Helping to kick off the Halloween season at Walt Disney World, many of Disney’s most villainous villains emerged from the shadows at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for a special Friday the 13th event. It was called Unleash the Villains, one of the few Limited Time Magic offerings revealed when year-long promotion was first announced many months ago.
Since then, fans of Disney’s darker side have been highly anticipating this frightful evening. And when the night of nasties finally rolled around, tens of thousands those fans descended upon the park in what proved to be an extraordinarily crowded, but exceptionally exciting night.
The festivities began at 7pm with an hour-long dance party in front of the park’s iconic Sorcerer hat with tunes spun by DJ Iggnite, already packed with hundreds of eager guests awaiting the arrival of the sinister stars.
The event was such a big draw that the Disney’s Hollywood Studios parking lot was completely full by 7:30pm, with guests directed to park at Epcot and bus over until the park reached capacity shortly thereafter. The gates eventually did reopen, but not before hefty traffic jams around Disney’s roads tested many guests’ patience. Ultimately, those who did get in were treated to some particularly excellent entertainment.
The villains were indeed unleashed in an elaborate stage show hosted by “Hercules” favorites Megara, Panic (Pain didn’t make it til later), and Hades in his first appearance as face character. Each of the 13 villain honorees of the night were introduced individually, many commonly seen around Walt Disney World’s parks on a daily basis. But huge cheers from the crowd came when rare villains Oogie Boogie (from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”) and Shan-Yu (from “Mulan”) were brought out, to many onlookers’ surprise.
Video: Unleash the Villains full stage show at Walt Disney World
At the end of the show, a one time only photo opportunity was presented with all the villains on stage at once before they split up across two areas of the park for the remainder of the night.
Those who stayed by the stage enjoyed live music from the park’s band Mulch, Sweat, and Sheers mixed in with more DJ dance party sets. Dr. Facilier, Frollo, Ratcliffe, Captain Hook, the Big Bad Wolf, Sheriff of Nottingham, and Cruella de Vil made occasional appearances, passing through the partying crowd, posing for quick pictures, and even boogying a bit themselves.
But the majority of guests packed into a relatively tiny area across Echo Lake where Disney set up side-by-side-by-side photo stations for a rotating cast of villains. There things got a little crazy.
As soon as word had gotten out earlier in the day that rare characters were going to be part of this villainous occasion, some guests began lining up hours in advance. Eventually it was revealed that each station would have two characters rotating in 30 minute sets: Shan-Yu and the Evil Queen, Oogie Boogie and Jafar, and Bowler Hat Guy and Maleficent.
Despite taped directional lines added to pathways to indicate lines, when thousands of guests all poured into this area at once following the stage show, chaos took control - perhaps appropriate for an event surrounding Disney’s villains. The area was packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the hot, humid weather, with many guests and cast members alike unsure how the meet-and-greets would take place. No signs were posted indicating which characters would show up in which locations at which times and hopeful onlookers were frequently surprised to learn the queue to meet the villains wrapped clear around the lake, requiring hours of waiting just for a quick photo op.
Some heated words were initially exchanged as Disney brought out the more common characters first, Queen, Jafar, and Maleficent, requiring those who already waited hours to see Oogie Boogie or Shan-Yu to step aside and let others pass by. But ultimately everyone got the hang of how the system was working and decided whether they wanted to stand in line for the rest of the night or just spy on the villains from nearby.
Those who did wait were all smiles when they finally stepped up face-to-face with the characters, with Oogie Boogie easily being the biggest star of the evening. The last time the bag of bugs was seen in Disney’s parks was at Disneyland in California in 2003 at a special Haunted Mansion Holiday event, so this was indeed a rare treat.
Video: Unleash the Villains character meet-and-greets and party
Video: Rare Oogie Boogie character meet-and-greet during Unleash the Villains event
Much like with the Long Lost Friends Limited Time Magic events, to keep the lines moving quickly no character autographs were being signed. Instead, character attendants were handing out pre-printed autograph cards to those who asked for them featuring the signatures of all 13 villains across two different cards.
As a grand finale to the evening at 11pm, Hades returned to the stage to introduce the Villainy in the Sky fireworks show, created exclusively for the Unleash the Villains event. The huge show lit up the sky with an unbelievable number of bursts set to familiar villain themes, bookended by a bit of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Many of those who saw it agree it was one of Disney’s best fireworks shows to date.
Video: Full “Villainy in the Sky” fireworks show
Though Disney was serving special alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks throughout the evening (attracting consistently long lines), the food supply ran dry late in the evening. By midnight, all food service shut down in the park, leaving many hungry patrons despite there still being around an hour left of the event - advertised to continue until the “13th hour” of 1 a.m.
The year-long Limited Time Magic promotion has had its ups and downs, with its character-driven events proving to be among the most popular. Fans have been calling for Disney to create a nighttime Villains-based event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for years, even since the park was known as Disney-MGM Studios. Disney surely has seen the extreme popularity of this Friday the 13th event and ought to take note of just how beloved their bad guys are, at least as much as their often-celebrated princesses.
It’s been rumored that some of these rarer characters may show up again when the Tower of Terror 10-miler run takes place in a couple weeks. But beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Disney will decide to host another villain bash or simply hide these fan favorites back in the shadows from which they emerged.
More photos from the Unleash the Villains event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: