July 23, 2010

Of Mermaids, Beasts, and Harry Potter

Lots of talk about Walt Disney World's Fantasy Forest, its impact on the Magic Kingdom and whether or not it is going to be a successful attempt at drawing some attention and guests away from Universal's Harry Potter and his Wizarding World.

As a long time park visitor, it is about time the suits and Imagineers give Florida's Fantasyland a redo. It's pretty ugly, especially compared to the parks that came after it- and maybe even Shanghai Disneyland's version to come. While I love the idea of Little Mermaid and the Beauty and the Beast restaurant, it is entirely true that the focus is too girl-centric in this remake. But let's look backward at Walt's original Kingdom...

Although Disneyland's Fantasyland is more stunning than what is found in Florida, it would be very understandable to think that Disneyland's Fantasyland was perfect from the beginning. The theme seems timeless, and yet this part of the park has seen its own fair share of ongoing change and revsioning. Look at this 1957 park map.

Attractions have been enhanced, added or replaced. (And what will happen now to Alice in Wonderland?) In the early 1980's, colorful but simple tournament tent-like show building facades painstakingly transformed into elegant and stylized versions of European locales. A mountain is built from scratch, while a slice of a beloved Neverland disappears, only to resurface at Disneyland Paris a decade later. (Could Neverland be a part of Imagineering's new thought for Florida's Magic Kingdom? Wouldn't that be great!)

Change is always part of the Kingdoms. Walt said it would be this way. Love it, hate it, or have mixed feelings about it, California Adventure's unprecedented transformation is the biggest proof yet of this truism, as that dismal little park becomes something amazing from its main gate forward.

Lastly, change in plans is also part of the kingdoms. After all, just think of how many attractions have been announced that have never materialized. Fantasy Forest is just beginning to take shape. The company may yet come up with something that will appeal to all ages, not just mermaid loving humans.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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