In terms of the latest news, Walt Disney World announced that Moana will greet fellow voyagers on Discovery Island at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park beginning April 22, 2023. This is just in time for the park’s 25th anniversary. (No word on how, or if, that milestone will be celebrated beyond cupcakes and banners.)
There’s a more than mild possibility that this Moana meet & greet is foreshadowing a larger expansion of Animal Kingdom. Potential redevelopment and growth opportunities were teased at the D23 Expo, and those include a Zootopia Metropolis and Moana Mini-Land. Our expectation is that both will happen, but the plans for Moana appear pretty concrete.
Turning to EPCOT, fans of Figment will get the chance to hug the long-time icon at the Imagination! pavilion beginning in late Summer 2023. As some of those aforementioned Figment fans, we’re really excited for this. It’s great to see Figment returning, and I’m curious as to how this will differ from “FigZilla.” (I’m guessing that Dreamfinder will not be joining him, but I’d absolutely love to be wrong.)
Mickey Mouse and friends will also have a new home at Communicore Hall opening later this year as part of the EPCOT transformation. This is a purpose-built location that’ll likely be similar to the old one in Innoventions.
See our post about CommuniCore Hall and Plaza Coming to EPCOT for more details about this venue as a whole. No other specifics have been shared as to the meet & greets coming to the World Celebration neighborhood of EPCOT.
At Magic Kingdom beginning in Fall 2023, Mirabel from Walt Disney Animation Studios’ hit film “Encanto” will greet guests in Fairytale Garden surrounded by whimsical décor inspired by La Familia Madrigal. (The image at the top of the post is from Disneyland, but Walt Disney World shared stock footage from that, suggesting it could look similarly.)
Fairytale Garden is the official name of the location where Merida from “Brave” currently meets, so it’s say to say that location is being repurposed. No word on whether Merida will be relocated to Princess Fairytale Hall or elsewhere. Her meet & greet is shockingly popular given how “Brave” underperformed (I hope the movie has found an audience since its release–I think it’s underrated), so I’d expect to see Merida moved rather than retired.
These new experiences follow the return of several Magic Kingdom character experiences including Pete’s Silly Sideshow, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Ariel in her underwater grotto, and the return of character dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table.
When it comes to commentary, I’ll start with the positive: it’s good to see Walt Disney World adding more characters around the parks. Not addressed in this announcement, but Walt Disney World also recently added a Princess Tiana ‘waving from the windows’ character sighting in Liberty Square.
This one is a bit bittersweet for me, as she appears in the same spot near Hall of Presidents where the Muppets Present … Great Moments in American History previously appeared. But what’s done is done–it’s nice to see Tiana regularly appearing and providing a nod to the future of this area(ish) of Magic Kingdom!
I also appreciate the mix of meet & greets and distanced character sightings (or whatever they’re being called now). With the new additions, Walt Disney World has done a good job of balancing the two, giving guests a variety of character interaction types–and time commitments.
The character sightings were one of the best additions of the phased reopening, and we openly hoped that this type of character encounter–mixed with traditional meet & greets–would become a permanent fixture of Walt Disney World.
Distanced characters are great for livening up the park and offering entertainment value without having to wait in a long and slow-moving line. I’m happy to see there be a healthy mixture of character experiences, and wish Walt Disney World would do this with more characters that draw ridiculous meet & greet waits. (Looking at you, Jack Skellington!)
To that point, we’ll soon (well, in several more months!) find out just how popular Encanto is among Walt Disney World guests. While I think they setting they chose is objectively better, I’m honestly surprised Mirabel isn’t coming to Town Square Theater, which has more capacity. I’m old enough to remember almost a decade ago when Anna and Elsa first debuted in Magic Kingdom, and had average wait times of 2-3 hours, and hit 4-5 hours from time to time.
Turning to critique, I’ll repeat what I’ve already bemoaned elsewhere (basically rehashing a tangent from our unpopular article about Imagineering’s new robot rabbit). Encanto came out at Christmas 2021. It’s currently Spring 2023. This meet & greet debuts in Fall 2023. (How long does it take to change some backdrops?!)
Suffice to say, Encanto has been a smash hit for well over a year, and it’s still not possible to meet Mirabel or any other character from the movie in Magic Kingdom. This is a huge misstep and, like Bruno, we don’t talk about it enough. It’s great that this meet & greet is finally happening, but it coming in several months–rather than several months ago or in a few weeks–demonstrates an befuddling lack of urgency.
Turning Red is also now just over one year old, and the first character meet & greet from this film just debuted at Shanghai Disneyland. While the Red Panda Mei is now appearing in China, she still has not shown up at Walt Disney World or Disneyland.
In case you haven’t seen Turning Red (not that anyone cares, but it’s my favorite Disney or Pixar movie since Coco–I like it even more than Encanto), there is literally a meet and greet with Red Panda Mei in the movie. It’s such an obvious idea that it’s embarrassing it has taken Disney so long to roll out the character. A Red Panda Mei meet & greet would pay for itself in the merchandise and plush sales it would help push. I’m not even kidding.
Earlier this month, the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda finally debuted in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World. This was met with a lot of praise in the community, especially as it’s almost an open secret that bringing the duo to Florida was a herculean task. I guess the thinking is thus that positive reinforcement is appropriate–perhaps Disney will see it and be more inclined to bring characters to the parks ~3 years after their stories debut.
I can understand that to an extent, and might share that perspective if the circumstances were unique. But for all of the talk about synergy, Disney has gotten really bad about promoting popular characters from its streaming shows and movies at Walt Disney World on tight turnaround times. They used to develop and debut whole parades faster than they manage to stick a single character into a cavalcade.
It’s too bad there isn’t a small and nimble team dedicated to these synergy efforts with the ability to move quickly and authority to bring these characters to the parks in meaningful ways, even if that means overruling park management. This is even more important now as viewership has become fragmented and IP needs a little more help to enter the cultural zeitgeist. Disney should place a renewed emphasis on a day-and-date model, but for its shows/movies and promotional pushes in the parks.
Ultimately, more characters is good news–even if it’s taking longer than I’d like. This has been a continued push over the last year since the return of traditional meet & greets, and has definitely gained momentum since the start of 2023. Just like with everything, part of the impediment has been staffing shortages, and those are finally improving with entertainment.
My hope is that this trend continues, and that more meet & greets and other character sightings continue to pop up throughout the parks. It’d be nice to see Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party back to normal on the character front (and not having to pull performers from daytime schedules) at minimum–and ideally add a few of the new characters that’ve debuted at Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line for those seasons. It’d also be great if missing meal services could be restored at character dining experiences around Walt Disney World!
What do you think of Mirabel coming to Magic Kingdom? What about Moana in Animal Kingdom? Thoughts on Figment and Mickey Mouse & Friends in EPCOT? What about Disney’s slow rollout of character meet & greets from recent Disney+ shows and movies? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!