City Link Magazine

Showdown in the Mouse House
Has Mickey got it in for the wild Mr. Toad? No one's talking, and Disney geeks everywhere are getting froggy.

Toad vs. Pooh By T.M. Shine
City Link Staff Reporter

November 19-25, 1997
Page: 7
The battle is just beginning. Lines are being drawn with honey and the soldiers are geeks.

"Long live Mr. Toad!"

"Put Pooh Bear somewhere else!"

"Kicking Mr. Toad's butt out would be a grave mistake."

It's the thrilla in vanilla - the Wonderful World of Disney. A few weeks ago word slipped out that Disney officials in Orlando were considering doing away with Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, a fixture at the Magic Kingdom since it opened in 1971, and would replace it with a Winnie the Pooh ride.

"I was seething," says Jef Moskot of Miami. "At first I had no place for my anger. I called and unloaded on some poor woman in guest relations who probably makes $6 an hour."

He soon transferred that anger to a Web site that was quickly set up to save the Toad. Moskot, a 26-year-old systems administrator, has never been shy about his allegiance to the Toad. He's renowned for hopping on to Disney bulletin boards on the 'Net and rambling on about how the freaky frog is going to rule the world. "All my geek friends are getting behind this," he says.

And then some. Actually, the electronic Toad Hall site has been getting about 90 hits a day and vows of support from all over the world.

"We want to save Mr. Toad," a family from Venezuela writes.

All this and Disney hasn't even confirmed yet whether it will actually put the Toad out to pasture.

In the Oct. 22 edition of The Orlando Sentinel, it was reported that if the project gets the green light Mr. Toad will probably take his last wild ride sometime late next year. But inside sources couldn't confirm it.

In meager attempts to pinpoint the Toad's fate, Moskot has been calling Disney operations as a concerned parent ("I have no children") and telling them that his kids' favorite ride is Mr. Toad and he just wants to make sure it will still be there if they visit the Kingdom next fall. "But it's useless," Moskot says. "All they say is, 'Well, we can't guarantee it.'"

He doesn't feel like a complete failure in getting to the bottom of this because even a guy referred to on the Internet as the Disney Colombo, who's always breaking Disney secrets early, hasn't been able to crack this one.

"He even attempted to infiltrate the Team Disney Building but didn't get far because he was dressed like a tourist," Moskot says. "Next time he's going to wear a suit."

In our dealings with Disney, we first had to go through the spokesman's spokesman who mumbled something about "nothing being set in concrete" as far as a decision made about the Toad but he'd have to have the real spokesman get back to us.

A day later the real spokesman, Mark Jaronski, called back saying he wished he'd called earlier but they've been "very busy in the mouse house." He then gave another version of the "nothing is in concrete" story: "A lot of this information has been stirred up. It's unconfirmed."

In the meantime, the toad warriors aren't taking any chances. They're building a case and an army to take on the god of theme parks.

On the Web site, in a point/counterpoint manner, they are addressing, point by point, the rumored reasons why Disney might want to bail out on the Toad.

It's outdated.

But many of the attractions at Disney, particularly It's a Small World and the Pirates of the Caribbean, haven't been significantly upgraded since the '70s.

It's too scary for small children.

But Disney continues to open rides like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, which is just down the trail from Toad Hall.

Winnie is much more popular.

But if Disney marketed the Toad as vigorously as the Pooh characters maybe he'd be even more popular than Pooh, or, at the very least, Eeyore. "If the wait isn't longer than 45 minutes, does that mean the ride isn't popular enough?" says one fan on the Web.

Jaronski says the wild ride is one of the most popular attractions. "But there's good and bad for Mr. Toad," he says. "The good thing is folks like it. On the other hand, we're constantly looking for ways to freshen up a park that is 25 years old."

Translation: The Toad's doomed.

For those unfamiliar with the ride, it's based on a 1949 Disney film called The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad which is an adaptation of the novel, The Wind in the Willows.

"The ride made me read the book," Moskot says.

He describes the Toad character as insane, a maniac who does horrible things but always regrets it.

"I identify with him," Moskot says.

As do millions of others. And the three-minute ride depicts the craziness of Mr. Toad's disastrous ways perfectly. The rider is on the run the whole time - getting chased by armed weasels, flattened by a roaring freight train and sent straight to hell.

"Where else in the Magic Kingdom can you get killed and go straight to hell?" was the sentiment of many on the Internet.

"Exactly," Moskot says. "But we don't like to talk about the hell stuff much because we don't want one of those Christian groups coming down on Mr. Toad. We've got enough problems as it is."

The toadies know what they are up against with Disney, a monster they both adore and abhor, and are checking every angle. There is some talk that this is just a conspiracy, a devious Disney scare tactic to drum up publicity for a Buena Vista Home Video release of a live-action version of The Wind in the Willows.

"If I can get to the bottom of this, I'll be a hero," Moskot says.

As we went to press with this story, a group was being assembled to terrorize Fantasyland by showing up in front of the ride wearing specially designed Save the Toad T-shirts. "The current idea for the image is something like Toad lying dead on the ground with a lily in his hand and some of those super-sappy sad kids with the big eyes holding their mouse ears over their hearts. And a big slanted message along the lines of, "Disney, Why Are You Trying to Kill Mr. Toad?'

The group also notes that they know they are walking a fine line and are leery of what they can get away with on Disney property. "We don't mind going to Disney's secret underground jail because we'd like to check that out anyway," Moskot says. "But we don't particularly want to go to real jail."

Save the Toad Web Site:
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