You didn’t have to be a card-carrying member of the cluster of social media accounts known to some as “DisTwitter” to see the big Disney World news this morning: a real, live bear was found on the grounds of Magic Kingdom. Yep, we’re talking the real deal, an honest-to-God country bear (if you can consider the outskirts of Orlando “country”), and not one of the singing and dancing robot kind. Obviously a story as weird and sensational as this broke out beyond the realm of Disney fans, and has gotten prime coverage by most prominent outlets. It’s more proof that, despite being one of the greatest threats to our republic, people still love bears.
Word broke about the ursine interloper on Twitter this morning, when rumors started to spread that Disney staff discovered a bear near Tom Sawyer’s Island before the park opened today. Tom Sawyer’s Island is known in part for its system of man-made caves, and like many theme park fans I really hoped that guests had stumbled upon an actual bear in an artificial cave. It seems that was too good to be true, as the bear was initially detected in the woods behind Tom Sawyer’s Island.
Disney wanted to prevent any guest meet and greets with the bear, obviously, and so it closed several sections of the park this morning. Frontierland, Adventureland, Tom Sawyer’s Island, and Liberty Square were all closed to guests, meaning roughly half the park was off-limits during its first few hours of operation today. Attractions that were impacted include Pirates of the Caribbean, the Jungle Cruise, the Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Enchanted Tiki Room, the Swiss Family Treehouse, the Walt Disney World Railroad, the Hall of Presidents, and, ironically, the Country Bear Jamboree. I hope the bear was able to take advantage of the lack of lines and got to enjoy every one of them a few times over.
It took the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission a few hours to catch the bear, which was revealed to be an adult female. Here’s a photo of that fateful moment, which occurred in a backstage area.
NEW: The FWC safely captured the adult, female bear spotted in a tree earlier today at Magic Kingdom Park. The bear was captured in a backstage area northeast of the Rivers of America. pic.twitter.com/mxXYCvYOHm
— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) September 18, 2023
Sadly there are no known photos of the bear riding Thunder Mountain or the Liberty Belle riverboat. If anybody inside Disney is reading this, though, and has access to the security cameras, you’d be doing the world a favor by leaking them. I’ll even set up a Signal or ProtonMail account, if that helps.
I realize bears are dangerous animals. They could easily kill old, out-of-shape riff raff like me, and although I don’t know if bears enjoy the taste of human flesh, I’d like to think I’d be a fairly tempting morsel all the same. Still, though, I would absolutely love to have encountered an authentic wild bear in the Magic Kingdom. Those caves on Tom Sawyer Island always scared me as a kid, but they don’t hold that power for me as an adult; if I came face-to-face with a hungry, confused, frightened bear inside them, I’m pretty sure it’d mess me up as much as those caves did in the ‘80s.
When you’re a kid theme parks still have the power to feel dangerous. Not the rides themselves, usually, but the environments created by Disney’s artists and Imagineers. I never feared for my life on Big Thunder when I was six, but I wasn’t entirely certain that a real ghost wouldn’t follow me home from the Haunted Mansion. That suspension of disbelief disappears quickly, though; by third grade it was clear that pretty much everything at Disney World was just part of the show. As dangerous and scary as a bear can be, part of me would love to have felt a little bit of that guileless childhood wonder again, even if for just a second before my face was shredded to tatters like a Mortal Kombat fatality.
There’s a number of special days and celebrations held at the Magic Kingdom and other Disney theme parks throughout the year, both officially organized by Disney and unofficially planned by fans. I would totally be there every year for Wild Animal Day, a special event where Disney released a wild, hungry, furious beast in an undisclosed part of the Magic Kingdom once a year. I’d even pay for that obnoxious Genie+ upcharge if it guaranteed me facetime with whatever cougar or wild boar they released that year. I’d even promise not to sue—I’d sign any paperwork they put in front of me, especially if it was notarized by Donald Duck. One reason I go to those places so often is to enjoy Disney’s various seasonal events and decorations, to see how the parks change throughout the course of the year, and I can’t think of a more dramatic tweak to the Disney World formula than potentially getting gored by a rhino while waiting to board the PeopleMover.
They’ve already got all those creatures over Animal Kingdom. How hard would it be to throw one in one of those Disney buses and then let it loose on Main Street U.S.A.? Disney sells itself on magic and enchantment, and what could be more magical than barely surviving a face-to-face encounter with an angry and confused crocodile? They could even make it more interesting by dressing them up in one of those Mickey Mouse costumes used at the meet and greets. Will this Mickey be an underpaid student from Disney’s college program, or a gorilla that has absolutely no idea what’s going on but knows that he really hates it?
If I was in charge of Disney World, I’d be forcing this plan through the approval process right now, while the news of today’s exciting bear incursion is still fresh on everybody’s mind. It wouldn’t just give regulars a new and exhilarating way to experience the theme parks, but it’d greatly increase Disney World’s thrill power, something that fans of coasters and other high-speed rides have long felt Disney lacks. The only thing that would make the Magic Kingdom scarier and more stressful than releasing wild animals would be replacing the audio-animatronics in the Hall of Presidents with real former presidents, and I don’t think anybody on any side of the aisle would be able to tolerate that. So the beasts have it. We need more bears in Disney World immediately, along with wolves, lions, packs of wild dogs, and whatever cryptids happen to be real. It’d really put the magic back into the Magic Kingdom.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.