The final elements of the Storybook Circus portion of the new Fantasyland project at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom park were opened late last week, and the results are mostly delightful.
With Pete’s Silly Sideshow, guests are treated to an all-new character meet and greet opportunity that has elaborately themed sets and the flavor all its own. The merchandise location, Big Top Souvenirs, certainly holds its own as a themed place to browse and even to graze, if you’re in the market for a sweet treat.
Let’s start with Pete’s Silly Sideshow. This is the middle tent in the new area, and as the name implies, it’s themed to look like a circus sideshow. That means there are oversized displays at the entrance, including Pete himself looking very excited and rather playing the part. The oversized mouth we must pass through in the next room also seems to be an appropriate circus metaphor.
Inside the tent, we see themed sets for Daisy, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald. Goofy and Donald can be visited by standing in just one line, and the same is true of Minnie and Daisy, though it looked like the line for the latter might be a touch longer most of the time than the Goofy/Donald line.
Goofy is dressed up like a circus daredevil, and his backdrop suggests a wheel of death for a motorcycle, and indeed we see a still-smoking motorcycle prop jutting out of the wall. Donald is a snake charmer, which doesn’t particularly fit with any history of Donald Duck that I know of, but neither is it a clash, particularly.
Daisy is a fortuneteller, and she stands in front of a fortune-telling cart. Minnie is a dog trainer, and I’ve seen one person online call her outfit that of a tight rope walker, and indeed it does bear some resemblance to the outfit worn by the tightrope walker in the Haunted Mansion in the stretching gallery.
I enjoyed the little touches that marked this as a true Disney project, such as the artificially aged and distressed signage at the front of the attraction. I didn’t find any references to Mickey’s Toontown Fair, though I am still searching, please e-mail me if you locate any! I did take note of the reference to Melody Time in the signage, a nod to the 1948 Disney movie by the same name.
Have a look behind the front marquee, and you will see painted notes on the back. Similar reminders just inside the sideshow tent are labeled such things as “Pete wall number one”— the idea being to imply that this is a real circus, which might have to be torn down, packed up, transported across the state, and rebuilt quickly. Details like that added a touch of “whimsical reality” that Disney does so well; certainly it gave depth to something that might otherwise have been a one-dimensional experience.
Just outside Pete’s Silly Sideshow is an open plaza with a couple of food carts. These carts are also themed like circus train cars, and just like the cars at the nearby splash zone, these have been labeled with numbers. In the splash zone, the cart numbers refer to park opening years here in Walt Disney World. One of the new carts bears the number 55, an obvious tribute to the 1955 opening of Disneyland. The other cart is labeled 34. It’s a lot less clear what 34 refers to. All the other carts refer to parks, so even if we could find something significant in the company history that occurred in 1934, such as the first Donald Duck cartoon, it’s not clear that such a tribute fits in with the nearby park tributes. Let’s see if any of the official Disney blogs clear this one up.
We also saw a new food carts at the front of the land, this one labeled with the number 13. That is conceivably a reference to Walt Disney’s fondness for the number 13, a fact which can still be seen in Disneyland’s address — 1313 Harbor Blvd., which Walt chose himself.
There are tables scattered around the new plaza by Pete’s Silly Sideshow. They are painted in colors you might find in the circus, but they also seem pretty clearly to be modeled after the color scheme of the famous Pixar ball.
The third tent in the area, the yellow tent which was labeled on none of the models or maps, is also open. It turns out to be home to more tables for relaxing, and the FASTPASS machines for both Dumbo and Barnstormer. Apparently, this sort of combined space will be the way Disney does FASTPASS in the future, with tables for resting and even outlets for recharging devices.
You won’t catch me saying this very often, but the standout star of the new area is, yes… the merchandise location. Big Top Souvenirs is decorated to look like the main circus tent, so there are lights all over the ceiling, and many ladders used throughout the design. Trapeze swings dangle from the top, and circus train cars of all manner and variety ring the outside, repurposed here as cabinets to hold the merchandise or as the cashier checkout stands. There is a central focal point in the form of a circular candy store right in the middle of the tent, which also gives the circus tent a candy odor that is not at all out of theme.
But forget all of that. The carpet is the star here. Yes, I said, the carpet. It is painted, or perhaps woven, in such a way as to look like other surfaces. There’s a colored wooden board that provides a rough circle halfway out from the middle— remember, this is supposed to be big top of the circus. But despite all appearances, it’s not wood. I had to touch it more than once to satisfy myself that my eyes really were deceiving me. There are similar carpet tricks criss-crossing the rest of the floor in the form of canvas seams held together by rope — all of it carpet. Not since the wall textiles of the Symbiosis theater has carpet played such a big role in the theme of a location.
I ended up liking these new additions to Storybook Circus. In fact, they helped me realize that I liked Storybook Circus more than I expected to as a whole. When the theme was first announced, I was very skeptical, but they have pulled it off with panache. I think my original problem had more to do with the idea of the circus than any particular conceptual artwork. I guess I have a somewhat developed bias against the circus theme inside a Disney Park. Walt tried it in the early days of Disneyland, and it didn’t work. The idea came back as a promotion in the 1980s, and it didn’t return again. Even the seaside carnival of DCA has circus overtones, and it also didn’t work, at least not in its original form.
But the Magic Kingdom’s Storybook Circus has a different kind of charm and a different vibe from those earlier circus efforts. The heavy reliance on characters gives it a whimsical nature that makes a difference. In fact, I’d venture to say that this new area has less in common with actual circuses than it does with idealized ones. Certainly Dumbo’s circus is the main inspiration. There’s a 1930s quality to the decorations here. It’s not out of place to draw a comparison here to Main Street USA. Just as Main Street is a nostalgic reconstruction of a bygone environment, Storybook Circus is a nostalgic reconstruction of a bygone milieu.
Most visitors will not ruminate on such matters, nor should they. They will simply take in the circus theme and either accept it or not, based on how all those little details affect their personal biases. I think they will accept it as fitting since there’s a gentleness here, even an innocence, that betrays the naïveté of youth. What could be more fitting for the Magic Kingdom?
What are your thoughts? Does the circus theme appeal to you? Or should the Orlando Imagineers have come up wth something bigger or different considering all the other major new attractions now underway at other local theme parks? Be sure to scroll down and post your feedback below.
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