26 February 2018

Ambassador of Friendship

The additions of characters from known films or franchises into the notoriously character devoid Epcot has been something of a sticking point for some longtime guests. Aside from Figment, who gets a pass as he and Dreamfinder were created specifically for Epcot, the slow introduction of characters from The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and Frozen, to name a few, has gotten under the skin of a vocal set of guests. Of course, Epcot has kept these character introductions to Disney properties and would never fling open the gates of character meet and greets, much less an attraction, to characters that have no solid connection to the wonderful world of Disney. Would they?

Beginning in November of 1993 guests could meet up with the Ambassador of Friendship, known to the rest of the world as Barbie, at the American Gardens Theatre in Epcot ’94. There are multiple awful choices that were made in that sentence, but let’s carry on with just Barbie for the moment. Barbie, and Ken, would arrive in a pink limousine to meet guests, take pictures, and sign autographs. This was, in fact, the same LiMOUSEine that Mickey utilized to promote the opening of Disney-MGM Studios, and that would later be called back into service for the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney World. Barbie stopping by to see guests may seem innocuous enough, but they were set-up near the American Gardens Theatre, which probably means there was a show, doesn’t it?

In fact, the entire theatre was outfitted for a special show from November of 1993 until May of 1995 to present The Magical World of Barbie. The show featured approximately 20 actors pretending to be dolls interacting with the various playsets from other countries. Barbie, the Ambassador of Friendship, was given this title due to the fact that she had represented and become a part of so many cultures over the years. The show would venture through Europe, making stops in places like Italy, Russia, and France, Africa, and even Australia. Would it surprise you to know that the show used this stop to make a ‘shrimp on the Barbie’ joke? The show featured a pyrotechnic and dove release finally, along with tricks performed by in-line skaters, trampoline artists, and skateboarders.

The promotion for this show was not limited to Walt Disney World alone, however. Mattel packaged specialty marked Barbie dolls with a video celebrating Barbie’s birthday at Walt Disney World. The title is ridiculously long, Barbie Birthday Part at Walt Disney World Epcot ’94. During the movie, with a runtime of about 30 minutes, Barbie, Stephanie, and Lisa make their way around World Showcase celebrating Barbie’s birthday. It heavily promoted the Barbie Cellular Phone and the show coming to Epcot ’94. The latter allowed viewers to get a behind the scenes look at the show being created for the park.

The Magical World of Barbie only ran five days a week, due mostly to the fact that only one woman was allowed to play Barbie, Miss Oregon Elizabeth Simmons, in order to maintain consistency for guest interactions. While the show was beloved by some guests, particularly younger guests, at the time, it was universally loathed by cast, crew, and Disney powers that be at the time. It isn’t hard to imagine that they were all thrilled when the show closed in November of 1995.

Characters of one sort or another have always been critical to the Disney theme park experience. While Epcot has more or less shied away from the concept for a large portion of the time it has been open, some still occasionally slip through. I would much prefer a well thought out plan for character introduction through attractions and meet and greets, even if they seem slightly out of place, than have woefully out of place characters from non-Disney properties pop in sporadically. I’m looking at you, Barbie!

No comments: