Retro Recaps: Disneyland’s 35th Anniversary Celebration – When Woody Boyd visited The Haunted Mansion
Retro Recaps is where we will look back at old television episodes from the past, and analyze their story, content, and much more.
In the last few years, one of the shows that I found myself binge-watching on Netflix, has been Cheers. I wasn’t an avid watcher of the show during its initial run (I was moreso into cartoons at the time), but looking at it now, it’s a rather comforting piece of 80’s/early 90’s material, about a bunch of losers in a Boston bar, going through the trials and tribulations of their adult lives.
As a youngster, the first indication I really had about this show, was when most of the cast appeared on the special regarding Mickey’s 60th Birthday. After being stripped of his identity, Mickey takes a stroll through NBC sitcom-land, eventually ending up in the Cheers bar.
Writer Ken Levine told in his blog how the writers for the special eventually came to him and several others on the show, when they couldn’t make the characters gel properly. They were rewarded for their efforts with a swag bag full of Disney merch (including some films on VHS!).
As I mentioned in my Retro Recap of the birthday special, it was not the last time the Cheers gang would end up in a Disney-related special. In the Summer of 1990, Disneyland celebrated its 35th anniversary with a television special hosted by Tony Danza. Though after the big intro rolled, where did the show begin?
…in a familiar little bar in Boston, Massachusetts.
As the special starts, we see Norm Peterson (George Wendt), Carla Tortelli-Lebec (Rhea Perlman), and Cliff Claven (John Ratzenberger) watching female wrestling on the bar’s television. As the match continues, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) and his wife Lilith Sternin-Crane (Bebe Neuwirth) walk in, inquiring about the match.
Just then, Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson) comes out of the bar’s office, requesting to watch the Disneyland TV special (we’re one level away from television inception here!). Needless to say, Norm, Carla, and Cliff find Woody’s taste in television programming to be boring (it’s rather funny to see Carla on the side of both Norm and Cliff for a change).
Woody defends his decision, claiming “everyone loves Disney,” though even Frasier is unsure if Woody can sway the group in the bar away from “the knockout girls of wrestling.”
Hearing the word “knockout,” Cliff then steers the conversation to Disney heroines, when he proclaims that Cinderella was attractive. Norm claims he used to agree with Cliff, but with the recent release of The Little Mermaid, he is now an Ariel fan, citing the red hair.
Frasier chimes in, claiming that the most beautiful Disney character to him, is Snow White: “Skin white as snow, hair black as night, lips red as blood…wait a minute, I married her!”
Needless to say, Lilith adds her own coda on this: “With a little Wicked Queen thrown in, just for fun.”
The conversation then returns to Disneyland, and Woody begins to recall when he and a few friends went there when he was 10 years old, on opening day. Of course, this being Woody, he doesn’t quite get his facts straight, with Lilith correcting Woody that given his age, he wasn’t even born when the park opened (in 1955).
Addle-brained as ever, Woody keeps insisting he was there opening day, given how clean the place was, the Mickey-shaped balloons, and getting to meet Mickey Mouse. Of course, the Cheers regulars insist to Woody that the park is always like that.
Needless to say, Woody’s innocent view of Disneyland is now a little shaken up.
“All this time, I thought my experience was so special, and now I find out it’s just plain, old, ordinary everyday stuff,” says Woody. “Everyone goes out to Disneyland, meets Mickey, and sees the parade, and goes in the haunted house, and falls in love with the girl of their dreams in a dark corridor.”
The last line immediately hooks the others, as that is definitely not an everyday Disneyland experience. When they pry to know more, Woody then begins to tell his story.
On his visit to Disneyland, Woody and his friends had been on most of the park’s rides, but had not yet gone on The Haunted Mansion. His friends eagerly want to go on it, but Woody tries to get them to go on the Tea Cups in Fantasyland instead. Of course, this causes his “friends” to ridicule him, claiming they’re going into The Haunted Mansion whether he comes or not.
Woody tags along with them, but grows scared once he gets to the main corridor, with its eerie portraits, and flashes of lightning out the nearby windows. When his friends make fun of him, Woody insists he isn’t scared, and they do what most “good friends” do in situations like this: run off, and leave him to go on the ride…alone!
He slowly makes his way through the main corridor, but hesitates again when he gets to the Doom Buggy ride vehicles. The attendant (played with horror-movie host relish by Charles Fleischer), doesn’t help Woody’s fear, with his wide-eyes and spooky eyebrows.
Woody attempts to leave, when he bumps into a little girl in a pink dress. Seeing that he seems scared, she offers to go on the ride with him, claiming she’s been on it plenty of times.
The two then board one of the Doom Buggies, and begin their trip through the mansion. Naturally, Woody is a little spooked at first, but the little girl is just enjoying all that the ride has to offer, from the dead trying to rise from their coffins, to the myriad ghosts haunting the main ballroom.
In a rather strange moment, as they watch the ghostly dancers the little girl asks Woody if he’d like to dance. They are immediately whisked from the Doom Buggy…
…and down among the apparitions. After the dance, the two return to the Doom Buggy, and continue on with the ride.
Eventually the ride ends, and Woody admits that he actually did have fun. The girl then gives him a kiss on the cheek, and admits she had a fun time as well.
Woody eagerly tells how he’d love for her to meet his friends. He glances away for a moment, but when he turns back, the little girl is gone! Looking around, the only thing he finds is a pink ribbon on the ground.
Picking it up, he walks outside, where he encounters his friends, who apologize for leaving him behind. However, he claims that it is ok. Turning back to look at the mansion, he is surprised to see the little girl, standing on an upper-level balcony. As Woody waves to her, she waves back…and disappears!
Of course, Woody’s childhood friends wonder who he is waving at, as the young boy smiles, and caresses the ribbon the girl left behind.
It is then that Woody comes out of his flashback, with several of his current friends remarking that his story was really touching, with Frasier claiming that everyone’s reaction to it, shows that they’re all “big kids at heart.”
Needless to say, Woody’s story has made the group forget about female wrestling, and Woody turns the channel to the park’s TV special.
Of course, there’s more to the rest of the special, but since I’m in a Cheers mood, I figured it only natural to cover this segment. There are several others within the special, featuring the likes of Ernest P Worrell (Jim Varney) going through some old home movies on his visit to the park, as well as Miss Piggy telling of her experience getting to be Cinderella in the park’s parade. There were also appearances by Ronald Reagan, and even Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
At the time I saw the special, I still had never been on The Haunted Mansion. It wasn’t until sometime in the 90’s, did I finally experience it. I the ride to be like a dark-comedy, straddling that line between creepy, and kooky. It’s almost like Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: the ghosts and ghouls here are just having a good time, and aren’t really intending to harm the guests. In fact, maybe that’s why they decided to theme the mansion around the Nightmare film every Christmas.
The segment on the Disneyland special does show the limited budget at times. If one estimates that Woody Boyd was also born in 1961 like Woody Harrelson, and he was 10 in the flashback, then he would have been in the park around 1971. Though in the flashback, young Woody and his friends are wearing clothing more suited for the 1980’s than the early 1970’s (I had a number of shirts like young Woody had when I was that age).
When it comes to what is inside the Haunted Mansion, the filmmakers definitely take some liberties. For example, one cannot exit the Doom Buggy and dance with the ghosts…but as we saw, the little girl helped make this exception to the ride’s rule. Looking over the scene, it looks like they actually filmed that sequence inside the actual attraction (though the ghosts were added in post-production, of course).
I also never encountered any wise-cracking attendants like Charles Fleischer plays (FYI: Charles is the voice of Roger Rabbit!). In fact, Fleischer is the only other cast member in the entire segment, playing both the Doom Buggie attendant, and in a hard-to-pinpoint role, a man inside a suit of armor in the ride (note: that definitely doesn’t happen during the ride!).
The interior footage in much of the special, is also made up of some of the original stock footage shot when the ride was first introduced, as one can sense a difference in the quality of the images.
When going over the credits of the piece, I was curious if any of the child actors in the flashback went on to bigger and better things.
in the case of the kids playing young Woody and the ghost girl, Brandon Maciel and Erinn Canavan appear to have acted in just a few more movies and television episodes, before disappearing from the realms of the big-screen. The boys playing Woody’s friends (portrayed by Chris Demetral and Billy O’Sullivan) lasted a ways beyond, doing TV and video game work into the 21st century.
Though the Cheers segment is credited to Cheers’ own co-creator and director, James Burrows, it’s most likely a given that the flashback sequences at Disneyland were directed by the special’s main director: John Landis. Yes, the man who directed Animal House and An American Werewolf in London directed the majority of this special. In fact, there’s something rather familiar to Landis’ Werewolf work in how he directs much of the interior scenes for his segment here.
Of course, if you’re a Cheers fan, you might be wondering about the bit as it pertains to continuity within the show. I think in truth, it exists as one of those stories outside the main continuity, much like the 60th Birthday bit for Mickey Mouse.
I will admit the fictional story of a young Woody Boyd encountering a mischievous ghost girl on The Haunted Mansion did capture my youthful imagination, but there are plenty of other stories about ghosts and ghouls at Disneyland out there (though most of those, I’ll leave for you to discover on your own).
There have been reports over the years of people seeing spirits in Disneyland, and many wanting to take up the Ghost Host’s offer that the 999 ghosts within the mansion, are always looking for one more.
Some people are so willing to never leave the Happiest Place on Earth, that when they die, they ask to be cremated, and their ashes scattered within the park. Of course, The Walt Disney Company doesn’t allow or encourage such things, but there have been all sorts of stories, including a story I recall in the past 10 years, where people were shaking ashen remains out of their pant legs as the Doom Buggies in the Haunted Mansion went on their way.
Needless to say, there are now special procedures for this type of things, and this can lead to quick ride closures while the remains are cleaned up.
…of course, it’s fairly certain, something of those poor unfortunate souls…still…remains!