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Why For were Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee banned from the Disney theme parks?

Jim Hill

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Why For were Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee banned from the Disney theme parks?

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Jeannine B. writes in to say:

I have a friend who worked in the Character Department at the Magic Kingdom back in the 1980s. She has lots of great stories about what it was like to be a member of the Zoo Crew back then. But one of the stranger ones that my friend tells is about when Michael Eisner wouldn't allow the walk-around versions of Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee to appear in the theme parks for a few years. Did that really happen? And if so, do you know the story behind that story?

Dear Jeannine B.

Yep. Your friend is right. For about a 5 year-long period there (which ran roughly from 1986 to 1991), though the Company never cut Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee's scene out of  Alice Disney's 1951 animated feature ...

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... and the Brothers Dee & Dum remained on display inside of Disneyland's "Alice in Wonderland" dark ride ...

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... the walk-around versions of the Tweedles really were barred from appearing inside of the Disney theme parks. And it was Michael Eisner himself who was allegedly inadvertently responsible for this ban.

Why For? Well, the way I've always heard this story is that it dates back to February of 1986. Which was when ABC began running "The Disney Sunday Movie."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All right reserved

The then-CEO of The Walt Disney Company was shooting an intro for "Alice in Wonderland" (which then aired an episode of this weekly anthology series). And while Eisner was on set with all of the Alice walk-around characters shooting this particular introduction for that ABC program, he reportedly remarked that Tweedle Dum & Dee's rounded facial features made them look  a lot like mongoloids. Michael then supposedly wondered aloud whether it was wise to allow characters which looked like this to continue to appear inside of the theme parks.

Just for a moment or so there, Eisner allegedly seemed genuinely concerned that if parents with retarded children encountered Tweedle Dum or Tweedle Dee while they were visiting Disneyland or Walt Disney World, they'd then think that Disney was making fun of their kids. Then Michael turned his attention back to shooting this "Alice in Wonderland" -themed intro for "The Disney Sunday Night Movie. " And - once that was done - Eisner exited the set and then went back to work.

Michael Eisner in front of the old Feature Animation building, shooting an intro for "The
Disney Sunday Night Movie" in 1986. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

And that should have been the end of it. Except that one of Michael's flunkies was on set while he was shooting the "Alice in Wonderland" intro. And having heard what his boss said, this earnest young assistant then went back to their office and typed up a memo. Which he then sent off to Dick Nunis, the president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

"And what did this memo say?," you ask.  Just what Michael Eisner had said off-the-cuff on set. That The Walt Disney Company's then-relatively new CEO suddenly had concerns about Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee. And rather than potentially upset the parents of developmentally-disabled children, Eisner's office was now insisting that the walk-around versions of these "Alice in Wonderland" characters be pulled from the parks.

Mind you, what was kind of ironic about all this was - just as this memo was being sent off to Dick Nunis' office - a public service announcement that prominently featured the walk-around versions of Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee had begun airing nationally. Which had the Brothers Tweedle showing school children the safest way to cross the street.

Anyway ... Nunis now issues a memo of his, echoing what the message from Eisner's office had said. Only Dick's version said that - due to Guests complaints - Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee were no longer allowed to appear publicly in the Disney theme parks.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

As you might imagine, the Cast Members who worked in the Character Department (many of whom genuinely enjoyed getting dressed up and then going out in the Parks to perform as the Tweedles) thought that this was the silliest decision that Walt Disney Parks & Resorts management had ever handed down. Which is why these Cast members then decided to make fun of it every chance that they got.

Take - for example - "Captain Eeyore." Which was this beat-for-beat remake of Michael Jackson's 3D movie that Disneyland's Zoo Crew shot in that theme park after-hours, so that this Cast-Member-made video could then be used as entertainment at the Character Department's annual banquet. Only in this Disney-themed parody, the King of Pop's part was played by Winnie the Pooh's rather gloomy friend. And as for Angelia Huston's spider-like Supreme Leader, she was reimagined as this kind of Insane Clown Posse version of Minnie Mouse.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Anywho ... there's actually a couple of gags in "Captain Eeyore" that directly reference the Tweedle-Dum-Tweedle-Dee-mongoloids controversy. With the best one being that moment when the crew of Captain Eeyore's ship stands cowering before the Supreme Leader ...

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Tweedle Dum now turns to Tweedle Dee and asks:

    Tweedle Dum: Who's that?

    Tweedle Dee: The Supreme Leader.

    Tweedle Dum: What? Diana Ross?

    Tweedle Dee: (exasperated sigh, then ...) You really are a mongoloid.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Not to be outdone, Walt Disney World's Character Department shot their own movie which then made fun of Dick Nunis' pronouncement. But what WDW's Zoo Crew did was a parody of / tribute to Madonna's "Material Girl" music video. Only in the "Disney Girl" version of this song, Cast Member Sandy Fox played a very Madonna-like version of Alice. And to then add to the fun, Fox was backed up by a chorus of not two but six Tweedles.

Sandy Fox and her boys from Wonderland. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

I'm told that - in order to get this many Tweedles for their faux music video (which - obviously - was shot very early in the morning before the Magic Kingdom had officially opened for the day) - the "Disney Girl" production team had to pull out every single Dee & Dum costume that the Wardrobe Department then had in storage. And after this video was completed, it would then be another 5 years before these Tweedle costumes made it out of the Utilidors and back up into the Park.

"And how did Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum finally make it back into the theme parks?," you query. Well, from what I hear, it was another casual remark by Eisner that set the wheels in motion. In late 1991, Michael was supposedly doing a walk-thru of the then-almost-completed "Alice's Curious Labyrinth" attraction for Euro Disneyland. And Eisner reportedly asked the Imagineer who was giving him this tour why all of the major characters from Disney's version of "Alice in Wonderland" were represented except the Tweedles.

"But I thought you said that those Alice characters weren't allowed in the Disney parks anymore because they looked like mongoloids," this WED vet sputtered.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"When did I say that?," Eisner allegedly replied. "I never said that. I think Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum are very funny. We should feature those Alice characters more in the Parks."

And just like that, the Tweedles were out of character jail. In fact, to make sure that Michael knew that WDI was paying attention to what he said, the Imagineers made a point of prominently displaying Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee in Downtown Disney's then-being-designed superstore, World of Disney.

The Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee store display from WDW's World of Disney
which recently went up for auction at this year's D23 EXPO. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Anyhow ... That's the story of how a casual remark by Michael Eisner reportedly got Tweedle Dum & Dee bounced out of the Disney theme parks. Only to then have a second off-the-cuff remark by Disney's then-CEO supposedly get the Brothers suddenly reinstated. That's the sort of narrative that only Lewis Carroll could of have dreamed up. But this happened in real life.

That's it for this week's Why For column. If you have a Disney-related question that you'd like to have answered here on JHM, please send those queries along to [email protected].

Photo by Nancy Stadler

Also, could you please do Nancy a favor and go vote for the very Un-Cheshire-like cat depicted above? Thanks.

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  • Ugh. Michael Eisner. This is why we didn't like him.

  • That personal assistant should have been fired. I wonder what else has changed due to casual remarks.

  • Why is no one faulting the IDIOT Dick Nunis?!? He was just as responsible. He could have at the very LEAST questioned the original memo.

    I worked at Disneyland when Dick Nunis was there and he was NOT well liked.

  • "Mongoloids" as a term referring to people with Down Syndrome is now considered highly offensive.  If you are refering to the people of Mongolia, well, they look nothing like these characters,

    People with Down Syndrome are also not considered "retarded" (a slang term that is disparaging.).  Many, but not all, do show signs of intellectual disability, but that can range from light to severe.  

    I don't like the term 'retarded' as used in this story.  The term 'mongoloid' was a term used by those in the past and the story is just relating that, so I can understand that, but the phrase  "parents with retarded children" should have been worded differently in my opinion.

  • Great article!  The personal assistant didn't have much common sense.  They should have at least ASKED Mr. Eisner if he really wanted the Tweedles banned from the parks.

    I have a special needs son (Down Syndrome) and he loves everything Disney, including Alice in Wonderland (movie, ride, characters, etc.)  I am not offended by the Tweedles at all.  In fact, it never even crossed my mind that some people might think they represent people with special needs.

    We were at a character breakfast this summer in Disneyland (Minnie and Friends) and one of the Tweedles was there (I cannot remember which one) and he was hilarious!

    I really want to see Captain Eeyore now!

  • Wabigbear --

    The point of today's Why For column wasn't to upset anyone with Down Syndrome. It was to illustrate a particular piece of corporate stupidity that happened at The Walt Disney Company back in the mid-1980s. I used the terms "mongoloid" and "retarded" because that's supposedly what Michael Eisner himself said while standing on the set of that shoot for the introductory segment of the "Alice in Wonderland" episode of "The Disney Sunday Night Movie." Which then helped explain why the phrase "You really are a mongoloid" was used in "Captain Eeyore."

    Look, I understand -- particularly in this extremely PC age -- how certain words can now be perceived as being hurtful ... But in writing this story, I felt that it was necessary as much as possible to replicate what was allegedly actually said back in 1986. Which is what then compelled Eisner's flunky to go back to his office and write the memo that then got Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee banned from the Disney Parks for 5 years. And in the version of this story that I've always heard, Michael didn't say "children with Down Syndrome," he said "retarded children." Which is actually how the most caring, well informed, well meaning people used to talk when discussing this issue back in 1986.

    I mean, let's remember why it was that Eisner originally actually made this suggestion. Because he didn't want anyone's feelings to be hurt while they were visiting the Disney Parks. Which is why it's really kind of ironic that you're now taking today's story (which is about how someone tried to fix something so that it wouldn't then hurt someone else's feelings) and saying "You need to fix this story. Because -- as written -- it could hurt someone's feelings."

    I don't mean to pick on you here, Wabigbear. But you gotta remember that using the term Down Syndrome instead of retarded only came into vogue over the past 25 years.

    Thanks for writing to express your concerns today, though.

  • Sounds just like when he casually mentioned riverdance being popular and irish while they were designing Light Magic. I think the corporate butt-kissers might have had almost as much to do with Michael's blunders :P

  • "Retarded" used to be an actual medical term. It replaced "idiot", another medical term. Do you see where this is heading? Every time a derogatory term  is replaced with a polite term, it turns into a derogatory term. Now we call them "special". "Special" is slowly turning derogatory. I wonder how long we will keep using "special" before we go back to "idiot" or we invent something totally new like "autism" or "aspergers" like we sort of doing today as a new way of insulting people.

  • Fair enough Jim, and I did say I understood the historical connection to the use of 'mongoloid', but you wrote:

    "Just for a moment or so there, Eisner allegedly seemed genuinely concerned that if parents with retarded children encountered Tweedle Dum or Tweedle Dee while they were visiting Disneyland or Walt Disney World, they'd then think that Disney was making fun of their kids",

    and that's what I responded to.

    That doesn't read that you are quoting Eisner,  that reads as you telling the story.  "You" are of the present, and should use terms acceptable in in the present..  One wouldn't write a story of slavery and use the terms people back then used unless you were actually quoting them would you?  

    It's only in your response to me that you claim it was Eisner who actually said "retarded children" - the original article makes no such claim, rather it points out what someone  thought  Eisner 'allegedly seemed"...so which is it?  Is it Eisner's words and just historical fact, or is it Jim Hill's use of terminology that's no longer correct?  The problem isn't with "mongoloid" as that clearly has a historical reference, the problem is with "retarded children" - you don't provide the same historical connection in the story.

    That's not "extremely PC" - that's pointing out inconsistencies.

  • Wabigbear --

    Look, I've explained why I used those terms the way that I did in yesterday's article. I was just staying faithful to the version of the Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee story as it has been told to me over the past 20 years. More to the point, without mentioning that Eisner used the terms "retarded" and "mongoloid" on the set of that "Alice in Wonderland" intro shot, there'd then be no tie-back to the joke that the Tweedles make during "Captain Eeyore."

    Yet, with your response today, you're still trying to pin the "Jim Hill is an insensitive jerk" tail on me because I used the terms "retarded" & "mongoloid" in this story rather than the now-more-socially-acceptable "Down Syndrome."

    Look around, Wabigbgear. Yesterday's Why For column has been picked up / linked to by numerous Disney & entertainment news sites over the past 24 hours. It's merrily bouncing its way around the Web now even as we speak. Yet do you see the discussion section of this article flooded with complaints about how I used "mongoloid" & "retarded" instead of "Down Syndrome" ? Nope. You're the only one who's insisting that this is somehow wrong & offensive.

    So -- rather than me being insensitive -- could it possibly be that you're the one who's being overly sensitive here? Rather like that Duke Wellington fellow last week who kept going on & on about how using the term " wrong-sounding Muppets" was incredibly offensive to him.

    Again, I get it. Words can hurt. But -- at the same time -- isn't it kind of a waste of time & energy to actively be looking for new ways to be offended? Which is what you seem to be trying to do with this whole "mongoloid" / "retarded" / "Down Syndrome" thing? Taking a non-issue and then attempting to actually turn it into an issue by prolonging the nonsensical debate about this non-issue.

    Which ain't gonna happen, Wabigbear. Everyone else gets the context in which "retarded" and "mongoloid" were used in yesterday's Why For column You clearly don't. Or -- at least -- you're now pretending that you don't.

    More importantly, the fact that you had to mention "slavery" as part of your most recent reply suggests that -- were we to continue this debate -- you weren't going to stick to topic (i.e. yesterday's story and the context in which I used "retarded" and "mongoloid"). That you were then going to drag in ever-more inflammatory language (language that -- I'd like to point out here -- I never ever used in yesterday's article or in my reply to your comment) in your effort to win this debate and then make me look like an insensitive jerk.

    Look, Wabigbear. Anyone who's read JHM for a while knows that I can be a jerk. Just ask the guys at Pixar, who really got offended with me back during the Summer of 2007 when I dared to point out that "Ratatouille" initially wasn't doing as well domestically as that animation studio's previous releases had. But as for being an insensitive jerk ( which is what you really seem to be trying to color me as here, Wabigbear) who deliberately goes out of his way to offend people with Down Syndrome ... That's kind of a hard sell.

    Sorry. But life's too short to get sucked into a nonsensical debate about a non-issue.

    Honestly, Wabigbear. I appreciate that you took the time to write back today and tried to clarify your position. But you really seem to be the only person among all of JHM's readers who finds yesterday's Why For column to even be the teensiest bit offensive. Doesn't that tell you something?

    So -- again -- just to review here: Calling Jim Hill a jerk is perfectly fine. But calling Jim Hill an insensitive jerk who deliberately goes out of his way to offend people with Down Syndrome ... Not cool.

    Are we clear?

  • I couldnt help but chuckle seeing a couple of the pranksters involved in the "Disney Girl" video credited themselves as "George Lucas" and "Steven Spielberg".

  • Jim-

    Actually I'd say Jim Hill is a jerk ...period, who doesn't take ANY criticism well AT ALL, and whenever anyone dares to point out that he could have worded something different, his ego goes into work overtime to shift the blame rather than admit that sometimes he isn't the fabled word smith he thinks he is.  Rather than responding to where I was pointing out that you weren't quoting anyone when you referred to 'retarded children',  you brag about how many places your award-winning articles get picked up at and haughtily drag in all sorts of crud that I never even said in an attempt to play the poor wronged award-winning writer being attacked by evil ol' me.

    Which ain't gonna happen Jim Hill.  I'll leave you and your ego to expand in peace.

  • Wow wabigbear, grow up.  Jim Hill consistently provides entertaining and insightful pieces about Disney and I for one am grateful for his contributions.  He provides his services free of charge and YOU can choose whether or not to read them.  I grew up with my aunt who had Downs Syndrome and in my childhood, "retarded" was a common phrase.  It's quite obvious by how Jim worded his article that he wasn't trying to be rude or belittling to anyone.  I think the one with the ego problem is not Jim, but wabigbear.  Thanks Jim for all the hard work you put into these pieces.  I've been a reader for many, many years, and I'll continue to check in weekly!

  • Wagibear, seriously grow up you little troll. Its politically correct a-holes like you that make this world suck. Congratulations.

    Jim, don't listen to him. You write great articles that provide a lot of insight to the company. Keep 'em coming!

  • Well, reading that article I certainly was taken aback by the usage of those terms. WABIGBEAR is absolutely correct.  The article does not read as a quote from Eisner at all, in fact, none of the times these disparaging terms were used are they used in direct quotations (I looked back before I even read comments).  While I'm far from "Mr. PC", I'm a bit offended that Mr. Hill has instead chosen to attack the person who pointed out either this journalistic error (not denoting exact quotes) or insensitivity  not once but twice.  The term "mongoloid" is used quite a few times - far away from supposed direct Eisner quotes.  Instead of ranting against the person who pointed it out, ranting on longer than the actual article, an apology and an edit (at least attributing direct quotes) would have been the more mature thing to do.

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