Whether you’re a character hunter or ride diehard who has never done a dedicated meet & greet, I think we all can agree that seeing Minnie & Mickey Mouse or other beloved furry friends at Walt Disney World is exciting. That’s doubly true when they’re rare characters who seldom make appearances.
Ever since Disney announced that Figment would be returning to EPCOT in 2023, I’ve been thinking about how other rare characters could make a comeback to Walt Disney World. Even though I’m not a hardcore character person, I do enjoy seeing and meeting the unique ones, and think they add a lot to the parks.
Seeing rare characters at Walt Disney World is something special–no joke. I’m going to stop short of calling it “magical” as that’s cliche and overused, but spotting a rare character feels like capturing a coveted Charizard from a pack of Pokemon cards. It’s a little victory worth savoring, even if you have 0 attachment to the character in question. It’s addictive, and makes me understand how people get into character hunting.
One of the difficulties with bringing back rare characters is logistics. Character hunting has been “a thing” for decades, but it’s really been dialed up several notches in the internet era. Now, everything is online instantly and there are guides for finding rare characters. The chances of stumbling on them all alone in random spots during training sessions (as used to happen all the time) seems like a thing of the distant past.
Quite simply, demand is higher for rare characters and fan favorites. A good example of this is at the Halloween and Christmas parties, where Jack Skellington continues to meet (and other rare characters like the Seven Dwarfs have previously appeared). His line is routinely several hours long during that hard ticket event…meaning guests are paying ~$25 an hour just to stand in line to meet him.
We’ve seen this play out in even worse ways in the past. The infamous Villains Unleashed special event largely centered around rare characters, most of which ended up having multi-hour long lines. As did Guest Relations at the end of the night, with people requesting refunds because the party went so badly. (For what it’s worth, I actually enjoyed Villains Unleashed, but I recognize what a spectacular failure it was for most fans.)
Honestly, I don’t have a great solution for all of this. Villains Unleashed was almost a decade ago, at a time when social media was still in its nascent years. The parks are much more popular now and character appearances frequently go viral, fueling even more demand.
Perhaps the solution is more spontaneous appearances of free-roaming characters. This is how Disneyland does things, with far less regimented character appearances than at Walt Disney World. Not only does this eliminate predictability and those multi-hour lines, but it allows character interactions to unfold organically in memorable and fun ways.
Another alternative would be having rare characters appear not at dedicated meet & greets, but in the ‘greeting’ locations (a la Winnie the Pooh in the grass over by Journey into Imagination) that are distanced from guests and thus, typically, more efficient (and also a lot of fun).
But I digress. The point here isn’t practical solutions for how rare character appearances could work, operationally, at Walt Disney World. It’s listing the ones we want to return the most!
Roger Rabbit – Who doesn’t love Roger Rabbit? Well, it seems like a lot of people. His movie is on par with the Rocketeer when it comes to forgotten Disney masterpieces and his dark ride is criminally underrated.
Despite being a morass of rights issues, I’m still hopeful that a sequel–or something of substance using Roger Rabbit–will eventually cut through the egos and red tape. Roger Rabbit seems like the perfect property for a revival in today’s pop culture landscape that loves nostalgia, pop culture influences, sharp humor, and meta-references. Perhaps I’m biased, but I also think Roger Rabbit would be the perfect mascot for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Prince Eric & Max – When it first came out, I loved The Little Mermaid. I didn’t care so much about the actual plot or the main characters–I loved the songs, undersea setting, and the aquatic creatures and above-water critters. Sebastian, Flounder, Scuttle, and Max were my favorites; when I reenacted the movie as a kid, it was really just about them.
It’d be cool to see any of them as meet & greets, but Max is really the only one that can have a fun personality as a fur character who interacts with guests. (To be honest, I have no desire to meet Prince Eric. However, this list is a “we” thing and I’m guessing Sarah might disagree slightly. Plus, I’ve only ever seen Max with Prince Eric, so they might be a package deal.)
Ludwig von Drake – If anyone ever made the unwise decision of allowing me to instruct a course in anything, I would enlist the erudite, eccentric, and egotistical professor Ludwig Von Drake to assist. (Meaning I’d play old episodes of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color for the class instead of doing any actual teaching.) The only major animated character Walt created for television, Professor Von Drake is Donald Duck’s father’s brother.
I first became a fan of Ludwig von Drake thanks to D23 events back in the day, his theme song, and “An Adventure in Color/Mathmagic Land,” the first Wonderful World of Color episode. He’s one of the wittiest and most satirical characters, Ludwig seems like one of a bygone era. I’d love to see him in the parks more–and would an educational Disney+ series be too much to ask for? I might need it someday.
Aristocats – One of my biggest regrets is not naming our cat, “Thomas.” Sarah and I were huge fans of the Aristocats at the time he decided to live with us, he looks similar to Thomas O’Malley, and a cat with the same name as me would’ve been the perfect crime.
Around that time, we also noticed that Marie from the Aristocats appeared a ton at Walt Disney World. When I asked a Character Attendant about this, they said she was one of the top character requests they received. It’s one of those things I didn’t believe then and don’t believe now, but it still stuck with me all these years as something that I want to be true. As I finish writing this, I’m not really sure why I’ve shared these two random anecdotes. I don’t think they’ve added anything of value to this post, and I should probably delete them. Yet, I do not have anything better to say other than, “I like cats.”
Mickey’s Christmas Carol Characters – During the inaugural (and only) Merriest Nites at Disneyland, one of the highlights was the meet & greet with Mickey’s Christmas Carol characters. Minnie and Mickey Mouse were wearing new costumes as Emily and Bob Cratchit, and they rotated with Ebenezer Scrooge and Goofy Marley (one of my all-time favorite character costumes, ever).
While I’d prefer Muppet Christmas Carol characters (imagine Statler and Waldorf as Marley & Marley–or better yet, a human-size Rizzo the Rat as Charles Dickens!), these were pretty awesome. That was only one year ago, so we know these costumes still exist somewhere. It’d be awesome to see them reappear at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in Magic Kingdom!
Jedi Mickey & Darth Goofy – Star Wars Weekends feels like a fever dream less than a decade after the last one was held. Just think about Hyperspace Hoopla, Legends of the Force Parade, the seminars, the crazy merchandise, or character meet & greets. Can you imagine any of that happening now? It feels like the ancient past, even though it wasn’t that long ago.
The party started to end when Disney acquired LucasFilm, and decided that Star Wars characters needed to be treated with more “integrity.” Almost immediately, all of the wilder character crossovers were nixed and Hyperspace Hoopla was cancelled. Over time, we also lost the tamer character costumes, like Jedi Mickey, Darth Goofy, and Stormtrooper Donald Duck.
As someone who is only a casual interest in Star Wars, I miss this. I think the franchise is inherently absurd, but takes itself way too seriously. Star Wars Weekends were a time when it could lean into the sillier side of Star Wars, and the event was flat out fun. I still hold out hope that someday Disney will loosen up about Star Wars and this event will return. I’d also love to see a Cars Land overlay, if only so I can meet Darth Mater.
Scuba Mickey Mouse – This one actually isn’t super rare or long lost. On World Oceans Day, Scuba Mickey Mouse has made appearances in the Living Seas aquarium to commemorate the occasion from time to time. Seeing him a couple of years ago was lifelong wish fulfillment. The promotional VHS tapes of my childhood all contained footage of two characters in Future World: Figment and Scuba Mickey. Between the Boy Meets World proposal at Coral Reef and footage of Scuba Mickey, seeing this character would’ve been on my WDW bucket list as a child.
Judging by the reactions of every single person–kids and adults–in the Living Seas pavilion who saw Scuba Mickey, he was the highlight of everyone’s day at Epcot. Mickey Mouse scuba diving in one of the largest man-made ocean environments on the planet is the kind of unforgettable “little thing” that absolutely defines (or should define) Walt Disney World.
It’s seemingly insignificant, but it leaves a lasting impression–an indelible memory that guests will cherish long after they’ve forgotten which rides they rode or shows they saw. Seeing Scuba Mickey Mouse is the kind of thing that made so many of us Disney fans in the first place, and is the type of experience that keeps us coming back. More guests should have that experience–it’s absolutely worth whatever cost there is in paying Mickey Mouse a bonus to go scuba diving every day.
Disney Afternoon – Like all children of the 1990s, I was basically raised by the Disney Afternoon. (Hey, it’s better than being raised by YouTube!) I loved Darkwing Duck, TaleSpin, and DuckTales. However, I was absolutely obsessed with Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers as a kid. Not only did I watch the show religiously, but I had a surplus of their toys, and even built Rescue Rangers “scenes” out of LEGO. Regrettably, I even had a Rescue Rangers jumpsuit that I wore all the time to school. It was the 1990s, man, style was wild!
In any case, it has brought me way more joy than I ever would’ve imagined gradually meeting Disney Afternoon characters as an adult. We used to make trips to “The Teardrop” in Mickey’s Toontown Fair at Magic Kingdom just to see if they were there. (They never were.) The first one I ever spotted was Launchpad at EPCOT on one of the random training days and I was absolutely overjoyed. Since then, we’ve met pretty much all of the characters at random Disneyland events. I’d love to see them all at Walt Disney World again–and I can’t be the only millennial who would overpay for a 90s nite at Magic Kingdom.
Cheshire Cat – I like cats.
Orange Bird – Created specifically for Walt Disney World where he was the representative of Magic Kingdom’s Sunshine Pavilion, the Orange Bird was an initiative to promote the Florida Citrus Commission. The character was a staple of Adventureland during the 1970s and 80s, but faded away by the 1990s.
Walt Disney World, Imagineering, and the Disney Archives brought back Orange Bird and the Citrus Swirl during Walt Disney World’s 40th Anniversary. This came after years of online fascination with the Orange Bird, and limited merchandise releases to test the waters. It was a big deal for fans at the time, as it felt like Magic Kingdom management was listening and trying to fix some of the little things and restore the “Disney Details” that made the parks special.
Orange Bird may “only” have been a character created to promote the Florida Citrus Commission, but he transcended his role as a simple advertising vehicle in his years up in the Sunshine Tree. For me, Orange Bird is symbolically significant and that’s exactly why I’d love to see the meet & greet character return. It’d be a welcome signal that Walt Disney World management cares.
Lagoona Gator – Here is a character who was born out of a desire to sell plushes, but one that failed spectacularly. This is probably why I love him so much. When Blizzard Beach opened, it had a fun mascot in Ice Gator. Accordingly, Walt Disney World made enhancements to Typhoon Lagoon to give it related a mascot: Lagoona Gator, the resident surf ace of Typhoon Lagoon…and he’s also a movie star, rock star, artist, and more. He had a whole line of merchandise and a meet & greet character…all of which is now gone. You might say Lagoona Gator did the whole domestic parks Duffy thing first.
Apparently, water park guests circa the early aughts were not in the mood to pose in their swimsuits next to an inflatable alligator (that’s what his presumably waterproof costume looked like). Well, the times have changed, and now I am certain that guests want to meet an alligator while wearing swimsuits. When it comes to character meet & greets, Lagoona Gator is my white whale (or alligator, as the case may be) and I’d honestly probably be as excited to meet him as I would be to see Figment and Dreamfinder again.
BONUS: Creepy World Showcase Dolls – If you ask me, Walt Disney World doesn’t do nearly enough to terrify children. Sure, Haunted Mansion can be scary, but there’s nothing truly traumatic. That’s why Walt Disney World should bring back the “EPCOT Pageant Dolls” or “People of the World” walk-around characters.
Not a ton is known about these walk-around characters from the early days of EPCOT Center, except that they were recycled from America on Parade, a bicentennial parade that ran in Magic Kingdom. For reasons unknown, someone thought it’d be a good idea to re-outfit those characters for World Showcase, and have some ‘it’s a small world’ characters in real life. It’s pretty easy to see why this experiment was short-lived. Still, Walt Disney World should bring them back for the comedic/fear factor. As Calvin’s dad would say, it would build character.
Do you hunt characters when visiting the parks? Which rare characters are your favorites? Any that we missed? Which ones would you like to see reappear (or appear for the first time) at Walt Disney world? Do you agree or disagree with our picks? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!