My Disney Top 5 - Character Meet and Greets I Wish Were At Walt Disney Worldby Chris Barry, contributing writer
With two sons living and working in the Disney College Program right now, we're constantly getting photos sent to us from all around the Walt Disney World Resort. Lately, of course, we've been getting a slew of Tron photos. My boys have been lucky enough to have been on the new Magic Kingdom mega-attraction several times for cast member previews and their reviews are pretty stellar. There's been no shortage of pics of them in front of the newest addition to Tomorrowland. Obviously, I miss them, so the photos are a great way to keep up with their experiences and adventures down there. The pictures that we get the most, however, have to be Disney character sightings.
My sons have always been Disney character fanatics. Ever since their first trip way back when they were 4, they've been heavily into spotting and meeting characters. I can clearly remember the first time they came into contact with Winnie the Pooh and his pals at the Crystal Palace breakfast in the Magic Kingdom. They were young, and they had a bit of trepidation as this giant stuffed bear approached. But once they realized that the silly old bear was no danger to them, that was it. They were hooked. From that point on, it was a goal on every trip to meet characters, take photos, and get autographs. As they got older, the photos and signatures weren't as important. They were content with just spotting the characters out there in the parks and keeping track of which ones they've seen.
Circle wipe to them down there for the last few months and the character hunt has kicked into overdrive. Now that they're there 24/7, the character list has seen a significant bump. They soon found out that everyday in Epcot, near the American Adventure, a small parade of characters, sometimes unusual ones, come out to walk around and meet guests. if they're not scheduled to work that morning, you can almost bank on finding them over there, cameras in hand. They've done pretty well over there too. Some recent photos they've sent had some hard to find characters like Gepetto, Pinocchio, Bolt, Launchpad McQuack, Mr. Smee and most recently Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh. Launchpad has been seen on a boat around Animal ingdom quite a bit lately but when's the last time you saw the other ones out in the parks?
Couple that with the fact that the company has been sending some rare characters over to the College Program residences at Flamingo Crossing for meet and greets and my guys have been scoring some high points on their character wish lists over there too. In the last few months we've seen photos of them with rare characters like Sebastian from The Little Mermaid, Perry the Platypus, Hades and most recently a super rare appearance by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
As for me and meeting characters, I'm right on the bandwagon with them. It's one of my favorite things to when I'm down at Disney. I don't necessarily need the photos with them anymore either, but I do like to spot them and keep track of who I've seen. With all the photos they have sent, it got me thinking; which characters would I love to run into on my next trip down there? Let's count them down with my Top 5 character meet and greets I wish were at Walt Disney World.
5 - Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This one is really a nod to my daughter. She too was a big character fiend back when she was a little girl down at Disney. She was especially fond of meeting princesses. With breakfasts at Cinderella's Royal Table at the Magic Kingdom and Akershus at Epcot's Norway pavilion, she did quite well. All the big classics were met over the years like Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora, Jasmine, Ariel (with both legs and fins), Pocahontas and Belle, as were more modern princesses like Merida, Tiana, Anna and Elsa. One Disney heroine that she always wanted to meet stars in her all time favorite Disney animated film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I remember on one of our early trips down to Disney, she asked a character handler if she could meet Esmeralda anywhere in the parks. The answer was a rather disappointing, "No, sorry. Esmeralda has not been in the parks for some time now."
A rare glimpse of Esmeralda and Clopin at Walt Disney World. Photo by John Saccheri.
In my searches online, I have found some rare instances that Esmeralda is brought out to the parks. It looks like she was spotted at a DVC Moonlight Magic event back in 2019 at the Magic Kingdom and from what I can gather, she makes appearances overseas in Paris and Tokyo. I can't understand why she isn't a regular in France at Epcot. Maybe the movie isn't that popular with the crowds these days? Hunchback is a pretty intense film, but I think it's a Disney masterpiece and Esmeralda definitely deserves a meet and greet, if not for me, then certainly for my daughter. Much thanks goes out to Mr. John Saccheri (Big Fat Panda) for his help locating a still of Esmeralda, a character so rare that I didn't even have a photo of her anywhere in my files.
4 - Jiminy Cricket
I can remember stumbling upon Jiminy back in Rafiki's Planet Watch with my family one year, and I was beside myself thrilled. I've always loved Pinocchio. It's one of Disney's best animated classics and I've always had a soft spot for Jiminy Cricket.
Jiminy Cricket and my kids in Animal Kingdom. Photo By Chris Barry.
To this day, I still can't quite understand why the character that sings one of Disney's signature songs, When You Wish Upon a Star, is so difficult to find in the parks. Jiminy used to narrate my favorite fireworks show, Wishes, and I don't think I'm alone in saying that he's a pretty significant character in the history of the company. So, why is it that you can't meet him on a regular basis in the Magic Kingdom? Is it because there's no Pinocchio attraction? Does he not register with the kids of today? I'm not sure, but I'd like that to change.
3 - Robin Hood
Here's another big favorite from my childhood. I absolutely loved the Robin Hood animated film. I know it takes some flack from the animation diehards out there. Something about reused backgrounds and similar characters to Jungle Book, blah, blah, blah. I've heard it all before and I love the film anyway. Above all, I love the character of Robin Hood. He's a cool-looking fox and I just think he's a totally underused Disney character. When we first started taking my daughter to the parks back in the early 2000s, Robin Hood, Prince John, Friar Tuck and the Sheriff of Nottingham could all be spotted in the Magic Kingdom on a fairly regular basis. Then, one year, they were gone and rarely to be seen again.
My daughter Samantha and Robin Hood at the Magic Kingdom years ago. Photo By Chris Barry.
I know Robin has fans out there and I wish he was would appear more often and not just for Long Lost Friends nights. The costume is hanging there on the racks somewhere backstage. There's no good reason not to drag him out every so often.
2 - The Aristocats
Here's a challenge to you readers; head out to Walt Disney World and find me any reference to The Aristocats. If you're like me and remember seeing The Aristocats at the drive-in movie theater in the 70s, you have fond memories of the film and of its characters. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a mention of them anywhere in the Disney parks and resorts. Marie, the white girl cat from the film, used to make fairly regular appearances in France and at the Magic Kingdom as a walk around character, but it's been a while since I've seen her. You can also find some Marie merchandise as well, but that's pretty much where it ends. If you do a search online there are some photos of Marie, Toulouse and Berlioz out there from Disneyland Grad Nights and some from Disneyland Paris, but those aren't the parks I go to regularly, now are they? I know I have a photo of Marie from the Magic Kingdom somewhere but I could not, for the life of me, dig that one up.
Here's an old photo of Marie from about 10 years ago at Disneyland. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
Personally, I would love a meet and greet featuring none other than Thomas O'Malley, "O'Malley the alley cat," as the song goes, but I don't anticipate that ever happening. How cool would it be to have a Duchess and Thomas photo op in France? The argument could be made that in the film, they do kind of walk around like cats walk as opposed to upright so maybe they would be odd looking characters. Marie walked around upright and I can remember guests lining up to take photos with her so…suspension of disbelief is sort of at work when it comes to walk around characters, isn't it? Bottom line? This movie is a huge part of my childhood and, at the very least, I wish it would be better represented at Walt Disney World. They could at least bring Marie back once in a while.
1 - Steamboat Willie
I have no real problem with Sulley's meet and greet at Walt Disney Presents in Hollywood Studios. Monster's Inc. is one of my all time favorite Pixar films and the meet and greet queue is pretty awesome with its concept art and door mechanism from the scare floor. However, here's a more fitting suggestion for the culmination of what I will always refer to as One Man's Dream. Let's say you just walked through the exhibit and you've learned all about Walt Disney's history. How cool would it be to have Steamboat Willie waiting in that meet and greet space instead? They could do an all black and white room, or have a prop replica of the riverboat. The whistling music could be playing. You could stand in the boat with Willie, get your photo taken by a Disney professional and the result would be an all black and white print of you and that historical mouse.
If the costume exists, it can be worn out in the parks someplace. Photo by Chris Barry.
I guess it's kind of cool and special that Steamboat Willie appears as a character on the boat in Fantasmic and no place else, but I'm more than willing to bet that a Steamboat Willie meet and greet at the right place in Hollywood Studios would be a tremendous hit with park guests. If you're someone of significance that can make this happen and you're reading this, go ahead and take my idea. I don't care. I don't need credit. I would just love to see it happen.
This was a tough list to compile. There are a lot of characters that I would really love to see out in the parks. I'm one of the few people that truly love Atlantis. I saw a cosplayer at Comic Con dressed up as Kida and I just think a meet and greet with Milo and Kida would be the most awesome thing ever. I think Huey, Dewey and Louie should be out there. Considering just how often Pete has been a villain in the company's cinematic history, why shouldn't he get his own walk around character? I think the Orange Bird should be walking around Adventureland and the Cheshire Cat should be over in Fantasyland by the tea cups. And don't even get me started on the Brer trio. My best guess is that Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party in 2019 was the last time I'll ever see Brer Bear and Brer Fox in the parks. That night I finally snagged a photo with my all time holy grail of characters, Brer Rabbit. With Splash Mountain's closing, I'm quite sure those costumes will never see the light of day again.
My son Alex and I ran into Brer Rabbit in Frontierland after 16 years of searching. Photo by Casey Barry.
But the character hunt will keep going on. From the photos my sons have been sending me, there are some rare characters that you can stumble on out there on the byways of Walt Disney World. You never quite know when Disney is going to bring one out. Years and years ago, we were in Hollywood Studios, or, at the time, Disney MGM Studios, and out walked Chip, Dale and their "girlfriend" Clarice. She's in the photo below.
Chip, Dale, Clarice and the family at the Studios a long time ago. Photo By Chris Barry.
She was in one animated short with the duo, 1952's Two Chips and a Miss. I guess if they could bring her out every once in a while, anything is possible. So' I'll keep my eyes open for you and report back if ever I find any or my top picks and I hope you'll do the same for me.
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below, share your list or your thoughts and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.
Characters I loved and remember from the Ď60s and Ď70s at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom.
All 3 Bríers- Rabbit, Fox and Bear
Gus and Jaq, Susie and Perla
Thumper and Flower
Winnie the Pooh with the honey pot on his head (I thought this costume was much cuter and cuddlier than the current version, but that could be my age.)
The Seven Dwarfs were much more available and not just for special events. Is that because Dwarfs are no longer PC?
J Worthington Foulfellow and Gideon
Mad Hatter was not a face character back in the day.
Captain Hook and Smee were around more.
Baloo and King Louie
Robin Hood, Little John, Friar Tuck, Prince John
King Leonidas from Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Mary Poppins penguin waiters
Bernard and Miss Bianca
I havenít seen these characters in ages except for the occasional parade. But at my age (63) I donít really go seeking them out.
Although I didnít see him in personÖ I have a postcard from Disneyland in 1967 with Captain Hook and Tick-Tock the crocodile posing in front of the pirate ship and Skull 💀 Rock in Fantasyland.
Also the 3 Little Pigs were seen a lot back then.
One of my favorite pictures of me and my sister is us with one of Cinderella's helper mice (one of the ladies; not Jacque or Gus). That was a very long time ago, though, and I don't think we've seen her since.
Chris, I totally agree with you that they should put a meet & greet with Steamboat Willie at the end of One Man's Dream...that makes so much sense! They have meet & greets with Oswald at DCA, so it definitely could be done IMHO.
@carolinakid: I just saw the Mad Hatter with the White Rabbit (and Gaston, of all people) this week at Disneyland between the castle and Pixie Hollow! The Mad Hatter was singing some nonsensical song as I passed by.
Thanks, Pammer. As I said back in the day, the Mad Hatter was a masked character who was mute. Now he imitates Ed Wynn and wears a wig and fake nose.
Great choices! I've met or seen the majority of these. We had the Mice Mice at 1900 PArk Faire one morning way back when, but not Gus and Jaq. KING LEONIDAS - that would be cool!!! Bernard and Bianca, two favorites that I would LOVE to see.
Never saw Tick Tock. Way cool. I think I saw the 3 Little Pigs in a parade?
Hey Pammer. Long time! Hope all is well.
Oswald was just at Flamingo Crossing, where the College Program live, so, he has in fact been in Orlando recently. Let's get him out in the parks!
Crazy thing. Less then a week after I posted this article, Robin Hood made an appearance at Flamingo and both my boys got a long awaited photo with him!
If I recall correctly King Leonidas used to be in the Main St Electrical Parade on a float where he was playing the calliope or some similar kind of instrument. Iíll have to see if heís on any YouTube clips of the parade.
I also saw on 2 or 3 occasions in the past (maybe the very early 2000s was the last time), the Evil Queen in her Old Peddler Woman disguise walking around DLís Fantasyland. That was always a treat!