This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Takeaways from Disney’s Villains Unleashed. Last weekend the first hard ticket event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios since 2009 took place, celebrating everybody’s favorite bad guys. It was created out of the Unleash the Villains event, which took place at DHS on Friday the 13th in September of last year as part of Limited Time Magic. If anything, Unleash the Villains in 2013 may have been too popular, as what many people remember from that fateful night is the gridlock of vehicles outside DHS trying to get in, unorganized queues to meet the villains inside the park, and nowhere near enough staff to handle the throngs of guests who descended upon the night’s events. What was popular? The Villainy in the Sky fireworks show, which almost all who have seen it agree it was among the best nighttime spectaculars Disney has ever produced. The good news is that Disney brought Villainy in the Sky back, but did it fix the other problems? We’ll examine that and other issues as we look at Six Takeaways from Villains Unleashed starting with…
# 6 – The biggest villains of the night may have been the eBay pirates
Most of us theme park fans love our merchandise, and nothing is more frustrating than to find out that limited edition merchandise is completely sold out halfway through an event, only to see the very same items up for sale on eBay with ridiculous prices. It happens all the time, so we shouldn’t be surprised, but it happened in spectacular fashion at Villains Unleashed. There were only a couple pieces of event specific merchandise (including a shirt, a water bottle, and a pin), and much of it flew off the shelves before the majority of party goers even had a chance to see it. Lo and behold, all the items began immediately appearing for sale online.
Another problem was that all the merchandise was at one location in the park. This caused long lines and forced party goers to make a choice: spend two hours waiting for merchandise or use that valuable party time elsewhere. On top of all that, Villains Unleashed park maps were completely out before the actual start of the party at 8 PM. Surprise, surprise, these park maps were available on eBay, being sold for prices up to $20 each, while many of the actual partygoers who had paid $67 a ticket to get in were informed there were none available. To quote Nelson from The Simpsons, “Ha ha!”
This seems like the easiest fix of all. JUST PRINT MORE. Its understandable that even your average guest will want more than one park map because the one you use to actually navigate the park invariably gets lost or destroyed. They also make great souvenirs. Disney knows how many tickets were sold, so just massively over print park maps and also give one to every single person “checking in” to the event. I’ve also been to many places where they have used everything from park maps to candy wrappers to make recycled jewelry or even wallets. In fact, the African Outpost in Epcot’s World Showcase offers these recycled items.
The merchandise problem is harder to get a handle on because when Disney does make a lot of event specific merchandise, a ton of it ends up going to the Outlet Stores. But they definitely can spread the merchandise out in the park, reducing the potential wait for guests, and that has the added benefit of making things just a little bit harder for the eBay pirates to scoop everything up immediately.
# 5 – The PhotoPass lanyard replaced traditional wristband ticket media
One of the surprises of Villains Unleashed came immediately as guests checked in. Instead of the paper wristbands that hard ticket events at Disney have traditionally used for credentials, partygoers were given Disney PhotoPass lanyards. Like the park maps mentioned above, these lanyards become instant souvenirs for every guest. Lanyards are used by most organizations (sporting events, concerts, comic conventions, etc.), and it makes a lot of sense to use them in the theme park environment. Universal is a huge proponent of guests using lanyards for their ticket media, Express Passes, and PhotoConnect cards, as it makes touring the UOR parks much easier. Here’s hoping lanyards become standard for Disney parties.
# 4 – The exclusive food and drink were a big step up, but…..
Dining options and specialty drinks were a mixed bag during the event. On one hand, Disney offered much more than the usual limited offerings at a hard ticket event including a special Malificent cupcake, the infamous hot dog buns, specialty cocktails, and the park even converted the Brown Derby into Club Evil, complete with a villain themed menu. Unfortunately, just like the merchandise situation, there were very few places throughout the park offering these items, which in turn caused long lines. Similar lengthy waits were seen at Club Evil given its limited capacity. It’s one thing to have long lines for shows and attractions, but you want to keep lines moving fast when people are trying to buy food or merchandise. Inexplicably, the goofy hot dog buns also sold out early. To steal a line from a Princess Bride villain, “Inconceivable!” I’m grading this B+/A- for concepts, C-/D+ for execution.
# 3 – Ooogie Boogie’s Freaky Funhouse Show was the one thing that almost every guest could see (although many wish they hadn’t)
We’ve established that the one thing all guests saw more than anything else during Villains Unleashed were LINES. Lines for merchandise. Lines for Club Evil. Lines for character meet and greets. Many guests went immediately into lines as soon as they entered the party, meaning very few actually saw the the opening show hosted by Hades and Megara, a show which almost all who saw it say it was among the highlights of the entire event. However, one aspect of the event that almost everyone had a good chance of seeing was Ooogie Boogie’s Freaky Funhouse Show, which took place at the Theater of the Stars. The venue holds a lot of people, and there were several shows throughout the course of the evening.
There was a small percentage of fans who felt that the Oogie Boogie show was a bit over the line for Disney, but most agree that it was definitely a show we’d all be more comfortable seeing at a park like Universal Studios Florida. That’s not a knock on the show, just that it takes a lot of work to get people used to something completely different from what they are used to. Disney has firmly established that it is the family friendly brand in theme parks, and no matter how many warnings they give ahead of time, many guests will not be prepared for acts that could be considered edgy and even risqué. It certainly didn’t help that many guests went into the show with a sour feeling ahead of time thanks to being disappointed in other aspects of the event.
# 2 – No one does fireworks better than Disney (but maybe they shouldn’t be doing them at 1:00AM)
Villainy in the Sky did not disappoint. Like HalloWishes, seeing an amazing fireworks display with villains music playing in the background makes for an incredible experience. It combines two of Disney’s biggest strengths (firework displays and signature music) into something that no other theme park can compete with. For Villains Unleashed, the problem is that Villainy in the Sky didn’t start until 12:45 AM, after throngs of angry guests had already gone to Guest Relations to get a refund. I’m not sure if it’s even possible to do an earlier showing, given the logistics of DHS, but if Villainy in the Sky could have had a 9:30 PM showing like HalloWishes has at the Magic Kingdom, I think a good percentage of guests would have felt better about the value they got for their money. Villainy in the Sky is that good.
# 1 – The very first appearances of Marvel characters inside a Walt Disney World park
Even seeing it with my own eyes, this is hard to believe. Star Lord and Gamora from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (which just this weekend became the biggest grossing summer movie in America, again “Inconcievable!“) were at the GotG Awesome Mix Tape Volume 1 dance party. While it was hard to get close enough to take pictures with the two as they were roped off from guests and many people were there to see them, this wasn’t a blink and you’ll miss it situation; they were out in full display for everyone to enjoy. These two were rock stars, and the crowd loved seeing them. Is Disney pushing the limits of the contract Marvel has with Universal for theme park usage of its characters? Is this just the beginning of Disney figuring out a way to have a larger Marvel presence inside its parks (who can forget the Avengers-wrapped monorail not being allow to briefly travel through Epcot because of the Universal deal)? I’m not sure of the answers, but it is a very exciting time to be a theme park fan.
Honorable Mention: Disney fans love their villains!
A lot of guests left unhappy at the end of Villains Unleashed, but not because of what was actually at the party. The opening show with Hades and all of the villains was fantastic. The food and drink options were good. The amount of rare characters walking around or available for meet and greets was staggering. The Villainy in the Sky show to cap the evening was majestic. However, the way in which the event was handled cancelled out almost all of that. No park maps when the event started. Long lines for merchandise, food and drink, much of it selling out halfway through the evening. Several of the popular meet and greet lines were capped before 9:00 PM, meaning if you didn’t get in line immediately after the party started, you didn’t get an opportunity to see those characters. While Disney hasn’t released any numbers, most feel Villains Unleashed was horrendously oversold. Part of the allure of a hard ticket event is guests are paying handsomely to experience lesser crowds. It’s one thing for a free Limited Time Magic event like Unleash the Villains to have two to three hour waits for all its characters, but when you start paying $70 a head, you expect more. Could FastPass+ have been used to help alleviate the queues, allowing people to come back and only wait 30 minutes?
I hope we have not seen the last of Villains Unleashed. The public backlash and Disney refunding so many tickets make me wonder if the company will write this idea off, but – if anything – I think it proves many theme park guests want more Villains Unleashed. Instead of limiting it to one day, make it an event along the lines of MNSSHP and MVMCP. You could turn the Villains in Vogue store into Disney World’s version of Diagon Alley’s Borgin and Burkes with some interesting villain themed merchandise. There is so much opportunity to make this party into one of the signature events on the Disney calendar. Here’s hoping…
So there you have it: the Top Six Takeaway from Disney’s Villains Unleashed. See you next weekend for the latest edition of the SATURDAY SIX, where we are going to take a peek at what else is out there in the theme park corridor outside of Universal and Disney. If you had fun, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast.
Special thanks to Scott Wurzel, Adam Roth, Jonathen Hopkins and crack staff photographer Brandon Glover for their invaluable assistance in this article. I would also encourage all coaster fans to immediately check out Theme Park Review for their fantastic coverage of theme parks, amusement parks, and roller coasters worldwide. They even offer many tours at parks throughout this country offering some incredibly unique once-in-a-lifetime experiences.