As I’ve mentioned probably a thousand times before, I used to be a cast member at the (then) Disney/MGM Studios park. It wasn’t for a very long time, but it was still a pretty cool to do. You can read all about how I became a cast member, what the experience was like, and how it ended with these links to parts one, two, and three.
Over the course of my stint as a cast member, I naturally encountered a variety of interesting situations, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of those tales. Most of them were just random little moments that I thought were neat, and there are a couple in here that (I hope) can act as lessons as how not to act when you’re a guest at a Disney park.
So hang on to your hats and glasses, because this… well, you know the rest!
One of the attractions that I worked most frequently was the Magic of Disney Animation. At the time, this offered guests a tour through an animation studio: they’d start by watching a short film (starring Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite) about how animation was created, and then they’d go into the studio where they could see people drawing and creating new Disney animated features. It was a pretty cool experience, in my opinion.
The animators worked on a different schedule than the park, though, and they often left at around five in the afternoon. After that, we’d just be showing guests a bunch of empty desks where the animators usually worked. It was less interesting. Since we still wanted to show something, though, the lights in the studio were kept on so guests could see the desks and equipment. We (the attractions hosts) would head down after closing to turn everything off.
One night, while myself and a couple others were making the final rounds of the night, we came across a lone animator hunched over her desk. She was far enough back that we hadn’t even noticed her all evening. We were going to just pass by and let her work in peace, but she took off her headphones and invited us to stay and chat for a moment. As she had been working solo for a few hours by this point, she admitted that she was starved for a bit of conversation. She showed us what she was working on, which happened to be a scene from Mulan. She flipped back and forth between some of her drawings to show the movement, and described a bit about what was happening. The entire interaction was only a few minutes–enough for her to sit up from her work and take a quick breather before jumping back into it–but it was a very cool moment that has stuck with me ever since.
This Means War
This isn’t one that actually happened to me personally, but rather a tale that was passed down to me by some of the veteran cast members at the Magic of Disney Animation attraction. Whether it happened exactly as they said, or it was embellished, or it was complete fiction, this was one of those “legends” that the old-timers loved to share with us eager young rookies.
The story takes place during shortly before the release of Beauty and the Beast. The animators had been hard at work on the film, and things seemed to be plugging along as expected. Then, unexpectedly, word came down from above that a song was being cut. This meant that the scenes going into and out of that song now had to be “fixed” to ensure that everything flowed smoothly. The animators had to work some crazy hours to try and get this all accomplished in the short time they had left. People were working late, coming in early, and keeping their noses to the grindstones (or, in this case, pencils to paper) to get the film done on time.
Have you ever been so exhausted, so stressed, and so overworked that things got… a little weird? According to those that shared this story with me, that’s exactly what happened. You see, the animators had the usual office supplies at their desks–including rubber bands and paper clips. Someone shot a rubber band at someone else. They returned fire. Soon, things escalated into a full-scale battle in the studio. Animators were ducking behind their desks and firing off paper clips at coworkers, rubber bands were flying through the air, and no actual animating was getting done. So, when the tour guides brought guests into the viewing area, rather than getting to see artists hard at work on the next great Disney movie they were instead watching people run around the studio like children.
One woman in particular (so said the old-timers) was very upset that she couldn’t watch the animators work and didn’t want to just see them playing around. The cast member running the tour apologized and explained that they had been working for days at a breakneck pace trying to get Beauty and the Beast done after some last-minute edits, and that sometimes even professionals need to blow off a little steam. Whether or not that calmed the woman down, I can’t say, but supposedly the animators did calm down and go back to work.
Having met some of the animators myself, I could totally believe that they’d use a rubber band battle to relieve stress, and having dealt with guests I could very easily see one getting upset about seeing that instead of people drawing. Is it true, though? Who knows. Is it a fun story? Absolutely.
Moving Right Along
I guess this is less of a “here’s a cool thing that I did while working at Walt Disney World” anecdote, and more of a “guests can be rude but also funny” story. I leave it to you to decide who was right and/or wrong here.
One part of working at the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show was standing in the theater as guests filed in, asking them to keep moving all the way down a row to make room for everyone. Some people listened, others didn’t, but it was our job to keep saying it into the microphone until people either did it or pushed past each other so the seats got filled either way.
One day, a family got about halfway down an aisle and sat down. Despite my polite requests that they continue to move, they just looked at me and ignored my instructions. When someone came up and wanted to get by them to take a seat further down the aisle, they would just pull their legs in a bit and expect the other people to sidle past. Part of the issue, though, was that these people were large. I’m not saying that to shame them for their body type in any way, I’m just saying that it made it harder for people to squeeze by in the narrow theater rows.
Another family was coming down the row, with the equally large mom in the lead. There was simply no way that she was going to be able to get around the ones that were sitting. I tried again, asking if all guests could please move all the way down to make room for everyone, and again I was ignored. The woman sitting down simply pulled her legs in a bit to allow a few extra inches of passage. The woman who wanted to get by, though, wasn’t having it. She very firmly, and very loudly, told the woman that “the man told you to move down, bitch!” The seated woman stood up almost immediately, and moved all the way down the row.
Now, I’m not advocating the idea of people getting upset with one another at the Most Magical Place on Earth. I’m definitely not advising people to loudly swear in front of kids (especially someone else’s). That being said, it’s possible that the woman was actually the physical embodiment of what I wanted to say at that very moment. It took a considerable amount of effort on my part not to start laughing into the microphone.
At the Magic of Disney Animation, effort was made by the animators and staff to make sure that the attractions cast members (like myself) were given the tools that we needed to really be good at our jobs as tour guides. This meant that we were occasionally given behind-the-scenes access to the studio so that we could learn more about the process of animation.
On one occasion, some of us were given a tour of the areas that guests didn’t see: offices, editing, and more, in a building separate from the attraction itself. We got to ask questions and get an idea of what else was happening at the Disney/MGM Studios beyond just being a theme park.
I honestly don’t recall very much from the tour itself, it’s been a long time since then, but there’s one part that stands out just fine–getting to see an outtakes reel from the Back to Neverland movie that we showed at the start of the attraction’s tour. Given that the short film starred Robin Williams, you can imagine what things were like when he started going off the rails and improvising. I don’t remember everything about it, other than Robin Williams being his usual brand of insane and Walter Cronkite just being the straight man and trying not to laugh, but I do remember it being hilarious.
Interestingly, I’ve never seen any mention of the reel since then. Even with the vast power of the internet, I’ve never come across a copy of it nor anybody else who has even seen it (this was long before social media, so I never kept up with my fellow cast members). Every now and again I check to see if it’s made it onto YouTube or something, I’d love to see it again and maybe share it with the world, but so far I’ve had no luck. It remains locked away in some animation vault somewhere, forgotten by all but those of us who were lucky enough to see it.
Shortly before the Alien Encounter attraction opened, cast members were invited to a special sneak preview. So a couple friends and I signed up, and met up in the park that day to check it out.
They had us all line up down in the Utilidors beneath Tomorrowland, so that guests wouldn’t see a crowd in front of the attraction and assume that it was open. Then they filed us all in and we got to experience the Extra TERRORestrial before the general public.
My friends and I were… thrown for a loop by the attraction. None of us expecting how intense and truly scary it would actually be. We left there a bit stunned, talking excitedly about some of the things that impressed us and wondering about bits that didn’t. I’m sure that this advanced “screening” was in part to gauge an audience’s reactions to it, and for the most part we walked away impressed–if more than a little surprised that it existed within the family-friendly Magic Kingdom.
Funny fact: I think that’s actually the only time I actually saw the Alien Encounter attraction. It opened shortly after, but I don’t recall ever going back to it. When I left Walt Disney World it was a while before I had the opportunity to return, and when I did I had my young daughter with me so we avoided the more thrilling experiences. It closed not long after.
I’m glad I got the opportunity to see the attraction, as it’s definitely one of those random things that sometimes comes up when talking about Disney history, but I wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for being a cast member when I was!
This is just a small selection of memorable anecdotes, though there were lots more–both good and bad–from my time as a cast member. Getting to see Pocahontas early, hopping over to Magic Kingdom to ride Pirates of the Caribbean with fellow workers after our shift, and one night when I walked part of the Great Movie Ride after hours with the lights on all stand out as fun little moments. There were also angry guests (including one who called me some unkind things because I wouldn’t let him cut in line), long hours in the Florida summer heat, and a lot of stress.
More often than not it was business as usual, though (by which I mean making magic in Walt Disney World for guests from all around the world). There were good days and bad, fun and frustration, and experiences that I’ll never forget from my time as a cast member at the Most Magical Place on Earth.