WDW Chronicles: Year One -- Mickey Mouse Revue

by Jim Korkis
Disney Historian

Feature Article

This article appeared in the August 16, 2011 Issue #621 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)


Popular television and radio personality Art Linkletter once urged his friend Walt Disney not to build another Disneyland, emphasizing that the theme park was unique like the Eiffel Tower or the Sphinx. Walt assured Linkletter that he had no intention of merely repeating himself in Florida. The Magic Kingdom in Florida was to be similar in spirit, but different in content to its Anaheim brother.

Imagineers were excited that for the new park they had the money and the space to make use of all they had learned in the first few years of the Disneyland operation in terms of attractions and immersing the guests in the total experience.

In fact, originally, the Magic Kingdom was going to be even more different than people suspected. Instead of Snow White, Mr. Toad and Peter Pan in Fantasyland, the Imagineers were planning dark rides that would have featured Sleeping Beauty, which would have been located near King Stephan's Feast since Stephan was Princess Aurora's father.Ichabod and the Headless Horseman would have a dark ride to help tie in with nearby Liberty Square and guests would fly with Mary Poppins over London among other adventures.

When budget concerns resulted in the decision to duplicate previously built attractions in an attempt to contain spiraling costs, the Imagineers re-designed those original rides so that Mr. Toad had a dual track with two different experiences. Snow White had a different sequence of scenes from the Disneyland version, including an ending where the witch tries to kill the guests with a gigantic gemstone in the Dwarfs' mine, and Peter Pan was given a much longer and more elaborate track journey. Even "it's a small world" was changed. Each room was flooded so that the boats floated on a guide rail through each new, much larger room rather the canal system at Disneyland.

Even the famous Submarine ride from Disneyland was re-themed so that the vessels resembled Captain Nemo's craft from the Disney live action movie "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea".Captain Nemo (the voice of the talented Pete Renoudey, who also voiced Henry the bear in "Country Bear Jamboree") narrated the trip for guests aboard the Nautilus. On Opening Day, the lagoon was filled and the subs had arrived, but it took another two weeks for the placing of the artificial fish and other details before the attraction officially opened to guests on October 14, 1971.

The irony is that these re-designed rides ended up costing as much or more than the original attractions that were planned. Most guests, even those who had visited Disneyland, never noticed all these differences in the familiar transplanted Disneyland attractions.

However, a brand new attraction did debut in Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland on October 1, 1971.

The Mickey Mouse Revue opened as an "E" Ticket attraction at the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971, and ran until September 14, 1980. In 1973, it was downgraded to a "D" ticket. The attraction was located in the building that now houses Mickey's PhilharMagic.

Originally, this almost 10-minute show was going to be called the Mickey Mouse Musical Revue. That name appeared on some early posters, and remained on the recorded last announcement in the pre-show. There was an eight-minute pre-show film in which an animated, squiggly soundtrack line explained the connection of Disney with music, accompanied by appropriate animation clips from Disney films. By the end of the pre-show, the focus had shifted to Mickey Mouse, who invited guests into the main theater to re-live some of Disney's musical milestones. Unfortunately, the pre-show area held almost 200 fewer guests than could be accommodated in the theater so the show never once played to full capacity during its entire run.

An Audio Animatronics figure of Mickey Mouse conducted an all-toon orchestra of 23 characters. The show itself showcased various scenes and songs from some of the memorable Disney animated films that were staged in tableau areas around the orchestra that lighted up when the song was sung. With 33 functions crammed into a 42-inch body, Mickey Mouse was the most complex Audio-Animatronics figure at the time.

There were a total of 73 different Disney audio-animatronics characters who performed in the show, from the Fab Five to Humphrey the Bear, Timothy Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Baloo, Dumbo, Scrooge McDuck and many, many more. They filled the 86-foot-long stage and ranged in height from 12 inches for the smallest characters like the Dormouse up to six feet tall for larger characters like Baloo the Bear.

The inclusion of Baloo, Kaa and King Louie from "The Jungle Book" in the show represented the last Disney animated feature supervised by Walt Disney himself before Walt Disney World opened in 1971.

In actuality, there were a total of 81 figures built, since some characters appeared at different places on the stage, like the Three Caballeros, or in different costumes. One scene had the Fairy Godmother change Cinderella's rags into a beautiful ball gown right before the eyes of the appreciative audience.

Several characters planned for the show, like Horace Horsecollar, Clara Cluck and the Big Bad Wolf, didn't end up in the final production. However, a shadow of the Big Bad Wolf did appear before the song Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Songs included Heigh Ho, Whistle While You Work, When You Wish Upon A Star, Hi Diddle Dee Dee, Who's Afraid of The Big Bad Wolf, I'm Wishing, The Silly Song, All In The Golden Afternoon, The Three Caballeros, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, So This Is Love, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, and the Mickey Mouse Club March. None of the voices in the show were from the original soundtracks, perhaps for legal reasons or the need to compensate those original performers, and there was no effort to mimic those familiar voices, but the new singers did capture the spirit of the music.

Imagineer Bill Justice was deeply involved in the creation of this show that was planned to be the signature attraction at the new park.He had a long and illustrious career with the Disney Company, from being the primary animator of Chip and Dale in the theatrical animated shorts to being one of the original Audio-Animatronics programmers on attractions like "Pirates of the Caribbean".

The Mickey Mouse Revue was only the tip of his many achievements and his contributions to Walt Disney World. For instance, he was responsible for the huge mural of characters that would decorate the exterior of the Walt Disney Story theaters in the Main Street Exposition Hall.

The Mickey Mouse Revue was the original brainchild of Justice although, of course, others were involved as it developed, including John Hench and Blaine Gibson. About the time work was beginning on the Magic Kingdom in Florida, Justice had an idea.

As Bill shared with me in one of the interviews I did with him over the years, "WED (now known as Walt Disney Imagineering) had designed some imaginative shows for the parks, but we seemed to be getting away from our heritage. Pirates of the Caribbean was a big hit, but what did it have to do with Disney? What we needed was a reminder of what Walt had accomplished. I pulled out a sheet of paper and got to work."

"Mickey Mouse would have to be the main figure. Yet some mention must be made of our great animated classics. I made sketches of all the characters I thought should appear. Then, I called upon my modeling skills to build a 1/16th-inch scale paper cut-out model of what I wanted. The entire set was about 18 inches long by 3.5 inches high. But this model was a good tool for planning the show sequence and experimenting with different scenes.

"Once I thought I had a winner, I recruited some craftsmen and we built a room-size miniature theater with a stage about 12 feet wide. Blaine Gibson and his assistants sculpted all the figures to 1/4-inch scale from my drawings. Everything worked except the figures themselves -- lighting, turntables, curtains, sound tracks. When we were done, I notified my bosses. They invited Roy O. Disney to see the results of our work.

"The show we had in mind was this: Mickey Mouse would lead an orchestra of Studio characters through a medley of Disney tunes. Then on the sides of the stage and behind the orchestra, scenes from our most popular animated features would appear one by one. Mickey and his orchestra would close the performance. Roy looked the model over, then paid me the best compliment I ever had in my career: 'This is the kind of show we should spend our money on.' That's how The Mickey Mouse Revue was born."

The Mickey Mouse Revue was the one place in the Magic Kingdom where guests were guaranteed to see Mickey, especially since in 1971 there was no daily parade down Main Street. Since it appealed to all ages, the almost 10-minute show was instantly popular in 1971.

In 1980, for a variety of reasons, the big red curtain with the Mickey Mouse masks of comedy and tragedy closed for the final time at the end of the show. The attraction was closed and dismantled and sent to Tokyo Disneyland where it was an opening day attraction there in April 1983 and closed on May 25, 2009.With a few modifications, like a dubbed Japanese voice soundtrack, it continued to delight guests for almost another three decades.

However, for Magic Kingdom guests in 1971, it represented how Magic Kingdom was different that Disneyland.

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Jim Korkis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. He is the author of the popular recently published book The Vault of Walt, which contains nearly 40 chapters of untold Disney stories. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

Read more about The Vault of Walt: http://astore.amazon.com/debsunoffiwaltdi/detail/0615402429

Jim will also be speaking on the history of the Carousel of Progress at AllEars.Net's "It's a Great Big Beautiful Meet!" (sponsored by Maple Leaf Tickets), part of our December to Remember 15th anniversary celebration, on Thursday, December 8, 2011, 1 - 4 p.m. at the Contemporary Resort and Carousel of Progress in the Magic Kingdom.


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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.