18 December 2012

Toy soldiers, reindeer and a host of other characters

There’s a lot of Christmas spirit in this 1984 photograph from the Magic Kingdom, and I’m not just talking the tree and Mickey and Minnie’s outfits! Characters seen in the park only during the holidays are a real treat, as is their origin. With goofy grins and lazy tongues, the reindeer are a holiday staple, while the toy soldiers, with their stiff movements and dedication to their tasks, are all but Disney royalty.

The whimsical, jovial reindeer are not from any cartoon, though show one to the average fan of the holidays and they’ll scratch their heads as they try to place which short they come. These silly creatures actually made their first appearance anywhere as a part of the Christmas in Many Lands parade in Disneyland. The parade wasn’t the first holiday parade in Disneyland’s history, completing its first procession in 1957, but it is one of the more beloved and memorable parades. This is due in no small part, I would think, to the introduction of the reindeer that are now synonymous with Disney holidays.

The toy soldiers were introduced with more grandeur, as they were part of the cast of Disney’s 1961 film, Babes in Toyland. In the film they march alongside Tom as he attempts to rescue Mary, played by the Disney darling, Annette Funicello. Though they are defeated in the movie, the toy soldiers have marched their way into the hearts of guests as part of holiday parades in the decades since.

Not every beloved character in the Disney canon was the hero, princess, or villain in the year’s big animated feature. Sometimes even the smallest character can strike a chord with the audience and remain in their hearts, and sometimes you don’t even have to appear on film to become part of the Disney traditions. The reindeer and toy soldiers come from just such places, but I dare say we wouldn’t want a Christmas parade without them!

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