9 Fictional Theme Park Moguls Who Are Pretty Transparent Parodies of the Real-Life Walt Disney
1. Wade Dazzle
Yes, Virginia, there really was a man named Walt Disney behind the Disney empire. Born in Chicago in 1901, Walter Elias Disney would grow up to become an animator, producer, theme park operator and genial host of TV’s The Wonderful World of Disney. By the time he died in 1966, he was one of the most famous public figures in America, which of course meant he couldn’t go to his eternal reward without someone making him the subject of a few juicy urban legends. The most outlandish one suggested Disney had himself cryogenically frozen before he died, with some even whispering his frozen body is buried beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. In 1976’s Wonder Woman #222, writer Martin Pasko had a little fun with this “Disney on ice” story by introducing Wade Dazzle, creator of a Catskills theme park known as Dazzleland. He lures Wonder Woman to his park with the help of a robot duplicate of our heroine, and then explains his eeeeee-vil plan to her. For starters, he isn’t the real Wade Dazzle — he’s a robot duplicate of the actual Dazzle who started dying years ago “of a disease that science can’t cure yet!” (Was it disco fever? I bet it was disco fever.) The machine that keeps the real Dazzle frozen is powered by the “bio-energies” of random park visitors who don’t survive the process, but the robot Wade has figured out a way to avoid constantly murdering tourists: use Wonder Woman’s Amazon immortality to power the machine in perpetuity. Naturally, Diana isn’t “cool” with his plans, and she puts his mad scheme “on ice.” (Okay, I’m done now.)
2. Grant Walker
While Wade Dazzle was a crackpot and serial killer by proxy, we might feel a little sympathetic about his desire to get rid of a disease that was killing him. Though he’s similarly afflicted with a fatal illness, it’s harder to feel sympathy for Grant Walker, the monomaniacal theme park owner who shows up in a 1994 episode of Batman: The Animated Series. After Mister Freeze is broken out of Arkham by a giant robot, Batman tracks him down to Oceania, Walker’s artificial island floating a few miles outside Gotham City. Turns out that Walker wants Freeze to duplicate the accident that caused his own frozen condition on account it renders him essentially immortal. Freeze demurs, but Walker hauls out his trump card: the preserved body of Freeze’s wife, who he promises to revive if Freeze does what he’s asked. Once “freezified,” Walker enacts his master plan: freezing the entire world so that Oceania and its selected residents can start fresh in a world of “no crime, violence, or pain.” The parallels to Disney are obvious: the allusion to the urban legend about his death, Walker calling his employees “visioneers” (compared to Disney’s preferred “imagineers”), the physical appearance of Walker, and Walker’s obsession with creating an orderly and happy world, just as Disney tried to do with his own theme parks. Though I think even Disney’s harshest foes wouldn’t consider him capable of wiping out most of the human race in pursuit of that goal.
3. Alden Maas
Also filed under “Walt Disney, Would-Be World Destroyers Bearing a Strong Resemblance to” is Alden Maas, the “pandering fantasy merchant” who shows up in 1984’s Fantastic Four #263. After Johnny Storm seemingly perishes in a fiery car crash, Ben is unconvinced his fire-resistant teammate is truly dead. His investigation brings him to Maas’ private island and Project Worldcore, a plan in which the theme park mogul plans to re-ignite the Earth’s core and cause the planet to physically expand in order to make room for the growing human population (he kidnapped the Human Torch to use him as the heat source that jump-starts the chain reaction). After forming an unlikely alliance with the Mole Man, Ben rescues Johnny and stops Maas’ mad scheme, only to discover it would never have worked in the first place. As we learn, Maas was diagnosed with a degenerative nervous disorder years earlier, and he used an “extended animation chamber” to prolong his life while his robotic minions continued carrying out their programming to “keep him happy and contented” by indulging him in his mad planet-expanding schemes. Fun fact: “Alden Maas” is an anagram of “Neal Adams,” a fellow artist whom John Byrne gently poked fun at for believing in the “expanding Earth” theory.
4. Mitch Wacky
Unlike Walker and Maas, Mitch Wacky never set out to destroy his world intentionally; it just sort of happened that way, as these things tend to do. When the legendary creator of Wackyworld contracted a disease that his home planet of Angor didn’t have a cure for, he placed himself in suspended animation — but not before programming his theme park to monitor global events and carry on in his absence. His robot servants only worked too well, though; after the planet’s civilization was destroyed in a nuclear holocaust (I guess doing something about the global events they were ordered to monitor wasn’t in their programming), they rebuilt their society complete with android duplicates of the super-villains who caused the devastation. When these robot version of the super-villains targeted Earth, members of Justice League Europe travelled to Angor and revived Wacky from his suspended animation; he then travelled with our heroes back to Earth to deactivate the android Extremists, stopping them from almost taking over the planet. And now I want to see a Disney movie where the animatronic figures from the Hall of Presidents come to life and fight each other while trying to take over the world. “Pow! Take THAT, James K. Polk!” “Eat fist, Millard Fillmore!” “I cannot tell a lie — your bone spurs won’t save you now!”
5. Milt Biggsley
In his 1996 Elseworlds story Dark Allegiances, writer/artist Howard Chaykin recasts Batman, his supporting cast, and his rogues’ gallery as players in a noir story set in the 1930s. In this alternate reality, daring industrialist Bruce Wayne spends his nights fighting crooked politicians and racist secret societies while the media spins his alter ego’s existence into a communist plot against the American way of life. With the help of allies like beautiful film star Kitty Grimalkin, Wayne uncovers a plot that might set off a world war, a scheme set in motion with the help of Milt Biggsley, the animator and budding theme park mogul whom Wayne meets at his “fun factory in the San Fernando Valley” (where we can see one of his animated stars is a top hat-wearing penguin). As seen here, the theme park they’re constructing is filled with giant representations of everyday objects; this is Chaykin offering a sly wink to the classic Batman stories featuring giant typewriters and other common objects as rooftop advertising props for Batman and his foes to scamper across. And while it was always fun watching Batman swinging from a giant teacup or cash register, I’m not sure how I would feel about paying Disneyland prices for the chance to go see giant matchbooks, pencil sharpers and hairbrushes up close.
6. Walt Dizzle
In 1995’s “Welcome to Cheezworld,” Lobo and his fellow bounty hunter, Jonas, arrive at what sounds like a cushy security gig at Cheezworld, a giant theme park on an alien world that’s run by owner Walt Dizzle. After introducing them to his sons Harry, Henry and Frizzle, Walt shows them an anonymous letter demanding 50,000 credits, followed by a second containing a threat to detonate a bomb in the park if he doesn’t shut it down. He tasks them with finding out who is trying to extort him, but he soon learns to his chagrin it might have been cheaper to let the blackmailers blow up the park, as Lobo isn’t known for leaving much standing when he’s on the case. After killing two masked men and mortally wounding the third, Lobo removes his mask and discovers it’s… Walt’s son Frizzle (the two dead guys being, of course, his brothers). With his last breath, Frizzle accuses his father of being a “stingy old coot,” always making them work with no time to enjoy themselves. With three dead sons and his life’s work lying in pieces, Walt angrily dismisses Lobo and Jonas, right before a rolling Ferris wheel crushes him to death. Sad trombone. Wait a sec — he named one of his sons Frizzle Dizzle? No wonder they tried to bump off their old man.
7. Winston Keever
In 1995, DC decided to kill Oliver Queen in a fiery plane explosion (don’t worry, he got better; everyone was getting bumped off in the ‘9os, it was the hip thing to do back then). His book and his place in the DCU were taken over by his son, Connor Hawke, who had come into Queen’s life the year before. In this issue, Connor is tying up some loose ends on behalf of his father, and he’s shocked to find the Napa Valley monastery where both he and his father received their training has been sold to Keever Enterprises, owner of the popular Winky Blink cartoon character and a number of theme parks starring Winky and his friends. The company was started by the elder Winston Keever, the gent above who’s wearing the oxygen mask; by the time Connor showed up to try and save his monastery, the company’s CEO was Keever’s son, Winston Jr., a ruthless type who’s not above using unethical means to increase his company’s profits. Far as I know, neither Keever has been seen in the DCU since they concluded their business with Connor, which is too bad because I wouldn’t mind seeing them show up again — I mean, we can’t assume LexCorp is the only evil corporation in the DC universe, right?
8. Roger Meyers Sr.
The funniest sentence on the Roger Myers Sr. page in the Simpsons wiki? “Meyers is based on Walt Disney.” As Marge Simpson would say, “Well, duh.” Diehard Simpsons fans can tell you the man who created Itchy and Scratchy produced his first cartoon, Steamboat Itchy, in 1928 — an obvious parallel to Disney’s Steamboat Willy. He also made feature-length films like Scratchtasia and Pinitchio, obvious shout-outs to Fantasia and Pinocchio, before creating his Itchy and Scratchy Land theme park to celebrate all his characters. (Meyers also produced the cartoon Nazi Supermen Are Our Superiors in the 1930s, a swipe at Disney’s alleged anti-Semitism that has never been proven — though Disney did gave Hitler’s personal filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, a tour of his studio in 1938.) In the episode where Itchy & Scratchy Studios goes bankrupt and Roger Meyers, Jr. is forced to stay in a motel, he shows Bart and Lisa the cooler in which he keeps his father’s frozen head — another reference to the “Disney on Ice” urban legend. Anyway, what’s important to remember about Meyers is this: “Roger Meyers Sr., the gentle genius behind Itchy and Scratchy, loved and cared about almost all the peoples of the world.”
9. Wally Sidney
When Steve Gerber created Howard the Duck for a Man-Thing story in 1973, he likely had no idea how enthusiastically Marvel’s readers would embrace his talking, cigar-chomping duck who was “trapped in a world he never made.” By the time Howard got his own series, he was a cult sensation who ended up heading a national campaign for president in 1976. Not everyone was a fan, though — Disney threatened to sue Marvel, alleging that Howard was too close a copy of their Donald Duck. They relented when Marvel made a few changes to Howard, the biggest one being pants. To explain Howard’s new look, a 1979 story by Bill Mantlo, Gene Colan and Klaus Janson featured Howard chased into a clothing store by “pet decency” activists, only to find the protest was orchestrated by the clothing store owner himself, Wally Sidney. It seems this haywire haberdasher started out as an aspiring cartoonist who got laughed out of the business for insisting all his funny animals wear pants, and so he started a clothing empire to sell his brand of conservative clothing. “But then came the ’60s!” he explains, and his modest clothing styles weren’t selling the way they used to… but instead of changing with the times, he decided to focus his energy on creating clothing lines for animals. Howard calls him insane and refuses to be his model, but the mob outside leaves him no choice. “Alright, cluck! You win!” he says. “But I’m warnin’ ya — the whole world is gonna know Wally Sidney made me do it!” So now that Disney owns Marvel, does that mean Howard is free to flash the world again? Er… not that I have any weird desires to see half-dressed ducks all the time, of course. (Hmmm, maybe it’s time we started another urban legend about Disney…)