Trump World Tower at Walt Disney World Resort” will be erected near the Magic Kingdom and in typical Trump fashion is designed to dwarf all competition.

Trump-World-Tower

We have circled Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom, it gives a sense of scale. The Trump World mega-tower will certainly be the tallest building in Florida but may end up the tallest in the world.

All monorails will now be “Monorail Gold”. Trump is insistent than only “The best” be associated with properties that carry his name. This is a point that Disney is concerned with and is trying to at least negotiate other precious materials such as “Monorail Platinum”, “Monorail Diamond” and “Monorail Palladium” in order to avoid confusion. Trump however is demanding that they are all gold and furthermore that they are plated with 100% genuine 24k gold.

Additionally some sort of “Beautiful wall” will be erected around the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot. Finally and perhaps most controversially the Morocco pavilion within the World Showcase will be closed and replaced with an “All American tribute to making America great again.” No further details were released but Trump was quoted as saying “Some of my dearest friends are Moroccans OK? I love Moroccans. Some Moroccans maybe I don’t love so much, in fact many Moroccans, like a lot of them are maybe not so great, but some I like and trust me, they will LOVE this!”

Bald Trump Disney

Walt Disney Imagineering already has a life-like Trump figure created and ready to go, however the “hair” has proven to be quite tricky.

As an interesting side note it has been leaked that Walt Disney Imagineering is having a very difficult time reproducing the signature style of Trump’s hair. It seems that despite testing all kinds of materials including nylon, polyester, spun asbestos and even straight up straw (which was deemed to be too luxurious looking) nothing has properly captured the otherworldly synthetic look of his “hair”.

WDI had been working on a fiber optics solution but they are currently pursuing projection-mapping technology in partnership with the special effects masters at Industrial Light and Magic. This is a still developing story and hopefully it can be worked out before installation.