Hey everyone, Derek Burgan here, your Humble Author of Ye Olde SATURDAY SIX. Those who follow me on social media know that I have been planning a trip up to New Hampshire this Summer. The only thing stopping me from visiting friends and family – some of whom I haven’t seen for years – was you, Dear Reader. My health and sanity are nowhere near as important as your need for a weekly fix of SATURDAY SIX. In fact, waking up on a Saturday morning without the latest edition of this fine blog series would be equivalent to the sun not rising in the east. Take a vacation and leave you in the lurch? Nay Nay! I had to find someone to fill my shoes. Someone who was smart, funny, and talented enough to draft a SATURDAY SIX that is worthy of your time.
Unfortunately all those people were busy. However, the good news is that TouringPlans own Joe Matt had some time on his hands.
In all seriousness, Joe is one of the shining beacons on the TP team. He is an invaluable member of the SATURDAY SIX Fun Squad which I bounce ideas off of and certainly can see the Big Picture of the theme park world much better than I can. (Be sure to listen to Joe’s insight and wit on the Parkscope podcast too!) He’s here to enlighten and entertain you with a look at part of Disney’s past that many of you probably have never seen before. It’s one half fascinating, one half incredulous, and one half next level bananas. Just the way we like it here at the SATURDAY SIX.
Take it away Joe…
There is nothing I love more than a good Disney Parks television special. From the exclusive interviews to the rare behind-the-scenes footage, I love to rewatch these specials over and over again. Disney figured this out which is why they launched The Imagineering Story and Behind the Attractions exclusively on Disney+ for theme park nerds like us.
Two years ago I covered the six craziest Disney theme park special moments, from killer Jungle Cruise rides to Ernest on Splash Mountain. After rave reviews, and Derek on vacation again, I return with six more Disney Parks specials! But this time I wanted to dive deep into the choppy water of YouTube. I was determined to find six rare, or rarely discussed, theme park specials. And boy what did I find, specials spanning informational documentaries, anniversary celebrations, variety shows, and cheap promotional films from the foreign land of Canada!
Pop up some popcorn, pour an oversized soda, and extend that footrest on the La-Z-Boy – it is time to watch some specials!
6) Magic in the Magic Kingdom
Ever stumble across a long-forgotten book, tv show, or movie from your childhood that unlocks a tucked-away memory in your brain? It could be a summer reading a book or trips to the movies to watch one particular film. Magic in the Magic Kingdom unlocked a memory in me of countlessly rewatching this special on VHS time and time again.
This special combined the mystery and allure of LA’s The Magic Castle with the prestige of Disneyland. I can only imagine Michael Eisner dining at The Magic Castle and becoming so enamored with it that he wanted his OWN magic special!
Magic in the Magic Kingdom is hosted by quadruple threat George Burns who provides humorous interludes. He states the magic we are about to see is done “without the aid of camera tricks” which, if Penn & Teller have taught me anything, is that camera tricks WILL be used.
In the special, we see several performances of illusions throughout the park including escaping from a cage submerged in the Submarine Voyage lagoon…
…Harry Anderson with his unique blend of comedy and magic (more on him later)…
…Lance Burton performing his iconic appearing and disappearing dove illusions…
…um, something that would not air in the 2020s…
…Gloria Estefan and The Miami Sound Machine perform Rhythm is Going to Get You in the Fantasyland Theater…
…and finally, Seigfried and Roy have Sleeping Beauty’s Castle disappear!
Magic in the Magic Kingdom, along with the Disneyland Fun VHS tape, kept my Disneyland interest going for years before my family finally visited in 2002. I am so happy to see this special again and I hope you, dear reader, get a kick out of it too.
George Burns appeared one year later in the opening special to Disney-MGM Studios, which was his last Disney performance as he passed away in 1996 at the age of 100. If I have even a third of the life that George had I will consider myself lucky. Siegfried & Roy performed for decades in Las Vegas till Roy suffered a career-ending injury from their tiger in 2003. Roy passed in May 2020 from COVID-19, and Siegfried in January 2021 from pancreatic cancer. And Harry Anderson will appear in Disney parks ANOTHER special is featured later in this article.
5) Art of the Disney Themed Show
It might be hard for some Disney parks fans to remember but back in the day, Disney prided itself in offering a complete themed show, where the parks themselves were the stars. Unique stories were told separately from television and movies. Phrases “story coaster”, “magic”, and “immersion” were decades away buzz words. The Art of the Disney Theme Show takes us back to those simpler times.
The video starts out humbly by tying the whole concept of vacation over the centuries to the Disney parks and bragging about world leaders visiting their parks. Good to know they are starting small. Soon author Ray Bradburry is tied into the special and highlights how the Disney-themed show is the combination of the best of live theater and cinema: the perfection of theater with the in-the-now of live theater.
As the film progresses we learn more and more about how and why WED (now WDI) makes decisions: the Main Street corridor, the concept of the hub, weenies, scale, aging, authenticity, and more. Every little detail is elaborated on and lavishly praised as part of a completely themed whole. And of course, it ends with the final touch that makes Disney so special: the Cast Members.
Throughout the film, we get to see rare footage of early Walt Disney World including vegetation-less Jungle Cruise Savana.
And even wide-open Frontierland!
In the end, the narration posits that it is when all these elements are in thematic harmony that the true “Disney” feeling is most felt.
4) UPN 9’s Walt Disney World Millennium Celebration Special
The Millennium Celebration was my personal favorite Walt Disney World celebration. From the parades to the fireworks to the new permanent attractions, and even amazing temporary attractions this celebration felt jam-packed with energy and things to do. Yet despite being a massive celebration I found it odd there was no comprehensive making-of special. That is what I thought until I found UPN 9’s Walt Disney World Millennium Celebration Special from 1999!
This 105 minute long special offers behind the scenes look at the major additions for the celebration: Tapestry of Nations, Illuminations 2000: Reflections of Earth, Millennium Village, Innoventions, and even other new attractions around the parks like Rock’n’Roller Coaster and Tarzan Rocks.
It is wonderful to see video footage of long-lost attractions again.
The special is also notable for what is NOT featured: the infamously terrible Journey into Your Imagination.
In addition to the millennium additions, the special also highlights the at-the-time-year-old Disney Cruise Line and the long-running Disney Wedding program.
Of the attractions featured only Winnie the Pooh, Rock’n’Roller Coaster, Disney Weddings, and Disney Cruise Line remain. UPN 9 WWOR stopped its UPN affiliation in 2006 and is now MyNetworkTV owned by Fox Broadcasting.
3) Kraft Salutes Walt Disney World’s 10th Anniversary
One of the oddest specials around, Kraft Salutes Walt Disney World’s 10th Anniversary. It is a strange musical special starring Dean Jones, Michele Lee, and Eileen Brennan as an extended family visiting Walt Disney World that aired in early 1982. Also featured throughout the special is a very young Michael Keaton working odd jobs around the resort (bellhop, shop salesman, waiter, poltergeist, etc).
The plot revolves around an extended family making their trip to the Contemporary Resort and Fort Wilderness for a long-needed vacation.
Dean and Michelle drive their children meanwhile Eileen drives the camper to Fort Wilderness. Havoc and many musical numbers ensue as the group wanders around Walt Disney World…
Meanwhile, they stop at the Contemporary…
Dads and their sons.
Michael Keaton selling unique Disney souvenirs like, and I am not making this up, grey and blue hats!
Top of the World Lounge!
Whatever this is!
Mickey and every single Walt Disney World Cast Member wish everyone a happy anniversary!
But then it is time to leave and our family must make their trip home.
The Kraft’s anniversary celebration is a musical wild time through the early 80s before Epcot was opened. If you can stomach the cheesiest of cheesy “songs” and melodramatic plot points then I highly recommend you watch for the rare views into early Walt Disney World.
2) The Disneyland Story
Probably the most well-known tv special on this list, The Disneyland Story is a 1990 documentary covering the history and future of Disneyland. Hosted and narrated by comedian and magician Harry Anderson (told you he would be back!), the special takes its name from the original Disney parks TV special, The Disneyland Story, which broadcast in 1954 with Walt as the host.
In this updated version, Harry boards the Disneyland train’s parlor car and is transported through time to the various changes, updates, and new attractions of the Disneyland park through the decades.
The special takes a sharp turn towards the depressing when Harry covers upcoming attractions to the Disneyland Resort:
1991 – Young Indiana Jones stunt show & Live Muppet Show
1993 – Little Mermaid “will swim onto the scene”
1994 – Alien Encounter
1996 – Dick Tracy’s Crime Stoppers
1999 – Baby Herman’s Runaway Buggy Ride “through a whole new area in the park”, Hollywoodland
This special debuted before WestCOT was proposed and the eventual transformation into Disney’s California Adventure. You can see how attractions evolved and transformed: Dick Tracy’s Crime Stoppers ended up at Indiana Jones Adventure, Alien Encounter was moved to the Magic Kingdom, and Hollywoodland eventually opened up (in a form) in DCA.
This special comes from the time when Frank Wells and Michael Eisner were still eagerly adding to the theme parks, before Wells’ untimely death and Eisner’s cold feet after EuroDisney’s opening. Now it stands as a monument to a time in Disney parks when continued attraction investment was the norm and long-term future of the parks.
Harry would continue his best-known role Harry Stone in the series Night Court. He passed away in 2018 after a bout of influenza at the age of 65.
1) The Magical Gathering
For someone who’s watched and collected dozens of Disney parks specials it is very very rare when a previously unheard-of one shows up. So when doing research for this article I found “The Magical Gathering” it felt like I had unearthed a tomb of long-lost artifacts of the early 2000s.
Originally broadcast on the Canadian Broadcast Company in December 2004, this special stars Whose Line is it Anyway performer Colin Mochrie as himself. Fictional Colin is an overworked and busy businessman who receives a message…
A magical snowglobe then appears where a child beckons…
Colin is instantly transformed into a being of energy and transported to Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom and is accosted by eccentric violinists.
I really cannot emphasize enough how WEIRD this is and we’re not even 5 minutes into the special.
This kid turns out to be young Colin, played by real-life Colin’s actual daughter, Kinley Mochrie. They are here to give Colin a second chance at childhood and let loose at Walt Disney World.
The special is a fever dream of the early 2000s featuring long lost Canadian musical performers, segments ripped out of Whose Line during the heyday of its ABC run, life lessons, and a very surreal promotion of Mission: Space where Colin is seen in pain as Canadian lite-rock is performed in Epcot.
Of course in the end Colin learns his lesson from his young self before Colin, the musical guests, random strangers, and a whole gaggle of Disney characters dance together while watching the castle fireworks.
And how else do you end an early 2000s special than with BLOOPERS OVER CREDITS!
Colin would continue to work with Disney on Whose Line is it Anyway until he left in 2007. Since then he has done film and TV work, including following the Canadian call of duty appearing on episodes of Degrassi. This was Kinley’s debut performance, and she continues acting to this day.
LAST MINUTE SUPER SECRET ADDITION: Go For the Magic with Willard Scott
Little behind the scenes Saturday Six discussion: I was going to have this post go live one week earlier, on August 21. Alicia’s post was completed early so Derek ran with it first and putting mine on ice for a week. “Wow, some time to relax.”
In the words of Derek: NAY NAY
MouseWorld Radio’s Mike Newell uploaded a BONKERS promotional VHS for the Orlando area last week. Hosted by retired TODAY Show meteorologist Willard Scott, Go For The Magic is a look back into 1985, before Universal opened, back when the biggest draws were Walt Disney World, Wet’n’Wild, SeaWorld, Circus World, Church Street Station, and Cyprus Gardens.
Join Willard as he rides on the Orlando International Airport’s Automated People Movers (which opened in 1981)
The video was created with help from Kissimmee-St. Cloud, which people in their 30s and older remember from their ubiquitous television ads in the 80s and 90s. In addition to the larger tourist destinations are smaller highlights like someplace that serves ice cream, the original Medieval Times, horses, and the house of the future.
Of course, the main goal is to sell you on a vacation to the central Florida region and they do a good job offering information in a time before the internet let us book dining, hotels, and research all from a device in our pockets.
Go For the Magic is a mid-80s time capsule when, for many, Walt Disney World was one part of a larger Florida vacation. In the late 80s through late 90s Michael Eisner transformed Walt Disney World into a four-park resort with well over a dozen hotels. MCA/Universal opened their first theme park, Universal Studios Florida, in five short years. Circus World turned into Boardwalk & Baseball in 1986, then closed permanently in 1990. Wet’n’Wild closed at the end of 2016 to be replaced with Universal’s Endless Summer resorts and Volcano Bay opend in 2017.
Those are the Saturday Six Theme Park Specials You Have Probably Never Seen! I hope you enjoyed these specials as much as I did. Leave your favorite unheard-of specials in the comments below.
You can find my writing on Touring Plans where I primarily cover Universal Orlando.
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world-famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, artist @SonderQuest, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hotshot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzieand LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.