It's no surprise that Disney has perhaps the most valuable collection of characters in history. Ariel, Elsa, Winnie the Pooh, Cinderella, Mr. Toad, Pocahontas, Sleeping Beauty... for the last century, Disney has been amassing a catalogue of the definitive versions of beloved characters from across the world. Acquisitions of Pixar, Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and Marvel have only expanded the ever-growing library of brands, many of which have been transferred to Disney Parks in spectacular attractions.
But today, we want to look at the places where Disney Parks have created their own characters, stories, and settings... some of the greatest characters in Disney's vast collection are theme park exclusives; original characters created just for the parks. Though original characters populate E-Ticket attractions across the globe, we're counting down the 10 best original Disney Parks characters ever made. Do you agree with our list? Are there originals that should've made the cut? Use the comments section to let us know...
10. Captain EO
Attraction: Captain EO (Closed)
Location: Disneyland, EPCOT Center, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris
When Michael Eisner joined Disney in 1984, it was with a simple goal in mind: save Disney. Having gradually lost its industry-leading status since Walt’s death in 1966, Disney needed a revival and reimagining of its own, with Eisner’s history in the film industry being the perfect background. To reinvigorate Disney’s parks, Eisner launched a new precedent of cinematic adventures based on the stories that mattered to modern audiences… even if they weren’t Disney stories!
While he’d partnered with filmmaker George Lucas primarily to work toward the Lost Legend: STAR TOURS, in the meantime they concocted plans to develop a cutting-edge attraction with the world’s biggest pop star earning top billing: Michael Jackson. The result is a one-of-a-kind project that involved Jackson as an intergalactic music man touring the galaxy with his crew of misfits, saving a dark, industrial planet ruled by a transformed Anjelica Huston.
As EO aged and allegations about Jackson’s private life ramped up, the attraction was pulled from Disney Parks only to be reinstated as a tribute after the singer’s 2009 death. Though those Tribute showings as closed as well and EO has never been released for home viewing, the character nonetheless remains a vital icon of a change in Disney Parks history, true to his promise: “We are here to change the world.”
If you want to learn more, read the in-depth Lost Legends: Captain EO feature for the character's full story, making of, and attraction video!
9. Captain "Rex" RX-24
Attraction: STAR TOURS (Closed)
Location: Magic Kingdom, Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris
The very next year after the opening of Captain EO, the real payoff of the Lucas / Disney partnership came to life. STAR TOURS did the unthinkable, bringing the world of Star Wars into Disney Parks and at once fulfilling Eisner's decree that Disney Parks should be cool, action-packed, cinematic places popular for thrillseekers and teenagers. Using groundbreaking motion simulator technology and the creative wizardry of Lucasfilm and Imagineering combined, the interstellar ride was a true marvel.
Brilliantly, STAR TOURS explored the more familiar aspects of the sci-fi universe, supposing that normal people like you and I would get from planet to planet by means of coach seating on an interstellar airline, including the drudgery of a spaceport terminal, baggage check, and passing through security. But once on board the Endor Express for lightspeed service on a StarSpeeder 3000, the introduction of one character changed it all. Our perpetual pilot was RX-24 (or "Captain Rex" for short), a Droid who opened each journey with childlike excitement and an uncomfortable greeting: "Welcome aboard! This is Captain Rex from the cockpit. I know this is probably your first flight, and it’s… mine, too! Haha..." Oh man.
Naturally, what followed was a wild journey through the stars with guests holding on for dear life as they smashed through frozen comets, race through a battle of X-Wings and TIE Fighters, and make a breathtaking trench run through the industrial surface of the Death Star. Yes, in this alternate reality, it's our tiny commercial starship that causes the ultimate end of Darth Vader's planet-destroying star base, all with the hilariously inept Rex at the wheel.
"Hey, sorry folks. I’m sure to do better next time!" He memorably cried as the ship's shield began to cut him off from our view, "It was my first flight, and I’m still getting used to my programming!"
Between 2011 and 2017, all four installations of Star Tours were renovated to become Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, offering 4K, HD, 3-D visuals and customized simulator sequences with dozens of potential ride combintions. The attraction (technically a prequel to the original) couldn't feature Captain Rex, instead replacing him with ultra-impressive on-board animatronic figures of C-3PO (who plays a similarly-surprised role, having been traped in the pilot seat while making routine repairs). Of course, since Rex had become quite a fan favorite in the decades that the original Star Tours ran, he remained in the attraction as a fun Easter egg...
Now, when guests pass through the Droid Customs and baggage area, Captain Rex can be spotted mid-repair (above), his audio tracks randomly misfiring as he stutters out jumbled version of some of his most famous Star Tours lines. ("Brakes... Brakes! Where are the brakes!?")
Read the in-depth Lost Legends: STAR TOURS feature for the character's full story, making of, and attraction video!
Attraction: Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage
Location: Tokyo DisneySea
Tokyo DisneySea is typically considered the greatest theme park on Earth, and costing more than $4 billion (the same year that Disney's California Adventure opened with a pricetag of $600 million), it's no surprise. Packed with original, one-of-a-kind wonders (like the ride some call Disney's best ever, the Modern Marvel: Journey to the Center of the Earth), the park still featured one misstep: The Seven Voyages of Sinbad was a Pirates of the Caribbean-style dark ride through the tale of Sinbad the Sailor, brought to life via "small world"-sized Audio Animatronics. Along the cruise, guests sailed through grottos of deadly sirens, risked an attack by a towering giant, survived the gigantic Roc Bird, and (scariest of all) cruised through an island of wild monkeys threatening riders with spears and blowdarts.
Something about the ride just didn't resonate, and Imagineers responded with a brilliant fix. The ride quickly closed and was reimagined. First, famed Disney songwriter Alan Menken (who composed most of the music for Disney's Renaissance films) crafted a new, infectuous tune – "Compass of Your Heart" – to accompany the journey in "small world" style. Second, the ride's treacherous trials were redesigned as heroic ones (the sirens became helpful mermaids; the giant, a friend; the Roc Bird rescued by Sinbad from pirates; the monkeys shaking maracas instead of spears). Third, Sinbad gained a new friend: Chandu.
The tiger cub now appears throughout the attraction at Sinbad's side as his tireless companion, learning that friendship is the greatest treasure of all. At the end of the day, the re-named Sinbad's Storybook Voyage became a glowing hidden gem of DisneySea's ride line-up, and Chandu became a de-facto icon of the park, selling massive merchandise in the park's Arabian Coast and inspiring the steamed bun "Chandu Tail" snack – a must-have DisneySea equivalent to Disneyland's Dole Whip.