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Disney Dish Podcast: Episode 48- The History of Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party

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Disney Dish Podcast: Episode 48- The History of Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party

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L: Welcome to another edition of the Disney Dish Podcast With Jim Hill. It's I, Len Testa and today we're recording live from Disney's Fort Wilderness Campgrounds. And we're doing it at night. Why? So it's spooky because on today's episode, we're going to be talking about ghosts. Or, specifically, ghosts in Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. To tell these stories, is the old spooktacular man himself, Jim Hill. Jim, how's it going?

J: (spooky voice) Very well, Len.

L: (spooky voice) Very well.

J: (spooky voice) It's very scary. Ooh, ooh!

L: (spooky voice) Very scary.

J: All right.

L: So, Jim. So, the history of Not of Scary Halloween Party. Halloween goes back hundreds of years.

J: Mm-hmm.

L: Disney World goes back forty something. What prompted them to- what was the history of Halloween? Because Disney opened October 1st, right?

J: Right.

L: In Nineteen Seventy-One.


J: Mm-hmm.


L: A month later there was Halloween. Did they... Was it something they did right out of the gate?


J: Actually, no. What's kind of interesting is that it took them a while to get into the Halloween business. I mean, don't get me wrong. When October Thirty-First would show up, you'd go to a resort and somebody may have put a little pumpkin on the check-in desk, that sort of thing. But they really didn't get going with this- in fact, the first time you can find photos of characters dressed- and I say the term 'dressed' loosely-


L: Dressed.


J: Is Seventy-Seven when they have this great publicity shot of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves walking down Main Street USA holding up sort of Carnival masks. They're,


L: Oh really, just the little black plastic things. Huh.


J: Yeah. On a stick. And it was for Trick or Treating in the park that day. And that was it.


L: On the Thirty-First.


J: Yep. And it was,


L: So if it was a random Tuesday in October...


J: Yep.


L: Wow.


J: And, you know, that's what's weird about this... Is that if you actually drill down into it, the history of the Disney theme parks actually hinge on Halloween.


L: Really?


J: Yep. Turns out that- again, one of the biggest Halloween festivals in the country actually started in Nineteen Twenty-Four,


L: There're Halloween festivals? All right, go ahead. Okay, I'll take your word for it.


J: Was held in Anaheim, California.


L: Okay.


J: All right. And Walt Disney's in the middle of the land search for Disneyland and the first couple of sites he's gone after have fallen out.


L: Okay.


J: And it's one of these things where they're going, "You know, there's a lot of land out towards Garden Grove in Anaheim, and Anaheim has this Halloween Festival. Why don't we offer to build a float? And why don't we offer to bring in some characters?"


L: Oh!


J: And so Walt actually uses the whole thing as kind of a torpedo operation. He goes in, he meets the City Fathers in Anaheim, he gets to know who's powerful- this is Fifty-Three.


L: Oh. So he's like, "Yeah, my name is Walt, nice to meet you."


J: Yeah! And so,


L: Who here makes the decisions?


J: That's it exactly. And so by the time Fifty-Four rolls around, he's bought the land and they announce he's got it wired. But none of that would have happened if Walt hadn't volunteered to do- you know, bring the company and its assets into that year's Halloween Festival.


L: Nice!


J: But at the same time, Disneyland, again, didn't really get into Trick or Treating or that sort of thing. It was kind of on and off. I mean, you know, Don Deforge's sons... he ran the Silver Banjo Restaurant in the park for the first couple of years and,


L: Where was the Silver Banjo?


J: It was in Frontierland.


L: Frontierland. Makes sense.


J: And they talk about how just one day Walt called his dad and said, "Hey, we're Trick or Treating tonight."


L: "Come on over."


J: "Come on over."


L: "I need you to give me some candy. Give it to me."


J: Yeah and it's like... So Don drove his kids out and sure enough, they're walking up Main Street USA in broad daylight, with like pillowcases going from store to store to store with Walt.


L: Really?


J: And it's like, the Forge kids say what was great was you'd walk in and the employee would give you like a piece of candy and then see Walt standing directly behind them and is like, "Well, here you go! Giant wads of candy." But the weird thing of it is that those early years of the park, you may remember hearing stories about the spectacular failure of the Mickey Mouse club Circus where it actually ended with a big- It was a Christmas presentation of the park. And Walt eventually realized, "You know, people aren't really coming here for the holidays. Every day at Disneyland is a holiday."


L: Yeah.


J: So the guys who went to Walt Disney World and built the place... Sort of like, "Well, it was good enough for Walt, it's good enough for us." But the weird thing of it is, Disneyland in Nineteen- Walt Disney World opens in Nineteen Seventy-One.


L: Uh huh.


J: They do start rolling out stuff. I mean, candle light procession started in Seventy-One. You had your first,


L: Really? Where did they have it in Seventy-One?


J: Seventy-One was on Main Street.


L: Wow!


J: Rock Hudson himself came out and stood in front of the tram- I mean, it was the same set-up that they did in Disneyland.


L: Uh huh.


J: In Seventy-Two, the first Easter parade. But what happened to sort of change this whole thing was in October Seventy-Two, Knotts Berry Farm, for the first time ever, had its Not Scary Farm. And that changed,


L: Oh, okay. That's definitely a little competition to inspire,


J: No, that's it exactly.


L: The creative juices of  Walt Disney.


J: But even then, even then, it took them until Ninety-Six to  get serious about it.


L: Woow. Twenty-some years.


J: Yeah! I mean, mind you, if you drill down into Disney company history, you'll find things like they had, what is it, a summer where it was, or a year, where it was All Star Spectacular. Where each of the holidays, whether it was Labor Day or the Memorial Day and Halloween, all of them had big concert events and... In fact, one of Whitney Houston's earliest gigs was appearing at an Eighties concert,


L: Really?


J: In front of the Magic Kingdom at a Halloween event.


L: Wow.


J: But it was all this kind of hit and miss thing. It was all this stuff where they never quite got serious. Now meanwhile, from... and again, it's not Disney being innovative, it's Disney responding to what's going on in the marketplace.


L: Right.


J: You have places like Knotts doing events. You also have... there's this great article from Nineteen Eighty-Six about people recognizing that Halloween is suddenly becoming this giant retail holiday.


L: That's right.


J: For adults.


L: Yeah, it's huge now, yeah.


J: Yeah, this was the thing. So Disney, being Disney, keeps eyeballing the trends and it's like, "Wow, that's doing well. We should maybe consider doing something about that." And then it just gets bizarre because they do their very first Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party in Nineteen Ninety. Only two nights,


L: So the Christmas party predates the Halloween party?


J: Yep.


L: Okay. And what year? Nineteen Ninety?


J: Nineteen Ninety.


L: Okay.


J: And it's, and again! It's the notion of it's a Christmas party. It's something special, we're only doing two of them.


L: What were the nights? What days?


J: Oh...


L: Was it early December?


J: It was actually... I wanna say around the Ninth or the Tenth.


L: Okay.


J: It was sort of placed in a... and again, what used to be a dead zone.


L: Mm-hmm.


J: And it's not until Ninety-Six that they do the first Not So Scary. And even then, it's only for two nights.


L: Okay.


J: And,


L: How did it go over?


J: It went over very well. But this is where it gets strange because for the longest time they resisted expanding. You can actually... If you walk through all of those years and you look at how Mickey's Very Merry bumps out from two to three to four. And they kept,


L: To seventeen, yeah.


J: Yeah! But this was the thing. Eventually, starting at about Ninety-Eight, Ninety-Nine, they're like, "All right, look. There's demand."


L: Yeah.


J: "Let's start bumping it out." And nowadays, what's really crazy is that there have been years, relatively recently, where we had more nights for Mickey's Not so Scary than we had for Very Merry.


L: Oh, sure. Yeah, it starts, the first one starts September Tenth. For sure.


J: Yep. And we were just talking about this the other night, about well why is that. And I think you have  the most interesting theory that, what, it's the better party.


L: Yeah. Cause you can- Halloween, you can be scary, you can be comedic. You could play it straight and celebrate it. Christmas you have to play it straight. There's no... There are no villains at Christmas. I mean, there's Scrooge but, you know there's no goofing around, there's no zombie Christmas thing. They're never gonna make a Zombie Christmas float. You're never gonna see anything other than "Here are the Carols, here's the traditions, go."


J: Absolutely. But, just an interesting sideline here, the one place that, even when the parks weren't doing Halloween, the one place starting in actually Seventy-Six, we can actually find a really decent Halloween celebration on property- and it was free!- was over at the shopping village.


L: What? Oh, really?


J: Yeah! And- but again, for totally mercenary reasons. The notion was, "Please come! Buy crap!"


L: "Please come! We'll give you chocolate!"


J: And that's what it broke down to. And in fact, my favorite year... In fact, you can go on Youtube and actually watch this footage. It's the year before Universal Studios opens in Florida.


L: Okay.


J: And so, as you watch this footage of the employees at the Disney shopping village dressed up for Halloween and it's if to a man, they're doing Universal characters. It's the werewolf,


L: Dracula.


J: It's Frankenstein's monster. It's Dracula. It's Phantom of the Opera. And they're all there. And just it's one of things where, "Hello Disney Legal!"


L: "Dear Sirs, it has come to our attention that you are using,"


J: Yeah. But again, just the... it's out there but they did it for that one year before they came in.


L: Oh, funny.


J: And of course Universal... And again, that's not... I mean, you gotta be obvious about this. One of the things that did drive Disney to get into the Halloween business was the fact that Universal Studios event, you know, Halloween Horror nights,


L: Oh that's right, this is what, Twenty-Third or Twenty Fourth.


J: Yep.


L: So they've been doing it since, what, Ninety?


J: Oh yeah.


L: Yeah. It's a long time.


J: Yeah. And it was just one of these things where Disney watched the center of gravity in Orlando shift for a couple of weeks.


L: So the interesting thing about Halloween Horror Nights is it's more adult. I mean, a lot of drinking,


J: It is, it is.


L: In the parks and it's even actually known they have a detox tank or something stationed behind that- they honest to God. They have like the drunk things.


J: Yeah, they have to.


L: So when Disney decides to do the Not So Scary, what's the plan for it? Is it, you know, "We're going to go out and do seventeen at once, with the parade and the fireworks,"


J: No.


L: Or how does it start?


J: It was just, again, it was a relatively modest affair.


L: When did it become a hard ticket event?


J: Oh God. Um, Ninety-Six was the get-go on hard ticket.


L: Okay.


J: But at the same time it was only eighteen, nineteen dollars and it was actually... What's fascinating is you can watch, over the years, the perception change within Disney. That the,


L: Eighteen or nineteen dollars. That's adorable.


J: Well, that coupled with the fact that it was always four or five dollars less than Mickey's Very Merry.


L: Right. I remember that, yeah.


J: And it was cause the whole notion is like "Well, it's not as popular a holiday." And people really want the holiday festivities and it just... And over time it was like, "Look at the demand! I mean, look at what's going on here." And you can actually watch the price slowly creep up to the exact same price point. In fact, there have been years, particularly if you're buying Day Of, it's more expensive to buy Mickey's,


L: Really?


J: Yeah.


L: More in demand.


J: Yep. But at the same time, when you face situations like this, it's like, "Okay, how are we going to deliver on this?"


L: Yeah.


J: "You know, what're we gonna do?" And then you saw these amazing traditions pop up like the run of the Headless Horseman.


L: That's fantastic. So this is... Where does he start, in Frontierland?


J: Yeah. Well, actually he starts... What's interesting is they have him actually come out the gate by Splash Mountain.


L: Yeah.


J: He does the entire parade route.


L: Yeah.


J: But it's one of,


L: Backwards.


J: The huge black Percherons that, in fact, ties to Disney history. When they had the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary here, they had a restored calliope that these monstrous horses brought through the park because it was so heavy. And they've since kept them at the ranch and every year they bring them out. And it- again, in a weird sort of way, this is... what's great about this is that well first of all you obviously have the influence on the Haunted Mansion and there is the Tarrytown New York feel and you even have the little Sleepy Hollow refreshment stand there. But what's really great about bringing the Headless Horseman in the mix here is that if you go back to the early early early iterations of the Haunted Mansion, the finale of the attraction- and this was when it was a walkthrough- you were supposed to be in a room where you watch the Headless Horseman rise up across- you know, you're looking at windows and watching this,


L: Oh, neat effect. Yeah.


J: It's great so it's nice that they reached out. That said, it, they've had some issues.


L: Really?


J: Well, like again, it's a live animal, typically,


L: Oh yeah.


J: And they're running this thing twenty or some odd nights a year now.


L: Yeah.


J: And just in the last year or so they actually had a ride of the Headless Horseman where the horse fell down.


L: Oh, cause it's a, so it's a shoed horse but the streets are kind of slick sometimes.


J: Well, yeah.


L: Was the horse okay?


J: Yeah, well, you know, there's,


L: Was the rider okay?


J: In both cases it's one of these things where you've got somebody... One of the reasons why you're watching the Headless Horseman... the ride seems kind of underpowered and it's like, the poor man is looking out through the neck,


L: Yeah.


J: And holding up a pumpkin.


L: Yeah. His mind is otherwise occupied.


J: That's right. So he wasn't moving terrible fast and neither was the horse, but even so. It was very disturbing for the people to watch this.


L: Yeah.


J: But yeah, now... What's fascinating now is that this has become such a cash cow for the company. And it's so huge,


L: Think about it. Right, so Halloween is on the Thirty-First but they're doing one afterwards.


J: Yep.


L: Right, so they're doing one on the Second, or on the First. And then there's, it starts on the Tenth so it's fifty-two days?


J: Yep.


L: One Seventh of the year!


J: Yeah.


L: Is Halloween.


J: Mmhmm.


L: Yeah.


J: And,


L: One Seventh. It's like saying every day this year, Sunday, we're gonna celebrate Halloween.


J: Yep. And the interesting thing is the last three or four of each year sell out.


L: Yeah.


J: Just go completely clean.


L: And the Tuesdays, like we did the (???) on this and you know the Tuesday ones in September, the first few, you know, not that crowded. But they're getting their bearings.


J: Yep.


L: They're like, "We're gonna bring in the decorations," yeah.


J: And where this gets interesting is we're kind of facing a situation where Disney eyeballs that those three or four days per year where it sells out and it's like, "We could do a second event. We could do another one of these." And,


L: Out of the park?


J: Yeah.


L: Interesting.


J: The plan has always been the Studios. In fact there was,


L: Really? What a coincidence.


J: Well, and there was at least one iteration of this where it was basically a Tim Burton celebration. It was going to be... In fact, the last site plan I saw for this basically had Frankenweenie, Nightmare Before Christmas, and the Alice in Wonderland characters. You know, basically take over the park. And  you know, Disney would never really turn the key on it A because Mr. Burton frankly is, you know, he's very controlling of his characters and he had to be on board, particularly because they were gonna use the marketing name. So they've kinda diverted into something else and in just a couple of days here they're gonna be doing the Unleash the Villains event.


L: That's right, yeah. And so again, you have to play Christmas straight, but you could do a villains thing at the Studios with Halloween.


J: So this is kind of a proof of confidence.


L: I totally thought it was when they announced it.


J: So, now mind you, with all the construction that's supposedly going on there over the next two to three years,


L: Yeah.


J: With the Star Wars stuff, it could be a challenge.


L: Yeah.


J: But on the other side of that, it should be ready for... There might be a week out of the year where you can come down here and if you're a true Halloween fiend, you could do,


L: Do both.


J: Two Disney events.


L: So people will start just coming down and staying for that.


J: Yep. So.


L: That's fantastic.


J: So anyway, that brings us up to where we are today. Alone in the dark.


L; So for Jim, this is Len. Thanks very much for listening to this episode. Oh, Jim, real quick before we go. There's a little bonus episode. Are there any ghosts in Walt Disney World?


J: (Sighs) Well, if you want the,


L: I've heard the story of George in the Pirates of the Caribbean.


J: Well, yes. As the story goes... and it's interesting because you can't... if you actually drill down into it, there is... I mean, face it, the kind of unseemly side of Walt Disney World, it's the size of a city and every day in cities around the world, people die. Whether it's they die,


L: Some under mysterious circumstances. (Evil laugh)


J: In the case of Pirates of the Caribbean, the cast members who work there swear by George. That in fact, it's become part of the closing procedure of the attraction. When you say goodbye to George, you say "Good night, George." Cause if you don't say good night, the next morning when you come in, bad things have happened, whether it's boats have derailed or you have a bad day. It's like... it's become a superstition among the cast members there. It's like, you have to acknowledge George.


L: It's a true story. I was one time in the Magic Kingdom, you know, everyone runs to Space Mountain. I ran to Pirates of the Caribbean and was the first person on. And I go through and none of the effects were working. In the city scenes. And so all the lights were off. So I tell the cast member when I get off and he's like, "Oh, we forgot to wake up George." And that's when I was like "Oh, really?" Interesting story.


J: There we go. Good night and Good morning.


L: All right, for Jim, this is Len. Thanks very much for listening to this episode of the Unofficial Guide Disney Dish Podcast. Please rate us on Itunes and let us know what other episodes you'd like to hear. For Jim this is Len. We will see you on the next show.

 

 

 

 

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