Disclaimer: While I took lots of notes for this panel, a lot of what I wrote down was paraphrased and or summarized (and/or could be wrong). Most things I wrote down may not have been in the exact words of the Imagineers. Also some portions of the panel are incomplete. There were times where I wasn’t sure what they were saying or what they were talking about. In this panel, they talked about a few WDW attractions, which I unfortunately am not very familiar with. If you were at the panel, please correct or add anything that may be wrong and/or missing!
The moderator for this panel was Dave Fisher. He was joined by Kevin Rafferty, George Scribner, Joe Lanzisero, and Jason Surrell.
Dave Fisher first asked the panel what they did before working in Imagineering. Jason Surrell said he first started off in Live Entertainment (I’m assuming for Disney). Over the years, he was finally hired into Imagineering.
Joe Lanzisero always wanted to be a cartoonist. He went to CalArts and became an animator for Disney, but then moved to Imagineering later.
George Scribner was directing McDonald’s commercial in Panama. He was rejected by Disney Animation the first time, but never gave up and kept applying until they hired him. He directed a few animated projects for Disney before eventually moving into Imagineering.
Kevin Rafferty was originally a dish washer for Disneyland. Then he worked in Club 33, and eventually got hired into Imagineering. Some of the projects Kevin worked on include Toy Story Midway Mania, Test Track, and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.
Dave Fisher then started discussing with the panel on how humor was added into the Disneyland Park. Jason talked about how Disneyland originally had a serious tone about it. It wasn’t until Marc Davis got involved that things started to change. Marc Davis just finished "101 Dalmatians" and didn’t have anything else to do, so Walt Disney assigned Marc to take a look at Disneyland to figure out how they could make the Park better. Marc evaluated Disneyland and realized that the one thing Disneyland was missing was humor. So they decided to start adding humor.
Joe then started discussing about how to best convey humor at Disneyland. He talked about the “billboard technique,” where you have to convey that funny moment almost as soon as the guest sets eyes on it, just like how a billboard needs to convey its advertisement the few seconds a driver passes by it.
After, Dave started discussing with the panel a few attractions. The first attraction they discussed was the Jungle Cruise. Jason said he used to be a skipper on the Jungle Cruise.
Kevin Rafferty told the story about how the Jungle Cruise was originally a serious attraction. He then discussed the story about how the ride started to add humor to its spiel. Apparently, Walt Disney one day visited the Jungle Cruise and one of the Skippers told Walt that the attraction needed humor because the attraction was too serious and not funny. It turns out that the story is not true and nobody actually knows when the Jungle Cruise actually started adding humor to the ride.
The panel then discussed Hong Kong Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise and how the jokes from the American Jungle Cruise doesn’t translate well to Chinese. However, there is one joke in the Jungle Cruise that seems to be the “universal humor” where it’s funny in any language -- the opportunity to leave your mother-in-law behind.
The next attraction discussed was Pirates of the Caribbean. The panel talked about the gags in Pirates and the importance of the guest’s perspective to convey humor. George did a sketch of Donald roasting a sausage(?) as an example of what he meant. If you look at Donald from the front, you can’t really see the full message being conveyed versus if you look at Donald from the side, you see and understand everything.
Jason then talked about working with Johnny Depp on the Pirates attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. He remembered writing the script for Johnny and thought what he wrote was absolutely funny, but when he heard that Johnny was making a few changes to the script, Jason got a little nervous. But the changes Johnny made to the script made the script better because Johnny was tweaking the script to what Captain Jack Sparrow would likely say or do.
The panel next started discussing the Haunted Mansion. People believed that Pirates was the last attraction Walt worked on before he passed away but Walt was always aware of the Haunted Mansion. Jason then talked about how there was a dispute between the Imagineers on what type of ride the Haunted Mansion should be. Marc Davis thought the attraction should be funny while Claude(?) thought it should be scary. In the end, it turned out to be a combination of both.
(After discussing about the Haunted Mansion, the panel started talking about a few topics that I wasn’t very familiar with. I believe they talked about Figment, Kramer from Seinfeld filming a scene for Disney, and one of WDW’s golf courses. I have a few pictures below.)
Occasionally, the panel took a look at what George was doodling on his pad. Everyone was wondering why he kept drawing Donald. George explained to them it’s just funny to put Donald in harmful situations.
Dave then exclaimed, “Moving onto the Michael Eisner era…” There was brief silence a few seconds before Jason replied, “There’s nothing funny about that!” It got the audience roaring with laughter.
After, they started talking about It’s Tough to be A Bug. Kevin talked about when they hired Jason Alexander to voice the weevil in the attraction. The Imagineers envisioned “George Costanza” as the voice, but Jason Alexander apparently prepared a few voices of his own. The Imagineers didn’t have the heart to tell him they wanted “George Costanza” because Jason worked so hard coming up with different voice ideas. The Imagineers rejected all of Jason’s voices, and in frustration, Jason exclaimed, “Then what?! Who do you want me to be?!” in which the Imagineers said, “Yes, that!”
Kevin also remembered having an idea for It’s Tough to be a Bug and discussing it with Eisner. It was a play on the “Dating Game” but instead it was called the “Mating Game.” Kevin had the idea of Flik asking a spider contestant a question, in which the spider’s response was (something along the lines of) biting and sucking Flik and have him ooze out. But Eisner didn’t like that idea. The reason why he didn’t like the idea was because “an ant would not date a spider!”
The panel next discussed Toontown. They discussed the various gags in Toontown and played some audio clips.
The panel then discussed some of the humor they put into the cruise ships, like a “happy” version of the Haunted Mansion’s portraits for an elevator in one of the ships.
The panel next talked about some of the figurehead(?) ideas they came up for the cruise ships.
Showing off another of George’s doodle. This time Donald on fire!
Midway Mania was the next topic discussed. They discussed about recording the voice for Mr. Potato Head and shared an outtake reel.
The last thing the panel discussed was Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. They told the story about how Larry the Cable Guy forgot the lyrics to one of the songs. It was so funny that the Imagineers decided to add the song to the ride.
Kevin also mentioned that it was the first time they added a “joke button” to an attraction. The button when pushed would have Mater telling jokes if the loading for the attraction took too long. The panel then shared some audio clips of some of the jokes.