Walt Disney World Clips Actors’ Wings In Revamped Bird Show Attraction As Union’s COVID Dispute Continues

Up characters Russell and Dug the dog are out and so are the Actors’ Equity members who played them in a revamped version of a bird show attraction at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.

As the union and Walt Disney World in Orlando enter into discussions about a grievance filed by Equity over the resort’s COVID-19 safety protocols, Disney has quietly revised what was previously known as ‘Up! A Great Bird Adventure’ into an actor-less ‘Feathered Friends in Flight.’

As first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, the revised bird show (with socially distanced audience members) replaces the acted, onstage costumed characters of Russell and Dug (from Disney’s 2009 animated movie Up), along with “Wilderness Explorer Troop Leader Jones,” with Disney employees identified as animal behavior specialists who host the show.

Equity isn’t pleased.

“Did Walt Disney World also buy the FastPass for union busting when it reopened the parks?,” said Brandon Lorenz, Communications Director at Actors’ Equity, in a statement. “It is deeply disappointing that Disney has locked performers out, after Walt Disney World refused to allow masks and testing for performers, a lower safety standard than so many other park workers.”

Deadline has reached out to Walt Disney World for comment.

Equity has advised its members not to accept jobs with Walt Disney World unless certain safety protocols for performers are adopted, specifically masks and coronavirus testing. In video of the new version of the show watch it above  the show’s hosts are not wearing masks. (Walt Disney World requires other employees and visitors to wear masks; Disneyland in California remands closed.)

Disney indicated earlier this month that The Show if not specifically the bird show  Must Go On: In response to Equity’s claim that the park had “locked out” Equity members in retaliation for the union’s protocol demands, a Disney spokesperson told Deadline, “Seven unions signed agreements to have their employees return to work, the Actors’ Equity rejected our safety protocols and have not made themselves available to continue negotiations, which is unfortunate. We are exercising our right to open without Equity performers.”

Equity filed a grievance over the matter, and the two sides are expected begin discussions this week.

The union represents about 750 park employees, many of whom perform the resort’s stage productions such as the bird show, Beauty and The Beast Live On Stage, Finding Nemo — The Musical and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. The union actors were not among the thousands of Walt Disney World employees who started returning to work when the park began its phased reopening on Saturday, July 11.

This past weekend, Walt Disney World updated its safety rules by banning the consumption of food and drink while walking through the park to ensure masks are worn at all times. Patrons must now be stationary and socially distanced when removing masks to consume food and beverages.

The dispute with Equity comes as Florida continues to see spikes in new coronavirus cases. Today, the state reported 10,347 new cases and 90 new deaths, bring the statewide total to 360,394 infected and 5,072 Florida residents dead.

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