Associated Press

Mr. Toad Appears To Be Roadkill

By Mike Schneider
Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, September 1, 1998
2:36 AM EDT

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) - Despite protests, despite the green T-shirts saying "Ask me why Mickey is killing Mr. Toad," despite hundreds of pleading postcards and letters mailed to Disney officials, Mr. Toad appears to be roadkill.

A yearlong Internet and mail campaign to persuade Walt Disney World to keep Mr. Toad's Wild Ride apparently wasn't enough. Or so say Mr. Toad's champions, who claim the ride will be closed forever Sept. 8 and replaced with a Winnie the Pooh attraction.

Disney isn't talking - yet. While a Disney spokesman would not confirm or deny any rumors, a company official said an announcement about the ride was expected this week.

The save-the-toad campaign is a strange twist on a David-vs.-Goliath fight, with a group of admittedly obsessive fans challenging the nation's ever-present, unremittingly cheery entertainment giant.

"Anyone who would be so nuts to challenge Disney and waste a whole year obviously has some issues," concedes toad booster Jef Moskot, 26, of Miami.

When Al Weiss, president of Walt Disney World, commented in April on the growing rumors, he acknowledged the strong feelings people had for the ride. "There are ones who are very serious about it, and we respect that," Weiss said.

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, based on Kenneth Grahame's classic children's book "The Wind in the Willow" and the subsequent 1949 Disney movie, follows J. Thaddeus Toad on a disjointed, cartoonish ride in a stolen motorcar.

Along the way, there are crashes and near-misses through fireplaces, doors and a haystack. The car also passes a prison break by cartoon weasels and follows a gunfight between the weasels and police.

Making a wrong turn down the train tunnel, passengers see the light of an oncoming train. The lights go out after the car crashes into the train, sending the passengers to hell, which is inhabited by giggling red devils and a maniacal Satan with a pitchfork.

The ride, which opened in Florida in 1971, has attracted legions of fans, many of whom wrote in to Moskot's Web site ( Messages came from dedicated Magic Kingdom visitors, parents who loved the ride as a child and now take their kids, even Disney employees - most of whom post their messages anonymously.

"If Disney kills Toadman they kill the joy at the park. A life without MTWR (Mr. Toad's Wild Ride) is like a life without chocolate; unbearable," wrote Traci Carlson.

Mr. Toad lives on at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

But Moskot, who fell in love with the ride as a grade-schooler because it was rather subversive and un-Disney, said if the ride leaves Disney World he won't return.

"It's a nice break from the happy, singing flowers, not that those things don't have a place in Disney," said the computer systems administrator and part-time film student. "He's not the bland Disney hero with two funny sidekicks. He's nuts. He steals cars, but he's still the good guy."

Moskot and other self-described "toadies" mobilized when they heard the rumors, setting up their Web site, where fans downloaded 8,000 pre-addressed protest postcards and ordered 250 T-shirts bearing a picture of a dead Mr. Toad.

Moskot hired a banner plane in May to fly over the Magic Kingdom with the words "Save Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" and Weiss' office phone number.

Weekly "toad-ins" at the Magic Kingdom attracted as many as 50 T-shirt-wearing protesters - from grandmothers to "little kids who probably didn't know what they were doing," Moskot said.

A final protest is planned for Labor Day. Still, the movement never seemed to reach critical mass.

Moskot said he doesn't regret anything.

"I guess it's just the thing that affected me the most directly," Moskot said. "There are few things that give me pleasure in my life, and Disney is one of them."

Another Internet campaign, to save the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland, is already running. Disney officials say there are no plans to eliminate the attraction.
All content ©1998 The Associated Press.