Fantasyland, Then and Now
by Brian Martsolf
ALL EARS® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the May 25, 2004, Issue #244 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
ALL EARS® welcomes longtime friend Brian Martsolf as a featured columnist. This month, Brian reflects on the changes in the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland over the years, and speculates on what the future may hold for this area of the theme park.
Shortly after I moved from California back in the early 1980s, Fantasyland at Disneyland closed for renovation. It seemed that in the 25-plus years since the park opened, Disney had learned quite a bit about theme park planning and design, and that renovation gave them quite an opportunity to apply those lessons. At WDW's Magic Kingdom, many of those lessons had already been learned prior to its construction. There has never been a need, therefore, to take the drastic step of closing off a major part of the land all at one time.
But, in a sense, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom is receiving a new Fantasyland one piece at a time. Many of you already know that It's a Small World recently closed for a thorough refitting. It won't be a change of the attraction, but rather a freshening up and fixing of areas that have been technically weak. For instance, It's a Small World has long had scenes that are a bit darker than they should be because some of the lighting could only be changed during major rehabs. Following this rehab, that should no longer be the case. (Another rumor about It's a Small World is that it may be getting an improved facade more similar to the California version.)
I would say that change is not new to this Fantasyland; it is part of an ongoing process that started with the removal of the Mickey Mouse Revue in 1980, an attraction later installed at Disneyland Tokyo. Since then, the space that originally held the revue has had four other attractions. First it was used just seasonally as the Fantasyland Theatre. Like the Fantasyland Theatre at Disneyland it was a nice, air-conditioned break, and a rare opportunity to view old Disney short cartoons back before Disney cartoons on video became so common and inexpensive.
Later, in 1987, "Captain Eo" was filmed for use at the Imagination Pavilion at Epcot. The 3-D film that had shown at the Imagination pavilion up to that point, "Magic Journeys," moved to the Fantasyland Theatre. It played there until 1993, closing to make way for the Legend of the Lion King show. Legend of the Lion King opened just a few weeks after the animated film The Lion King debuted in 1994. You might suspect that this was an attempt at a park production that would in turn help support the movie. Well, the movie was such a smash that I think in the end it caused the park production to run much longer than anyone anticipated, all the way into 2002 -- more than seven and a half years!
Finally, in October 2003, Mickey's PhilharMagic opened. Probably few of the people who enjoy this attraction today ever saw the original character orchestra this theater held. And by the time Mickey's PhilharMagic opened, other changes had taken place in Fantasyland that had a much greater effect on its look and feel. These changes will continue to affect the land for a long time to come.
In 1994, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, one of the most popular Fantasyland attractions, closed -- a victim of high costs and, by some accounts, the somewhat leaky lagoon in which it resided. Until just recently the lagoon sat vacant and unused -- but last month the announcement was made that the area is going to be developed for "future use."
In September 1998, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride closed after an unusual fan-driven attempt at obtaining a reprieve. Although I didn't really expect it to change anything I actually attended a "Toad-In," in which a group of fans gathered outside the attraction to demonstrate their support for the old ride. We thought we might point out to management that there are a lot of folks out there who think there are ways to add a new ride without having to take out an old one. In the end, though, Mr. Toad's Florida run came to a close, and its replacement, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, joined the ranks of the Florida attractions.
Perhaps the biggest change that has come to the Fantasyland area was the addition of a whole neighboring land designed to appeal to the same group of younger guests that are drawn more often to Fantasyland than to the other lands. Not only did Mickey's Birthdayland/Starland/Toontown Fair shave some track off Tomorrowland's Indy Speedway, but since it is adjacent to Fantasyland it makes the whole combined area a sort of supersized Fantasyland. This area absorbs many tourists of the stroller set for a significant portion of their time at the Magic Kingdom.
Other changes and rehabs have happened over the years in Fantasyland. Sometime in the first few years after the park opened, the Mad Tea Party received a covering to keep off the Florida sun and rain. In April 1997, King Stephan's Banquet Hall, the restaurant in Cinderella Castle, became the more aptly named Cinderella's Royal Table. (King Stephan was not a character from Cinderella but from Sleeping Beauty.) The Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride was remodeled in 1993, and Snow White was renovated in 1994 to put Snow White in the ride -- the previous theory was that you were seeing things from her point of view. Also in that year the Sword in the Stone area was added to Fantasyland near the Carrousel.
In November 1999, the Skyway to Tomorrowland closed. Only Peter Pan's Flight and Cinderella's Golden Carrousel seem to have had no significant changes. But still bigger changes may be coming to this land. I don't know of any plans for the Skyway station, but there are several ways it could be changed and, with It's a Small World closing for a major rehab, I'm hoping something may be done with it sooner rather than later.
A much better candidate for major changes is that other Fantasyland vacancy, the 20,000 Leagues lagoon. There have been some rumors over the past few years that it might be the spot for a new thrill ride. I am going to say something I don't think many people have said: If that were to happen, I think that could be a mistake. Why, you may ask? As I noted earlier (and I realize that much of this is my own opinion), Fantasyland and its neighbor Mickey's Toontown Fair appeal to the stroller set. Not only are there probably more strollers per square yard here than in other part of the Magic Kingdom, but I wouldn't be surprised if this area has more strollers per year than any other place on the face of the planet!
I realize that some think Disney should spread big "E-Ticket" type attractions out across the park to even out the crowds, but it does not seem to me that this is a place where that strategy will work very well. Although it would certainly bring thrill-ride enthusiasts back into the Fantasyland portion of the park, I think this area could be much better developed to serve those folks already in Fantasyland. Perhaps near the Tea Cups there could be an Alice in Wonderland dark ride. Better yet, there could be a new dark ride or two dedicated to other Disney classics that haven't had their own attractions before now.
So, I'm not so worried about finding a place for the next big E-Ticket ride. What I am hoping is that whatever is done with that back section of Fantasyland, adjoining Mickey's Toontown Fair, ends up being a bonus to both of these areas, rather than setting up a congestion point worse than any found in a Disney park since the Carrousel was removed from the castle courtyard at Disneyland over 20 years ago.
10/1/71 to 9/14/80 -- Mickey Mouse Revue ran 8 years, 11 months,
12/15/87 to 12/1/93 -- Magic Journeys ran 5 years, 11 months, 16 days (in Fantasyland).
7/8/94 to 2/23/02 -- The Legend of the Lion King ran 7 years, 7 months, 15 days.
9/30/03 to present -- Mickey's PhilharMagic is the current resident.
Brian Martsolf is a lifelong Disney theme park fan whose first visit to Walt Disney World was in 1996. He lives in Charlotte, NC, with his wife, Carlene, and works at a Tyco Plastics manufacturing facility. He also has his own Disney website, http://www.bigbrian-nc.com, which features trip reports (with lots of photos), a section on the history of Walt Disney World illustrated with its postcards, and articles on the Disney Internet community and Disney theme park souvenirs.
For more information on the Magic Kingdom visit: http://allears.net/tp/mk/mk.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.