To a three-year-old, there is hardly a sane way to meet a Disney villain. I would know, as one of the glaring memories from one of my earliest Disney trips is the Big Bad Wolf’s terrifying face leaning down for a hug. This was not ok. I mean, what was I supposed to think? He’s portrayed as a bad guy in his movie. He’s portrayed as a bad guy in the shows I had seen in the park. Big Bad Wolf = GET AWAY FROM ME. How do you explain that he’s not going to hurt me when everything I’ve associated him with contradicts that promise? So, as the vintage Disney villain opened his arms wide, my three-year-old self quickly panicked, started crying, and had to be carried out of the room for fear of being swallowed whole. And thus presents, in a nutshell, the dichotomy permeating villain presence in Walt Disney World.
Villains play an integral role in the stories of some of our favorite heroes, but admittedly frighten young children in what is known to be a family-friendly place. This is not to say that Walt Disney World has a menu that doesn’t diversify across demographics and age groups. However, when placed in such close proximity to some of the more child-oriented offerings, the villains bring forth a jarring, scary encounter for the younger set. My meeting with the Big Bad Wolf took place in the now-extinct Toontown Hall of Fame Tent in a villains room located right next door to where, just moments before, I had been hugging on Minnie and Goofy. That’s where the real disconnect is. (For what it’s worth, in years to come the villains room was swapped in favor of Winnie the Pooh and the princesses.) It is not that the villains are unimportant or that they don’t have an audience (they do, and a large one, as we will see below). It’s that their inclusion must be handled with a bit more caution than other groups of characters.
Nonetheless, there have been moments in Disney history when the villains had (and in some cases, continue to have) the spotlight. This week, WDW Radio celebrates villains in preparation for the premiere of Descendants, a new movie airing Friday, July 31, on Disney Channel. Let’s take a look at eight times the villains had their time to shine, and how Disney handled each situation differently.
1. Fantasmic! (1992/1998)
The crowd favorite nighttime spectacular first debuted at Disneyland in 1992 and later followed with an adaptation at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 1998. The villains are the central focus of the plot as they invade Mickey Mouse’s dreams. Highlights include Governor Ratcliffe leading a storm of the mountain, Jafar transforming into a giant snake, and Maleficent rising from the ground to become her dragon counterpart, setting the lake ablaze with fire. Good of course triumphs over evil, but the show is decidedly villain-heavy.
2. Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (1995-present)
Halloween is all about spooks and frights, making it the perfect time of the year for villains to be seen in greater force throughout the theme parks. Over the years, the extent to which the villains take part in the holiday festivities has varied, but the general consensus nowadays is that Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is the place to find villains in highest quantity, with a few never appearing anytime outside of the event.
3. Mickey’s House of Villains (2002)
Alas, so far two of the three villain-centric items have Mickey’s name in front of them, and one of them has half of his name as its suffix. It would seem that the Mouse is still needed in some capacity to justify a villain focus. This direct-to-video feature gave the villains something they’d never had before: their own movie. Jafar leads Disney’s greatest baddies in a takeover of Mickey and Donald’s nightclub for Disney characters. An appendix of the beloved ABC Saturday morning program House of Mouse, in actuality Mickey’s House of Villains is more like a really fancy cartoon collection, with minimal new footage. Nonetheless, the Halloween theme is fun, and it’s still a blast to see different Disney franchises collide with each other in a way that we see often in the parks but rarely on the screen.
4. Crashing the party (ongoing)
Try as they might to put on a great show, inevitably the good guys somehow always get derailed by their foes. Whether Maleficent is coming to the party uninvited in Dream Along with Mickey or the Evil Queen invades Jiminy Cricket’s hosting duties in Wishes, almost every show starring Disney characters involves a villain segment somewhere.
5. Villains Tonight! (2010-present)
This live production onboard the Disney Magic and Disney Dream cruise ships gives the villains a musical revue all of their own. As a nod to a former Hercules musical at sea, Hades serves as the emcee for the show, which is filled with Disney baddies. Last week, Andrew wrote a full review of Villains Tonight! for the blog. Note that this November, the Disney Magic will replace Villains Tonight! with Tangled: The Musical. The Disney Dream, however, will keep Villains Tonight!
6. Rock Your Disney Side (2014)
Each year, Disney’s 24-hour operating day has a theme, and 2014’s was Rock Your Disney Side. Guests were encouraged to attend in costume as a favorite hero or villain. The good vs. bad motif played out throughout the day. Rare characters appeared in parades and villains replaced the heroes’ Meet & Greet spots in the evening, including the ultra-rare Hades and Stromboli.
7. Villains Unleashed (2013-2014)
In an experiment to counter the playful tone of MNSSHP and meet the increasing demand for villains, in 2013 Disney’s Hollywood Studios hosted Unleash the Villains, an evening of fun open to all park guests. The event was part of Limited Time Magic, an ongoing promotion at the time that brought a new surprise to Walt Disney World each week for a limited time only. The party was popular, but perhaps too much so. The park was slammed. In 2014, Disney held a similar event, Villains Unleashed, as a separate, hard-ticket party. Hades served as host (see a trend?) for a night of characters and special fireworks. 50 villains held character greetings throughout the park, some of which had never had formal public Meet & Greets before. These included Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean, the Angelina Jolie version of Maleficent from her self-titled film, the hyenas from The Lion King, Captain Gantu and Dr. Hamsterveil from Lilo & Stitch, and even Constantine from Muppet Most Wanted. (Muppeteer Matt Vogel was on hand to help Constantine out.) This was an impressively unprecedented line-up, but unfortunately gargantuan lines plagued the event once more, and left many guests dissatisfied. The aforementioned Rock Your Disney Side held likewise situations. After three similar events where Disney tried to let the villains have their heyday, 2015 has seen no such villain event. They’re still experimenting with different ways to satisfy demand without making things too crazy.
8. Character meals (ongoing)
At one point, ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort held a villains dinner, but that was discontinued over a decade ago. It was not until Halloween 2014 that the villains would have their own character meal again, in the form of a special add-on to MNSSHP. Requiring a separate ticket on top of the MNSSHP ticket, Villains’ Sinister Soiree: A Wicked Takeover of Cinderella Castle was introduced as a dessert party hosted by Lady Tremaine and featuring several other Disney villains. This was another example of Disney testing the waters: Having many villains in one place, but limiting the amount of guests who would get to visit with them so as to not form atrocious waits. It is unknown if the Sinister Soiree will return for 2015.
Today and the future
In a typical day in the parks, it’s pure luck that will find you a personal greeting with a villain, but you’ll get to see plenty of them in shows, parades, and the like. As yet another instance of new villain experiments, this year’s MNSSHP will debut a new show: Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular. Hosted by the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus (their first theme park appearance!), a multitude of Disney villains will arrive at the castle to celebrate Halloween. It promises to be delightful. As we can see, there certainly is a market for villain-themed activities, and now more than ever, Disney acknowledges that. It seems that finding just the right capacity for villains, though, is a bit cumbersome. For us, that means a time of transition and many blink-and-you’ll-miss-them opportunities that may only happen once. However the villains play into the infrastructure of the parks in the future, that three-year-old who was so afraid of the Big Bad Wolf is glad that today they’re handled more delicately.
Images © Disney.
Blake studies Electronic Media and Film at Appalachian State University. He enjoys making his family of six watch the parade in Frontierland and then sprint to Main Street in time to see it again. You can find him on Twitter @olddirtyblake or at BlakeOnline.com.