While it has gotten a bad rap for its less-than-stellar food offerings, (although I find it to be quite good actually,) PizzeRizzo in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is filled with plenty of fun Muppet references, if you know where to look. It also features nods to what came before it, and what was recently lost nearby. Here are 7 hidden things at PizzeRizzo in Hollywood Studios. And be sure to check out the video version for additional visuals!
Pizza Planet & Beyond
The original concept for this particular dining location is said to have been the Swedish Chef’s Cooking School. It would’ve been a restaurant where you can watch the Swedish Chef (attempt to) prepare dishes while you dine. Next door however, where Mama Melrose is located now, was to be The Great Gonzo’s Pizza Pandemonium Parlor. Owned and operated by the Great Gonzo, the main draw for this pizza restaurant was going to be Rizzo and his other rat buddies moving along on tracks on the rafters above the diner’s heads. All of these ideas were cancelled when the merger between Disney and The Jim Henson Company fell through in the early 1990s. The larger of the two spaces ended up being used to show off movie props instead.
Cut to several years later and the building was taken over by Toy Story Pizza Planet, a pizza restaurant and video arcade. Although, it didn’t look anything like the location in the film, as it was placed in a building themed to an old utilities plant. Pizza Planet lasted at the park for nearly 20 years, until it was closed in 2016 to make way for the all-new PizzeRizzo. To pay tribute to its predecessor, you can find a sign above the front entrance that reads “The Best Pizza on the Planet,” but with two of the words in a larger font, so it looks like it says “Pizza Planet” from a distance.
Papa Rizzo’s NY Eatery
Even though this quick service location may appear to be light on theming, Imagineers still managed to create some backstory. The area near the entrance, across from the ordering stations, features photographs and mementos honoring who appears to be Rizzo’s father. For example, Papa Rizzo’s apron from 1916 is on display. Photos featuring a little league team named the “City Rats” can also be seen, along with a pendant and baseball bats in both human, and rat-sizes. According to a postcard on the corkboard upstairs, this PizzeRizzo in Southern California is the second “famous original” PizzeRizzo, so it can be assumed that the first was opened by his father in New York. Rizzo celebrated his grand opening with a free slice on him, but the coupon was only ever valid next week.
Proud of his Grand Avenue location, Rizzo had his first dollar earned framed and put on display near the entrance to the dining room. Unfortunately, it looks like Pepe’ may have stolen it, leaving an I.O.U. in its place. There’s also a wide selection of PizzeRizzo merchandise they supposedly used to sell, but (sadly,) none of it is actually for sale.
It’s Rat Pizza
Now, rats preparing your food is nothing new for the Muppets. Rizzo led a kitchen staff of rats in the diner featured in The Muppets Take Manhattan. Just in case we weren’t aware of the rat situation, a clever effect is hidden in the large neon sign above the restaurant. While most of the time it reads “The City’s Top-Rated Pizza,” every so often some of the neon flickers out, revealing the words “It’s Rat Pizza.”
Even the phone number for PizzeRizzo has “Rat” hidden in it, RA7-4996. All throughout the upstairs dining area you’ll find dozens of other little references to rats and mice. Whether it’s real Broadway playbills for shows like Of Mice and Men, or records that have any mention of rats, (or pizza for that matter,) you’ll find them hanging on the wall.
Supreme Banquet Hall
Advertised outside and on flyers upstairs, Rizzo’s “Deluxe Supreme Banquet Hall” puts the “Rat” in “Celebrate.” Able to accommodate up to 150 guests (or 875 rats,) the Deluxe Supreme Banquet Hall features a dance floor and a once-state-of-the-art sound system. It’s a great place to dine if you’re really into cheesy wedding music and songs from the 1990s. Plus, kids love the dance floor!
Just outside the banquet hall, a sign shows information for the next upcoming event. This sign is covered with Muppet references. For starters, even the top message, “Somebody Got Married” may be an allusion to the song from the finale of The Muppets Take Manhattan called “Somebody’s Getting Married.” And even the names of the people getting married, Gil and Lill, along with their family Will, Jill, Phil, and Bill, is another nod to the film. These character names were part of the advertising agency Kermit joins after losing his memory.
There’s one more, very well hidden Muppet mention on this board, but you have to look closely to even see it. In faded letters, behind the wedding information, are details for the “Pa Otter Memorial Service.” This is a reference to the somewhat obscure “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” special that first aired in 1977. Pa Otter was Emmet’s father, and had died a couple years prior to the start of the story, but is brought up often throughout the show. The board at PizzeRizzo says that the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band played at the funeral, Emmet’s band from the special.
Remnants of Streets of America
In 2016, the Streets of America area of Disney’s Hollywood Studios closed. This area, which was originally built as part of the Production Tour, was themed as a movie backlot. It was designed as city streets filled with false building facades and street-side decor. This was also the original home to the Muppets Courtyard and Muppet-Vision 3-D. While the area’s replacement, Grand Avenue, was only beginning construction at the time, you could see that PizzeRizzo featured a Grand Avenue address when it opened just a few months after Streets of America had closed.
Some props and signs from the now defunct Streets of America were utilized around PizzeRizzo to help give it a more New York-ish style pizzeria feel. Most notable of these signs is probably the large 18th Street Station sign, which was originally featured on a fake subway entrance when Streets of America was still open. You can also find an I-95 sign, a NY Welcome Center sign, and more hanging on the walls.
A World With Muppets
One spot in PizzeRizzo where you can find a ton of Muppet references is the corkboard bulletin board upstairs. Filled with flyers and business cards for all sorts of strange things starring the Muppets, you could spend a long time trying to read them all. Over the years Imagineers have actually added more photos and adverts than the restaurant originally opened with. You can find mentions of Muppets like Rowlf, Fozzie, the Swedish Chef, and many more.
Be sure to look closer at the photographs on the corkboard, and around the restaurant in general. What may look like a normal picture of a happy couple on their wedding day may feature hidden Muppets, like Statler and Waldorf in the background. I had seen these photos a hundred times before I noticed the newly married rat couple in the center of one of them! Around the restaurant you can find historical photos, like one of an old man in Little Italy, New York that looks to have been taken around the turn of the last century, but with a couple rats superimposed in.
(A Little) More Muppets
Again, while people tend to think of this restaurant as light on Muppet theming, you can find several photos taken directly from Muppet films and other productions. There’s a record for “Mice Girls,” which is not only a clever play on the Spice Girls, but is actually a reference to a scene in Muppets from Space where Rizzo has a poster for Mice Girls up on the wall in his room.
Outside of PizzeRizzo are crates for “Heckler Tomatoes,” which may be a nod to the Muppets’ famous hecklers Waldorf and Statler. There’s a Pizza Eating Contest plaque near the entrance with names of Muppets that have previously won. Of course, Big Mean Carl has the most wins, as he’s known for being good at eating. There’s one last empty spot on the plaque, which could be reserved for you!
The two corner booths upstairs, known as the VIP area, are decorated with caricatures of many of the Muppets, including favorites like Kermit and Miss Piggy. While half of the artwork is done in classic fairground style caricature, with exaggerated features, some are drawn in the style of famed artist Al Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld was known for his stylistic portrayals of famous celebrities that featured elegant curved lines. Before you leave, you should grab a photo with Rizzo’s portrait, drawn carrying a pizza, and riding a skateboard for some reason.
While we never did get the full Muppet Studios Courtyard, which would’ve had a ride and two restaurants—including one where rats run food back and forth from the rafters—it’s nice that eventually, all these years later, Rizzo and his Muppet friends were finally able to move in. After all, there’s nothing else quite like the “famous original” PizzeRizzo.
Love it or hate it, I think there’s one thing we can all agree on, PizzeRizzo has the best air conditioning out of all the quick service locations at Hollywood Studios, and for that, it’s at least worth a shot next time you visit. Click here to see more hidden things around the parks. And don’t miss the video version of this article for additional visuals.