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Users wild over Disney ride

A group of Magic Kingdom devotees is using the Web to rally support around what it believes is a plan to close "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride."

Never underestimate the power of the Web, even if you're a media giant such as the Walt Disney Company.

In an entertaining but telling tale, a group of Magic Kingdom theme park devotees is using the Web to rally support around what it believes is a plan to close one of its most beloved rides, "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride." And it claims that support is mounting worldwide.

"It is the opinion of those at the Save Mr. Toad Web site that the reasons noted for the possible closing of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in Walt Disney World are total poop," the site reads. It cites reasons such as "the ride is outdated" or "too scary for children," all of which Disney denies.

"It's the easiest way to get people's attention very cheaply," said "JT Toad," also known as Miami resident Jeff Moskot, who is spearheading the effort. "And also, I'm sort of a geek anyway."

For those who don't know, Mr. Toad is an attraction that takes ride-goers through a wacky animated world in a old-fashioned car. One highlight: a make-believe near-collision with a train. Magic Kingdom-lovers know that the ride often attracts long lines.

But this group of Mr. Toad fans worries that the ride is endangered. They cite an October 1997 story from the Orlando Sentinel that describes a "likely but not yet firm" plan to close the ride and replace it with one featuring Winnie the Pooh. The story quotes unnamed Disney officials.

Disney contends it has not yet made any such decision. "We are always looking at ways to update the park and keep it fresh, but there's been nothing officially announced about that attraction," spokesman Craig Dezern said today. Moskot said he has heard from Disney sources that the company is heeding his group's call.

Mr. Toad loyalists, who call themselves Team Toad, have launched a Web page to rally support to fight the ride's closure and has gained comments from around the world. This Sunday, it plans a demonstration at Disney World to protest alleged plans to close the ride. They plan to wear T-shirts reading, "Why Mickey is killing Mr. Toad."

"The Web site encourages people to use the list of relevant postal addresses [including that of Disney chief executive Michael Eisner], email addresses, and phone numbers to contact Disney officials and let them know how they feel about the issue," says an email message being sent out by JT Toad. "Users also can download a banner to put on their own Web sites to show their support for the Save Mr. Toad cause."

If that's not enough, "Save Mr. Toad" T-shirts are being offered for sale, and online polls are posted to gather Netizens' opinions about the ride's potential closing. "Mr. Toad has won decisive victories," according to JT.

Disney says it has not tried to contact the site's organizers. "People get emotionally attached to the park, and that's what you're seeing played out here," Dezern said.