Top News Stories of 2023 as Determined by the Disney Dining Audience

2023 disney news stories
Credit: Bioreconstruct/Canva

It has been a whirlwind year around the world.

In 2023, India surpassed China as the most populated country on earth. The dawn of artificial intelligence made its debut–and “dawn” turned to daylight and dusk quickly as AI offered the promise of advancement mixed with several hints of peril. The battle between Russia and Ukraine continues to simmer, and in October 2023, a new war between Hamas and Israel began and was quickly kicked into high gear.

2023 news disney

Credit: Bioreconstruct/Canva

But it wasn’t all bad news–especially for Disney fans, who have been celebrating the 100th anniversary of the inception of The Walt Disney Company all year long. Though Disney World and Disneyland bid farewell to the guest-favorite Splash Mountain attraction earlier this year, EPCOT took center stage with the debut of a brand-new Walt Disney sculpture at Dreamers Point and the new World Celebrations Gardens.

walt disney sculpture epcot disney parks

Credit: Disney Parks

And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

To celebrate the end of 2023 and the beginning of a brand-new year, we’ve compiled the Top 10 Disney-Related News Stories of 2023 on DisneyDining, as chosen by our audience. How many of these do you remember, and have your feelings about any of the news issues changed over the last several months?

#10. Former Pastor’s Trips to Disney World Made Him One of the FBI’s “Most Wanted” Fugitives

Over the years, there have been stories of guests returning home from Disney World with mountains of debt, unexplained illnesses, and, more recently, COVID, but this story from April 2023 might have been the first of its kind, as it involves a pastor whose frequent trips to the Most Magical Place on Earth not only earned him the nickname “Disney Dad,” but ultimately resulted in his becoming a fugitive wanted by the FBI.

man and woman with three young children

Credit: Burns family

Chris Burns, a former youth pastor turned financial adviser, is still wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for fraud. But his alleged scheme was no ordinary scheme.

According to prosecutors familiar with the case, Burns carried out an elaborate Ponzi scheme for years–one that made victims of people across three different states. Burns allegedly operated under the guise of a “peer-to-peer” lending program that featured promissory notes bearing high interest, and the money he received from his “clients” was then used to fund Burns’ alleged “lavish lifestyle,” which included the purchase of a $1 million lake house, several vehicles, a boat, and airtime for his local radio show, as well as multiple trips with his wife and children to the Walt Disney World Resort located near Orlando, Florida.

Burns’ wife and kids were none the wiser.

man and his friend

Christopher Burns (L)/Credit: Burns Family

But the day before Burns was to turn over financial records to authorities to be used in an investigation into his business dealings, the young husband and father said he was leaving to drive to his parents’ home and spend some time with them before things got hectic.

That was three years ago, and no one has seen or heard from Chris Burns since that time.

#9. Walt Disney World Location Closes Permanently

In mid-May 2023, news of an upcoming permanent closure at the Walt Disney World Resort had people talking, even though it wasn’t a theme park or water park. Per the news post:

Melissa Shoes, a popular footwear and accessories store, recently announced that it would shut down its Disney Springs location. Located in the heart of Walt Disney World’s shopping and entertainment district, this closure has left many Guests and fans disappointed.

disney springs brick signage

Credit: Becky Burkett

Melissa Shoes opened its Disney Springs Marketplace Co-Op location in 2016, offering guests a selection of stylish shoes and accessories. The store quickly became a fan favorite, known for its comfortable and unique fashion offerings.

Yes, the closure of a shoe store at Disney Springs had fans’ attention. Was it because the selection was so great? Or was it something else? We’re not sure we’ll ever know.

#8. Johnny Depp Officially Loses Iconic Film Role to Much Younger Actor

Actor Johnny Depp has had a rough few years following allegations from his ex-wife, Amber Heard, that he was abusive to her. The allegations, though found to be false by a jury of Depp’s peers in June 2022, have wreaked havoc on the star actor’s otherwise successful career in Hollywood.

johnny depp

Credit: Disney/Canva

Disney has yet to reach out to Depp to apologize for judging him prematurely, and the company has yet to ask Depp to reprise his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in a sixth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise. The good news is that no other actor has been tapped for the role of the scurvy pirate captain so far.

But the same was not true of another role embraced by Johnny Depp in 2005. That year, Depp played the role of the quirky chocolatier Willy Wonka in a live-action adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But when plans for a sequel were announced, Depp was no part of the project.

Rather, the role of Willy Wonka was given to a much younger actor–Timothee Chalamet. The film, which was written as a prequel to the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, reportedly gives the backstory of Wonka and explains why he became a candymaker.

johnny depp timothee chalamet as wonka

Credit: Warner Bros. Studios/Canva

Not only was Depp’s former role taken on by an actor much younger than he is, but Chalamet admits he did not reach out to Depp for pointers or guidance of any kind in fulfilling the role of Willy Wonka. Read into that what you will.

#7. FBI Increases Presence, Surveillance at EPCOT, Fearing Major Threat to National Security

In early May 2023, information surfaced about an increased FBI presence at EPCOT at the Walt Disney World Resort.

fbi agents at spaceship earth at epcot

Credit: Disney/Canva

So why did the government feel that EPCOT might present a threat to homeland security? According to heavily redacted FBI files, the Bureau had major concerns, particularly about the China pavilion at World Showcase. As such, FBI agents closely monitored all of the delegates on World Showcase.

According to a post at MuckRock, EPCOT’s World Showcase “initially called for cultural installations from nine countries” and was “intended to be the ultimate harmonious international village, a shining example of global unity. Naturally, the FBI had a problem with it.”

Federal documents released in December 2015 show that beginning in December 1979, the FBI had concerns about plans for EPCOT’s World Showcase, specifically as they related to the potential for Soviet involvement. Surely the Bureau breathed a sigh of relief when the USSR declined to take part in the World Showcase as they wouldn’t be permitted to use the pavilion for political discussions.

epcot world showcase

Aerial view of EPCOT’s World Showcase/Credit: Bioreconstruct

Soon, however, China became an issue of concern for the FBI. You can read more by clicking here.

#6. Actor Keanu Reeves Takes Iconic Role From Johnny Depp in Multi-Billion-Dollar Franchise

Since the last Pirates of the Caribbean film was released in 2017, fans of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow have been waiting for news that Disney had finally come to its senses, seen the error of its ways, and begun filming the sixth Pirates film.

Those fans have been waiting a long time, and there’s no sign that their wait is coming to an end any time soon. But as they wait, they’ve been learning even more about the creative and talented force, Johnny Depp.

keanu reeves johnny depp

Credit: Warner Bros/Disney/Canva

In March 2023, fans learned that Depp was considered for the starring role in another multi-billion-dollar film franchise, but because he was filming with Disney at the time, he had to pass. As such, the role of Neo in The Matrix film franchise ultimately went to actor Keanu Reeves, who fans also learned in April 2023 has reportedly been married to Winona Rider for 30 years.

What would Neo have been like if Johnny Depp had played the role?

#5. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Faces Massive $3 Billion Lawsuit

In some of the strangest news this site has ever reported, actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was named in a massive $3 billion lawsuit earlier this year, and as ridiculous as it sounds, the suit was no joke.

dwayne johnson

Credit: Pinterest/Disney News/Flickr, David Shankbone

It was filed by former Total Nonstop Action (TNA) wrestler Trenesha Biggers, known by her ring name, Rhaka Kahn. In the suit, Biggers claimed that she and her children were targeted in an elaborate criminal plot for which Johnson was the mastermind. But the suit also named pages and pages of other defendants, including–and no, we’re not joking–Home Depot, Starbucks, several city and state government agencies, and various businesses.

According to Biggers, the defendants worked together to kidnap her and her children.

As ridiculous as the suit was, it was allowed to proceed–at first. Ultimately, however, the suit was thrown out–but not before it caused a lot of drama for The Rock.

#4. Woman Refuses to End Her 20-Year-Long Vacation at Disney World

There are some fans who love Disney World so much that they dream of living in or near the parks all the time. They can’t imagine living hours from the parks, let alone in another state, and some feel so strongly that they eventually move close enough to the parks that they can see the Magic Kingdom fireworks every night from the windows of their homes.

disney fort wildnerness

Credit: Disney Parks

But rather than living at Disney World, one woman simply enjoyed a never-ending Disney World vacation, or so it seemed. Rather than simply visiting and leaving, she continued to extend her vacation over and over again–and suddenly, she’d been living at Disney World’s Fort Wilderness for 20 years.

#3. Disney Reportedly Cuts Ties With Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as $3 Billion Lawsuit Moves Forward

Following the news that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had been named in a kidnapping lawsuit for which $3 billion in damages were sought, news outlets were nearly overcome by stories and “reports” about the case and about supposed issues being faced by the famed wrestler-turned-Hollywood actor.

dwayne johnson rides the jungle cruise attraction at disney park with crowd of people

Credit: Disney Parks

One such story had to do with The Walt Disney Company allegedly cutting ties with Johnson in response to the lawsuit, much like the scenario that played out between Disney and Johnny Depp following allegations from his ex-wife that he was abusive.

Because Disney was quick to pass judgment on Johnny Depp years before a jury would find that his wife–and not Depp–was the abuser, it was easy for some to believe that Disney would do the same with Dwayne Johnson. The story more than likely arose because rumors had put Johnson potentially in the spot of Captain Jack Sparrow in place of Depp in a sixth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, but an article written for Essentially Sports shook down that possibility, stating:

When asked about Depp potentially returning, the co-producer [Jerry Bruckheimer] noted, ”We’ll see. I would love it. I would love to have him in the movie – that’s all that I can tell you.”

captain jack sparrow

Credit: Disney

This definitely came as a positive shocker for fans, even if not as a confirmation. This could also be a damper on the hopes of Dwayne Johnson fans who wanted to see him take the titular role in the iconic franchise. For now, it looks like Johnny Depp will continue to be Jack Sparrow.

As it currently stands, however, neither Johnny Depp nor Dwayne Johnson have been tapped to play the role of the often-inebriated, always-verbose Captain Jack, as there still have been no concrete plans for a sixth Pirates film revealed by Disney.

#2. ABC Fires Host Jimmy Kimmel During Live Broadcast of “Jimmy Kimmel LIVE!”

In mid-May, fans of Jimmy Kimmel LIVE! went to bed after witnessing the “firing” of the host of the late-night show. But it was all in good fun.

jimmy kimmel live

Credit: Disney/ABC

On Monday night, April 24, 2023, Kimmel gave a monologue and discussed the termination of FOX News’ Tucker Carlson, as well as the termination of CNN’s Don Lemon. But before Kimmel could finish, he was interrupted by his pal, Guillermo Rodriguez, who routinely delivers the news on the show.

“We have some breaking news,” Rodriguez began. “After twenty years on the air, ABC TV has decided to part ways with its host, Jimmy Kimmel.” Rodriguez followed the announcement by telling Kimmel not to let the door hit him on his way out.

guillermo rodriguez on jimmy kimmel live

Credit: Disney/ABC

While the so-called “news announcement” was meant to be funny and serve as a tie-in to news of Carlson’s and Lemon’s respective exits, some media outlets picked up the story as legitimate, and such “news” has a way of becoming viral.

#1. FBI Gets Involved in Disney’s “Plans” to Move to Another State

In April 2023, evening news broadcasts and online news outlets were virtually overflowing with stories and posts about the Walt Disney World Resort packing up and moving to another state in response to the escalating feud between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and The Walt Disney Company.

Millions of online users used Google to search various terms associated with Disney moving its flagship Central Florida theme park resort to another state–but they didn’t come to the idea on their own. In mid-April, North Carolina State Senator Michael Garrett filed a bill called Mickey’s Freedom Restoration Act, which sought to secure $750,000 in state funding to form a committee aimed at deciding how best to attract The Walt Disney Company and its Central Florida parks to the state of North Carolina.

And no, he wasn’t joking.

fbi cinderella castle magic kingdom texas sign

Credit: Disney/Canva

It also wasn’t the first time a state had entertained the prospect of welcoming Disney to establish a new major theme park resort away from the Sunshine State.

In April 2022, following a loud upheaval between Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Colorado Governor Jared Polis tweeted an offer of asylum to Mickey and Minnie in the early stages of the governor’s feud with Disney, sending an invitation to Disney to pack its bags and head to the Centennial State.

Days after Gov. Polis’s tweet, a judge in South Texas extended a warm and welcoming “howdy, y’all” to The Walt Disney Company, welcoming them to head west and begin the work of planting Disney theme park roots deep in the heart of Texas.

Related: FBI Agents Investigate at Magic Kingdom After Two Guests Commit Felony Offenses

But the story about the FBI’s involvement in a plan to move Texas to Disney had nothing to do with The Walt Disney Company and everything to do with a sinister plot by a criminal mastermind to trick unsuspecting investors into handing over funds with the promise of insider information about Disney’s plans to build a new Disney World-style resort in North Texas.

map of texas with disney park clipart

Credit: Disney/Canva

Thomas Lucas, Jr., was found guilty of defrauding nearly 250 people by telling them Disney was moving to Texas. Investors then thought they were purchasing land near the site where Disney would begin building. But the entire thing was an elaborate hoax meant to extort money from trusting investors. Lucas was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison, where he remains today.

The world of Disney-related news is an ever-changing one. Who knows what 2024 will hold for Disney fans?

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!

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