In early June, Walt Disney World made the kind of commonplace announcement it’s making daily this summer: ‘Ohana, the vaguely Hawaiian-themed restaurant at Disney World’s Polynesian Village resort, was reopening after a yearlong closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, within moments, the eagle-eyed community of tweeters who closely follow Disney news noticed something missing on the restaurant’s menu: WHERE WERE THE NOODLES?
For many years, it seemed, ‘Ohana had served soba noodles in a pineapple teriyaki sauce, but now they were gone from the new menu. The Disney community lost it.
That’s right: “Ohana” was trending on Twitter, because people were mad about the noodles. And it wasn’t only Twitter. Disney Twitter is closely connected to the entire online world of Disney Parks superfans, a network of blogs and Facebook groups and message boards devoted to digesting and discussing every single news tidbit or rumor about Disneyland and Disney World. No morsel is too small—no, I’m serious, no morsel is too small—for every single one of these blogs to post about it in a journalistic smorgasbord. The elimination of a menu item popular enough to have once spawned a T-shirt was certainly big enough to be written up on basically every Disney Parks blog. “The yakisoba noodles are the iconic, serve-them-to-me-first dish that ‘Ohana diehards love,” wrote one blogger in a post plaintively headlined “OpEd: Why We NEED Ohana Noodles Back.” “Disney, hear our plea! We crave ‘Ohana noodles!”
Obviously, I really wanted to try these noodles. I had to assume that Disney’s take on yakisoba noodles, in a restaurant featuring visits from Stitch and Moana, would not be particularly authentic, but maybe it would be pretty good. (Many Disney things are not at all authentic but are nonetheless perfectly enjoyable, like the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular or the England pavilion at EPCOT.) Luckily, every Disney blog has published a recipe to make the noodles yourself; it’s sort of hard to tell in this incestuous ecosystem, but it seems like the original poster was a blog called the Recipes of Disney, whose idiosyncratic instructions are repeated across the internet, wherever ‘Ohana noodles are loved. When I read the recipe, I thought: two CUPS of brown sugar?! But I went ahead and made them anyway.
Was I tasting the real ‘Ohana noodles? Who knows! According to Deanna, the “phlebotomist by day and food blogger by night” who runs Recipes of Disney, all her recipes are given to her “by Walt Disney World Guest Services or a Disney Chef at the restaurant.” Whether this was true or not, the noodles I made in my actual kitchen were very bad: insanely sweet, with just the tiniest hint of citrus flavor courtesy of frozen pineapple juice concentrate. They were like a child’s idea of teriyaki noodles, although my actual child ate merely a couple of forkfuls before she said, “Wow, this is really way too sweet.” They tasted about 60 percent as good as if you just poured a bottle of Kikkoman Teriyaki Baste & Glaze on a pile of soba. This was what superfans were begging Disney to bring back? This is what inspired a Change.org petition? Yeesh.
On Saturday, of course, Disney gave those superfans their wish, posting the news to the Disney Parks TikTok: “The noodles! They’re back! What can we say but … you’re welcome!”
I’m not saying that Disney definitely planned to serve noodles all along and was simply toying with the fans who live and die by Disney Parks news. But I am saying that you’ll never see a more perfect example of how the company uses the fandom surrounding its brand to gin up enthusiasm for mediocre products. Over the weekend, Disney Twitter was filled with messages thanking Disney for bringing back the noodles, or high-fiving over how fan enthusiasm really made a difference this time. When ‘Ohana reopens, expect to see a flood of visitors ordering plates full of sickly sweet soba noodles—another triumph for a company that counts on its fans to make a tempest of every teacup.