On the opening day of Disneyland on July 17, 1955, Walt Disney made history in countless ways. One of those enduring achievements was combining popular stars of the day with his classic talent for storytelling. So along with Snow White, Dumbo, and Mr. Toad on hand that day, Davy Crockett star Fess Parker led the parade and the Mouseketeers made their debut—Mickey Mouse Club wouldn’t premiere until that October. And of course, Walt himself was there—already a huge celebrity to millions of people around the globe.
The tradition of blending storytelling with celebrities has continued to this day. In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World, D23 speaks with some of the talented individuals who have appeared in Walt Disney World attractions over the years, lending their voices, bodies, and sometimes hours of time in a make-up chair to create magic for park guests.
(Chief Flight Attendant Patrick, Soarin‘, Epcot, 2005 – Present)
Getting to be a part of a ride at Walt Disney World has been one of the most special opportunities that I have been granted while working in the industry. Disneyland has always been so magical. It was a special place for me to go to as a child, and now it’s a special place for me to share with my children. It’s been an honor to be associated with a Disney ride.
(Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean, 2006 – Present)
Well, it’s pretty psychedelic, actually. The idea of wandering through this ride and suddenly there you are three times on the thing—I mean, Geoffrey [Rush] has a similar experience there. He has to go in and see his head in there as well. It’s quite an honor in a weird way. It’s a great honor. Some sort of thing that you took part in creating becomes this forever sort of object.
(Blackbeard, Pirates of the Caribbean, 2011 – Present)
I remember I just went in one day in costume and we filmed a special sequence. Three months later, I was a part of the ride! I hope I scare [guests] out of their seats!
John Michael Higgins
(Supervisor, Test Track, Epcot, 1998 – Present)
I’m often stopped at grocery stores by rabid Test Track fans who say how much they like the ride, and it always takes me a few minutes to figure out what they’re talking about—I did the Test Track job in 1997. I remember we shot the “security cam” footage in one day at a stage in Hollywood. The footage itself had to be one continuous take because it was a security cam and there were no cuts! So if I messed up five minutes into it, I had to start over from the beginning. Very arduous, but we eventually got it.
Jamie Lee Curtis
(Dr. Judy Peterson, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, Epcot, 1996 – Present)
What I remember and love about being a part of Ellen’s Energy Adventure was being a brainiac. I don’t often play a smart person, just a smart aleck—whomever Aleck is.
(Sarge, Stitch’s Great Escape, Magic Kingdom, 2004 – Present)
I know what it is like to wait in line at Disney World. Sometimes the wait can be fun, because they’ve arranged it so the line is as entertaining as possible. That’s what we discussed while recording. We tried to prepare them for the ride by telling them a story beforehand, getting them involved and prepared for what was to come. I also remember the tour they gave me of the Imagineering building. Seeing the old black and white photos from the ’50s and ’60s. Seeing the miniature layout model. Seeing the plans for future attractions. These are as fascinating as an Epcot exhibit.
(Mr. Potato Head, Toy Story Mania, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, 2008 – Present; and William the agent, Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management), Magic Kingdom (1998 – 2011)
Sixteen years I’ve been doing Mr. Potato Head! When John Lasseter first came to me I said, “I don’t do cartoons.” It was one of the finest things I’ve ever had happen to me. My grandchildren know me as Mr. Potato Head. For the ride, I was just in a sound booth by myself. Lee [Unkrich], who directed it, would direct me. I recorded about 300 or 400 lines. “You sir, step out of the line!” And the ride is a big draw! I was there when it opened. It was great. My grandkids love the ride. It’s fun for kids. They thought it was very exciting. I was very pleased with that. [The Enchanted Tiki Room] was fun. Phil [Hartman, who voiced agent Morris opposite Don] was a great guy—a delightful guy and a very funny comedian. It was a long time ago that we recorded that, but we had some good times doing it. I’ve been a bird and a potato… Now I need to train to be an elf or a monkey.
(Flik, It’s Tough to Be A Bug, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, 1998 – Present)
As a child growing up in Toronto, I always dreamed of visiting Disney World but I never got the chance. On the other hand, I never dreamt I would one day play a part in a Disney World attraction. Bringing my own children to the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom was one of my proudest days as a father. Even if they were terrified by Hopper. Oh, and the spiders.
(Himself, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, 1999 – Present)
You know you’ve made it when… you are at your own roller coaster! Joe Perry and I got on it and we rode it 29 times just to get the sound right. Then we were like this [eyes wide and shaking], so I said, “Joe, let’s go do the Tower of Terror and it will get us straight!” And we did, and we were able to walk home after that! What a joy! And I can go down there and ride it whenever I want!
(Adrenal Gland, Cranium Command, Epcot, 1989 – 2007)
I have never been so excited about the adrenal system. Nor did I know what that was before I went in to record—so working at Disney was an educational experience. I read for the bile duct first but didn’t land the role. I actually plan to work in the Haunted Mansion after I die.
(Nemo, The Seas with Nemo and Friends, Epcot, 2007 – Present)
The whole Nemo experience was amazing, I started with the film at age seven and at age 12, I completed my Nemo life with The Seas with Nemo and Friends. My biggest memory of voicing the ride was recording the song “In the Big Blue World.” My pitch wasn’t the greatest back then, but I think it added to the charm of the character. My little sister did the commercial advertising the Seas ride, so she got to experience it before I did. She thought it was awesome. I actually, experienced the ride for the first time this past winter in 2010 when I spent winter break in Florida with my youth group. Weird at age 16 to hear yourself at 12. My friends were singing “In the Big Blue World” all day just to annoy me.
(Aly San San, Star Tours—The Adventures Continue, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, 2011 – Debut; and Peach, The Seas with Nemo and Friends, Epcot, 2007 – Present)
I have always been a huge fan of Disney. Being able to play Peach in Finding Nemo was really a dream come true. But then to be asked to voice a character on a Disney attraction—especially one as legendary as Star Tours—was unbelievable. The Disney parks have a lot of meaning for me, and to now be a part of their history is truly magical. Recording the role was so much fun—I was able to play around, and all the Imagineers were incredibly inspiring to work with. I was really flattered to hear that George Lucas named the character Aly San San after me. How great is that? I don’t think she looks very much like me, though.
For more interviews with the stars who added their talents and voices to many of Walt Disney World’s most beloved attractions, check out D23′s Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith with Illeana Douglas, Honey I Shrunk the Audience and Journey into Imagination with Figment with Eric Idle, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter with Kathy Najimy, and Star Tours with Paul Reubens.