Villains Unleashed 2014! Event Recap
In case it wasn't totally obvious, I'm kind of a teensy weensy bit of a Disney Villains fan. I've spent the last few months pouring over research for my Disney Villains Countdown (so excited to start publishing soon!). When Disney announced they were going to do a separately ticketed event to celebrate and showcase the villain? Right. Up. My. Alley.
I was, however, torn. The tickets were a hefty $70 a pop. I'd have to arrange a sitter for the kid. I'd heard horror stories of the previous villain friendly event at HS from a friend: tales of 4 hour waits, sold out crowds, no parking, total chaos, cats and dogs living together... I digress. I'd managed to talk myself out of any "need" to go and left it at that.
Like a fungus it took root in my brain and wouldn't be ignored. My husband, my darling enabling husband, finally told me that I really "needed" to go, for blog research and photo acquisitions. Well... when you put it that way... I decided to lower all my expectations, borrow a high performance lens from a coworker, and try to just have a fun night with my husband.
One of the horror stories involved waits outside the park to get into the event. Screw it, we're annual passholders, we decided to just already be in the park before the event started. We arrived around 2-3pm (event started 7ish), and immediately asked where we could pick up our event wristbands (the website said there would be pick up spots inside the park for those already in the park also attending the event). Nobody had an answer. Very unDisney-like. If I got an answer, it changed from person to person. Bottom line? They weren't available yet. Ok, we'll go kill time on some rides.
It monsoon'd on us. Thunderbolts and lightning very very frightening me. The good news was it cooled off the park. That bad news was my sneakers were going to resemble a swamp for the rest of the night. Ew.
We continued to ask everyone we saw about the wristbands. Finally I saw some people wearing... neck lanyards. No wristbands. Hmm. They said they were handing them out at the front gate. We snuck up to a woman just inside the gate with a huge box of lanyards. She pointed us to YET ANOTHER person. I waved my tickets at him. He barely glanced at them and told box lady to give us the lanyards. Now, I am an honest person, but not everybody is. Nobody scanned my tickets, nobody checked ID against the name on them, it would have been REALLY EASY to photocopy someone else's ticket and get my lanyard. I didn't! But a less honest person could have. Just sayin'. Get yo ish together, Disney.
The good news was that being sneaky and getting those lanyards like that cost us all of 2 minutes. As the evening progressed toward the start of the event, they finally set up areas inside the park for people to get the lanyards who were already inside. HOLY STUPID LINE, BATMAN! Seriously, there were people waiting 40+ mins just to get the lanyard. Yikes.
We did some reconnaissance, scoping out potential foot traffic routes, deciding which villains we had to meet, etc. Good: most villain's lines had roped areas, but were out in the open and if you didn't want to wait in line you could snag a picture (just without you in it) from the sides. Only a few villains were secluded in areas you couldn't do this; Maleficent and Constantine are the only ones springing to mind immediately. Maleficent was tucked back behind the Art of Animation/Disney Junior area. We wandered over 5ish, sipping our first (and very strong, bless you bartender), cocktails. "Maleficent of the Moors" already had a line started. The line attendants saw us and said we could feel free to start queueing up now. I'm sorry, what? She doesn't even start doing meetings until 8:30! Nosirree. Then they told us the most crushing news of all: This was the live action Maleficent. Me: "Uhh... where's the original doing meetings?" (This was not a strange question, Queen Grimhilde from Snow White was doing meetings as both the queen and the old hag) Attendant: "Ahhh... Green Maleficent won't be appearing tonight." WHAT?! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. I was crushed. The hubby and I had both dressed to meet the HBIC, and she wasn't even going to be there. It was a devastating blow. That was my one and only "I'm gonna stand in line and photo op with this chick if it's the only thing I do tonight." I guess the positive spin was that the rest of my night just got freed up.
We made our way over to the main stage so we could see the welcome show. As we got closer and closer to the start, I got to witness a surprising element of the Villains Unleashed event: Civilians who came in costume. Sure, Ian and I broke out our Maleficent tees, but there were people and even LITTLE KIDS in full blown costume. I was over the moon. Some of the civilian costumes were better than the Disney ones. There were people dressed as villains who weren't attending in an official capacity: Ursula, Mother Gothel, etc. Cosplayers turned out to be the unexpected best part of my night. I'm going to call them the "Civillains" ;)
Disney marketed the appearance of FIFTY VILLAINS for the event. This is largely deceptive. One: A very large quantity of those "fifty" referred to Star Wars "villains." I feel like it was close to twenty, but you can make me a liar. I was interested in none of these. The next part, that was pretty crappy?
Some of the villains only "appeared" in a show capacity and did not do actual meetings/photo ops. Two for whom this held true were some of the most popular as well: Hades and Oogie Boogie. I overheard several rather scandalized people when they realized Hades was only appearing as the host of the main stage show (Oogie only appeared at his "freak show"). At that point I was already so grumpy about the Maleficent shenanigans, I didn't feel much worse. I was on a picture mission.
One more bone to pick: Disney has a very different idea of what constitutes a "villain" from what I think. I break down my thought process in the DVC intro and rubric, acknowledging there is some grey area. Stromboli? Ok, I guess. CAPTAIN GANTU? Uhhh.... only if we're going to the sequel, and even then... maybe? Still, Disney must know better than me, because Gantu & Hamsterviel had a line started 2 hours before the event. Touché.
The welcome show was... ok. There were the obligatory back up dancers. while Hades & Megara (also, sorry, not a villain) kicked off the show. This is, yet again, where I feel like Disney could take a page from Universal: A nighttime event, where the primary audience is more adult than kid? Why not let yourself go a little PG-13? You slap a tiny disclaimer on the ticket and it's fine. If you can do a WINE event, you can let the villain be just a tiny bit more grown up. (Although after the event, I heard there were a ton of complaints about the incredibly tame Oogie Boogie Sideshow, so again, maybe Disney knows its audience better than me).
The show consisted of them introducing villains one at a time so we could cheer. They set off some pyrotechnics, and then (in many cases) the villains just disappeared for the rest of the night. Allegedly Frollo & Ratcliffe were doing walking meetings throughout the night, but they never showed themselves either in front of my eyes or on the Disney Experience App (which I checked diligently over the course of the evening).
Halfway through the villain announcements, I started to get bored and frustrated with being too far away for good pictures (the ENTIRE area close to the stage was roped off... for VIPs?). So Ian and I snuck over to the side of the stage. Goshdarnit, wish I'd known it was there earlier. Each of the villains was lined up behind the stage waiting to be announced. After exiting the stage they walked RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME on their way to their designated meeting zone.
It was in this position that I had a very special and unexpected moment with a villain. About 50 feet away in the line to go up on stage, Oogie Boogie was patiently waiting. He turned our way and gave us a wave. "OOOOOGIE! I LOVE YOU, OOGIE!" I screamed at him. Clearly he heard it, because he pointed at me and started bouncing. Then he started dancing... suggestively (I won't use the word lewdly, I won't). It. Was. GREAT. I wanted to run over and tackle him, he just looked so huggable with his big bouncy burlap body. Now I knew I had to go see his show, because I was completely enamored with Oogie Boogie.
I knew we weren't going to top that little moment any time soon, so before the giant crowd amassed for the welcome show was unleashed on the lines, Ian and I decided we'd try to snag a spot for one of the villains. Cruella was at the top of my list, but right next to her was Dr. Facilier (one of Ian's favorites) so we went with him. We waited about 15 minutes for him, but by the time the photo was taken the crowds were everywhere and all the lines looked full. Facilier ended up being our only formal queue villain. We set out to get more photos and see who we could run into on the street.
Speaking of walking meetings, the character meetings seemed reasonably well-handled, though there was room for improvement I'm sure. The nightmares described by my friend at a previous event seemed largely caused by the fact that most of the villains were clustered around the same general area, lines weren't well-managed, chaotic free-for-all. This time there were a few separate areas of the park with rope queues set up and clearly labelled signs for which villain would be appearing and when. These lines still got long in many cases (I heard the impostor Maleficent line was up to 2 hours by 6:30), but you could tell just by looking at most lines how much of a time investment it would or wouldn't be. Most of the lines, as previously mentioned, were out in the open so you could grab some quick pictures without a line if you wanted (just not of you WITH the villains). The rest of the villains were just randomly roaming the streets. I thought this would have been awful, but it was a nice balance to the queued villains.
Sure, there were pushy obnoxious people who would just shove themselves in front of you (no formal lines for walking villains) even though you'd clearly been patiently waiting, but in most cases you could get up to the villain with minimal time investment.
I'm definitely questioning the thought process behind who got to have lines and who was just wandering. Most of the time (Maleficent, 2 hours+) it made sense. But Gaston was one of the wandering villains, and he always had a GIANT CROWD gathered around him. It should also be noted that only the formal queue villains had designated photographers, while the wandering villains you were left to your own devices. Also, frequently, there was little to no light for the wandering villains, leading to blurry iphone photos. So... Meh to that.
We made a point to check out Oogie's Freakshow. It was fun and cute but... it was a sideshow... that was kept PG... it was like eating sugar-free chocolate: sure, it's chocolate, but why bother? There was a sword-swallower, a fire-breather, and an archery act that I'm pretty sure I saw on a previous season of AGT. My loverboy Oogie's interludes were the highlight.
I find myself citing Universal again: adult event, adults drink, HAVE MORE BARS. The lines for the few flimsy alcohol booths set up had lines longer than character meetings, I kid you not. We managed to sneak into the Brown Derby eventually; it had been made over to be a "villain speakeasy." It was cute, but the makeover mostly consisted of a few cardboard cutouts. The cool part was that several villains would pass through the restaurant and stop and chat at the tables.
Approaching midnight and my swamp shoes were getting the better of me. We ran into one latecomer photo op heading toward the exit with a huge line. Once I got closer, I could see why: these three were HILARIOUS.
We hit the road before the fireworks.
Overall the hubby and I decided we were glad we did it... once. Especially with the hefty $70 ticket, and the general lack of organization, we didn't feel any burning need to go back again to a future event. I still say that Disney DESPERATELY needs a House of Villains meeting area, a la Princess Fairytale Hall (but with Villains, Duh). It would probably fit in best at Hollywood Studios, where the general audience is more grown up. Think of it: you could do a rotating stable of villains, even more stationary ones like Scar or Ursula. Two on each side, get some FastPass going... DISNEY MAKE THIS HAPPEN. PLEASE.
This was my first separately ticketed special Disney event. Disney runs a pretty tight ship from everything I've seen, so I was a little surprised at how... not? this was. Not all good, not all bad. You want to see how to run a nighttime slightly more adult event? Check out Halloween Horror Nights. Universal has that on lock.