Home » Who Are the Best Characters Ever Created at Disney Parks?

Who Are the Best Characters Ever Created at Disney Parks?

Walt Disney introduced the concept of the theme park. He invented the criteria for how to elevate an attraction with special touches. Theming is now an everyday part of a day at a Disney park. It’s also the most important element. Without theming, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is merely a drop tower attraction, and Toy Story Midway Mania! is a glorified smartphone app come to life.

What’s remarkable about Disney parks is that most of the characters come from existing intellectual properties. Mickey Mouse started it all, but rides as varied as Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Star Tours, and Peter Pan’s Flight are derivatives of popular characters from the movie realm.

Uncle Walt understood that theme parks needed more, and that’s why several marvelous creations debuted at Disney theme parks. We want to pick the best of them for this list. The first rule is that any character that existed elsewhere, even something that’s not owned by Disney such as Indiana Jones, is out the window. The only other rule is that we’ll limit attractions to a maximum of two. Otherwise, The Haunted Mansion would take up too much of the list. Without further ado, here are the five best characters created for Disney theme parks.

5. Duffy the Teddy Bear

Image: DisneyNobody mass markets children’s toys like The Walt Disney Company. At the theme parks, they don’t even need attractions to sell merchandise. Back in 2002, the company prepared to debut their new anchor store, Once Upon a Toy, at what was then known as Downtown Disney. Corporate executives decided that a mascot would help to get children to drag their parents into the store.

Originally, the character didn’t even have a name. Instead, it was a generic bear with a Hidden Mickey for a face. Seriously, that was by design. The backstory was that Tinker Bell swapped Mickey’s face onto the blank one of a teddy bear. The company had no grand ambitions for the bear at the time. It was merely a marketing ploy. But then something strange happened.

Image: DisneyThe Tokyo Disneyland version of Duffy was much better and quickly became wildly popular at that park. The Oriental Land Company went all-in on the concept and gave the bear a name, Duffy. They even added a Duffy section to the park! Duffy photo ops became all the rage in Japan, and I don’t just mean at Disney theme parks. The bear with humble origins became an international celebrity and has since become a staple of Disney merchandising at parks across the world.

You now know Duffy as a teddy bear in a sailor suit, but he was originally an empty void of a character that evolved into one of the greatest at Disney theme parks thanks to the love of Japanese theme park tourists.

4. Disco Yeti

Expedition Everest hinges on a single conceit. Adventurers and archaeologists visiting Mount Everest are in danger. Unbeknownst to them, their voyage on the Anandapur Rail Service is in jeopardy. A mythic monster claims the mountain as its own. Trespassers are unwelcome, and train tracks have a tendency to get torn apart.

The fabled monster is, of course, the Yeti. Yes, the Abominable Snowman is real and yes, he hates train passengers. The Yeti does everything to disrupt the voyage on Expedition Everest, eventually coming face to face with passengers. And that’s what makes the monster so charming. Disney Imagineers did something rare. They miscalculated the weight of the Yeti and its impact on the artificial mountain. When the ride opened, the Yeti literally shook the foundation of Disney’s forbidden mountain (which isn’t actually Everest, oddly enough), eventually causing cracks in it.

As a stopgap measure, park planners disabled some of the menacing tech of the Yeti. Its limited abilities are described as B-mode, which isn’t short for Beast mode. Instead, it’s a reflection of what the Yeti can do. At this point, it can display strobe lights, and that’s about it. The lack of other abilities has earned the character the nickname of Disco Yeti. Ostensibly, that’s a dig, but I’m of the opinion that it infuses the Yeti with a unique personality. Sure, it hates tourists and wants them to die…but at its heart, the Disco Yeti just wants to boogie. Even by accident, that makes him (?) an adorable character.

3. Hatbox Ghost

Image: DisneyOne of the incongruities of the early days of Disneyland is the way that Imagineers found a way to make decapitation funny. After years of planning, The Haunted Mansion finally arrived at New Orleans Square in 1969. One of the original inhabitants was a worldly gentleman. He was nattily attired and had an irresistible grin. He also had a hatbox. Its purpose was nefarious, at least in theory. The Hatbox Ghost stored his own head in a hatbox.

Imagineers came up with several sublime characters for The Haunted Mansion, and several of them got to do tricks. One of the most popular denizens of the dwelling, however, couldn’t do his trick. The Hatbox Ghost was supposed to make his head disappear into the box. The only problem was that the trick didn’t work. At all. Early rides of The Haunted Mansion expressed confusion and frustration, and Disney quickly pushed the Hatbox Ghost into the closet with all the other hatboxes. At least he was happy there.

People loved the Hatbox Ghost for his panache and possibly even for his failure. Over time, they demanded his return, a seemingly unlikely feat. Disney ignored their cries for several decades. Then, their 40th anniversary celebration featured merchandise of the occasionally headless ghost. Six years later, the Hatbox Ghost triumphantly returned to New Orleans Square, once again inhabiting a place at The Haunted Mansion. His absence had made the hearts of Disney fans everywhere grow fonder for him, and he is now one of the most popular characters of any Disney attraction. This proves the point that horror movies have over and over again. You just can’t kill a ghost.

2. Figment

Image: DisneyLet’s employ Occam’s razor here. Figment is a purple dragon who (sometimes) wears a yellow sweater. He’s an astronaut, a cowboy, a dancer, a knight, a mountain climber, a pirate, and a superhero. What’s not to love?

Actually, Figment has become something of a tragic tale over the years. The first iteration of his attraction, Journey into Imagination, was a wonderful celebration of creativity featuring Figment and his dear friend, the Dreamfinder. The two later incarnations of the attraction are like Matrix sequels. Sure, you’ll find defenders of their quality, but everybody knows it peaked after the first one.

Image: DisneyAlso, the Dreamfinder vanished from Journey into Imagination. That’s like taking LeBron James off the Cleveland Cavaliers. What’s left is still pretty good but yikes! Anyway, even in the absence of the Dreamfinder, Figment has remained a beloved character. His toy sales are always strong, and the quickest way to make new friends at Epcot is to lament the loss of the original Journey into Imagination. It’s been gone for roughly 20 years now, yet grown men still shed tears over its absence.

1. Madame Leota

Image: DisneyWhich came first, the chicken or the egg? Do I love Madame Leota because I’m a Futurama superfan? Or do I love the idea of heads in jars in Futurama because I loved Madame Leota as a kid? Whatever the explanation, I came up with the idea for this entire list while stuck in a Doom Buggy, looking at Madame Leota. As she recited the words to her summoning spell, I appreciated just how spectacular this character is.

Picking the most entertaining part of The Haunted Mansion is a brutal task, especially if you love the ride like my family does. I already had to pick between the Hatbox Ghost and the Hitchhiking Ghosts, which is akin to choosing a favorite child. But what I can say with certainty is that Madame Leota is apex of Disney theme park character creation.

Only a Disney Imagineer could find the ultimate solution to an impossible problem. If some people want a scary attraction and others want a silly one, all the ride needs is a bridge. And that’s what Madame Leota is. Her séance is the turning point where the ghosts arrive, only they’re not as scary as advertised. In fact, they seem to love being dead. Leota’s spellcasting is the last spooky sequence. From that moment forward, everybody’s singing and/or dancing save for one killer bride. Madame Leota’s functionally the breaking point, making her not just an amazing character but also a critical ride element.