What Happened to Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom?

It’s no secret that as Walt Disney was building Disneyland, he was tickled pink over the idea of using sleight of hand and the latest in technology to simulate real, immersive, fantastic experiences.  It’s one thing to sit in a theater and stare at a screen, or to “sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride” as you stare at static models mimicking some sort of event.  But Walt didn’t want just passive experiences. He wanted guests to get involved in the action.  But unless you have a live human (Or in the case of the Rainbow Ridge Pack Mules, stubborn and often cantankerous ungulates), having an attraction be a unique experience every time is just unreasonable.

But nowadays, it’s a far different story.  We now have small hyper computers in our pockets designed to do pretty much anything.  Sure, we use it to take photos of ourselves, watch videos of cats, argue with strangers, and maybe call one’s parents, but to even begin to comprehend the capability of what we can do with a smartphone when thirty years ago, this

Mmm… pixelated goodness.

…Was considered the zenith of computerized technology!

In 1963, people were struck by parrots that sung words while the flowers crooned.  In 1964, attendees of the New York World’s Fair were shook to see Abraham Lincoln stand and address the audience.  I’m sure at least SOMEone was impressed at the pixelated fun of DisneyQuest.  And to this day, Disney Imagineering  continues its dedication to making attractions more engaging, more interesting, more immersive, more realistic, and more…interactive.

In 2012, Walt Disney World sneakily kicked off a new attraction that had no track.  It had no audio-animatronics, no ride vehicles, and no show building.  Almost nothing about it changed the physical landscape of the Magic Kingdom.  But it was there, all the same.  It was called Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, and it goes almost completely overlooked by the average parkgoer at the park.  And boy, do I have some mixed feelings about it.  Not least of which is the fact the game’s logo looks conspicuously like the Smith and Wesson gun logo…

How should one feel about that, exactly?

You either check in at the kiosk in Liberty Square, across from Tiana and Naveen’s gazebo, or most likely, at the firehouse on the south end of Main Street U.S.A., adjacent to City Hall.  After handing you a small deck of cards, you are given a tutorial and the backstory:

Merlin, as we know and love him from 1963’s The Sword in the Stone, possesses a crystal that keeps the Magic Kingdom from being overtaken by malevolent forces.  Hades sends his minions Pain and Panic to steal the crystal so the Greek deity can make the Most Magical Place on Earth his new summer home.  Of course, the gremlins botch the job and shatter the crystal, sending shards all over the park.  Hades devises a new plan: hire a slew of Disney’s worst baddies to fetch the shards for him: Scar, Cruella DeVil, Ursula, Dr. Facilier, Yzma, Jafar, Ratcliffe, Maleficent, and Chernabog.  Of course, Merlin can only do so much, thus he enlists our aid to help him thwart the villains.  The spell cards are our only weapons, and so Merlin sends us to various portals (Read: windows) throughout Main Street, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Liberty Square, and Frontierland to combat the bad guys.

First, let’s talk the good stuff.

1. The Story.  The narrative is brilliant.  The ruler of the underworld is using his status to bargain, and in some cases, resurrect deceased villains to employ in his scheme for a cause that makes sense.  From Pain and Panic to Hades to Merlin to all the characters in each adventure, everyone is in character and it makes sense.

If I were to be nitpicky, the only one I’d say out of character is Jafar.  In the original Aladdin, Jafar was very reserved and stiff, largely to put on airs as a dignified advisor.  But in media since, that exterior has shed away to reveal a more stereotypical villain, cackling and actively getting involved.  But again, that’s much more of a nitpick than a legitimate complaint.  You still believe Ursula would double-cross Hades, or that Facilier would focus on getting revenge on Tiana, or even that Kuzco would lazily boss us around like errand boys and girls.

Pictured: Disney villain and Twitter villain.

2. The Voice Work.  As expected, when Disney could, they pulled in as many of their official voice actors for their respective characters as they could.  James Woods, Matt Frewer, And Bobcat Goldthwait as Hades, Panic, and Pain are obvious.  As are Keith David (Dr. Facilier), Jodi Benson (Ariel), Robert Guillaime (Rafiki), Patrick Warburton (Kronk), Cheech Marin (Banzai), Pat Carroll (Ursula), David Ogden Stiers (Ratcliffe), Jonathon Freeman (Jafar), Jenifer Lewis (Mama Odie), Gilbert Gottfried (Iago), Michael Leon-Wooley (Louis the alligator), Anika Noni-Rose (Tiana), and Irene Bedard (Pocahontas) are as familiar as ever.

But of course, due to expense, disagreements, or convenience, some of the replacements are still great.  Tress MacNeille, best loved in the Disney community as Chip and Gadget Hackwrench from Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers and the official voice of Daisy Duck, is a great replacement for Barbara Luddy’s Merriweather.  Jeff Bennett, a frequent character actor on Gargoyles and the voice of Johnny Bravo, channels the perfect flustered nature of Merlin.  James Horan nails the silky growl of Scar.  Philip Lawrence hits the perfect fussy  excitability of Sebastian.  Candi Milo sounds exactly like Eartha Kitt’s Yzma.  And after years of enduring the barely-passability of Dan Castellaneta as Robin Williams’ Genie, we have Jim Meskimen, who actually sounds kind of like Robin Williams!

So yeah.  Kudos on the casting!

Don’t laugh. Judy Hopps showed us a rabbit kick can take down a rhino.

3. The spell cards.  Part of the appeal many found in this game were the spell cards.  Like Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, or Magic: the Gathering, the game required the players to collect cards to deal out attack commands, and the cards themselves became collectibles and were dispersed with varying rarity. 

The spell attacks featured various Disney animation and Pixar characters with attacks like Grumpy’s Pummeling Pickaxe, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blaster, Belle’s Mountain Blizzard, and characters who rarely get much attention overall like Mr. Toad, Colonel Hathi, Dor-15, Lythos, Willie the Giant, Gopher, and even the Orange Bird! 

The game has you hold up the spell card of your choice, and hidden cameras scan the card, inducing a pretty sweet animation action to show the card taking effect.  My personal favorite was Dumbo’s Pink Elephants Parade, which unleashed a trippy collage that even includes what I recognized as the half-formed first pink elephant seen in the movie.

But arguably the best part (And I’m sure the biggest selling point to the bean counters) was the cards were valued as collector items.  In 1999, Disney kicked off the pin collecting and pin trading and it paid off in dividends.  Nowadays, pins are made of every Disney ride, show, character, movie, show, theatrical production, milestone, icon, and more.  And you can tell Disney has been aching like crazy to tap that well again and again.  Remember how they tried to make Vinylmations a thing?  But with the SOTMK cards, they seemed to inspire similar trading gatherings not unlike we used to see from the hobbyist pin traders that once set up shop at Epcot and Disney Springs pin centers.  Anything that can stoke gathering for this kind of camaraderie is always welcome, as far as I’m concerned.

Now, the not-so-good stuff…

1. WAY too much walking. Florida is known to be pretty merciless to the average theme park guest.  Temperatures in the summer can reach sweltering 90 degrees Fahrenheit and say nothing of the suffocating 75% humidity.  Even the hardiest patron can only go for so long traversing over asphalt, amid throngs bustling bodies during those grueling dog day afternoons.  At least in going between rides means usually going between air conditioned show buildings.  But Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is entirely outdoors, bereft of shade and places to sit, often involved waiting in queues, and only worked if you were willing to spend a few hours hoofing between lands…say nothing of when you inevitably go to the wrong portal and are forced to try to find the right one.  I mean, there’s only like, five per land but still

Imagine it’s one of those days. Even if you find that, at worst, just uncomfortable, add on whatever loads you’re carrying (Pin lanyard weighing on your neck, that bag of merchandise you’re holding, that big bottle of Dasani in the other hand, and of course those spell cards), and suddenly you’re juggling all your stuff because you’re standing in a queue of five people in the unforgiving Florida heat.

But that walking…oh geez, all that walking.  Credit where credit’s due, at least in places like Fantasyland, the portals are confined to the courtyard directly behind Cinderella Castle.  However, the area can be a bit of a bottleneck already, not helped by the stroller parking by the Castle Couture gift shop. In the liberty Square/Frontierland missions, you are likely to go from the portal at the Adventureland/Frontierland breezeway at Country Bear Jamboree all the way to the Hall of Presidents.  And it’s not like you can avoid it…well you can, as in, no one’s forcing you to play the game or play it all the way through.  What I mean is, in order to complete the game, you need to go to at least four separate portals per mission for nine missions.  That’s pretty taxing on any human being.

Two of these baddies you CAN’T fight.  Lame.

2. Failure to expand on the potential.  I was stoked to see this kind of game when it first went through the beta testing.  Disney created 70 cards, each with its own Disney character to generate an “attack”.  Some, like Bolt’s Super Bark, make sense.  But as the roster continued, their attacks were less physical attacks and more…inconveniences.  The Woozle’s Woozle Nightmare?  Ariel’s Bubble Attack?  Cinderella’s Magic Ribbon?  The Sugarplum Fairies’ Dewdrop Spiderweb?!  What ARE these? 

My main gripe is there were and still are a multitude of characters they haven’t tapped to make into cards, like live action characters such as Mary Poppins, Jack Sparrow, Dick Tracy, Tron, Zorro, Davy Crockett, or Jack Kelly.  No use of TV characters like Kim Possible, Agent P, Darkwing Duck, Jake Long, Goliath, Star Butterfly, Zummi Gummi, or GizmoDuck.  I’m fine with them not using Muppets, Marvel, or Star Wars…but even if given just the restriction of Disney animation and Pixar characters, here’s what I came up with, just off the top of my head alone:

Remy’s Cutlery Clash

Stitch’s Plasma Cannons

King Louie’s Overripe Onslaught

Tarzan’s Spear

Elliot’s Passamaquoddy Pyromania

Br’er Bear’s Club

Tigger’s Whoop-de-Dooper Loop-de-Looper Alley-Ooper Bounce

Panchito’s Pistoles

Willie the Whale’s High Note

Bongo’s Unicycle Spin

Captain Hook’s Cutlass Strike

Wart’s Excalibur

Madam Mim’s Purple Dragon Inferno

Kaa’s Hypnotic Stare

Scat Cat’s Rocking House Party

Marahuté’s Eagle Dive

Crush’s Current Crush

Taran’s Enchanted Sword

Wreck-it Ralph’s Fists of Fury

Baymax’s Rocket Fist

Maui’s Fishhook

There’s more I could add.  But you see my point?  Why did they only stop at 70 when there is great potential to expand the decks?  Well, they sort of did, but I’ll get to that in a moment…

Really, if I’m going to complain about failure to expand its potential, perhaps it’s in the attraction’s failure to add more missions.  See, gripe as I may abut how the game already has too much walking involved, the people involved fail to realize that the game can and should reach a certain niche market: the repeat visitor.  Walt Disney World is seen as a once-in-a-lifetime vacation destination, unlike the day trippers often seen at Disneyland (It’s for this reason why Haunted Mansion Holiday does not happen in Florida: what if someone comes and visits only once in their lifetime when the ride is closed for seasonal renovation?!).  But those once-in-a-lifetimers?  They’re not going to bother with a physically taxing game of Yu-Gi-Oh!: Magic Kingdom Edition, they’re going on Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Peter Pan’s Flight.  So with that in mind, why not cater to the locals?  Why not expand the decks?  Why not add more missions?

What if we could take on Edgar the Butler, Commander Rourke, and Ratigan on Main Street U.S.A.?  What if we could fight Shere Khan, Kaa, Te Kā, Clayton, and Captain Hook in Adventureland?  What if we could dish out attacks on Alameda Slim, the Headless Horseman, Madam Medusa, and Br’er Fox in Frontierland and Liberty Square?  What if we could get down and dirty with Madam Mim, the Queen of Hearts, the Wicked Queen, Gaston, Mother Gothel, Lady Tremaine, Stromboli, the Ringmaster, Heffalumps and Woozles, the Horned King, Frollo, or Hans of the Southern Isles in Fantasyland?  And have you noticed they hadn’t even touched Tomorrowland? That land is ripe for battles with Gantu, Syndrome, Turbo, Randall Boggs, John Silver, Yokai, or Zurg!

One of the biggest problems I feel is that it got boring for me real quick because once you play the game once and collect all the cards, there’s no point in playing again.  It’s not like I can unlock extra fights or change the story.  But once variances are added, well, there’s a world of possibilities at hand!

Who here remembers Prep and Landing?

3. The Halloween and Christmas cards.  Mickey’s Not-so-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are the Magic Kingdom’s biggest and best loved hard ticket events.  Because I went to these events with some regularity (I was a cast member at the time and while my tickets were discounted, it was still comparatively expensive), I focused on the stuff that wasn’t offered on a year-round basis, like the trick-or-treat trails, the special character meet-and-greets, the special fireworks, parades, and shows…and the SOTMK cards.

Yeah, gripe as I may about how they didn’t bother to expand the deck, they did begin giving out new cards that you could only get that year at that event.  Sure, they doubled as essentially time-stamped mementos, but because this was the only way the attraction expanded at all, it felt less like a neat souvenir than a cheap incentive to go to Not-so-Scary or Very Merry.

I felt, if anything, they should have made whole missions based around the holidays. Why wouldn’t Hades use Halloween as an excuse to more covertly sneak topside? Why not have him be sick of the cutesy Christmas carols and excess cheer and and declare war on the Magic Kingdom? Why not add missions employing Oogie Boogie to snatch the crystal? Why not have the Halloween mission feature Pumpkin King Jack and the Holiday mission feature Sandy Claws Jack as our point of contact? All I’m saying is if they want to provide an incentive for us to spend our hard-earned money on special event tickets for a five-hour event, at least put some effort into it.

Also, remember how I complained about having to walk so much in the middle of the day? Well, both Not-so-Scary and Very Merry typically run from 7 p.m. to midnight, traditionally much cooler times of the day. just saying, take advantage of what incentives you can. Sure, it might be expensive to animate, even if you don’t go the extra mile to make it stop motion, but who wouldn’t want to engage with the bug-bursting burlap baddie for a limited-time event?

No comment necessary.

4. Too simple, too hard, but often both.  It’s arguably one of the biggest questions of all time: how does one make a game where strategy and effort can amount to success, but does not penalize the unsuccessful with the stigma of “losing”?  Even if you’re one of those people who think participation trophies are a snowflake hippie fantasy, you can’t deny that you wouldn’t want to lose at a game at Disney World, so how do you do it?  The answer is all too often…you don’t.  This is one particular stinging point of the game.

There is literally no way you can lose SotMK.  Go to the wrong portal?  The character will show the image of the portal you need to find and urge you to find it, and despite their insistence that you hurry, this game isn’t timed.  cameras don’t read the card or you  don’t raise a card at all?  InThe portal will ti.e out and send you another portal where you can try again indefinitely. In fact, what’s funny is that you will need to use a spell only twice per mission.  There’s another two times you’ll be asked to use a random spell…but it’s the crest on the back of the card, and it’s the same default zap that is kind of the spell attack that does whatever you want it to.  Or as Linkara puts it…

AKA lazy storytelling.

There was, actually, a difficult mode as part of the early release of the game where you needed a specific attack to dispel the enemies.  I once bounced between portal to portal on difficulty mode, wondering if I just needed to do multiple attacks to succeed.  After about a half-hour of Facilier’s shadow minions materializing and dispersing over and over, I was informed I needed a light-based attack!  There was no instruction provided, no hint as to how to beat these guys…I needed either dumb luck or a cast member, when I was already floundering from humidity-based fatigue.  This is what I meant by this attraction was both too hard AND too easy.

This game needs strategy to draw people back to it, but that also means there would be a potential to lose, and that’s a big no no, especially for kids on their only-ever trip to WDW.  But that’s all the more reason to create easy, medium, and hard versions of the game, and let kids enjoy the easily winnable version where no matter how badly they play, they’ll win.  And for the adults who crave a challenge, create multiple missions, longer ones, and employ strategy to allow them to think about how to take down Hades.

A most befuddling thing!

***********************************

It may sound like I’m just whining (And if I were completely honest, I probably am), but it comes from a place of love.  The concept and activity itself is great.  The use of Disney characters is great.  The technology is great.  But it’s badly hampered by potential not yet taken, and aside from adding the holiday cards for eight years, there has been no updates to it at all.  Sure, there’s a lot more at the Magic Kingdom that could use a sprucing up budget before this, but I’m just saying as cool as something like this is, it could be a heck of a lot more awesome.

Just sayin’.

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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