New Fantasyland is gearing up at Walt Disney World, with unannounced random test previews now occurring daily for the Beauty and the Beast meet and greet. These aren’t “soft openings” where you can reasonably hope to find it open if you show up; you have to get there at the right time and get lucky. That said, they seem to be happening with increasing frequency, so maybe they will inch their way closer to “open full time.” Others have seen the experience (perhaps you’ve seen pictures or video about it here?) but I have not; I will post a review once I do.

In the meantime, I’m going to train my camera lens and my attention on a much smaller detail of the Fantasyland expansion–the “back wall” of the castle. When I first heard about the expansion, I fixated on the miniature castles that would soon dot the landscape. There was a “back wall” to the castle then, too, designed to provide a demarcation between the castle area and the “Fantasy Forest” that lay beyond. It gave a clear boundary between the castle courtyard and the outside world. Back then it was pretty necessary, since there would be other castles to visit, and it wouldn’t make sense for them all to be in the same realm as Cinderella’s castle.

In a way, it’s just as necessary now, with the revised Fantasyland expansion plans. Gone are most of the other princess castles and cottages, but the Beast castle remains, so it’s still important to have it separated from the main Cinderella castle area.

Beyond that, though, I realized something in looking at the wall this weekend, still under construction but starting to reveal many of its details and theming. Namely, this wall serves a few other purposes besides division.

First, it offers a themed environment rich in details and history. This sounds trite, but it’s actually not as common as you’d think in Walt Disney World. Very often new features are added that look good or fit in, but don’t have a lot of interesting textures, colors, backstory, or tributes to history. So when something is added that provides proper “placemaking” it’s become something to celebrate.

The famous Disney coat of arms (is it really the Disney coat of arms? It seems to be ONE of them) is now on display on the back wall. If you’re wondering why it looks like butter, that’s because it hasn’t been painted/aged yet.

The various doorways and arches in the wall now sport labels of sorts near them: metal shields with painted imagery on them depict important symbols from Disney movies, and in so doing, highlight which of the films will play an important role in the new land. From Sleeping Beauty to Snow White, Little Mermaid to Beauty and the Beast, we can see all the painted shields on display just over the construction wall.

One of the things I like best about the new features is that they represent high quality craftsmanship. They could have taken a “cheap route” on several occasions–I’m thinking specifically of the little wooden window shutters here–but they elected not to. Instead, they did it right, and this is encouraging indeed.

One of the by-products of the wall that I did not expect was that it would serve as such an excellent focusing tool. It’s really almost as good as binoculars in how effective it is at making you recognize one feature as the “center” of attention. It does this by virtue of having two sides that “point” at the object in the middle, deeper in the land. But the true hidden majesty of this design is that the “thing” in the middle changes based on where you are standing in “old” Fantasyland. From one spot it looks like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster, currently under construction, is the focal point. Move a few yards toward the carousel, though, and Eric’s castle from Under the Sea is clearly in the middle. and if you move all the way over toward Pooh, the Beast’s castle takes center stage. It’s a simple but an amazing trick–let the viewer fill in the gaps.

Lastly, consider the philosophical merits of the wall as a boundary. Sure, it keeps the outside world out, but in so doing, it also keeps the inside world in. And thus, it creates an internal space to Fantasyland that was never really there before. At present, it’s a pretty desolate and empty space. There is no landscaping and few places to sit (is that to prevent bloggers from standing on benches and looking over the fence?)

I suppose it’s possible they intend to use this space for stroller parking, as they did for several months last year. I hope not, though–that would be a waste of space. And they’ve already got stroller parking now set up closer to the Cinderella fountain, courtesy of several white lines burned/melted into the ground. I hate to see that. It kind of ruins the vibe of the area. It makes me want to sing “They paved paradise / and put up a parking lot” every time I see that.

Fortunately, there’s no evidence of this kind of tomfoolery in New Fantasyland, at least if the wall is any judge. It’s a little bit like judging a book by its cover. In this case, the “cover” of New Fantasyland is the wall, and as it’s revealed one precious bit at a time, we all seem to salivate in just the right ways. Disney still has the ability to make us pant in anticipation when the promise is high enough. And with this wall, the promise is high indeed.

 

 

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