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.

40_sonny_eclipse

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.

40-Sonny-Eclipse-Back

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

36_timekeeper

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.

15_robin

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.

15-Lost-Boy-Back

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

49_julie_and_io

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.

21_three_headed_troll

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: Scene Stealing Sidekicks

If you’re just joining us, be sure to check out the previous week of trading card reveals!

When it comes to the trading card set of the 50 Greatest Park Characters, the designers were careful to include not just attraction headliners, but also the sidekicks who always manage to steal the show.

The five cards in this week’s pack are certainly worthy of inclusion. It doesn’t matter that their names are not on the billboard. These guys upstage practically everyone who performs with them.

For proof, look no further than…

Waldo

Waldo is a unique theme park creation. I mean literally. Dr. Honeydew creates him as part of Muppet Vision 3-D. He’s the only non-puppet performer, but when it comes to cheap 3-D tricks, even Fozzie Bear can’t match the awesomeness of Waldo’s runny nose.

Waldo can morph into anything — even corporate symbol Mickey Mouse. He’s so untouchable, you couldn’t hit him with a … CANNON?! Hey everybody, he’s got a cannon!!!

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Anyway, you know the drill. Waldo holds his own with the Muppets, and that’s saying something.

And speaking of going toe to toe with beloved characters famous for funny voices and weird haircuts, how about the guy who manages to swipe the Best Actor trophy away from Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean?

09_auctioneer

Before everyone thought the ride was based on the movie, the Auctioneer had the most commanding presence on the Caribbean stage. In fact, he still does. This is the one guy who looks like he’s in charge. With his polished speech and Timothy Dalton chin, he’s a top-notch salesman not afraid to swindle his own shipmates out of a few gold pieces, even with suspect merchandise.

9-The-Auctioneer-Back

It helps that he’s teamed up with the Redhead, who appeared earlier on our list. Two of the Greatest Park Characters of all time sharing the stage. It’s like Glengarry Glen Ross, only with Pirates.

The next three characters fall solely in the realm of comic relief. Hooter (or PFC Hooter, as he is known in this tell-all biography), is a perfect example.

27_hooter

Captain EO may have a great smile and some funny costumes, but Hooter is the physical comedy genius of this ragtag band. He’s Buster Keaton, Harpo Marx, and Babar the Elephant rolled into one.

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What other character in the Disney theme park pantheon can get away with eating a map, wearing a trash can as a disguise, and nearly ruining someone’s trip?

Okay, you got me there

Okay, you got me there

Next up we have one of my personal favorites, a guy who made me laugh the minute I heard him back in 1989, and kept me going through his entire preshow. For years, I swore he was voiced by Robin Williams (it’s actually Corey Burton).

46_general_knowledge

General Knowledge skewers everything from army drill sergeants to Ernest P. Worrell (hey, it was the 80s). There are the obligatory chicken jokes, and even a shot at Walt Disney World. He mainly commands the preshow, but he also pops up from time to time during the Cranium Command main show as well, threatening Buzzy with one of those ridiculous chickens (“Brrrawk! I don’t need a brain! I’m going into politics! Brrawk!”).

46-General-Knowledge-Back

Now for the last guy in this week’s deck. He’s the fan favorite — the Country Bear with the worse singing voice, the most disturbing song choice, and the highest BAC reading this side of Grizzly Gulch.

14_big_al

Of course Big Al made the list! Do you think the guys who came up with this deck (whoever they are) are stupid? Everyone loves Big Al. You sing his song all the time (admit it, you know you do).

14-Big-Al-Back

And when you think about it, the guy is a nut case. Think about that cowboy. Just think about it! Why is there so much blood??? Big Al is a killer, no doubt about it. Anybody who shows up for the Christmas show wearing a diaper like the New Year’s baby is not somebody you want to tangle with.

Tune in next week when Ted unveils 5 more characters. Only 15 left!

 

Two Amazing Theme Park Performances Hiding in Plain Sight

Most of us when we go to the movies are there to actually watch the movie.

I mean, I like cup holders and adolescent groping as much as the next guy. But if I’m going to spend the yearly wage of a Nike factory worker to sit in a darkened room for two hours, I want to watch Tom Cruise possibly fall to his death from a dumb plane stunt. Not the idiot in Row 5 texting his mother.

Same deal at the parks. When the lights go down and the butterfly curtain flaps away, our eyes are glued to the fantastic theme park performances on stage or screen.

Unless we’ve been there a hundred times.

We’ve written more tips than Cosmo about ways to spice up your ridemaking. But shows are trouble. Rather than an ever-changing three-dimensional vista of pillaging pirates, it’s often the same static bench in the same faux aquarium, listening to the same turtle factoids in the same phony Australian accent.

Turtle Talk With Crush

Cue the adolescent groping

That’s why it’s often easier to ride Haunted Mansion all day long than it is to see Beauty and the Beast Live On Stage twice in the same decade.

But what if I told you crazy fans that there are secret shows hidden in plain sight?

Great theme park performances that 99% of the audience never sees?

Animatronic actors pouring their entire soul into their role for nary a scrap of recognition?

I’m not talking an occasional unnoticed sight gag. These are full-length on-stage theme park performances that run non-stop throughout the day. These guys are emoting their hearts out, with more stage-time than the stars of the show.

And you never noticed them, you godless heathen.

To find them, you have to look in a place you never would have guessed.

You have to watch the audience.

It’s a surreal situation, like reading Moby Dick from the point of view of the whale. But if you have the fortitude, you can step through the looking glass and watch other characters watch the show.

The Country Bear Jamboree

You all know Blood on the Saddle, the Bear Band Serenade and the rest of the classic show. You can sing all the carols from the Christmas version and may even quote the skunk’s lines from Vacation Hoedown.

But do you know who gets the first lines and the last lines in the show?

Yeah. It’s that terrific troupe of talking taxidermy. Melvin, Max, and Buff.

Photo courtesy of Loren Javier under Creative Commons License

Photo courtesy of Loren Javier via Creative Commons License

And since they’ve got nowhere to hide, they have to watch the show. Again. And again. And again.

Which means while Henry is off adolescently groping Teddi Berra in the attic, Melvin, Max, and Buff are listening to the same corny numbers they’ve been hearing since 1971.

Sometimes they nod along in time to the music. Sometimes they roll their eyes. Sometimes they even whisper to each other. Oh, and Max hides a chuckle at the antics at multiple points in the show.

Try it next time. Try watching the entire Country Bears show while staring at the right wall.

Not only will you creep out everyone around you, but you’ll also see an entirely new Magic Kingdom show that you never knew existed.

Muppet Vision 3-D

MuppetVision 3-D is that rare exception to the rule, where the jokes come fast and furious and the sight gags are rewarding even on the tenth viewing.

But if you are one of those people whose gaze habitually gravitates to the fluffy chickens roaming through the Muppet Labs foyer at the beginning of the film, you’ve probably seen the movie enough times to try this.

And you don’t even need 3-D glasses.

Just like Melvin, Max, and Buff, Waldorf and Statler have minor roles in the main show. And just like in Country Bears, they get the opening and closing lines.

But for the most part, they are there to watch.

If anything, their theme park performance is even more fascinating than Melvin, Max, and Buff. Statler’s mouth is forever falling open in abject shock at the hijinks on display. Both of them spend so much time ducking and rattling from all the shenanigans, you’d think stuff really was flying off the screen.

In a brilliant instance of animated puppetry, Waldorf and Statler will actually turn to face the theater when Waldo, the Spirit of 3-D, flies in close – as if that zany creature was actually hovering over people’s heads.

Speaking of which, watch them bob their head with every bounce as Waldo plays pogo on top of the audience. Or wince in time with Beaker whenever the MuppetVision paddlewheel cracks him in the skull.

And sometimes they simply can’t help looking at each other in horror at what they are being subjected to.

It’s an entire show unto itself.

Conclusion

I was surprised at how engaging this is for a long-timer. It takes some discipline to remain focused on these peripheral theme park performances, when everything from the music stings to the lighting cues is geared to focus your attention on the stage.

It would be great if someone skilled at low-light videography would just set up a tripod and put the entire performance of Melvin, Max, Buff, Waldorf, and Statler up on youtube.

But until that happens, you’ll just have to go to the parks and try it yourself.

It really is like discovering a completely new show.