If there was an Oscar category for Best Supporting Cartoon Character, it's likely the villains from Disney's animated features would win every year. Scoundrels like Scar, Jafar, the Evil Queen and Maleficent are epic, but always play second fiddle to their pure-as-snow protagonists. But no more. The new Villains After Hours event at Disney's Magic Kingdom puts the bad guys (and gals) center stage, inviting guests to "take a walk on the vile side."
Villains After Dark is a separately ticketed, select-nights event this summer, just like Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party or Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Admission is $139 per person in advance, $144 at the door (assuming it's not sold out on that evening); annual pass holders and Disney Vacation Club members get a special price of $109. Guests get a wristband to verify their paid attendance.
It seems like a steep price tag for a few additional hours in the park; more, in fact, than a full-day admission to the park. But there is major value here. The Magic Kingdom is a relatively compact park: The walk from one side to the other -- let's say, from Space Mountain to Pirates of the Caribbean -- is about eight minutes. This, coupled with the fact that there are fewer people (Villains After Dark is restricted to a limited number of guests per night), means you can see most of the park's lands in the three hours without waiting hours in the sun. On the night I attended, we had no more than a 10-minute wait time for any ride or attraction.
Additional perks include unlimited popcorn, bottled soda and water and three different frozen treats at kiosks around the park. These refreshments generally cost an average of $5 each, so if you outfit your brood with a drink and treat apiece, you're saving a small mint.
I attended as an invited guest on the opening night of the event early this month and loved the edgy, dark tone of the event - - something very different for Disney. A new stage show is hosted by the devil himself -- Hades, the God of the Underworld from Disney's "Hercules" -- and features four other villains on a quest to -- what else? -- take over the world. I won't spoil the ending, but let's just say there's no hero to save you this time.
The park pumps heavy metal music through the speakers as Maleficent's gigantic, fire-breathing mechanical dragon is escorted by black-clad ravens with giant, ominous wings and stilt-walkers wearing thorny vine costumes who aren't shy about getting up in your face while you snap photos. I thought it would be pretty scary for kids, but the ones I saw were loving every second.
A few things that fell flat with me. The event touts "enhancements" to two rides, Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean, but they're the same changes -- utter darkness and a heavy metal soundtrack on Space Mountain, and two live actors on the Pirates ride employed during Mickey's Not-So Scary Halloween Party and really don't enhance much. I also didn't think much of the special treats available at stations throughout the park, like a pink mocktail garnished with a gummy worm and Cruella DeVille's brownie tart; they might look great for Instagram photos but tasted of little but sugar.
That said, I was delighted by the exit strategy following the 20-minute stage show. As guests exit the park, a cast of villains gently heckles the crowd, focusing on the classic characters like Gaston, Cinderella's stepsisters, the Queen of Hearts and Cruella DeVille. It was one last hurrah for the supporting characters, who are finally getting their time in the spotlight.
Villains After Hours runs select nights through Aug. 8 from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.