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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

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: 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?

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!”).

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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.

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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).

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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!