Happy Friday the 13th everyone! It hasn’t been a Friday the 13th in September since 2013, which got me to thinking about the very first event that Disney threw dedicated to the Disney Villains, Unleash the Villains. Part of the Limited Time Magic campaign, this event was held on Friday September 13th, 2013 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Advertised to have meet and greets, a special stage show, merchandise, dance party, rock show and a special night time spectacular Villainy in the Sky. It was primed to be an amazing night. So why is this night considered by some to have been a complete disaster? I was there that night and it was the worst time I have ever spent at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Between the crowds, lack of character opportunities and poor planning, this event was a train wreck at every conceivable fashion. But what made it such a cluster that caused a lot of people to not enjoy it?
This was 2013 Disney’s Hollywood Studios, so it had lots of usable space with nothing in it, but did not have the widest of walkways or largest parking lot compared to something like Epcot of Magic Kingdom. So to have an event that was open to everyone with ANY annual pass, park hopper ticket, day ticket they used at Studios or main gate meant that you were going to be in for a compact night. There were parking issues for not only guests, but also Cast Members. The most notable example being the Cast Member who was playing Pain in the opening show was late because of traffic. On top of delaying the show a good 15 minutes, they were down one character because the Cast Member was unable to get to work because of all the traffic. They even mentioned it in the show.
A further cause of concern was the fact that everything related to the event was held at the Echo Lake and Center Stage area of Hollywood Studios. So you were putting pretty much the entire park count in one area of the park that is not designed to have that many people. Even worse was that at this point, Studios didn’t have the most seasoned parade audience control cast. They were great loading theaters and I would say are probably the best of any Disney park I’ve gone to. But there was a huge learning curve compared to here versus the modern day Hollywood Studios. So they didn’t have the best control on managing the long lines and large mobs of people into designated spaces. It basically turned into herding cattle.
Of all the parks, Studios had the lowest park capacity compared to the other parks. A big factor in what makes up capacity is not only space to put people, but also how many rides the park has and how big the queue lines are for them. Studios, having the least amount of ride circa 2013 and not a whole lot of walking space, had the lowest capacity of the 4 parks. And with that in mind, see location points above as to why having it in two areas specifically and not utilizing Streets of America was a bad idea of epic proportions. To cap it off, the parking lot reached capacity by 5, people were being redirected to Epcot to park. Studios wasn’t utilized to it’s best with the event. You felt like a sardine most of the time.
The big selling point of the event was that there would be 13 Villain characters at the event, with some being rare and one was debuting. This is one part that I will say they really did well in. The event had your standards like Cruella De Ville, The Evil Queen, Jafar and Maleficent. But they also brought out Big Bad Wolf, Bowler Hat Guy, Shan-Yu, Governor Ratcliff and face Hades (who didn’t meet). But the absolute biggest reaction came from the newly created Oogie-Boogie character. It’s a shame that the meet and greet set up was handled poorly. They had 6 of the 13 characters that were either the most popular or the more rare (or both) regulated to only be able to be met by Echo Lake. So naturally, lines reached close to 3 hours for them and you couldn’t even tell which line was for which character due to lack of signs and it being a blob of people. Great idea on paper, wait scratch that, terrible idea and paper and even worse in execution.
Villain fans are known to be very passionate. Disney rarely brings them out or makes a lot of merchandise for them. So anytime it happens, they will come to it in droves. To have an event dedicated to them with meet and greets, merchandise and a special fireworks show, “Villainy in the Sky,” that they only did one other time (for the next and last villain event at Studios) you are bound to get every fan in a 200 mile radius of Walt Disney World. And as mentioned earlier, they did come by the truck loads. Most people were nice, but understandably frustrated. Apparently some people didn’t realize that a free special event would draw a large crowd.
So those are just some of my opinions on why this event was poorly managed. Obviously it got a little repetitive, but there weren’t a whole lot of issues. It’s just that ones they had were large and muddled the experience. I will say that the fireworks show that took place is one of my favorites Disney has ever done, and seeing all the villains in one area was really neat and something you don’t get to see all that often. But between the crowds and people, it made for a night that didn’t allow for everyone to do more than one or two things. Disney would later try this out the following year with Villains Unleashed, a special ticket event at Studios which somehow managed to be even worse due to some technical issues and overselling the event, even with more options and spreading everyone out through the park. To put it perspective on how bad it was, most places ran out of food.
But there is a silver lining to this, Disney has shown that Studios can properly host a special ticket event. The Star Wars Galactic Nights events have always been great and manageable and even the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler after party events did something similar to Villains Unleashed on a smaller scale and was ran much smoother. There is proof that you CAN hold these types of events at Studios. Holding it now may be a little harder at Studios given the new layout of the park, but with enough planning I think it could happen.
Who knows what the future of special ticket events will be for Walt Disney World. There seems to be a big push on the Disney After Hours category and some of the special nights like the Villains on at MK or 90’s Night at Disneyland shows that there is still a demand for these themed events that don’t have Halloween or Christmas in the title. Hopefully we can get more of them down the line, and maybe even a redo of a villains event at Studios. But for now, Unleash the Villains will go down as a very unlucky event for Hollywood Studios.