Secret code Disney theme park staff use to describe rude visitors

DISNEY theme parks might be a place where dreams come true for guests, but they can also be a nightmare for the staff.

The behaviour of some visitors can be so bad, workers have come up with a special name to describe them.

If a visitor is particularly rude or disruptive, staff will refer to them as a “treasured guest”, The Sun reports.

It’s necessary because Disney has rules against employees using negative or insulting language in front of customers.

There’s a special name for unpleasant guests at Disney theme parks. Picture: Supplied

And it isn’t the only code used by employees — they also have a secret phrase for other unpleasant incidents.

For instance, when a guest vomits somewhere in the park — a common occurrence when fast rides and fast food are combined — it is called a “protein spill”.

If a protein spill takes place, staff will be called to a “code V” situation.

On the Disney Cruise Line, staff also have a phrase for when someone pees in the swimming pool — it’s called a “Code Winnie”.

There’s a lot that can go wrong in the happiest place on earth. Picture: Jacqueline Nell/Disneyland Resort via Getty Images

But one of the most unsettling phrases is used when a guest illegally tries to scatter someone’s ashes at a Disney park, which happens more often than you’d think.

As the parks are often sentimental places to people, there have been several instances each year of visitors attempting to spread a loved one’s ashes somewhere on site, including on a ride.

When that happens, a “white powder alert” is announced and a staff member is immediately sent to clear up the ashes and the ride is halted.

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Disney CEO Is Taking Business Disruption Seriously

“Once upon a time” might be a popular way to kick off fairy tales, but looking to the past is no way to run a multi-billion-dollar business.

Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Co. told an audience last week that the entertainment giant has been taking new steps to address the forces disrupting various parts of its operations.

“I think the most important thing one has to do when they’re contending with change is to admit that it’s occurring and to assess very carefully what the impact of the change is on all the businesses,” Iger said during the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2017 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference.

Iger said that at a board retreat in June, Disney decided to have each unit present to the board of directors how their business were being disrupted and how they were dealing with that.

“It was great for the business unit heads because it got a further commitment to recognizing the change, embracing the change and doing something about it,” he said. “What emerged from that meeting, which didn’t surprise us, is that if you look at change and disruption across all of the Disney businesses — from parks and resorts to motion picture business, to theme parks, to media — the most dramatic change or the biggest impact from disruption is being felt by the media networks.”

This year’s financial results will reflect some upheaval. Iger said during the conference that earnings per share for fiscal 2017 — which ends in a couple of weeks — will be roughly in line with results from the previous year. That’s due in large part to costs at ESPN and the lack of a big Star Wars movie this year.

Even though the theme parks and resorts division had a “tremendous” year, it is ending with some turbulence. Hurricane Irma, which hit the Florida Keys Sunday morning and worked its way north, forced the company to close its four Orlando-area theme parks Sunday and Monday. Other operators in Central Florida — including Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens, and Legoland — also shut down.

Iger said late last week, days before the storm reached Florida, that Disney had already seen some impact in the form of cancellations in Orlando and cruises that had to be called off or shortened.

SHANGHAI DISNEY WILL HELP FINANCIALS

But 2018 should be better, Iger said, attributing some of that anticipated improvement to having another year with Shanghai Disney Resort up and running.

The resort, which opened in June of 2016, has been “nicely profitable” in its first year — which Iger called “a big deal.” More than 13 million people have visited so far, and an expansion to add a Toy Story land in the spring is already underway. There is more land available for additional expansion.

“We’ve been talking with our partners in Shanghai about that expansion, what it will be and when it will come, but it’s enormous opportunity for the company on top of what has already been an enormous success,” Iger said.

The Disney brand has experienced a halo effect in China, he said, which creates additional opportunities for other parts of the business — and for more parks.

“Ultimately, it opens up more possibilities in terms of other theme parks on the mainland, but we’re way early for that,” Iger said.

MORE LANDS

Disney is already considering more versions of its latest addition, Pandora — The World of Avatar, which opened in May at Animal Kingdom. Iger said the new land has been a big success that has transformed the park. One new ride, Avatar Flight of Passage, is now the highest-rated attraction at Walt Disney World, he said.

“So it’s been a great investment for us, and we have rights to build other Pandora lands at other parks,” Iger said. “So we think that given the success that we’ve seen and the fact that Jim Cameron will eventually get a movie out, there’s some other opportunities there.”

Much of the investment recently at Disney parks has been centered around brands that Disney acquired in recent years including Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars.

A Toy Story land is opening in the spring in Orlando, and Star Wars lands will open in California and Orlando in 2019. The company has already said that the California location will open first; Iger said that one will be finished during fiscal 2019, while the Orlando land will be ready later in the calendar year.

“They are huge and I think very exciting in terms of how we’re using technology to create really interesting attractions and experiences,” Iger said.

A roller coaster based on Guardians of the Galaxy is also coming to Epcot in Orlando as part of an overhaul of that park, and a new Marvel land is moving in to California Adventure Park.

“So there’s a lot going on, clearly,” Iger said. “Given our margin expansion in that business and given the incredibly strong increase in return on invested capital in that space, which just come mostly from putting capital into franchises and branded content, our returns have been better. We feel the investment that we’re making in capital in that business domestically and internationally is a good investment for the company, a good growth strategy.”

AIRBNB-TYPE DISRUPTION

That strategy includes investing in the hotel business, which is not immune from disruption. Iger acknowledged that evolving consumer behavior when it comes to lodging and competition from other players are forcing Disney to take a more creative approach to its hotel business.

“You have to consider a lot of competition in the marketplace — some disruption, modest, but Airbnb-type disruption,” he said. “And more competition. Clearly, Universal has been in an expansive mode fairly recently.”

Disney and Universal both have an interest in getting visitors to stay on resort property, where they stay longer and spend more on food, drinks, and merchandise. Disney has far more options for guests who want to stay onsite, but Iger said the company also differentiates itself by putting intellectual property, or IP, into hotels. The company earlier this year announced an immersive Star Wars-themed hotel for the Orlando resort.

“As we expand, we’re expanding to strengthen our competitive position,” he said. “The Star Wars hotel is maybe one example of building IP into a hotel experience….You just have to look at this as part of a whole and, in part, as a means of contending with more competition in the space.”

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Disneyland fans gripe about Shanghai Disney’s free digital Fastpass, which costs $10 in Anaheim

Visitors to the Shanghai Disney Resort in China will soon get to use a smartphone app to reserve a time to visit their favorite attraction without waiting in a long line — at no additional cost.

But some Disney fans are irked because the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim launched a similar app in July at a cost of $10 a day. The difference between the two is that the Disneyland app — called Maxpass — comes with free downloads of photos taken by park staff. The Shanghai app does not.

Some Disney fans are complaining online, saying the photo downloads aren’t worth the extra fee. They also say cellphone and Wi-Fi service in the Anaheim parks is often weak, which hinders app use.

“It’s just the latest money grab,” wrote a Disney fan who goes by @RobertofDisney on Twitter. “There’s no reason it shouldn’t be free.”

Both the Disneyland resort in Anaheim and the park in Shanghai have Fastpass kiosks throughout the parks where visitors can get a paper ticket that reserves a time later in the day to visit a ride without waiting in a long line.

With the digital systems, visitors can reserve a time to visit the ride using the Disney app without having to visit the kiosks.

In Anaheim, visitors can make reservations through the app to 16 rides at Disneyland and California Adventure Park.

At the Disney resort in Shanghai, the app makes reservations for seven rides. It is expected to be offered starting this fall. 

In both parks, guests can continue to get paper tickets from the Fastpass kiosks.

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Disney has to get a whopping 32 million subscribers for its Netflix competitor to break even, according to UBS

The war over your streaming video dollars is ramping up, and Disney is going to have to make major subscriber gains to break even after charging headlong into the fray, according to new analysis from UBS.

On Thursday, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that Marvel and ‘Star Wars’ movies would appear on Disney’s upcoming Netflix competitor, a streaming service that will debut in late 2019.

The service will also include Disney and Pixar films, as well as exclusive content to the tune of 4-5 live-action movies (already in development), 4-5 TV series, and 3-4 TV movies. All that is in addition to a back catalog of 400-500 movies and around 7,000 episodes of TV.

In short: It’s a ton of content — and expensive content at that.

This means Disney will be making a substantial upfront investment in the new service, and as a result, will need to show impressive subscriber numbers to please shareholders.

This investment is “both intriguing from a build the future growth of the company perspective, but also daunting in terms of the amount of lost third-party revenue,” UBS analysts led by Doug Mitchelson wrote in a note distributed Friday.

UBS pointed out that Disney’s film TV licensing alone is worth $2 billion a year, and that its streaming licensing through services like Netflix is worth approximately $500 million. That’s a lot of ground to make up.

How much ground? “Disney will need 32 million global subscribers just to break even at $9 per month,” UBS wrote.

The landscape

Disney may own the most compelling intellectual property on the planet, but 32 million subscribers is still a high bar.

Earlier this year, Netflix crossed the 100 million global subscriber mark. But it’s the outlier in the streaming industry. HBO Now, the company’s streaming service, was at around 3.5 million subscribers (including add-on subscriptions from places like Amazon) this summer, according to the Financial Times. CBS CEO Les Moonves said his company’s streaming services, CBS All Access and Showtime, would combine for over 4 million subscribers by the end of the year.

Those kinds of numbers make Disney’s task seem like a tall order. UBS, however, has some faith.

“While [32 million subscribers] is not a stretch at all given our bullish expectations for the  growth in the SVOD [streaming video] marketplace globally, it certainly creates greater EPS [earnings] uncertainty for the next several years during a period where investors are already nervous about secular trends for ESPN.”

Here is the full breakdown from UBS:

Screen Shot 2017 09 08 at 11.09.28 AMUBS

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Could the Next Britney and Justin Be Among Disney’s Rebooted Mickey Mouse Club Cast?

On Friday, Disney introduced the world to its new crop of Mouseketeers. The Mickey Mouse Club — best known for producing stars like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling and Justin Timberlake — is being revived after a two-decade hiatus. The new cast puts forward eight rising talents as part of the re-branded “Club Mickey Mouse.” Teens Sean, Leanne, Will, Gabe, Jenna, Brianna, Regan and Ky are a diverse group hailing from around the U.S. (and, in Ky’s case, Australia). They’re singers, dancers and generally bold personalities, if their introduction video is any indication. And judging by the success of their forebears, it would be wise to keep an eye on these teens as they find their way into the spotlight.

Unlike the previous iteration of the Disney program, Club Mickey Mouse isn’t a show: it’s an “always-on digital- and social-first variety program.” All of the content that the cast produces will exist on Instagram and Facebook with plenty of livestreams included, and over seven weeks, they’ll produce a weekly musical performance and music video — plus share behind-the-scenes access to their creation process. They’ll also be mentored by social media influencers Todrick Hall and Alisha Marie along the way.

“It’s programmed specifically for social media audiences who want to follow the kids’ journey just as they would follow their friends’ stories,” explained Andrew Sugerman, Executive Vice President of Publishing and Digital Media at Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, in a release about the new format. “From the original cast of Mousketeers to the pop power of the 1990’s ‘Mickey Mouse Club,’ this franchise has always discovered, nurtured, and incubated original talent who have gone on to do great things and make a real impact on culture.”

Indeed, Disney has continued to serve as the training ground for many of today’s biggest stars, even if they missed the Mickey Mouse Club era. (See: Selena GomezDemi LovatoZac Efron.) Only time will tell if these eight have what it takes to join their ranks.

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Mickey and Minnie flee Irma: Disney closes its theme parks for the fifth time in history as the powerful Category 5 hurricane barrels towards Florida

Several Disney theme parks in Orlando will shut down Saturday as the brunt of Hurricane Irma is expected to swoop the Sunshine State this weekend.

The announcement was made to the company’s official website, and counts as the fifth time in history the resorts officially closed since Walt Disney World first opened nearly 45 years ago.

Disney evacuated just four times prior — twice in 1999 for Hurricanes Frances and Floyd and again in 2004 for Hurricane Jean. Back in October, the resort shut down in preparation for Hurricane Matthew. Resorts were also closed after September 11.

Parks that will close Saturday include: Universal Studios, Typhoon Lagoon, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom Park, Fort Wilderness, Blizzard Beach, Hollywood Studios, Disney Springs, Epcot and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

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Hurricane Irma is driving toward Florida passing the eastern end of Cuba as Hurricane Katia (L) is also seen in this satellite image taken at 1737 EDT (2137 GMT) on September 8, 2017

Hurricane Irma is driving toward Florida passing the eastern end of Cuba as Hurricane Katia (L) is also seen in this satellite image taken at 1737 EDT (2137 GMT) on September 8, 2017

Mickey and Minnie Mouse characters on stage in the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida

Mickey and Minnie Mouse characters on stage in the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida

Several Disney theme parks in Orlando will shut down Saturday as the brunt of Hurricane Irma is expected to hit Florida the worst this weekend

Several Disney theme parks in Orlando will shut down Saturday as the brunt of Hurricane Irma is expected to hit Florida the worst this weekend

Other parks said to be shutting down are Legoland, SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Discovery Cove, Aquatica Orlando and Adventure Island.

Most of the attractions will remain closed through Monday and later depending on weather conditions.

A spokesman for the Universal Orlando Resort told the Orlando Sentinel in an email that visitors are encouraged to reschedule planned trips to the parks and ask for refunds.

‘We have an affirmative, no-questions-asked policy for guests who tell us they want to change plans or seek a refund because of a named storm involving the Orlando area or where they are traveling from,’ Universal’s Tom Schroder told the newspaper.

This Thursday, Sept. 8, 2017 photo shows storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Virgin Gorda's Leverick Bay in the British Virgin Islands

This Thursday, Sept. 8, 2017 photo shows storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Virgin Gorda’s Leverick Bay in the British Virgin Islands

Flagler street in the heart of downtown is empty as people boarded up their business and now await the arrival of Hurricane Irma on September 8, 2017 in Miami, Florida

Flagler street in the heart of downtown is empty as people boarded up their business and now await the arrival of Hurricane Irma on September 8, 2017 in Miami, Florida

This Thursday, Sept. 8, 2017 photo shows boats washed ashore in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands

This Thursday, Sept. 8, 2017 photo shows boats washed ashore in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands

This Thursday, Sept. 8, 2017 photo shows storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands

This Thursday, Sept. 8, 2017 photo shows storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands

Disney has encouraged guests staying at resorts to seek other accommodations.

DISNEY PARKS HAVE ONLY SHUT DOWN A HANDFUL OF TIMES IN ALL OF HISTORY

Walt Disney theme parks evacuated in 2001 following the September 11 attack due to national safety concerns, particularly in places with large crowds

The parks also shut down twice in 1999 for Category 4 Hurricanes Frances and Floyd which ravaged areas of Florida

The theme park closed for Category 3 Hurricane Jean in 2004 which was said to be the deadliest of its season

Back in October, the resort also closed in preparation for Category 5 Hurricane Matthew

‘We cannot guarantee resort amenities or access to electricity during severe weather,’ Schroder said.

‘Guests can reschedule trips and reservations without cancellation fees, and provided the county’s information hotline for shelters, which is 863-401-2234, or www.polk-county.net,’ according to the Sentinel.

Officials at SeaWorld in Florida have also issued emergency plans for the weekend.

‘We’re providing support and temporary housing for animals from other zoological facilities in coastal areas expected to have greater impact,’ SeaWorld’s statement read.

‘Guests are encouraged to check our websites and follow our social media channels for more updates.’

Hurricane Irma was initially downgraded from Category 5 to Category 4 early Friday, but as of Friday evening, it was predicted to hit as Category 5.

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How Disney Is Redefining The Word ‘Princess’ And Daring Girls To Dream Big

Once upon a time, your basic, average storybook princess was the emblem of every little girl’s dreams. She wore pretty dresses. She spoke sweetly. Then she fell into Danger’s hands, and was saved by a brave prince, who made all her dreams come true.

Today, Disney is evolving the image of the princess, and inspiring girls to do more through the #DreamBigPrincess campaign, showcasing the work of 20 female photographers from around the world, who have created photos of young women and girls who inspire them to make their dreams come to fruition in their own unique way.

Four of the photographers who participated in the initiative shared with me what they’ve learned from the girls they photographed, and how they push forward to reach their own personal and creative goals. Here’s what they had to say:

Disregard Societal Limits 

Disney/Paula Bronstein

BAMIYAN, AFGHANISTAN:
The women’s biking team rides during a 6am early morning practice outside of Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Zakia Mohammadhi (front) organizes and coaches the team who ride daily either early morning and after school and work in the late afternoon.

Award-winning American photojournalist Paula Bronstein photographed 23-year old Zakia Mohammadhi , the leader of her own local women’s cycling team in Afghanistan, who was inspired to teach other younger women in her village to cycle when she saw them without public transportation to get to school.

“I was so impressed by the passion and determination and pure stamina that Zakia and her team have to reach their goals in the sporting world as Afghan women,” says Bronstein. “Zakia doesn’t let anything get in her way to follow her dreams. We can all learn from that.”

When asked what drives her to tell stories about women across the globe, Bronstein said she’s always “a fan of telling stories about individuals that challenge or redefine the status quo.”

“Whether it’s characters like Princess Merida, who went against all the norms to venture out on her own or real-life heroes like Zakia, who don’t let society define or limit them, there is something special about showcasing stories that prove that anything is possible ,” she says.

Lead with Optimism and Consistency  

Disney/Lulu Liao

Rong Jing overcame a childhood bout of polio to become a fencing champion, winning a gold medal in 2012 at the London Paralympics. Rong also represented China in the 2016 Rio Paralympics, serving as the country’s flag bearer in the Opening Ceremony and winning three additional gold medals.

Chinese photographer Lulu Liao captured this stunning shot of Rong Jing, a member of China’s wheelchair fencing team.

“Despite her physical imperfection, Rong didn’t give up her dream, and she never missed a single training in 12 years,” shares Liao. “Her optimism, hard work, perseverance, and efforts have won her several world championships.”

In 2015, Rong won two gold medals at the United Arab Emirates World Cup wheelchair fencing competition. The following year, she represented China in the Rio Paralympics, serving as the country’s flag bearer in the Opening Ceremony. In Rio, in the Paralympic Women’s Foil A-level individual tournament finals, Rong Jing triumphed over China Hong Kong players Yu Cui-yi by a score of 15 to 8.

“China is a country with a huge population, and women compose a big part of it,” says Lio. “As a female photographer myself, I put a lot of attention to the problems and solutions for women in life. I hope the voice of this group is heard and many of the issues can be addressed. “

Look How Far You’ve Come, And Have Gratitude

Disney/Cristina Mittermeier

Ta’Kaiya Blaney is a 15-year-old high school student from the Tla’Amin First Nation on Vancouver Island, in BC, Canada. Ta’Kaiya has performed and spoken at grass-roots Indigenous gatherings and rallies and at International conferences and forums across the globe. In 2014, Ta’Kaiya was the youngest keynote speaker for Powershift, an annual global youth summit focusing on climate change policy, at Pittsburg, P.A. and Victoria, B.C.

Cristina Mittermeir, photographed Ta’Kaiya Blaney, the youngest person to ever speak at the United Nations. At 15, Ta’Kaiya, a student at First Nation on Vancouver Island, in BC, Canada has performed and spoken at grass-roots, indigenous events across the globe.

“As a photographer, a writer, a mother of three, and a marine biologist I believe that dreaming big is the only way to dream,” says Mittermeir. “I’m inspired to share stories from girls that have an innate calling to decide for themselves who they want to be.”

She adds that the biggest lesson she’s learned from the women and girls she photographs is gratitude.

“I am so grateful to have been born in a place where I could aspire to an education, safety, happiness; to make my own choices and to be able to dream as big as I dared,” she shares. “I am also grateful to be strong enough to accept the enormous responsibility that comes from having had these privileges; to make sure that girls with lesser opportunities also have a chance to dream as big as they can.”

Remember to Play 

Disney/Luisa Dorr

Sol Silva started surfing in the summer of 2016 when she started to take part in a surf social project called Escolinha de Pé de Serra Surf. Determined to succeed at the sport, she dedicated her afternoons to surfing. Today, she is a regular participant at surf championships in the region, and at only age 11, is often the youngest to compete.

Luisa Dorr of Brazil photographed 11-year-old surfer Sol Silva.

I was so impressed by Sol, who dream about becoming the first female world-champion surfer from Brazil,” says Dorr. “Throughout our time together as part of the Disney #DreamBigPrincess campaign, Sol radiated determination and dedication to her sport and her strength and sense of self-awareness were inspiring.”

When asked what she does to achieve her own aspirations, Bronstein said: “Whenever I want to reach something, I try to see it not as a dream but as a challenge. To me, the best way to fulfill dreams is to see them as fun games that you play in life.”

The #DreamBigPrincess campaign kicked off August 15, and is running until October 11 to raise funds for The United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up Campaign, which promotes leadership in girls. 

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Walt Disney World and more Orlando theme parks might close because of Hurricane Irma – but families won’t necessarily lose out

It looks like Orlando’s biggest theme parks including Walt Disney World and Universal Studios could be closing within the next few days as Hurricane Irma draws ever closer to Florida.

The terrifying storm is currently making its way across the Caribbean, but officials at the American state have already started evacuating holiday hotspots including Florida Keys .

Although it’s not yet clear whether the theme park will be in the hurricane’s path, it’s unlikely that no precautions will be taken.

In fact, Disney has already had to tweak the itineraries of some cruises on its Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy ships , with some journeys having to be cut short or cancelled altogether.

It wouldn’t be the first time Walt Disney World closed due to a storm – last year it was forced to close its doors after Hurricane Matthew passed Florida’s east coast.

Reaching winds of up to 185mph, Hurricane Irma has already been declared a Category 5 storm, and some experts think it could even exceed the maximum theoretical intensity and deserve its own Category 6 status.

Walt Disney World could close until Hurricane Irma passes (Image: Splash News)

However even if the parks do remain open, families who are worried about travelling won’t lose out if they choose to avoid Orlando until the storm passes.

In fact, when a hurricane warning is issued by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) for the Orlando area, or your place of residence, within 7 days of your arrival date Disney World will let you reschedule or cancel your trip, without any extra fees .

This includes both holiday packages and room-only reservations, but you need to call in advance, and the policy includes holidays booked directly with Disney only.

(Image: Rex Features)

Holidaymakers who have booked via a third party will need to liaise directly with the firm, who may have their own regulations or additional fees.

Universal Studios offers a similar policy on its hotels and theme park tickets, also provided there’s a hurricane warning issued by the NHC for the Orlando area/your place of residence no more than 7 days before your scheduled arrival.

This doesn’t include extra elements such as air travel, car rental or other theme park tickets.

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Disney slammed over its decision to cast a white actor in live-action remake of Aladdin

DISNEY is being slammed over its decision to cast a white actor in the upcoming live-action remake of Aladdin, with a number of people taking to social media and accusing the studio giant of “whitewashing” the film’s plot.

It follows the announcement that Billy Magnussen, who played a prince in Disney’s Into the Woods, was slated to play Prince Anders, who was not a character in the 1992 animated version.

The Telegraph reported that Magnussen’s character would be Aladdin’s rival to winning over Princess Jasmine’s heart.

Social media critics have slammed the casting decision, with someone tweeting: “Should #actor Billy Magnussen step down as ‘Prince Anders’ the newly created white character in #Aladdin?”

“Why did they add a white prince to #Aladdin? This is going to be a disaster,” another Twitter user wrote.

The original animated Disney film was based on an Arab-style folktale and depicted the characters as being of Middle Eastern descent.

The upcoming live-action film has already been criticised for its casting.

Disney was slammed for casting British actress Naomi Scott, who has Indian heritage, to play Jasmine, a Middle Eastern princess, according to the independent.

The film, which was set to be directed by Madonna’s former husband, Guy Ritchie, does not have a release date yet.

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Magic Kingdom legacy cast member recalls walks with Walt Disney, Imagineer father

Darlene Kingsley grew up the daughter of a Disneyland Imagineer, and some of her favorite childhood memories are of holding Walt Disney’s hand — Uncle Walt, as she called him — on her regular visits to the park.

“This was that person you always felt comfortable to talk with,” she said. “… That was the norm for me.”

Her grandparents also worked for Disney, and so did the family cat, whose likeness appears in the parks today. So it’s no surprise that Kingsley’s dream was to work there, too.

These days, Kingsley, 58, is in guest relations, leading tours around Magic Kingdom. She has worked off and on at Disney World since she was hired as a ticket taker in 1977.

“She has been a living, breathing legacy since the moment she came into Walt Disney Resort,” said her supervisor, Nathaniel Palma.

Kingsley takes pride in her colorful stories, but they aren’t the first thing she brings up with tour participants. When it feels right, though, Kingsley shares her unique connection with Disney, Palma said.

“She’s very humble so at first she doesn’t tell the full story,” said Palma, who peppered her with questions to learn more details about her past.

One of her favorite stories is her talks and walks with Walt Disney, who she said seemed sincere in asking the little girl about her adventures exploring the park, Kingsley recalled.

“He never rushed me along, like it was just him and I,” said Kingsley.

It’s rare for Disney World employees to have had encounters with Walt Disney, who died before his Orlando park opened in 1971.

But “that’s all I knew,” Kingsley said.

Her father, Lawrence Roberts, worked at Disneyland as a Jungle Cruise skipper until he was plucked into the job of imagineer by Walt Disney himself.

After his promotion, Roberts helped build scenes for It’s A Small World in the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair and designed a harness so Tinker Bell and Mary Poppins could glide into the air, Kingsley said.

At the dinner table, he told stories about his day at work — a job he loved but was often frustrated with as he worked on rides that were constantly evolving and changing.

Kingsley’s grandmother supervised custodians at Disneyland; her grandfather built parts for the attractions in the machine shop.

The Kingsleys’ cat also joined the family’s list of cast members. In the mid-1960s, Walt Disney needed a cat for inspiration for the animatronic felines, Kingsley recalls.

Her father volunteered Pandy — the family’s good-natured tabby.

“The cat came into the studios. They scared him, spooked him, watched him, took photos and they created the animatronic of my cat,” said Kingsley.

Kingsley sees Pandy in the two cats that are frozen in fear on a gravestone in the graveyard scene at the Haunted Mansion ride.

And in a more relaxed scene elsewhere in Magic Kingdom, two cats sit on crates in the company of a drunken pirate, just before the fiery village scene in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.

“Anytime I visit, my cat is right there,” said Kingsley of Ocoee. “It’s absolutely amazing.”

It’s not unheard of for Imagineers — Disney’s in-house creative team — to leave almost undetectable clues from their personal lives in their work, said Lou Mongello, who has written books about Disney’s history and trivia.

“Imagineers don’t sign their work,” Mongello said. “That’s a small way to leave their little mark.”

Kingsley’s co-workers chose the third-generation Disney employee for a company Legacy Award this year because of her passion and devotion.

Her guest relations job, the one she’s wanted since she was a child, has been fulfilling.

“I think because of my connection to Walt,” Kingsley said, “I know this is where I was going to be.”

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