OC Q&A: How lawsuits have shaped Disneyland


Why don’t the costumed characters at Disneyland roam the park anymore without being accompanied by other employees? Why is Disneyland seemingly always spotless? Why did the once-popular Luigi’s Flying Tires at California Adventure close down after only three years?

Lawsuits. Disneyland gets at least one a week, according to local author David Koenig, a Disney historian of sorts.

The Aliso Viejo resident explores some of the Disney’s biggest battles in and out of court in “The People v. Disneyland: How Lawsuits and Lawyers Transformed the Magic,” which is now being sold in bookstores nationwide and online.


The author of “Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland” said he began writing the “The People v. Disneyland” in 2012 but had been looking into the cases against Disney since the early 1990s, when he was researching “Mouse Tales.”

Koenig points out in his book that in many of the cases, Disney has won either through its lawyers’ skills or by making some alterations at the theme park. But in some cases, he notes, everyone has lost because the lawsuits have led to drastic, not-so-fun changes to the park.

Koenig recently spoke about his latest book and some of the discoveries he made while researching the cases.

By the way, the answers to the questions above are, according to Koening: Guests sometimes harass the characters and also sometimes falsely accuse the characters of harassment, usually just to try to earn a quick buck. A spotless park allows for fewer accusations of injuries caused by trash or debris. One of the beach balls that guests would throw toward each other on Luigi’s Flying Tires once hit a woman in the head, hurting her neck and leading to a lawsuit. Within two months, the balls were removed, and two years later the ride was closed because of poor attendance.


Weekend: What got you interested in Disneyland’s history?

Koenig: I grew up in Orange County, where Disneyland obviously casts a large shadow, so it has been a place I’ve been fond of and fascinated by since childhood. My interest in studying its inner workings and writing about it began in 1984, when I was attending Cal State Fullerton and, during my final semester, many of my classmates, who were devoted Disneyland cast members, went out on strike.

Weekend: What is your personal history with Disney? Are you a fan?

Koenig: I’m a big Disneyland fan, but, like my college friends who went on strike, I can separate the fantasy from the reality. So I’m not a great admirer of many of the changes the park has made over the years. I’ve never been a cast member, but it can be a terrific place to work at, particularly for college kids and retirees. Who knows, perhaps I can apply there when I’m 65 … after legally changing my name.

Weekend: What were some of your favorite cases from “The People v. Disneyland”?

Koenig: The new book covers a lot of cases that have never gotten any press, but some of my favorites were a few I’d heard of before and in some cases had written about in my first book, “Mouse Tales,” but didn’t have the whole story at that time. These include the Little Pig who was accused of fondling a heavyset woman and calling her “Mommy,” or the teenager who found a way to stand up to try to surf Space Mountain and found himself hurtling into space. There’s a lot more to these stories than even I knew.

Weekend: Were there any cases that shocked you, either by what happened or how they were handled?

Koenig: I’d heard about most of the marquee cases, like the deaths, so the ones that really shocked me were the smaller cases that caused Disneyland to secretly alter something we’ve seen countless times before and after, and just never realized it had changed — or at least never knew why. The heights of walls and railings, the configurations of ride vehicles and lap bars, even the shape of the Sword of the Stone have all been tweaked, right in front of our eyes.

Weekend: What do you think is the biggest factor in Disney getting away with so much?

Koenig: Disney has a huge home court advantage. It’s partly because of their lawyers, but primarily because of their hard-earned reputation. For most of its history, the park has gone out of its way to be as safe as possible, to spoil its guests, and to be fair and honest with its employees. Disneyland built up a lot of goodwill over the years.

Weekend : Were there any challenges writing this book?

Koenig: The greatest challenge was treading fairly on the disability lawsuits. People with physical and mental disabilities make for extremely sympathetic plaintiffs, with often heart-rending personal stories. But legally they’re not always in the right. No one wants to make things even harder for a blind visitor or an autistic child. It was difficult balancing emotional arguments against logic and law.

Weekend: How has Disney reacted to your books? Do you have any worries about how they will react to “The People v. Disneyland”?

Koenig: When I was writing my first book, Disney was very apprehensive about what I was doing. Back 25 years ago, an outsider had never written about what it was like behind the scenes, and everyone, from hourly employees to managers to retirees, was very protective of the park and its reputation. Fortunately, after “Mouse Tales” came out, they were relieved to discover that, while I did spill a lot of their secrets, I did it in a sympathetic way. Still, I’m not exactly on Bob Iger’s Christmas card list. The new book is accurate and fair, so I don’t expect Disney to be overjoyed that I also give their opponents’ arguments as well as their own. [Iger is chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Co.]

Weekend: What do you hope people take away from reading this book?

Koenig: Disneyland is a drastically different place to visit and to work at today compared to how it was just a few decades ago. Guests will understand why Disney had to get rid of certain rides and rules, change others, and why wait times continue to grow longer. Ideally, anyone seriously, legally wronged by Disney will learn there is a glimmer of hope in fighting back. And those who don’t have an objectively strong case will move on. It ain’t easy to beat the mouse.