by Brady MacDonald | Release Date: November 3, 2016 | Availability: Kindle
An off-the-rails haunted roller-coaster ride of magic, madness, and murder: Sheriff Woody resists the lusty advances of Bo Peep as he investigates the murder of Ursula the Sea Witch, stabbed by King Triton's trident. His suspects: Captain Hook, Jafar, Cruella de Vil, and ... Roger Rabbit?
Darth Vader says: "We destroy dreams, ruin once upon a times, and foil happily ever afters." As leader of the Disney villains, from their macabre headquarters in the Haunted Mansion, Vader presides over a Disneyland Halloween tradition: the ritual slaughter and resurrection of Disney villains by other Disney villains.
But when the carnage spreads to Woody's beloved Pixar Land, the lanky sheriff must combat his own inner demons while delving into the dark mysteries of the Haunted Mansion to preserve the happiest place on earth from doom and destruction.
When the guests go home, all your favorite Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars characters come alive as their true bawdy, lusty, treacherous selves in a nightly tale of adventure, romance, betrayal, and power politics.
Villains Forever is the third volume in the Backstage Disneyland series, written by award-winning Los Angeles Times reporter and theme park blogger Brady MacDonald.
Chapter 1: Murder in the Park
Chapter 2: Cold-Blooded Killer
Chapter 3: Goodnight &s; Good Riddance
Chapter 4: Who Done It
Chapter 5: Piecing Together the Evidence
Chapter 6: The Upper Hand
Chapter 7: Cracking the Code
Chapter 8: Dead Man's Party
Chapter 9: Conflicting Stories
Chapter 10: Covering Up the Crime
Chapter 11: Ride Like the Wind
Chapter 12: The Forces of Evil
Chapter 13: Code 999
Chapter 14: No Laughing Matter
Chapter 15: Head, Heart & Soul
Chapter 16: Good Versus Evil
Chapter 17: Duel to the Death
Chapter 18: Buried Alive
The Backstage Disneyland Trilogy
Brady MacDonald is a senior producer for latimes.com, the website of the Los Angeles Times, working on home page production, special projects, and site design. He writes the Funland theme park blog for the Times’ Travel section, covering the latest trends and newest rides at major parks around the world.
Sheriff Woody and Jessie discover the bloodied body of Ursula the Sea Witch, the trident of King Triton still sticking out of her bloated belly. Who could have done such a vile deed?
Sheriff Woody takes a sip from his flute of champagne as he interlocks elbows with Jessie the cowgirl in a romantic toast at the Carthay Circle restaurant in Pixar Land. The central dining room evokes the glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age with its twinkling chandeliers, towering floral arrangements, and vaulted ceiling. The power couple occupy the premiere booth in the center of the wood-paneled room beneath pastoral scenes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Throughout the fine dining room, Pixar characters eat from plates emblazoned with the restaurant’s gold leaf CC logo. Emperor Zurg and Mr. Potatohead sip cocktails at the well-appointed bar. Elastigirl shares an appetizer with Frozone in a secluded corner. A sommelier pours wine for Edna Mode and Wall-E as they peruse leather-bound menus.
Woody holds Jessie’s hands and stares deep into her eyes. They are clearly in love. He leans across the marbled wood table and gives her a kiss. Her perfume smells of sandalwood and musk.
Jessie looks beautiful. Her braided red hair contrasts with her glimmering green eyes. She wears her traditional western blouse with yellow cuffs and red doodle accents.
A waiter in a beige tuxedo jacket with brown lapels and cuffs clears away an order of firecracker duck wings and offers the couple dessert menus. Underneath the table, Jessie runs a boot up Woody’s leg and presses firmly against his manhood. Woody sits up bolt straight in the tufted leather booth.
“I have dessert waiting for you at home, cowboy,” Jessie whispers.
“Waiter!” Woody hollers. “Check, please!”
The startled waiter shoots a concerned look at the attentive maitre d’ who rushes to the table.
“Your money’s no good here, Sheriff,” the apologetic maitre d’ says.
“I just like hearing you say it,” Woody says with a touch too much self-importance. “My compliments to the chef.”
“You can tell him yourself,” says the maitre d’ with a sweep of his hand.
A waiter wheels a cart over to the table and lifts a domed sterling silver serving platter to reveal Remy in a chef’s hat on a plate of cheese and fruit.
“Yee-haw,” Jessie says. “The duck wings had a little extra punch tonight.”
“Just the way you like them, I trust,” the rat chef says.
Woody tosses a $100 tip down on the table and hands Jessie her crimson cowgirl hat as the couple rises to leave. They pass black-and-white photos of Walt Disney and his Hollywood friends as they descend the stairs and exit the restaurant onto Buena Vista Street. A late October chill nips the post-midnight air as Halloween decorations festoon the 1920s Los Angeles that Walt would have found when he arrived in California. The whitewashed concrete of the Carthay’s octagonal bell tower gleams like a beacon in the ink black sky.
A festive atmosphere prevails as Pixar characters dressed in Halloween costumes criss-cross the traffic circle en route to all-night parties, after-hours watering holes, and late-night booty calls. As they do every night, the Pixarians take over Pixar Land once the tourists vacate the park at the end of each day.
Everyone pays their respects to Woody as he casually strolls beneath Grizzly Peak with Jessie on his elbow. He’s the big cheese, Pixar Land’s equivalent of Disneyland’s Mickey Mouse, no matter how much Woody despises comparisons to Mickey. He hates the Mouse. And the feeling is mutual. Even the passing thought of Mickey makes Woody’s blood boil.
“What’s wrong, cowboy?” Jessie asks, sensing the tension in his body.
Woody ignores the entreaty, tipping his cowboy hat to Hamm, Lotso, and Merida. Woody wonders: why is he so angry? Most Pixarians see him as a hero, a leader, a good guy. But on the inside he feels like a jerk, a bastard, a bad guy. The two sides seem so at odds with each other. Why is his life so full of contradictions? Jessie knows both Woodys and loves them equally. Why does he so desperately want to change, then? Maybe he should just be happy with who he is.
On Route 66, Lightning McQueen and a fleet of Radiator Springs roadsters dance the night away in Cars Land as DJ the blue minivan blasts “Life is a Highway” from his sound system. Woody doesn’t have a problem with a few cars blowing off some radiator steam. Besides, a little fun helps relieve tension after a long day. Jessie reaches up and gives Woody a kiss on the cheek, which takes the edge off a bit.
A crash of breaking bottles and a string of invectives brings Mr. Incredible and Sulley Sullivan rolling out of the Golden Vine Winery in a blue ball of fur and spandex-clad muscles. Fists fly as the drunken Pixarians wail on each other outside the normally sedate winery that turns into a raucous beer garden every night after the guests leave for the day. Woody hands Jessie his hat and dives into the pile between the belligerent combatants in hopes of breaking up the fight.
“Not on my watch,” says Woody, separating the pugilistic pair with outstretched arms.
Woody looks tiny between the twin bulks, his spindly arms hardly a match for the massive murraders. Yet Woody holds his ground without hesitation or fear as the wobbling inebriates threaten to fall over of their own accord. The stench of hops permeates the air as the beasts gasp for breath. Woody pulls a walkie-talkie radio off his belt.
“Gold Star to Bucket O’ Soldiers,” Woody says into the radio. “Do you copy?”
“Sarge here,” comes the squelchy reply. “Whaddaya got?”
Little Bo Peep runs out of the beer garden, rushes up to Woody, and grabs the sheriff by his cowhide vest.
“Stop!” Bo Peep yells. “It’s all my fault.”
Bo Peep’s prairie grass perfume rekindles an old flame that Woody will never be able to fully extinguish. He puffs out his chest in a brute show of force but lets her continue to hang onto his vest, his gold sheriff’s badge glinting in the street lights.
“I’m sick and tired of this,” Woody says.
Bo Peep looks less demure than her daytime demeanor without the pink bonnet and shepherd’s crook. Her blonde hair cascades over her bare porcelain shoulders, her breasts heaving from the excitement.
“They were fighting over me,” Bo Peep says.
There’s nothing Bo loves more than to have men battling for her attention. It’s ultimately what drove her and Woody apart: one man was never enough for her.
“The Green Army Men have better things to do than to respond to bar fights between your boyfriends,” Woody says.
“Let me handle it,” Bo Peep pleads.
Desperate to impress both Jessie and Bo Peep, Woody strikes a more casual stance. He’s made his point. Shown everyone who’s boss. Why not grant a little clemency. Be less of a jerk.
“Never mind,” Woody says into the radio. “All clear.”
A grateful Bo Peep lets go of Woody’s vest and breaths a sigh of relief.
“10-4, Sheriff,” Sarge’s voice crackles. “Standing down.”
Woody pushes Mr. Incredible toward Bo Peep.
“Why don’t you take Incrediboy home and let him sober up,” Woody says.
Woody shoves Sulley in the opposite direction.
“And keep him away from this fuzzball,” Woody says.
Sulley brushes past Jessie and gives her a playful smack on the backside of her tight blue jeans.
“Call me when you’re ready for a real monster,” Sulley says.
Jessie struggles to restrain a gleeful smile. Her blushing cheeks betray her true feelings.
“Keep that up Sulley and you’ll spend the night in my jail,” Woody hollers.
The furry blue monster with purple spots raises a middle finger as he departs toward Hollywoodland. Bo Peep leads a stumbling Mr. Incredible in the direction of Paradise Pier.
Jessie hands Woody back his cowboy hat and slips her arm through his. She clearly has a thing for animals—alien or otherwise. Sulley has been hitting on her forever and she never does anything to discourage him.
Woody’s heart rate continues to race from the tussle with the twin towers of testosterone. He likes a good fight as much as anybody else. Men need to throw a few punches every once in a while to get their aggressions out. Fighting is the only thing short of dying that makes you feel truly alive.
“Why don’t we mosey on home the long way?” Jessie suggests.
Woody looks off toward home. Rimmed in golden lights, Toy Story Midway Mania glimmers on the other side of Paradise Bay. Towering above the homestead, Mickey’s Fun Wheel and the California Screamin’ roller coaster shimmer in the crystal smooth waters like a picture postcard. The long way home might help him calm down a bit before dessert. Out of the corner of his eye Woody spots unusual activity in the shadows between the Little Mermaid dark ride and San Francisco Street.
“What are Wynchel and Duncan doing in Pixar Land at this hour?” Woody asks. “The curfew has been in place for hours.”
The bumbling donut cops from Wreck-It Ralph are way out of their jurisdiction. The nominal Disneyland police force is clearly investigating something. But what?
“What’s going on?” Woody hollers.
The tall, slender chocolate eclair and the short, stocky glazed donut meet Woody and Jessie in the middle of the short street lined with a row of colorful gingerbread houses.
“You can’t be here,” Woody protests.
The Disneylanders and the Pixarians have a long-standing truce that dictates Disney characters must stay in Disneyland after park hours while Pixar characters are confined to Pixar Land (what the backstage Disneyland characters call Disney California Adventure). Violating the ironclad agreement is grounds for immediate arrest and imprisonment.
“This is a crime scene,” says Wynchel, blocking Woody’s way with outstretched arms.
“A crime scene!” Woody yells in bewilderment. “Why wasn’t I notified?”
Duncan grabs Woody by the arm and leads him in the opposite direction.
“I’m going to have to ask you to stand back, sir,” Duncan demands.
An enraged Woody wiggles free of Duncan’s grip and shoves the gold star on his vest in the donut’s face.
“See this badge,” Woody screams. “This means I tell you what to do. Not the other way around.”
Wynchel puts a calming hand on Woody’s shoulder.
“Listen, cowboy...” Wynchel begins.
Woody bats aside the donut cop’s hand along with the patronizing tone.
“No, you listen,” Woody growls. “Nobody tells me what to do in my own park.”
“Why don’t you let us take care of this one,” Wynchel continues. “This is none of your business.”
Woody pushes past the two donuts and struts toward the crime scene with a cock-of-the-walk attitude. What he finds in the shadows shocks him: Ursula’s lifeless octopus body lays in a pool of blood, a trident stuck in her.
Continued in "Villains Forever"!
Woody's routine investigation of Ursula's death becomes anything but routine with the apparent complicity of the Disneyland characters in the murder and an attempt upon Jessie's life in the Little Mermaid ride. And what happened to Ursula's body?
A dead body in Pixar Land! And worse, it’s a Disney character! What is Woody going to do? It will be front-page news around the world. A cold-blooded murder. Of a Disney villain. In the heart of the park. At the height of the Halloween season. All on Woody’s watch.
Upon closer inspection, Woody realizes Ursula has been stabbed dozens of times by the trident still sticking in her bulbous body. Blood oozes from every wound like jelly from a donut. This is no random murder. This is a crime of passion. A brutal slaying by a killer out for vengeance. Just a few days before Halloween.
Who would do such a thing? Only someone—or something—possessed of pure evil.
“Sweet mother of Abraham Lincoln!” Jessie screams.
Duncan shushes Jessie as her shrill shriek of terror echoes throughout the park.
“She can’t be here,” says Wynchel, glaring at Jessie from behind his aviator sunglasses.
“That’s the least of our worries right now,” Woody says.
Woody bends over and inspects the gold coins on Ursula’s eyes. A ritual killing? This case is getting weirder and weirder by the moment.
“Sorry ma’am, you’re gonna have to leave,” says Duncan, attempting to lead Jessie away. “Official police business.”
Woody pulls his badge off his vest and pins it on Jessie’s blouse. He angrily spits leathery sweet tobacco on the ground.
“She’s my deputy,” Woody says. “Now take your hands off of her. We’ve got a murder investigation to conduct.”
Gleaming with pride, Jessie heads off toward the crowd of curious onlookers gathering at the end of the street. To Woody, the crime scene looks almost staged. Like the killer is daring the cops: catch me if you can.
“Who could have done this?” Woody asks.
“She’s a Disney villain,” Duncan says matter of factly. “Who do you think?”
Wynchel smacks the police hat off Duncan, who clumsily chases after it. These idiots sure act strange for cops. But then again, they’re donuts. By law, Ursula should have left Pixar Land hours ago when the curfew began.
“I’m sure plenty of people want her dead,” says Wynchel a little too casually.
“At this hour it would have to be another character,” Woody says with a shudder. “Or a cast member.”
Wynchel kicks Duncan in the shin when he thinks Woody isn’t looking and signals for the moronic donut to keep his mouth shut. Jessie returns with a stack of Coke cups, a black Sharpie marker, souvenir Mickey Mouse gloves, and a roll of tape. Disney shopping bags stick out of the pockets of her blue jeans. Jessie hands Woody a piece of chalk. She thinks of everything. She’s the perfect partner—in more ways than one.
“The most obvious suspect would have to be Ariel,” Wynchel says.
“Maybe if you’re basing your hunch on a fairy tale,” Woody says. “But Ariel and Ursula are the best of friends backstage.”
Any Disney character would know that. Wynchel’s relaxed demeanor seems almost too forced.
“Did you talk to any witnesses?” Jessie asks.
“A few of them wanted to talk,” Duncan says. “But we asked them not to say anything.”
These guys call themselves cops? This is the shoddiest police investigation Woody has ever seen.
“Why would you do that?” Woody asks.
“They were all drunk,” Wynchel says. “We sent them on their way.”
Jessie looks equally incredulous. Who do these donuts think they are? Their actions seem almost criminal.
“Who did you talk to?” Jessie asks.
“Mr. Incredible, Sulley Sullivan, and Little Bo Peep,” Duncan says.
Wynchel smacks Duncan behind the knees with his police baton, clearly upset with his dimwitted partner.
“You don’t need to talk to them. I’m sure they didn’t see anything.”
Woody traces a chalk outline around Ursula’s eight tentacles. The stench of death is already in the air. Beneath Ursula’s body, the metallic-smelling blood pools with the fishy black ink.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Duncan says. “That’ll just make it harder to clean up.”
Wynchel and Duncan stare at Jessie with a mix of disdain and disbelief as she puts on the fuzzy white souvenir Mickey Mouse gloves before handling the evidence.
“They were all I could find on short notice,” Jessie says with a purposeful twinkle in her eye.
Duncan absent-mindedly steps in a river of blood streaming from Ursula’s body.
“Watch it!” Jessie barks. “This is a crime scene.”
Jessie begins marking evidence with the Coke cups, numbering the bottom of each cup with the Sharpie marker. Jessie and Woody make a good team. While he focuses on the big picture, she handles the details. The yodeling cowgirl brings out the best in him, even in the worst of times.
“The killer could still be loose somewhere in the park,” Woody says. “We need to set up a perimeter.”
“What we need to do is get a janitorial crew in here as soon as possible to clean this mess up,” Wynchel says.
The dismissive attitude of the donut cops shocks Woody. At the end of the street near the Grizzly River Run mill wheel, Jessie creates a do-not-cross police line on the sidewalk with the tape to keep the looky-loos away from the crime scene.
“We have to call Anaheim P.D.” Woody says.
“Oh, we don’t want to do that,” Wynchel says. “Think of the negative publicity.”
The newspaper headlines flash through Woody’s mind: Disney character slain at theme park.
“We need a cover story to keep things hush-hush and prevent panic,” Duncan says.
Panic is a very real possibility if the Pixarians found out there’s a killer on the loose in Pixar Land. And then there’s the guests. Who would ever come to Pixar Land again after a murder this gruesome? Discretion made sense, at least for the moment.
“Somebody must have seen something,” Woody says.
“Look at this,” Jessie says.
Jessie carefully places the evidence cups as she follows a blood trail that leads toward the entrance of the Little Mermaid ride. Woody follows behind her. Every time she bends over Woody gets a little more horny. His mind drifts to “dessert.” Woody loves when she wears nothing but her boots and chaps. Her bad girl brings out the worst of Woody’s bad boy. Woody shakes the fantasy from his mind.
“You guys guard the crime scene,” Woody hollers over his shoulder at the donut cops. “Don’t let anyone in or out.”
The red droplets lead through the attraction’s front entrance and into the dark ride’s blackened interior. Jessie steps through the broken hull of Prince Eric’s ship and snaps on a flashlight.
“Turn off the light,” Scuttle shouts.
The seagull can talk but can’t move from his spot in the ride, his orange webbed feet bolted to the ground. Woody flips on his own flashlight, doubling the protests from the audio-animatronic bird.
“Police business,” Woody barks back.
“What’s wrong?” Scuttle asks.
What should Woody say? He doesn’t want to spread panic throughout backstage Disneyland.
“Ursula’s dead,” Jessie says.
“Dead!” Scuttle squawks. “Ursula can’t be dead.”
The ruckus echoes down the dark ride tunnel as Jessie and Woody continue to navigate the darkness. So much for keeping the Disney death hush-hush.
“What happened?” asks the animatronic Flounder.
Flounder swivels on a stick next to an animatronic Ariel, surrounded by human treasures in her grotto.
“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Woody says.
The detectives enter the darkened marquee underwater garden scene of the ride where a dancing pod of lobsters and a school of tropical fish stand frozen in motion around a purple octopus. The room erupts in a chorus of questions. Was she murdered? Who would kill Ursula? How did she die?
“Did anyone see anything suspicious?” Woody asks.
But the cacophony of voices makes it impossible to make sense of the replies. Jessie shines her flashlight on King Triton, who wields a three-pronged golden trident.
“Well, there goes that theory,” Jessie says.
Triton’s trident can’t be the murder weapon. But where else would you find a trident in Pixar Land? A spectral shadow races through a flashlight beam.
“Did you see that?” Triton asks.
Suddenly the Little Mermaid dark ride stirs to life. Woody pulls Jessie out of the way of an oncoming clamshell omnimover ride vehicle just before it scoops her up like a pearl.
The upbeat “Under the Sea” blasts from loudspeakers hidden throughout the attraction, adding a surreal nature to the dangerous situation. Holding hands, Woody and Jessie leap between two clamshells and run alongside the track next to the moving ride vehicles. It’s surprising more guests aren’t hurt on these rides. Disney essentially puts little kids and their families on a factory assembly line and tells them to enjoy the ride.
Pressed up against a coral reef, Woody and Jessie have nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. They’re trapped. In the dark. Inside an out-of-control ride. A clamshell clips Jessie, knocks her down and drags her by her chaps. The rotating clamshell whips her around like a ragdoll. A rock formation smacks her in the head and knocks her unconscious.
Woody leaps on top of a clamshell and jumps from one ride vehicle to another like he’s hopping across rocks fording a stream. Balancing inside a pink clamshell like a surfer, Woody leans down and frees Jessie. The ride stops as suddenly as it started.
That was no accident. Clearly someone is trying to hinder the investigation. Cradling Jessie in his arms, Woody kisses the lifeless cowgirl and she wakes from her slumber.
“Are you OK?” Woody asks.
Unfazed, Jessie dusts herself off, picks up her flashlight and continues her search for evidence in the sea witch’s lair.
“Is it true?” Flotsam asks.
“I can’t believe it,” Jetsam says.
The clearly distraught animatronic eels wiggle forlornly, forever trapped in the grey stone walls of Ursula’s grotto.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Jessie tells them.
Woody’s flashlight cuts through the darkness, scanning across a collection of crystal balls containing the lost souls amassed by Ursula. Stealing someone’s soul would certainly be a motive for murder—if the fairy tales were true. But the murder happened after park hours. It had to be somebody she knew. Somebody from backstage Disneyland.
“Did you guys see or hear anything?” Woody asks.
“There was a lot of crashing and screaming coming from her apartment,” Flotsam says.
“She left in a rush,” Jetsam adds. “But it was so dark I couldn’t see anything.”
“The poor, unfortunate soul,” says the sobbing animatronic Ursula.
Bent forward at her mechanical waist, animatronic Ursula heaves in sorrow at the death of her real-world doppelganger.
“Was anybody with her?” Woody asks.
“She seemed to be talking to someone,” says animatronic Ursula, her voice strained with sadness.
Woody follows Jessie as her flashlight beam disappears between a pair of craggy rocks. He finds himself inside Ursula’s backstage apartment, hidden in plain sight just beyond the dark-ride track.
The cave-like apartment shows signs of a struggle. Did Ursula stumble upon a robbery in progress and things suddenly went horribly wrong? Or was it an assault? Or worse, a rape. Woody shudders at the thought of a rapist on the loose in Pixar Land.
Woody traces a flashlight beam along the ceiling’s rib-like supports arching to a backbone spine running the length of the room, which looks like the inside of a long-dead leviathan. The walls shimmer in iridescent blues and greens.
By the looks of the room, Ursula clearly put up a fight. A broken mirror hangs above a smashed vanity. A potion cabinet lays in splinters, the spells spilled in a toxic goo amid glass shards on the floor.
“It looks like we have a secondary crime scene,” Woody says.
Jessie places Coke cups around the room and carefully numbers the evidence tents. A sickening splatter of blood stains the sheets on the round bed in the center of the room.
“We’re going to have to expand the perimeter,” Woody says.
The sheriff and his deputy exit the apartment and wind their way back through the dark-ride corridor. The underwater garden is in an uproar of worry and panic. The animatronic sea creatures once again erupt in a chorus of questions. Who did it? Did you catch the killer? What if he comes back to eliminate the witnesses?
“We’ll get to the bottom of this,” Woody tells them reassuringly. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
But that’s a lie, of course. A mix of worry and excitement swirls inside Woody’s gut. This is easily the biggest crime in the history of Pixar Land. The upcoming investigation will test Woody’s resolve and prove his mettle as a lawman. And burnish his already stellar reputation even further.
Unfortunately, Woody’s no closer to a motive than when this strange case began. Or a suspect, for that matter. Ariel couldn’t have hauled Ursula’s body from the apartment to the shadows of the faux San Francisco city block. But if not her, then who? The list of possible suspects is endless.
Back outside at the crime scene, Wynchel and Duncan casually stand guard as cast members mop up the blood.
“Hold your horses!” Jessie yells. “You’re destroying evidence.”
Wynchel and Duncan just laugh at her unbridled enthusiasm. Woody pushes past the bumbling donut cops and stops dead in his tracks. The crime scene is missing the most crucial piece of evidence. Ursula’s body is gone.
Continued in "Villains Forever"!