September 4, 2017

Looking at the Past and the Future of Disneyland's Fantasyland

The very heart of Disneyland rests right behind the castle at the endow Main Street U.S.A. One of the original areas at opening, Fantasyland draws in the young and young at heart since the beginning. Certainly, we think this area of the park is timeless. There's a warmth and charm that feels quaint, authentic, and there through the ages. That said, this section of the park has seen many changes. This 1957 park map shows what it looked like in its earliest incarnation. Definitely from another era, another budget, and another design process.

Peter Pan and his flight to Neverland was the instant breakout attraction in Fantasyland from the beginning. Snow White and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride were also enduring hits, but 60 years later, Pan continues to be the one must-see attraction in the castle courtyard.

When Imagineer Tony Baxter was given the green light to create the Fantasyland Walt Disney always wanted but couldn't afford, he and very talented team did an amazing job of redesigning the area to feel fresh but also timeless. The colorful tournament tent-like facades gave way to stylized versions of European villages. The Imagineers also debuted a new attraction for the California park, bringing a sparkling new Pinocchio dark ride to the line up of rides. 

Attractions were moved, enhanced, added or even deleted. The Fantasyland Theater was gone, the Mad Tea Party was moved to a much better location, and Skull Rock was gone forever- except at Disneyland Paris. The beautiful kid-friendly Storybookland Canal Boats survived the changes as did Casey Jr.'s Circus Train, but eventually the skyway was closed. 

So successful was the revitalization of the land under Baxter, that his Fantasyland became the model for those Magic Kingdom styled parks that followed. Florida's New Fantasyland may make the rethinking of the concept however, as the suits seem intent on cramming in Harry Potter styled lands into the parks, making Fantasyland a prime place to hold several different mini-lands vs. a mix of stories sitting side by side.

Changes are the way of the park. Prior to the transition of the 80's, the Matterhorn Bobsleds and It's a Small World earned their place on the list of beloved attractions. Coming soon in the next decade, a Frozen themed land and rumors (wishful thinking?) of something Beauty and the Beast related coming to a slice of Fantasyland and a bigger slice taken from Mickey's Toontown

Imagineers and suits come and go. Though I doubt we will ever see the free reign given to the creatives as was given to the first and second generation of Imagineers, there are signs the suits can give them room to stretch to stunning results. Time will tell.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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