Stretching back to the original concept of Disneyland in 1955, Walt Disney had originally wanted to put his guests into his live-action and animated films. In fact, in many of these original dark ride attractions, many guests were disappointed to find that the titular characters never even made an appearance. For example, in Snow White's Adventures, many rode through the attraction and noticed that the original Disney princess was no where to be found. Many didn't understand that the guests themselves were meant to step into the role of the characters and live their story in the three-dimensional world created by WED.
WDI has continued this tradition of placing guests into the midst of the films, stories, and universes over the past sixty years, continuing this tradition to the east coast at Walt Disney World. This became a literal reality in 1989 with the opening of Disney-MGM Studios, the third theme park in the 46-square-mile vacation complex. One of my personal favorite parts of the park was the back corner of the park, which included the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playground, the Backlot Studio Tour, and MuppetVision 3D. During the mid-90s, the park went through various refurbs, and the Toy Story Pizza Planet Arcade opened across from MuppetVision 3D. Based loosely on the restaurant from the original Disney-Pixar film, Toy Story, the Pizza Planet Arcade served personal pan pizzas and side salads until its closure earlier this year.
While I personally loved these Disney pizzas, I always believed the execution of theming here was off. I saw Toy Story in theaters when I was seven years old and instantly fell in love with the film series. Shortly after Christmas of 1995, I received as a gift from my parents the PC and Sega Genesis games based on the film, which included levels taking place in the space-age restaurant. One of the levels even included the alien-shaped slushy machines from the film that vomit out different colored slushy concoctions, requiring the player to remember the order in which the aliens barfed the delicious icy treats.
I didn't first eat at Pizza Planet until the early or mid-2000s, but when I entered the restaurant, I was immediately disappointed. Rather than being themed to the awesome restaurant from the film, I was in a very basic quick-service video arcade. The games did not include a rocket-shaped claw machine from which I could grab a three eyed LGM (Little Green Man, for those of you not accustomed to Toy Story/Buzz Lightyear: the TV series lingo), nor was there a Whack-a-Alien game for me to crush aliens popping out of an astronaut's chest. I was devastated that there were no giant purple alien robots guarding the door, and especially upset that I was not able to drink the projectile vomit from the mouths of the aforementioned alien mouths. Rather, the decorations were made up of painted murals on the wall, static statues hanging from the ceiling, and a random assortment of arcade games guests could find at their local Chuck E. Cheese or Dave and Buster's restaurants.
Why couldn't they have incorporated better theming? I understand that this was simply a way to fill a gap for quick-service dining location. However, with the rich opportunity for theming ripe for the "clawing," I feel as though Imagineering fell flat.
Recently announced is a new iteration of the dining location, PizzeRizzo. Named after the character, Rizzo the Rat from the Muppet universe, this quick service dining location will also serve pizza. Unfortunately, very little has been released by WDI in the way of concept art, save a few pictures of what the exterior of the building will look like. The brick facade will feature architectural styles reminiscent of Italian pizza joints in New York, complete with red, green, and white signs and flags. A large sign will sit atop the building, outlining the name and manager in neon. A small nod to the previous restaurant explains that the establishment will serve the "Best Pizza on the Planet!" One of the key features of the restaurant will be a second-level exterior seating area overlooking the Muppet Courtyard, while a blue water tower crowns the roof of the building featuring a flying tomato below the word, "Heckler," perhaps a reference to Statler and Waldorf or even a verbal and physical attack against some of Fozzie's lame jokes.
Since there's been no concept art released for the restaurant's interior, I have high hopes. Rizzo the Rat worked in a New York restaurant in the 1984 film, Muppets Take Manhattan, alongside his family members, many of which looked like Rizzo but wearing different clothes and big 1980s hair. Kermit originally "meets" Rizzo when he goes in for a bite, ultimately befriending one of the human waitresses, much to the chagrin of Miss Piggy. Without knowing too much of the backstory of PizzeRizzo at this point, it seems as though Rizzo was able to leave his job in the kitchen of the Manhattan diner and open his own pizza eatery.
So where would I love to see PizzeRizzo go? I would love some animatronic puppets of Rizzo and his rat family working in a kitchen or sticking their heads out of mouse holes. Disney has used Living Character technology in the past, such as MuppetLabs starring Beaker and Honeydew, as well as the upcoming live show starring the Muppets in Liberty Square (more on this bane of my existence later). Even if not operated by a live cast member, an animatronic Rizzo could use pre-recorded lines similar to the Mr. Potato Head animatronic in the queue of Toy Story Mania. It might even be entertaining if there was a life-size walk-around character of Rizzo to pose and interact with guests, like there is of the proprietor of Chuck E. Cheese. This wouldn't be too unreasonable, as it would be a self-deprecating joke by Disney, much in the manner of having Rizzo posing as Mickey Mouse in the MuppetVision 3D preshow video. If Disney opted not to do animatronics, I think that a translucent window showing the shadows of various Muppet waiters scurrying around the kitchen in the same vein as the concourse window from StarTours 2.0 would work as well.
And how about Gonzo's Royal Flush bathrooms? We all know that Gonzo is something of a daredevil. How cool would it be if guests had to dodge flying toilet paper rolls or Lou Zeeland's flying fish to get to the bathroom or if a hole in the wall tooted an odd sound while smoke erupted from it every time guests flushed the toilet, referencing the running joke from the opening credits of The Muppet Show? What if Sam Eagle instructed guests on proper handwashing technique from the other side of the mirror or the voices of Statler and Waldorf made fun of individuals as they did their business in the stalls? But in all seriousness, there could be plenty of zany Muppet puns and humor in the bathrooms. I mean, think about the awesome theming for Magic Kingdom's Tangled restrooms and how great they could do restrooms themed around everyone's favorite fuzzy puppets?
Disney has the capacity for doing great things with theming lately, and I hope for my sake, and that of future guests, they don't let me down.