The Orlando Sentinel

Fans don't go gentle on that last wild ride

By Mike Thomas and Leslie Doolittle
Orlando Sentinel Staff

Tuesday, September 8, 1998
Front Page
Ribbit picket. Fans of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride came out in force with signs and T-shirts to protest the closing of 1 of the Magic Kingdom's original rides.

Photo by: Stephen M. Dowell/The Orlando Sentinel

Mr. Toad is dead.

He took his loyal supporters on one last wild ride Monday night at Walt Disney World, but this time he won't be coming back.

Company officials shut down Mr. Toad's Wild Ride despite a yearlong effort by supporters to save one of the Magic Kingdom's original attractions. Disney said it needs to make room for a Winnie-the-Pooh attraction.

About 100 Toad fans and Disney workers gathered at 7 p.m. to cheer and clap as the last car emptied its guests.

Many of the fans sported green T-shirts and carried signs in support: "New wart Order!" and "Here lies dear old J.T. Toad, he hit some Pooh on the road."

Judy and Mike Tuchman flew in from Washington, D.C.

"We never miss a Toad-in," said Judy Tuchman, referring to the four save-the-ride rallies held since December. She wore green nail polish for the occasion.

Disney spokesman Bill Warren said the ousting of Toad from Fantasyland is nothing personal.

"There are probably wonderful fans of everything that we have ever offered to the public in our parks," he said, "but despite loyal support, we still need to look at our parks, to consider changes that we think are necessary to offer something new and entertaining as well as stay focused on classic attractions."

The Toadies are not buying it.

"In that case, they should build their new ride and stay focused on the classic Mr. Toad," said Jef Moscot of Miami.

Some argue that Mr. Toad never did fit the Disney mold. A character from a 1949 movie, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, he was an amphibian of ill repute who took passengers on a wild ride that ended with the car entering a train tunnel, getting hit head-on and then taking everyone to hell -- complete with laughing demons.

Compare this to Pooh, who is warm and cuddly -- star of movies and TV -- and would never take his friends to hell. When his ride opens late next year, visitors will get a tour of Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood in "hunny pot" buggies, where they will meet Pooh, Piglet Tigger and the others.

Still, Toadies such as Moscot, 26, are disheartened. He has ridden Mr. Toad hundreds of times. He set up an Internet Web site devoted to Mr. Toad that has had more than 36,000 visitors. He has driven from Miami to Orlando five or six times in recent months for protests. He has designed Toad T-shirts, Toad postcards.

"Mr. Toad always was my favorite," he said. "Even people who hate Disney can't resist getting hit by a train and going to hell."

A retired Orlando bookkeeeper, who asked to be identified only as Eve, rode the last ride Monday because she had ridden Mr. Toad the day the ride opened in 1971. What she recalled most about that day though, wasn't Mr. Toad, but a handsomer movie star.

"I saw Rock Hudson," she said. "He wouldn't give an autograph, but he was really tall."
All content ©1998 Orlando Sentinel.