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Character cameos at the Disney theme parks

Character cameos at the Disney theme parks

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During my most recent trip to the Walt Disney World resort, I spent a day at Disney-MGM. And -- while I was visiting the studio theme park -- I caught a performance of the new "Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show."

Photo by Jeff Lange

And you know what really struck me? Out of everything that went during this stunt show (I.E. All of those carefully choreographed moves by the cars & their drivers, the crashing through windows, the stuntman on fire, etc.), what moment got the biggest reaction from the crowd in the stands? When Herbie the Love Bug made his cameo appearance in that program.

Photo by Jeff Lange

I don't know why it is. But Disneyana fans just love it when characters that they don't really expect suddenly pop up in a ride, film or show. You know? Like when Pinocchio pops up for a second of two in "Aladdin"?

When this sort of thing happens in a Disney theme park attraction, it's usually something that the Imagineers have done on the sly. Often as a way to pay tribute to the attraction that used to occupy that particular spot in the  park.

Take -- for example -- what the guys from WDI did with WDW's "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" dark ride. Given that this new Fantasyland attraction displaced an old fan favorite (I.E. "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride"), the Imagineers felt that they had to do something that acknowledged the former occupant of this show building. Which is why they included this painting as part of the dark ride's decorative elements ...

Photo by Jeff Lange

... Which shows Toad handing over the deed to the building to Owl.  Which (hopefully) suggests that these "Wind in the Willows" characters were actually okay with the idea that Winnie the Pooh and pals were tossing  them out of Toad Hall.

Of course, sometimes the Imagineers pay tribute to an old attraction by leaving a few of that show building's former occupants in place after they complete a renovation. Take -- for example -- what they did with Disneyland's version of "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" ...

Photo by Jeff Lange

... which - of course -- was installed in the Anaheim theme park's old "Country Bear Playhouse." Given all the Disneyland visitors who had been entertained by the original "Country Bear Jamboree" show (as well as its seasonal variations, "Vacation Hoedown" and "Christmas Special"), the guys at WDI felt that they had to do something to acknowledge the attraction that was there prior to "Pooh."

Which is why -- tucked away in one quiet corner of this "Critter Country" dark ride -- you'll find that those three hecklers who used to hang around Country Bear Playhouse for all those years (I.E. Max, Buff & Melvin) are still there. Still hanging around.

Photo by Jeff Lange

Pretty neat, don't you think?

Though -- if you were to ask me what my personal favorite character cameo in a Disney theme park attraction might be -- I'd direct your attention to the "Peter Pan's Flight" ride at WDW's Magic Kingdom.

Photo by Jeff Lange

Here ... It's not that the Imagineers were paying tribute to an attraction that used to occupy this spot in the park. After all, "Peter Pan's Flight" has been entertaining WDW visitors since the Magic Kingdom first opened back in October of 1971. But -- rather -- this particular character cameo was actually added to the attraction after the fact in response to guest comments.

What am I talking about? Okay. You're on "Peter Pan Flight." Your flying pirate galleon is zooming in for a closer look at Neverland. And -- as you fly in over Mermaid Lagoon -- you spot someone familiar on a rock below.

Photo by Jeff Lange

Could it be ...?

Yes it is! It's Ariel from "The Little Mermaid."

"So what's Ariel doing in 'Peter Pan's Flight'?," you ask. Well, the way I hear it, right after that Disney animated feature first hit theaters back on November of 1989, the cast members that operated this Fantasyland attraction began getting queries from WDW guests. Each of them asking if one of the three mermaids that you spy inside this dark ride were actually Ariel.

After several years of continually getting asked this question, the cast members who actually ran "Peter Pan's Flight" finally cracked. So -- when this Fantasyland attraction finally went down for rehab in the mid 1990s -- they begged the Imagineers to please change one of the mermaids into Ariel. Just so they'd finally have an easy answer to this rather persistant question.

Which why the guys from WDI first painted one mermaid's hair flame red as well as sculpting her a brand-new sea-shell shaped bra. With those two quick changes, a previously anonymous mermaid suddenly became Ariel. Which -- for some odd reason -- really added to people's enjoyment of what was already a pretty terrific attraction.

But what about you folks? Do you have a favorite surprise character cameo from a Disney theme park ride, show or attraction? If so, what is it?

Jeff Lange is the staff photographer / archivist here at JHM. He recently released his very first DVD, "Jeff Lange's Trick or Treat." Which offers full coverage of last year's "Mickey's Not-so-Scary Halloween Party" at WDW's Magic Kingdom. If you'd like to learn more about this entertaining recording, we suggest that you follow this link.

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