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Meet the Authors Series:
Steven M. Barrett
This article appeared in the November 18, 2003, Issue #217 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
ALL EARS® continues its occasional series: Meet the Authors! These interviews give you an opportunity to get to know the authors of various Disney-related books, as well as ask them questions directly. This month, ALL EARS® concludes our visit with Steve Barrett, author of "The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation" guidebook and "Hidden Mickeys, a Field Guide to Disney's Best-Kept Secrets."
We ran Part I of Steve's interview in ALL EARS® Issue #214 (10/28/03). Here's Part II, which deals exclusively with Hidden Mickeys!
ALL EARS®: How do you research the Hidden Mickey (HM) book? Does Disney validate whether a HM is a true HM for you?
STEVE: I accumulate potential HM sightings from the Internet and from official Disney material, especially the Disney Magazine. I try to spot new HMs whenever I'm at WDW, either by myself or with family or friends. My neighbor, son, and sister have all discovered new HMs. I frequently ask Cast Members about HMs in their areas -- they don't always know! I often ride attractions many times to verify the sightings; it took many runs through the Jungle Cruise in the Magic Kingdom for me to accept the HM chipped out of the brick toward the end of the dark temple section.
Currently, Disney doesn't validate what I publish. The official Disney HM list is sketchy and incomplete. Hidden Mickey lore filters up from the public, with Disney participating benevolently from the sidelines. The placement and cataloguing of HMs is not an exact science, so some latitude (and confusion) exists. For example, some Cast Members in the Haunted Mansion and on the Magic Kingdom Backstage Tours have claimed for years that the HM plate and saucers on the ghostly banquet table is not "official," that the Imagineers' original design for the table settings did not include this HM, and that Cast Members place it there whenever they feel the urge (which is almost always, thank goodness). But there it is on the "official" Disney HM list! The bottom line is that Disney probably didn't predict the surge of interest in HMs and so didn't apply its considerable prowess to define and catalogue the little gems. However, Disney benefits from the sport because it brings more interest (and more people) to WDW, so Disney gently encourages our interest. I appreciate the absence of Disney heavy-handedness in this wonderful game.
EUREKA: How did Hidden Mickeys start? Are there any backstage HMs only viewable by Cast Members? What about underwater HMs?
STEVE: The Disney official history goes like this: Hidden Mickeys started in the late 1980s in Epcot as an inside joke among the Imagineers. Hiding Mickey around WDW was just plain fun! I suspect that the Mickey Mouse designs that were previously in place in WDW and Disneyland also became known as Hidden Mickeys. Because of the popularity of HMs, Imagineers are encouraged to place them in new construction.
Backstage Hidden Mickeys, only viewable by Cast Members, do exist. I've not yet been able to find any underwater HMs.
MELI E., New York: What's the most unusual HM you've come across (e.g., a fireworks burst, a flower, one created by a reflection, etc.)? What is your favorite HM? Which one surprised you the most? Is there a generally accepted HM that is not truly a HM?
STEVE: Several unusual ones come to mind: 1 - In the riverboat scene near the end of the Splash Mountain ride, the cloud Hidden Mickey (lying on his back) on the wall to the right. This was one of the first HMs that made a big impression on me, and it's quite unique. 2 - In the large mural at the Maelstrom loading dock in the Norway pavilion, the side profile of Mickey's face in the creases of the woman flight attendant's shirt to the left of the top of her clipboard. This HM is slightly distorted, but it's there and it's really unusual. 3 - The stretched out Mickey Mouse watchband on the ground among the conical-shaped trees in front of the Contemporary Resort. This HM is easily spotted from the upper floors and from the windows of the California Grill restaurant on the top floor. It's awesome!
In the book, I have a Top Ten list and an Honorable Mention list for my 20 favorite HMs at WDW. My number one favorite HM is the full body image of Mickey painted in the mural, in the green "broccoli-like" tissue, above the entrance to Body Wars at Epcot. The one that surprised me the most is number three of the Top Ten: the amazing sight of the top part of Mickey's head and his fingers as he peeks over the wall behind the D-Zertz shop at Pleasure Island.
Most debate about HMs involves the classic three-circle forms. My definition of a "true" three-circle HM is rather strict: the circles must touch and be in the right position and proportions. However, there are distorted three-circle Mickeys that are not positioned or proportioned correctly, but are so accepted among Cast Members and the public that I include them as HMs. The gear wheels on the ground to the right, near the end of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad track, and the various lock HMs, such as the lock on the jail cell door near the end of the Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride, are examples. Neither of the above HMs is proportioned quite right.
MELISSA L: It seems that the more recent attractions have far more Hidden Mickeys than the older ones. What's the oldest documented (intentional) Hidden Mickey in the Park? Also, are Hidden Mickeys added during rehabs (e.g., Pirates, Snow White)?
STEVE: I have never come across information about the oldest HM. The story goes that Hidden Mickeys began in Epcot in the late 1980s. I believe that is when the term "Hidden Mickey" was accepted. However, Mickey images existed before the late 1980s. For example, according to Disney Cast Members, the beautiful movie "Impressions de France" has not been updated since it premiered in 1982 in the France pavilion at Epcot. Yet a wonderful "Hidden Mickey" (head and ears) is in the film, in a second floor window (center screen) of the house in the background of the outdoor wedding scene. Therefore, the answer to the "oldest Hidden Mickey" question may be lost in antiquity, so to speak.
HMs are definitely added during some rehabs, like when the high-tech living room and kitchen were added to the Carousel of Progress attraction in the Magic Kingdom. HMs are also lost during rehabs; for instance, three HMs disappeared from Old Port Royale in the Caribbean Beach Resort when the food court area was remodeled. (I mourn lost HMs the same way some folks mourn discontinued attractions.)
RANDY: I picked up Disney's "official" list of Hidden Mickeys from guest services on my last trip. How many of the Hidden Mickeys that you and other websites have reported match Disney's list? Also, we know that in many cases Imagineers have "admitted" Hidden Mickeys were done intentionally, but of the many Hidden Mickeys, do we know how many were purposeful and how many accidental?
STEVE: No one kept a master list of HMs. Sightings began to accumulate in the late 1980s, and interested guests posted on HM websites, waiting for verification. Disney has an "official" list, but it's incomplete. For example, the wonderful "grim reaper" Hidden Mickey in the Haunted Mansion at the MK is not mentioned by Disney! The "official" Disney list includes only 21 HMs in the Magic Kingdom; I describe 76 in my book (although a few have been lost already). Indeed, some of the HMs on the Disney list have been lost.
The only way we know that a HM is purposeful is if an Imagineer admits to it (an Imagineer recently showed me a HM in the post-show area of Mission: SPACE) or if the HM is clearly not accidental (like the incredible HM in the mural behind the fern at the Garden Grill restaurant at Epcot; no way is that Mickey accidental). Only a few Imagineers have admitted to placing specific HMs. It makes the HM game more challenging, don't you think?
KATE: My nieces and I have enjoyed our Hidden Mickey searches at all the Disney properties. One of our favorites is the mural at Conservation Station at Animal Kingdom. We fondly refer to it as the "Hidden Mickey jackpot." My question is, has anyone ever made an accurate count of the number of little Micks hidden there? Lauren, my youngest niece, would love to know.
STEVE: Sorry, Lauren and Kate, I am aware of no official list of HMs at Conservation Station. I describe 22 here, but other folks say they have found more. In the Hidden Mickeys book, I included HMs that I could find and that I felt would be visible to the touring guest. For instance, the entrance mural at Conservation Station reaches up to a high ceiling, and I would not be able to spot a HM near the top of this mural unless a ladder just happened to be nearby.
LISA A., Texas: I know that you state that you don't put outdated or questionable Hidden Mickeys in your book, but have you ever included the large Hidden Mickey at Disney-MGM Studios? When the street going to the Tower of Terror was built, it did "do away" with one of Mickey's ears; however, it is still pretty spectacular to see the rest of the Mickey (i.e. the smile in front of the theater, the pond as one ear, the flower planters as the eyes, the painted concrete on the main avenue of MGM including the "widow's peak" of black concrete on Mickey's face).
STEVE: The reason I didn't include it was because the new construction had removed part of his head. However, you and others have caused me to reconsider my initial decision, and I plan to include it in the next edition. It is, as you say, still a spectacular (although incomplete) HM. For those who haven't seen it, turn the Disney-MGM Studios Guidemap upside down; Mickey's face is in front of The Great Movie Ride, Echo Lake forms Mickey's left ear, and other details are described well by Lisa above.
DEE B., Illinois: Many years ago, we were told that a Hidden Mickey was located somewhere in the ceiling of the large room at the top of the Spaceship Earth attraction at Epcot. For over 10 years now, my friends and I have tried to find it, with no success. Do you know where this Hidden Mickey is located?
STEVE: The Hidden Mickey you mention is supposed to be in the star field at the top of Spaceship Earth. Other star field HMs have been "sighted" along the entrance and exit walkways of Space Mountain. I have studied these stars until I'm cross-eyed, and I can't find any HMs. These are not listed on the "official" HM list from the Walt Disney World Company -- although I consider this list incomplete and not very descriptive anyway. Either HMs don't exist here ("wishful thinking") or finding them requires unique visual synapses that exist only in the brains of a very few special people (not mere mortals like me).
TRUDY M., New York: We have heard of several Hidden Mickeys in the Haunted Mansion, but one came as a big surprise while my son was videotaping in it. While across from the "bride" in the mansion, he happened to put his camera on that side and, lo and behold, he caught a Hidden Mickey we had never heard of. There were three aluminum silver buckets hanging in the shape of a Mickey. As we were watching the movie, we all spotted it! We got so excited that we had filmed something that we never heard of. Did you know about this one?
STEVE: No, I haven't heard of this Hidden Mickey. After I received your question, I rode the Haunted Mansion twice, but alas, I couldn't find it. Some are too difficult to spot from a moving vehicle. If we could walk leisurely through the attractions and study the intricate Disney detail with good lighting, more would surely become evident. However, Trudy, I 'll continue looking for it!
It's great fun to find a new Hidden Mickey. I've been with my son, sister and neighbor on different occasions when they spotted new ones, and everyone gets excited -- me most of all!
ALL EARS® thanks everyone who sent in questions for Steve Barrett -- it made for a very interesting read! We especially thank Steve for kindly answering as many questions as he could.
Steve will be one of the many special guests who will be at MouseFest 2003 in December! Be sure to join us at the Mega Mouse Meet on December 6. For details visit: http://allears.net/btp/meetandgreet.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.