Outside of the three-circle Mickey Mouse silhouette, there’s arguably no symbol more intrinsically linked to the Walt Disney company than that of a castle. In particular, the regal structure have been a symbol of the company’s theme parks since the beginning, with Sleeping Beauty Castle serving as the centerpiece of Disneyland since its opening in 1955.
In the near 70 years since, Disney has built five more castles, with the most recent — the Castle of Magical Dreams — opening at Hong Kong Disneyland in 2020. This newest addition is also arguably the most unique of any of the Disney castles, which is ironic, considering it began life as a carbon copy. So whose castle is in Hong Kong Disneyland? Well, it’s a bit complicated.
When Hong Kong Disneyland first opened in 2005, the park was … unimpressive to many Disney fans. Unlike the company’s other so-called castle parks, the park was built — as Imagineers would put it years later — on a budget, and it showed. The park boasted comparatively few attractions, none of which were original to the resort.
The park’s initial unoriginality extended to its centerpiece castle, which was simply Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Note: It wasn’t similar to Sleeping Beauty Castle, or a homage to Sleeping Beauty Castle, it was a full on-replica of the Anaheim original, with nothing but some slight variations in paint scheme — and the natural hills in the background of the Hong Kong version — differentiating the two.
Interestingly, as revealed on the 2019 documentary series The Imagineering Story, there were other possible options for the park’s castle, including one done in the 2D “cardboard” style of “it’s a small world.” It’s probably not going out too far a limb to say that may have gone over even worse than the Disneyland clone.
The opening day version of Hong Kong Disneyland wasn’t only a disappointment for hardcore fans. The park and overall resort complex faced attendance and financial woes throughout its early years, with Disney and the Chinese government (who have ownership stake in the park) quickly realizing that the park needed to expand and differentiate itself.
Between 2011 and 2013, the park opened Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch, and Mystic Point, the latter two of which are exclusive to Hong Kong and feature park-defining attractions Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars and Mystic Manor. The new expansions led to Hong Kong Disneyland’s first period of financial profitability, and another round of expansion was announced toward the end of the decade.
The second period of Hong Kong Disneyland’s expansion was announced in 2016. In addition to lands based on Frozen and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney also announced that they would be doing something unprecedented in their theme park history. Namely, they were completely reimagining the park’s castle. Gone would be the Disneyland clone, and in its place would stand something completely new.
In January of 2018, construction work began to transform Sleeping Beauty Castle into the Castle of Magical Dreams. Unlike those at the heart of Disney’s other parks, this new Hong Kong castle wouldn’t “belong” to one Disney Princess. Instead, the castle would “pay tribute” to 14 Disney characters: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Anna, Elsa, and Moana.
To architecturally display this, the castle features of hodgepodge of building styles reminiscent of the animated films starring those characters. As part of this renovation and reimagining, the castle grew from roughly 77 ft. tall to approximately 167 ft. tall.
After three years of construction work — including COVID-induced delays — the Castle of Magical Dreams opened in November of 2020 as part of the park’s 15th Anniversary Celebration. In addition to the much larger central castle, the structure also houses several shops (including a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique), a meet & greet attraction, stages for live performances, and a version of Snow White’s Grotto.
While reaction to the new castle was somewhat mixed — some found the new design highly effective, while others felt the numerous construction styles clashed with each other — there’s no denying the uniqueness of ifs approach amongst the Disney family of castles around the world.
What are your thoughts on the Castle of Magical Dreams? Do you think the uniqueness of it’s theme to 14 different characters works, or do you feel it’s too much? Let us know in the comments below.
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