4. ‘Olu Mel
Home resort: Aulani Resort
If you haven’t kept up on Duffy and Friends, you might not have known about the most recent addition to the group, ‘Olu Mel. ‘Olu is actually the first character we can think of invented not for an overseas park, but an overseas resort. Though ‘Olu is part of the “Duffiverse,” his primary residence is neither Tokyo, Hong Kong, nor Shanghai, but Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa located on Oahu.
Designed by Animal Kingdom alum Joe Rohde, Aulani was built with tremendous reverence and respect for Hawai’ian history, tradition and trade. ‘Olu Mel acts as a perfect cartoon representative – something “distinctly Disney” that also expands the resort’s merchandising for visitors (many of whom come from East Asia). The ukulele-playing turtle has also made his way stateside as a potential “backdoor pilot” for the Duffiverse. ‘Olu Mel merchandise is available at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort where the character could be mistaken for a custom-made mascot! Will this “Friend of Duffy” reignite interest in the expanding franchise stateside? We’ll see…
5. Tony Solaroni
Home resort: Tokyo Disney Resort (Tokyo Disneyland)
Guests at Tokyo Disneyland’s Pan Galactic Pizza Port might stop in for a snow crab pizza, but they’re likely to stay for the show. Dining on the restaurant’s second story affords a premium view of the wall-spanning PZ-5000 pizza-making machine… and its alien operator, Tony Solaroni. Debuting in 1989 (alongside STAR TOURS across the street), the restaurant’s starring, snail-eyed alien character was designed by the legendary Kevin Rafferty and Steve Kirk. During a looping show, the Audio-Animatronic entertains guests with occasional songs and calls from his wife, Mrs. Solaroni, but otherwise spends his time trying to combat the machine’s meltdowns – and those of his boss, Mr. Foosano.
Tony Solaroni is one of those “hidden gems” that first-time visitors may only stumble upon accidentally. Yes, it’s totally ‘90s… but with over thirty years of interplanetary pizza delivery, you’ve got to give Tony “classic” cred, too. Though it’s only a very small and very dated piece of a Tomorrowland that (like every other) is kind of an aesthetic mess, Tony Solaroni adds to the “world-building” of his corner of Tomor
If the concept seems familiar, that’s probably because Tony has a “cousin” of sorts from across the galaxy. Though it’s being (literally) dismantled before guests’ eyes, Magic Kingdom’s New Tomorrowland in 1994 attempted to overlay the original, ‘70s Space Age land with metallic fins, teleporters, spaceships, time machines, and one particularly nasty Alien Encounter to become a sci-fi city of retro-futuristic fantasy. One of the few remainders of that aesthetic overlay is none other than Sonny Eclipse, the lizard lounge singer who serenades guests at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe. Though he's a different species entirely, Sonny Eclipse similarly builds out the "world" of Tomorrowland, and gives guests some entertainment while they eat.
6. Shiriki Utundu
Home resort: Tokyo Disney Resort (Tokyo DisneySea)
When the Oriental Land Company decided to bring a version of Disney California Adventure’s Lost Legend: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to Tokyo Disney Resort, they left Imagineers with a serious conundrum: how to export the Hollywood Tower Hotel to a country in which The Twilight Zone had virtually no recognition. Luckily, the park’s in-universe mythology had already alluded to a secret Society of Explorers and Adventurers established in Da Vinci’s time… so why not expand on it to develop a new story altogether?
Opening in 2006, the Modern Marvel: Tower of Terror introduced guests to a turn-of-the-century member of S.E.A. – Harrison Hightower, a greedy explorer whose New York City hotel was filled with the pilfered loot of his international thievery. His most prized possession? Shiriki Utundu, a cursed African idol that's said to have put an end to Hightower's reign just as he ascended to his Penthouse on New Year's Eve 1899... Though one of the coolest special effects in Disney Parks, the idol comes to life, magically disappearing to meet us further on in the hotel...
Shiriki Utundu doesn’t read much like your traditional Disney character, but the menacing idol is an Imagineer-made creation all the same! Disney’s dips into dark, scary mythologies and unsettling characters are often some of their best, and it’s no surprise that Shiriki Utundu has become an icon of S.E.A. and a highly sought-after merchandising item, right alongside another nautical counterpart...
Home resort: Hong Kong Disneyland
There’s probably no “overseas” Disney Parks character as recognizable (and desirable) by stateside audiences than Albert. The tried-and-true companion of Lord Henry Mystic (another member of Hightower’s turn-of-the-century S.E.A. class), Albert was rescued from the fangs of a giant spider and became Mystic’s sidekick on all manner of international adventure. When Mystic retired to his eclectic estate in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea, Albert settled in, too. And that’s where we meet him, in Hong Kong Disneyland’s one-of-a-kind Modern Marvel: Mystic Manor.
Guests are invited to tour rooms upon rooms of Lord Mystic’s collection of oddities aboard “Mystic Magneto-Electric Carriages”. Turns out that the manor’s newest acquisition – a jewel-encrusted, monkey-adorned music box – is just too great a temptation for Albert, who pulls an “Abu” and activates the antique device and its enchanted music, bringing Mystic’s many souvenirs to life. The adorable primate follows along with guests, squeaking and squealing at each new sight and racing to set things right before the house tears itself apart!
We cite Mystic Manor not just among the best trackless dark rides on Earth, but among the best rides of this century altogether. Albert is a major reason why. It’s not just that the character is among the best Audio-Animatronics on Earth; the cartoon ape is practically a masterwork of Imagineering and character design. While fans eagerly dream of the ride’s cloning to Disney California Adventure or Animal Kingdom, we’re ready for an Albert series on Disney+!