Five Forgotten Features

Over the years, Disney has released a whole bunch of animated features. It’s kind of their thing. Many of these films are much-loved classics, while others have more or less fallen off the radar.

In the interest of science, I watched five Disney animated features that you may not have known existed (or at least they’re not ones that you think about very often). I had seen them all before, but I sat through them all again so that I could share my opinions about them.

 The Black Cauldron (1985)

In The Black Cauldron, a young boy by the name of Taran starts out as an assistant pig keeper and ends up on an epic quest to save the land from the evil Horned King and his army of bloodthirsty skeletons. Along the way he meets a princess, a bard, and a scruffy little creature named Gurgi, all of whom join his journey as he battles the bad guy’s henchmen. The film also has fairies, the undead, witches, and a magic sword–pretty much all the fantasy trappings.

I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for The Black Cauldron. As a kid, I loved the novel that it’s based on (which is part of a five book series called the Chronicles of Prydain). It also came out when I was about eleven and I was really into sword-and-sorcery fantasy stories, so the tale of a scrawny kid going up against a skeletal king and his undead legion was very much up my alley.

Here’s the thing, though, that I’ve noticed in watching The Black Cauldron as an adult: it’s not a fun movie. It’s exciting, sure. It can be funny at times. It has a bit of romance. But I wouldn’t call it fun. In fact, it’s downright dark for a Disney film, and actually pretty scary. Sure, Snow White and Bambi and others may have scary moments, but they don’t have an undead army, and they’re balanced by lighter elements that The Black Cauldron just doesn’t really have. The Horned King himself, too, is very creepy-looking and pure evil (and without that comical element that later villains like Jafar and Ursula brought to the screen). Really, it’s by no means a bad movie. The animation is good, and it certainly tells a compelling story. It’s just not what one expects when they think of a Disney movie.

As a side note, too–it’s generally considered to be the film that almost killed the Disney Animation Studio. It cost $44 million to make, and only made back around $21 million of that. That loss nearly resulted in the animation department being shut down. It then took about ten years before Disney released it on home video. It did enjoy a bit of park presence, though: costumed characters appeared, and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom briefly had a restaurant called “Gurgie’s Munchies and Crunchies”. Also, on rare occasions, the Horned King pops up with the Disney villains and he’s appeared in other Disney animation (like House of Mouse) as well as in some Disney video games.

So is it worth embarking on this journey? I would actually say yes. It is a piece of Disney Animation Studio’s history, so it’s kind of worth it just for that, and overall it really is a pretty good movie. If you’re the type who prefers happy musical tales full of humor, it may not be your thing, but if you love strong storytelling and a great adventure than it could be right up your alley.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Atlantis: The Lost Empire tells the story of Milo Thatch, a young researcher in the early 1900’s who is obsessed with the titular lost city. He teams up with a ragtag group of mercenaries aboard a submarine, goes searching the depths, and locates Atlantis and finds that people still live there. Hijinks ensue.

This movie is… weird. Don’t get me wrong, I love weird films, but in the case of Atlantis it’s almost like a bunch of different people had a bunch of different ideas and they opted to just shove all of these concepts into the movie and hope they’d mesh. You’ve got mechanical monsters, magic, golems, a volcano, an aerial battle inside said volcano, and of course a civilization hidden under the sea. At times it does all work together, but just as often it seems a bit disjointed. There is some cool stuff happening throughout, but there are also a few points where I was wondering what was going on.

There’s actually a lot to like in Atlantis. The exploration story itself, which has a very Jules Verne vibe, is cool. The characters are voiced by a great cast that includes Michael J. Fox and Leonard Nimoy. The art style, by comic book artist Mike Mignola (who created Hellboy), is really neat. Unfortunately, there’s a lot to not like as well. For the most part, the supporting characters are one-dimensional (even when they try to flesh them out). At no point did I feel emotionally connected to the characters or their plight, like I do in many other Disney stories. The script seems to add bizarre mystical elements as needed, which don’t always make a whole lot of sense, and it made the story seem a bit all over the place at times.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire got mixed reviews, and ultimately didn’t do that well at the box office. However, it’s developed a bit of a cult following since then. At different fan conventions (Disney, comics, etc) you can even sometimes see cosplayers dressed up like characters from the film.

Should you take the plunge and watch Atlantis: The Lost Empire? I’d say pass on it, unless you’re a Disney completionist who feels the need to see every movie the studio has ever put out. It’s a decent enough adventure, and there’s some fun to be had, but overall it’s just not good enough to warrant going out of your way to check it out. Even Disney themselves rarely acknowledge the film: the characters never really show up (despite Kida, an Atlantean, technically being a Disney princess) and there are virtually no references to the movie in the parks or other media.

 Treasure Planet (2002)

Recipe for  Treasure Planet: Take the classic story of Treasure Island, put it in outer space, and a motley assortment of aliens and robots. Add in a mix of hand-drawn animation and CGI. Throw in a random power ballad by John Rzeznik (of the Goo Goo Dolls). Mix well.

The star of Treasure Planet is a young man named Jim Hawkins. Jim is extremely smart, but a little troubled, and causes no shortage of headaches for his single mom. A chance encounter with an old swashbuckler puts Jim in possession of a map which supposedly leads to the legendary treasure of infamous pirate Captain Flint, and Jim sets out on an adventure involving fantastic locales and bloodthirsty buccaneers.

Treasure Planet is a surprisingly faithful retelling of the classic pirate tale Treasure Island, reimagined as a science fiction story. Some creative liberties are obviously taken to fit it into the new setting (I’ve read the book, and I don’t recall any mention of Long John Silver being a cyborg), but amid the alien planets and spaceships the core of the story is more or less intact.

I think Treasure Planet is a blast. I’m a big fan of the original book, so I figured that I would either love the film for being an exciting new version of the story or I’d hate it for wrecking the fun and adventure of the novel. In my opinion, though, this galaxy-spanning take on the tale worked and brought the story to a new generation. The animation style–a mix of styles in which hand drawn characters are set against CGI backgrounds–is pretty cool, and the voice cast included stars such as David Hyde Pierce, Emma Thompson, Martin Short, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It was written (as well as directed and produced) by John Musker and Ron Clements, the same duo who wrote/directed/produced The Little Mermaid.

Sadly, Treasure Planet didn’t exactly resonate with movie-goers (despite a 2002 Oscar nomination for Best Picture). In terms of box office dollars it was actually a spectacular bomb, and the reviews ranged from really good to fairly terrible. As a result, Disney opted not to pursue their ideas for a direct-to-video sequel and a television series (and, as far as I’m aware, it never had any park presence), meaning that a potential Treasure Planet franchise was done before it ever took off.

I highly recommend checking out this one if you get the chance, though. It’s a fun adventure with some cool characters and impressive visuals, and it is (loosely) based on a literary classic.

 Dinosaur (2000)

An orphaned iguanadon, raised by lemurs, treks across the prehistoric world after a meteor destroys his home. He and his furry family join up with a large group of other dinosaurs as they all migrate to the safety of the lush”nesting grounds”. It wouldn’t be an adventure without conflict, though: starvation, velociraptors, and some carnivorous carnotaurs stand between them and their goal.

Dinosaur has a few things going for it. The animation technique, featuring CGI characters set against real-life backgrounds, is impressive. The voice performances–by actors such as DB Sweeney, Ossie Davis, Alfre Woodard, and Julianna Margulies–are solid. Disney even had enough faith in the movie to very loosely base an Animal Kingdom attraction on it: the ride formerly known as Countdown to Extinction was renovated into DINOSAUR shortly after the film’s release, and Aladar (the lead dino) was put out front.

Unfortunately, while it’s not necessarily terrible, Dinosaur just isn’t that good either. The story is lackluster, and for the most part the characters just aren’t fleshed out. There are some weird choices that were made, too. Like, why can all of the good dinosaurs talk but the velociraptors and carnotaurs (the villains of the piece) just growl and roar? Why utilize a really cool animation technique that uses real-life locations and then set most of the movie in a barren wasteland? Why is the funniest part a recurring joke about someone being urinated on?

If you’re really into dinosaurs and you want to see Disney’s take on them, then it could be worth digging this one up just for curiosity’s sake. Otherwise, just ride the DINOSAUR attraction the next time you’re at Animal Kingdom. It’s honestly more exciting than the movie it’s based on. 

Meet the Robinsons (2007)

Meet the Robinsons is about a futuristic family, time travel, and a villain in a bowler hat. Lewis, a young inventor living in an orphanage, ends up traveling into the future and crossing paths with a very unusual family. Along the way he combats the machinations of a time-traveling bad guy who seems particularly motivated to steal his inventions and cause all sorts of mischief. There are lounge singer frogs, a tyrannosaurus rex, and a meatball cannon. Oh, and the bowler hat is a robot named Doris.

Full disclosure: I love absurdity. The weirder my entertainment, the more entertained I generally am. Meet the Robinsons is bizarre even by my standards, which is simply glorious.

The thing is, all the oddity works, and the story is cohesive despite all of the absurdity. It’s a really fun movie with a lot of laughs and even a few Disney in-jokes (like the futuristic city being called Todayland). It has heart, too, and does a great job of balancing the humor and weirdness with some touching moments. The characters are great, and the story itself is pretty intelligent. It actually requires you to pay attention to the plot points simply because there’s so much going on, but that can be a bit tough when you’re laughing at the hilarious moments (of which there are plenty).

Meet the Robinsons was animated entirely via CGI (and was shown in 3D in properly equipped theaters), and the cast includes Tom Selleck, Angela Bassett, and Adam West. It got generally positive reviews, and it did respectably in theaters though it wasn’t necessarily a blockbuster. It’s pretty much fallen off of the radar since then, with no follow-ups and nothing in the parks to remind people that it exists.

Seriously, watch this one. It’s so weird, funny, moving, and just a lot of fun. I’m a little disappointed that it didn’t take off–I’d love to have seen Imagineers incorporate the “weird futuristic inventions” theme into Tomorrowland.

Plus, the villain wears a robotic bowler hat!

So, here’s my final summary:

The Black Cauldron: It’s not exactly a fun movie, but it’s still very good. It won’t leave you with a happy fuzzy feeling like many other Disney films do, but it’s definitely worth watching. It’s a fairly important part of Disney animation history, too, in its own way.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire: There are interesting concepts here, and it’s a cool adventure tale, but it just doesn’t really come together. Unless you’re really into stories about Atlantis, or you want some obscure cosplay ideas, you can skip this one.

Treasure Planet: A great retelling of the classic pirate tale, with 100% more cyborgs and spaceships. It’s a fun movie that I think has something for everyone (as long as everyone likes swashbuckling aliens and adventures on strange planets).

Dinosaur: A neat animation technique can’t save this one. The film just isn’t very compelling or entertaining, thanks to a lackluster story and some odd choices. If you need to see everything that Disney has ever released, go for it, but otherwise you can pass on this.

Meet the Robinsons: It’s so bizarre, but it’s really a lot of fun. Amid all of the weirdness there’s a very Disney-esque story about family in there, too. There’s also a tyrannosaurus rex. I really recommend this one, especially if you’re as big a fan of absurdity as I am.

While some Disney films are considered cinematic masterpieces, others–like the five listed here–have all but been forgotten. In a couple cases that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but some of the others (in my opinion) deserved better.

Also, let’s be honest–more Disney features (and movies in general) could use robotic bowler hats.

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Rumors Of The Galaxy

There are a lot of rumors swirling lately about what’s coming (and what may be leaving) at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. While I try not to take them too seriously, as they’re only hearsay, it can be tough to do. When the rumor is about something potentially big, I tend to either hope that it’s true… or really hope that it’s not.

So let’s break down a few of the juicier rumors that have been going around lately:

Guardians of the Galaxy, California Edition

The “word on the street” here is that the Tower of Terror attraction at Disney California Adventure will close and be replaced with a ride based on the movie Guardians of the Galaxy. Supposedly, the ride will take guests through the lair of the Collector character, and will still feature the famous drop from the original attraction.

If the latest rumors are to be believed, the Tower of Terror would close this Autumn. I’ve heard September, but another rumor also suggested that it might not happen until early November so the ride can be open for Halloween. Either way, the plan puts the opening of the new Guardians-themed attraction in May of 2017 to coincide with the release of the new movie.

Personally, I’m OK with this happening. I may be in the minority here, as I’m guessing there are a lot of Disneyland fans who are pretty upset about the idea of losing Tower of Terror, but frankly I think that the Disney California Adventure park could use something new like this. The park was, honestly, a bit disappointing when I was there for my first time last year. There were a few cool attractions–Radiator Springs Racers and Grizzly River Run come to mind–but overall I found it to be just not very engaging. Plus, as this rumor only covers California and there appear to be no plans to alter the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios in Florida, it will give that side of the country another unique attraction.

Update: Less than twenty-four hours after I posted this, Disney Parks Blog announced that this one is no longer a rumor and is in fact going to happen. A new Guardians of the Galaxy attraction, called Mission: BREAKOUT, is due to replace the existing Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure. The ride will tell an escape story as guests team up with Rocket Raccoon to free the other Guardians team members, which will (of course) include a free fall. According to the Disney Parks Blog, Tower of Terror is slated to close in early 2017, with the new Mission: BREAKOUT opening that summer. I’m pretty excited about this new attraction, though admittedly I don’t any personal attachment to the Tower of Terror there (though I love the version at Hollywood Studios). Many DCA fans have expressed their displeasure over the announcement–as I expect I would have if they had announced a Florida closure–but personally I think the new attraction sounds cool.

Marvel Land

This one sort of builds off of the previous rumor, as it claims that the Guardians of the Galaxy ride is not necessarily a stand-alone attraction but the first part of a new area in Disney California Adventure. This new “land” will focus on Marvel properties.

Variations of the rumor have this new area taking over the Hollywood Land section of the park (which would mean, sadly, losing the fun Monsters Inc ride) and/or being built in a currently unused area on the other side of Tower of Terror.

There hasn’t been a lot of detail about this new land, though rumors of a Marvel-themed roller coaster have surfaced multiple times. It’s also assumed that there would be multiple superhero meet & greets in the area.

Again, I’m sort of hoping to see this one become a reality (but I’m also, admittedly, not a DCA purist as I’ve only been to that park once). A new land would pump some fresh life into Disney’s California Adventure, and it’s definitely time that Disney started utilizing their Marvel properties in the parks. Captain America, Iron Man, and the rest of the Marvel characters may not have much to do with California, but then again Cars Land and Bugs Land don’t really fit into the “California” theme either.

Update: Included in the announcement about the new Guardians of the Galaxy-Mission: BREAKOUT attraction, Disney Parks Blog also stated that this new attraction will “anchor a broader universe of Super Heroes that will grow over time at Disney California Adventure park”. While that’s pretty vague, it basically confirms the fact that there’s going to be a lot more Marvel coming to DCA.

Guardians Of The Galaxy, Florida Edition

I feel dirty even typing this, as if mentioning it here could help bring it to life, but here goes: according to persisting rumors, Disney executives are looking to add Guardians of the Galaxy to EPCOT.

That’s right, the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, once a place dedicated to science and visions of the future, could now apparently become a park made up of any trendy properties regardless of whether or not they fit with the theme. The rumor suggests that a Guardians attraction could take over the building currently housing Ellen’s Energy Adventure, though some indicate that it might instead move into the abandoned Wonders of Life pavilion. There’s also a version of the rumor in which Mission: SPACE gets a Guardians of the Galaxy overlay (it doesn’t mention if that would be temporary or permanent).

To be fair, I haven’t been on Ellen’s Energy Adventure in a long time. In fact, my last time through it might have still been when it was still Universe of Energy. So my issue isn’t even that this particular attraction may be leaving. My problem is what the rumored replacement. There are some great ways to bring in popular characters while retaining the core thematic elements of EPCOT–like a Big Hero 6 robotics lab or something–without throwing the whole edutainment thing aside for a popular franchise.

I suppose, now that Frozen is considered Norwegian enough to fit in the World Showcase (read my rant about that here) anything goes at EPCOT.

So far nothing has been officially announced, but the rumors indicate that Ellen’s Energy Adventure could be closing by the end of 2016. How this jives with the fact that Universal Studios Orlando has a contract for Marvel characters, which prevents other Florida theme parks from using them, is unclear.

Leave A Legacy Leaving

Just inside the front entrance to EPCOT, in front of Spaceship Earth, stands Leave a Legacy.  If this rumor is to be believed, though, it may not be there much longer.

Many people consider Leave a Legacy to be a bit of an eyesore. Made up of several massive stone monoliths covered in tiny metal tiles, the project offered guests the chance to pay money and become a part of the sculpture itself–onto each tile is etched a photograph of a person (or persons). The chance to be added to Leave a Legacy has long since passed, so now many people think it’s just taking up space. 

I’m torn on this one. On the one hand I agree that it’s sort of in the way, and the real estate could be used to spruce up the entrance to EPCOT (as long as they don’t plan on adding Guardians of the Galaxy). On the other hand, my daughter and I have a tile on there and it’s pretty cool to be able to go see it when I’m there. It makes me feel like we’re a small part of the park itself.

The rumors do suggest that Leave a Legacy would find a new home, though, somewhere else on the property (whether that means EPCOT specifically or Walt Disney World property in general is unclear). This makes some sense. I would probably seek it out now and again to see my tile, but people who don’t have one probably don’t really care about it.

Life, Liberty, And Muppets

Could the Muppets be coming to Liberty Square? According to rumors, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Word is that a new show of sorts could be appearing in the second-story windows of Liberty Square, featuring Muppet characters as they talk to guests about American history. Recently, scrims and covers have appeared on some windows there, adding credence to the rumor. There’s been no indication of what sort of show it would be–video, audio animatronic, etc–nor if it would be set for specific times or if it would just be Muppets randomly yelling American history facts at passing guests.

It could be really cool to get something new in Liberty Square, and the Muppets would be a fun way to inject humor into the subject matter. It’s also a good indication that Disney still wants to use these characters in some way. They’re getting a bigger presence in Hollywood Studios, but the fact that they could also appear in Magic Kingdom suggests that Disney is serious about the property.

Plus, who’s more patriotic than Sam the Eagle?

Update: This one is no longer a rumor, as the Disney Parks Blog confirmed that the Muppets will indeed be coming to Liberty Square. Beginning this October, the Muppet characters will be appearing throughout the day to “present historical tales in hysterical fashion as only they can”. According to the announcement, the Muppets will be tackling a variety of moments throughout American history in the new show. Not much else is known about the show thus far.

I can’t wait to see the Muppets in Magic Kingdom. Liberty Square is in serious need of something new–there’s simply not much there–so hopefully this will draw guests to the land.

There are pretty much always rumors swirling around the Disney parks, stories about what could be coming in and what might be leaving. Some of them do turn out to be true, at least in some fashion, but many others end up being nothing but speculation. Honestly, the best policy is to just not put any stock in them and wait until an official announcement either proves or disproves them. It’s tough, though, to not get excited about some new idea or upset about a drastic change to a beloved attraction (or park).

We’ll have to wait and see if there’s any truth to these particular rumors (and any others that are out there at the moment). Hopefully Disney will announce something soon on all of them either way so we can stop speculating. By then, though, there will no doubt be a whole new crop of rumors to wonder about.


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The Cast Member Diaries Part Three: All Good Things…

In the Cast Member Diaries Part One: From Guest to Cast Member, our epic saga began as I explained how I (on a whim) came to be employed at Walt Disney World and I told the tale up through my orientation and training. The adventure continued in the Cast Member Diaries Part Two: Spreading the Pixie Dust, in which I described what I did as an attractions host at the Disney/MGM Studios park and shared some anecdotes from my time there. Now our narration continues as I explain how it came to an end, and how the experience affected my life (in good ways and bad) since.

I was hired in April of 1995, and once the busy summer season was in full swing I was generally getting a lot of hours, despite being part-time. Sometimes I would even be offered overtime. While the pay rate wasn’t amazing, I was doing OK in terms of what I would take home in my paycheck each week. Things were steady in April, started ramping up in May, and by June we were dealing with a staggering number of guests–a number that only got more insane in July and into August. As the end of summer approached, though, I was informed that soon I would be going back to a regular part-time schedule. This meant that, on average, I’d only be getting between six to sixteen hours per week. Fewer hours meant less money, and my significant other and I simply wouldn’t be making enough to stay in Florida. Without a clear idea of what to do next with our lives, my parents invited us to come stay with them in Massachusetts while we figured it out. So, just a few months after starting a job I had wanted since I was a kid, I had no choice but to put in my notice. I worked out my last couple of weeks, turned in my employee ID, and then that was it.

Well, sort of…

I don’t know if things have changed there in the last two decades, but back then you could be a temporary cast member. This meant that you were still employed at Walt Disney World as long as you worked a certain number of days each year (like a week or two) during a busy season to maintain your temp status. Not being ready to completely give up, I opted to go this route rather than just quit outright, and the next year I returned to Walt Disney World to work for a week over February vacation. I crashed on a friend’s couch, and while I was there I tried to find a full-time job on property. As I had been in school for technical theatre, I focused on trying to get a position doing something along those lines, but unfortunately I had (at the time) very little actual experience doing anything technical theatre related. I don’t recall if I went back again or not, or if it was just that one time–the details have gotten a bit hazy over the years. I do remember that I had a meeting with someone at Magic Kingdom about a full time position once. I was directed to go to an administration section in the Utilidors, and if not for the lack of windows you’d never know that these offices were underground. Wooden walls, polished brass, glass, and carpeting made it look like any upscale office–very different from the cement corridors that I had taken to get there. I also had an interview at Disney/MGM Studios, but like the Magic Kingdom conversation this attempt also went nowhere.

When I opted to not return again, and my temp status ended, my time as a Walt Disney World cast member was really over.

Even though I wasn’t really there long, I consider my time as a Walt Disney World cast member to be a big part of my life. I value the experience that I gained while there. Some of it was just through the training and the day-to-day work, but it also let me shine in ways that I never had before. For example: we were short-staffed at Voyage of the Little Mermaid one day. This wouldn’t have been a big deal in itself, but some sort of thing had happened over at Tower of Terror (I never did find out what) and supervisors from multiple areas were sent to deal with that. It was a busy day, and things started running off the rails a bit, so I stepped up and took charge. I had no supervisory experience, but I just went with my gut and started telling the other cast members how we should handle the situation. They followed my lead. I slightly altered our normal rotation to account for the lower staff to put people where we needed them the most. Other cast members stepped up too, it was definitely a team effort, but I just sort of became the one running the situation and Mermaid kept going without a hitch. Later that day, when things had calmed down, a supervisor took me aside and I received a commendation for stepping up. It was really my first taste of leadership, and getting recognized for it (positively, no less!) was pretty exciting. When I put in my notice, that same supervisor admitted that he was sad to see me go, as he thought that I could someday easily work my way up to supervisor myself. That really stuck with me. It was a big confidence boost for a twenty-year-old kid with no clue what he wanted to do with his life.

Working at Walt Disney World taught me skills that I’ve put to use ever since. I’ve held onto the high level of guest service that they instilled in me, and I have often demanded that same level when training employees as a manager in various settings since then. I’ve been disappointed when other managers don’t hold themselves to that level. In fact, recently a friend started their own business and had to deal with a customer service situation. They resolved it to both their and the customer’s satisfaction, and when they posted to Facebook about it they credited me with “teaching them how to provide customer service without freaking out”. I credit Walt Disney World with teaching me about guest service in the first place, and I guess I’ve passed some of what I learned there to others.

Plus, there was just something special about being a part of the Disney magic. People from all over the world come to Walt Disney World expecting fun and pixie dust, and I was a small part of giving them that experience.


One of the few souvenirs from my cast member days: a shirt from the exclusive-to-employees Company D store. It has a few small holes in it now (from an overzealous kitten), and I never actually wear it for fear of something else happening to it.

A lot happened in the time since I left. I had a kid, got married, got divorced, and retained custody of said kid. There were moves from Massachusetts to Minnesota and back again. I bounced between various retail jobs and occasional bouts of unemployment. I (kind of accidentally) adopted a large dog–a samoyed named Stitch.

Through it all, despite every choice and every reason to stay where I was at the time, I had this unstoppable longing to go back to work for Walt Disney World again. I really wanted to return to being a cast member. Admittedly, as time went on (and things often got tough at dead-end jobs) I started seeing the past through rose-colored glasses. Being a cast member went from “something that would be fun to do again” to some sort of mythical career goal and I became fairly convinced that it was the only thing I’d be truly happy doing for work. During this time, too, I wasn’t getting down to the parks much to even visit, so there was some definite “absence makes the heart grow fonder” action happening.

Over the years, becoming a Walt Disney World cast member again grew into an obsession. If I got a retail job, I wondered if they had stores in Orlando so I could someday transfer down there (so I’d have a place to work while applying/interviewing to be a cast member). When taking a job I’d wonder if the skills I’d gain there would help me when I eventually went back to Disney. When I started getting tattoos, I made sure that they were all able to be covered up with long pants and a T-shirt, so they’d be hidden in just about any cast member costume. Even in writing blog posts I’ve been super careful to not say anything that could be misconstrued and somehow affect my chances to get hired at Disney. The goal has always been to go back, and just about everything I’ve done has been worked into that somehow.

Even when I was trying not to think about it, things happened to remind me, like this weird moment in a retail job interview. The manager was looking over my work history and remarked on the fact that I had worked at Walt Disney World. This has impressed plenty of people before, so I wasn’t prepared for what he said next: he asked me if I liked working there, I admitted that I loved it, and his response was that this was a reason for him not to hire me. Basically, he explained, to him this meant that my “long-term potential” with his company was in question. Former cast members who loved the experience, in his mind, were much more likely to up and move back to work at Disney again. He had seen it happen before, and he wasn’t convinced that it wouldn’t happen again. At this point, going back to Disney was such a pipe dream that I didn’t even consider it a real possibility, so it was strange to get “called out” on my secret desire to do so.

As much as I pined to go back, I had very compelling reasons to stay where I was and not run off to the Most Magical Place on Earth. I was depending heavily on my nearby parents to help with my daughter, so I wouldn’t want to lose that support by moving us away from them. I knew that Stitch, a dog bred for pulling sleds through snow, would hate living in the Florida heat. Plus, I simply didn’t have the means to pack up and start a new life somewhere else. So I told myself that someday I would go back to Walt Disney World and be a cast member again. I’d think more and more about how much fun I had being a Walt Disney World cast member and wish I was back there doing that again rather than whatever it was that I was actually doing (or not doing, if I were in one of my random bouts of unemployment). The worse things got, the more I would miss being a cast member, and even when things were better I’d still be planning to eventual return.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain this near-constant desire to go back and be a cast member. I can see how, to some people, it mostly just sounds like whining about not getting to do something that I want to do. Plus, I don’t want it to sound like my life has been terrible since leaving Walt Disney World. I don’t regret any of the decisions that I’ve made, and while there’ve been some tough times I’m pretty happy overall with how things have turned out. I have a great family (I have since remarried), a good career, and my daughter and I had opportunities that probably wouldn’t have happened if I had packed up and moved back.

Through a lot of it, though, I’ve often felt like… something’s missing. Like I’m just slightly incomplete. Especially when I was working a dead-end job (or not working at all) I’d really start to think that I’d be better off as a cast member.

It’s not even necessarily Walt Disney World, either. Recently the whole plan has sort of shifted coasts. For a long time my goal has been to go back to Walt Disney World. I grew up going there and it’s where I had been a cast member already. Even though I had no real desire to live in Florida again, it’s where Walt Disney World is so it was where I wanted to go. After my wife and I took a trip to Disneyland last year, though, things sort of changed. We liked the Southern California area a lot better. In fact, the more I thought about it the more I thought I’d actually prefer working at Disneyland. There’s a sense of community there among the cast members and guests that I really liked, which I don’t feel is quite the same at Walt Disney World. I’d also still get better weather than I often have now (I really hate the cold and snow, which makes living in Massachusetts uncomfortable for a few months every year).

There’s a part of me that will always love Walt Disney World and will always want to go back there, but it’s apparently just the concept of being a Disney cast member, at either park, which has captivated me–I’ve become just as obsessed with that relatively recent idea of moving to California to work at Disneyland. Either way, though, it’s still just a dream that I talk about but have no real plan to follow through on. Yet.

I don’t even know if there’s a coherent way to describe it, really, other than to say that I’ve always felt like I “belonged” there (even if the “there” has changed).

So where are we now? Well, my daughter is in college and as such I don’t actually see her too much. Stitch has (sadly) passed away. With these two major factors no longer being major factors, you’d think I’d already be on my way. However, as usual, things are rarely that simple. My wife is none too keen on the idea of packing up and moving someplace new, for a variety of reasons, so that’s been a thing. We both knew going in that she didn’t want to move and I had every intention of doing so someday, and it’s been a minor point of contention in an otherwise very happy marriage, but it has caused me to rethink my plans. I do want her to be happy, so if not dropping everything to chase an obsession is the key to that, then I’m willing to hold off a bit (and I’m not just saying that because she edits this blog). Though I’m sure that I do drive her crazy by talking about it incessantly. At the same time, she knows that it’s something that I really do want to do, so the discussion is sort of an ongoing thing.

I also have a career that I really enjoy–working as a theatrical technician–and it’s only been getting better. Like, good enough to possibly warrant sticking around the Boston area a lot longer. [Fingers crossed!  —editor/wife] Of course, I’m also fully aware of the fact that due to my current career path I finally have a solid set of skills that would serve me well in getting a good job at a Disney park. This means that, if I were to ever go back, I would apply to be a theatrical technician there and hopefully combine what I love doing here with being a cast member there. Even if one of my (now not so) secret dreams is to actually be a Jungle Cruise skipper.

I can stand back, rationally, and know it wouldn’t be all pixie dust and fairies. It would be hard work. There’d be bad days, and some days it would be a grind like any other job. I’m well aware that this magical image that I’ve worked up in my head over the years is going to be very different from reality. I can also point to all of the very valid reasons as to why moving across the country would be a questionable choice. I may not see my daughter much now, but she’s still not far away so we do see each other sometimes. I’ve got friends and a community here that has been built up over several years, as does my wife. We’re half a day’s drive from her family, and about a half hour from mine. We have a life here and it would be hard to give that up just to chase a dream.

In reality, the only thing that a big move really has going for it is the fact that I’d (hopefully) end up working for Disney again. Funny thing about obsessions, though… reality doesn’t generally figure in.

To this day I’m still pining to be a cast member, but I’m also not dropping everything and rushing back (even if I do sometimes research places to live in the Southern California area). My wife and I do semi-seriously talk about it now and again, and we’re not saying that it won’t ever happen, but we also want to make sure that it’s the right thing to do before moving across the country. There are a lot of logistics to work out, and we’d want to be sure that they were all properly addressed. There is this small part of me, though, that’s afraid that it might never happen, and I often have a hard time reconciling that. I also know that I could very well end up working at a Disney park again someday, and that possibility is pretty exciting.

Of course, if it ever did happen, I’d most likely have to stop blogging. Conflict of interest and all. That would be sad. Though I suppose I could then wrap things up with one final epic entry in this series: my triumphant return to cast member-dom.

The idea of going back and working at a Disney park is in the background of my brain pretty much all the time, and it has been ever since I left over two decades ago. At this point in time, though, it’s still just a wish and there are no plans to make it a reality. At least not yet, anyway.

You do know what cast members say about wishes…

Posted in Magic, Misadventures, Nostalgia | Tagged , | 1 Comment