Dueling Disney: Fantasyland Face-off

Written by Keith Gluck. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Dueling Disney, Keith Gluck, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

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Published on April 24, 2013 at 3:00 am with 46 Comments

Perhaps no other land is more cherished by children than Fantasyland, for it gives them a chance to step into and experience some of the very films they were raised on (whenever Walt’s classics get mixed in with their library of Pixar titles). Each Fantasyland can call its resort’s most iconic structure its entrance, and each Fantasyland is replete with magic, charm, and whimsy. From flying elephants to swords embedded in stone, both of the American Disney parks’ Fantasylands capture the imagination of children from all over the world.

But the question is, as it always is on Dueling Disney… which one is better?

(Keith will be representing Disneyland, and Jeff, Walt Disney World)

Topic 7: Fantasyland Face-off

Jeff: With the bit of the face-lift that Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland just received, I think now is as good of time as any to talk about it. While it may not have some of the wonderful rides of the past that are sorely missed today (such as Mr. Toad, 20K Leagues, and Snow White), Fantasyland at Walt Disney World is still a fantastic representation of the worlds of fantasy…especially with the recent expansion.

Keith: Dear Jeff. Disneyland and I have four words for you:

“Mr., Toad’s, Wild, Ride.”

I win.

Jeff: Listen, you can claim that all you want, but the fact remains that, even though it’s gone, we STILL had the superior version of Mr. Toad by far. I mean, Rolly Crump designed it. How could you go wrong?!

Keith: Haha. Well even though I already won, and by a landslide at that, for the sake of our readers, I shall press on!

When Walt Disney dedicated Fantasyland, he said, “Here is the world of imagination, hopes and dreams. In this timeless land of enchantment, the age of chivalry, magic and make believe are reborn–and fairy tales come true. Fantasyland is dedicated to the young, and the young-at-heart–to those who believe that when you wish upon a star, your dreams do come true.”

The birthplace of Disney dark rides, Disneyland’s land of fantasy was originally faced with a problem very much based in reality: budget cuts. The Imagineers wanted the land to have a festive “village” feel, but the price tag was a little high. A solution presented itself, however, according to architect Bill Martin: “We decided to use festive tournament tents on the attraction entrances. It still kept the village atmosphere, while being quite cost-effective.” The look would remain for years.

As early as 1973, Tony Baxter and designer Brock Thoman began thinking of ways to refresh Fantasyland. Snow White’s Adventures had long been a point of confusion for guests. “Where is Snow White?” they often asked. The thing is, the riders were Snow White. That eventually changed thanks to Thoman, who not only added the film’s star to the attraction, but updated the ride itself, and renamed it Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Baxter, meanwhile, began designing a dark ride based on what is considered by many to be animation’s greatest feat, Pinocchio.

Jeff: If we’re breaking out dedication quotes, I’ll have to bring up what Roy Disney, the unsung hero of the Walt Disney Company, said on opening of Walt Disney World: “Walt Disney World is a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney…” So, we can still apply Walt’s quote about Fantasyland to the Walt Disney World version.

This version of Fantasyland is based on a medieval-faire and carnival, allowing for some interesting designs. Most of the attractions are housed within medieval style-tents, with jousting sticks acting as a way to prop them up. The original dark rides are slightly modified versions of their Disneyland counterparts. There were a few notable exceptions, such as the previously mentioned Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, which was a completely different experience from the original as it offered two different ride tracks, and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, the far superior underwater submarine ride based on the film of the same name.

This version of lasted for years, until some attractions began to be switched out.

Keith: And if we’re breaking out Rolly references, I’ll have to play my Crump card!

At the time Baxter and Thoman were working on their respective dark rides, Rolly Crump was the art director for all of Disneyland. Amongst other things, he was in charge of maintaining the aesthetic integrity of Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom. Crump realized that Fantasyland needed more than a makeover; it needed a complete overhaul. He proposed as such, citing that not only did the attractions need to be updated to catch up with the rest of the park’s, but they needed to alleviate congestion that occurred inside the castle courtyard on almost a daily basis.

Thus began the famous 1983 “redo” of Fantasyland, that not only brought new attractions, but moved existing attractions around like chess pieces. It also opened Fantasyland up to connect to other lands (for the first time), and transformed the area into a quaint European village. The original “New Fantasyland” was such a huge deal, it would cause the castle’s drawbridge to be raised and lowered for only the second time in Disneyland’s history.

Jeff: Hey…hey! Wait a second! I thought *I* was the only one who could play the Crump Card! Aww, man…

Anyway, while we’re on the subject of makeovers, let’s talk a bit about how the Magic Kingdom’s landscape of Fantasyland has been changed over the years. While we wouldn’t see a massive design change or expansion until 2012, we have had our share of changes. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, while a crowd pleaser, was removed due to high maintenance costs. The lagoon sat empty for a long time while meet and greets were built up around it.

We also suffered the loss of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, so Pooh & Company could move in. While I do enjoy Pooh, it’s certainly no romp through the English countryside with Toad! Our “theater” space has also changed a few times, with The Mickey Mouse Revue being the original occupant, before sitting empty for years until Magic Journeys took over. The Legend of the Lion King arrived for a handful of years, and then made way for Mickey’s PhilharMagic.

Much like the Disneyland version, we also used to have a Skyway, which traveled between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. Unfortunately, it has since gone the way of the dodo bird. The Skyway chalet sat empty for years, until a recent refurbishment turned them into…bathrooms! In all fairness, though, they are really nice bathrooms.

But that’s not even the big ticket makeover that truly changes our landscape…

Keith: Our Fantasyland Skyway station is still there, albeit slightly hidden by trees. They really ought to figure out a way to utilize that space. Make it a small eatery, or even just open eating space, like they’ve been doing with Aladdin’s Oasis lately.

When it comes down to attractions that both resorts share, there are really only two categories: “pretty comparable,” and, “ours is way better.” On the subject of the latter, I would now like to discuss a little ride called It’s a Small World.

While your Small World seems to be crammed into whatever space they had left in Fantasyland, ours stands alone as a proud remnant of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Situated in its own building, Disneyland’s Small World reveals a beautifully eclectic facade that was designed by multiple Disney Legends (including Mary Blair), is trimmed in actual 22-karat gold leaf, and adorned with over a dozen majestic topiaries. Our interior is superior as well, with much more space, and a recent update which cleverly incorporates familiar Disney characters in their respective regions. Just a few examples include: Peter Pan and Tink soaring over Alice and the White Rabbit in the United Kingdom, Mulan and Mushu gently swaying in China, and, wait for it Jeff… The Three Caballeros performing in Mexico.

Jeff: I have to give you your point on Small World, if only because Rolly was heavily involved in yours.

Storybook Circus recently moved into town, and although it really doesn’t add any new attractions into the mix, it does add a heavy dose of theming and meet and greets into Fantasyland’s footprint.

But allow me to move into our latest addition, New Fantasyland. While it may not contain any E-Ticket attractions, it is truly breathtaking. Imagineers went above and beyond with the theming of this new addition (that has always been there, apparently…but that’s another story). Everything from the Be Our Guest Restaurant, to Gaston’s Tavern in Belle’s village, Enchanted Tales with Belle, and even the new Little Mermaid ride are spectacular sights to behold. Now, yes, I realize that the target demographic is skewed toward little girls here, but I have to say, I was mightily impressed with it all. Not to mention that the upcoming Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster will surely bring the boys back into Fantasyland.

Keith: I like New Fantasyland. Gaston’s Tavern and Enchanted Tales with Belle are cute. I’ve yet to eat at Be Our Guest, but it looks stunning. The queue for Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is gorgeous, even if the ride itself isn’t great. I am also looking forward to the Seven Dwarfs’ Mine Train. New Fantasyland is a bona fide success, in my opinion.

That being said… sorry buddy. In addition to the tremendously superior Small World and aforementioned Mr. Toad, our Fantasyland has: A ride based on Pinocchio (which IMHO is the greatest animated film of all time), Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Alice in Wonderland, Casey Jr.’s Circus Train, the Storybook Land Canal Boats (which is easily one of the most charming rides in all of Disney–especially at night), and an uncovered Mad Tea Party. Oh, and we have a little coaster of our own called The Matterhorn. This one is an easy win for Disneyland.

What do you guys say? Is PhilharMagic and New Fantasyland enough to trump quintessential classics like Storybook Land and Mr. Toad? Or does the charm of Anaheim’s Fantasyland “reign” supreme?

Dueling Disney is written by Jeff Heimbuch & Keith Gluck

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at [email protected] or [email protected]

You can follow us on Twitter: @DisneyProject and @JeffHeimbuch

About Keith Gluck

Keith Gluck writes for and volunteers at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. He also runs a Disney blog called thedisneyproject.com, and travels to Disney Parks as often as he can. A fan of many facets of The Disney Company, Keith's main interest is the life and legacy of Walt Disney. For questions/comments, or to request a certain topic be covered, please send an email to: [email protected] Twitter: @DisneyProject Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Disney-Project/194569877288847

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  1. I just recently visited Walt Disney World and thought the Fantasyland expansion was very well done. Once the new snow white roller coaster opens up it will really be off the charts
    Including the fact that the castle at Walt Disney World is simply stunning I would have to give Walt Disney World the win . I’ve been saying for a long time at Disneyland really needs to redo the castle even Walt Disney himself said they should’ve made it bigger I would love to see Mr. either in the Disney executives greenlight an enormous amount of money to make the castle at Disneyland bigger , nicer and one that no other Disney resort has. I would even go so far as to say they should totally rename it and Snow White castle which I believe was Walts original idea and he renamed it because he has getting ready to Release sleeping

  2. Allow me to fix a couple of typos and clarify. When you walk down Main Street USA in Florida and see that castle is simply breathtaking. In California when using the castle it doesn’t have the same wow factor. As Walt did say they should’ve made that castle bigger I think as Disneyland comes up on the 60th anniversary they should completely redo a brand new castle put a restaurant and it and make it the nicest castle in the world !!! California should have the absolute best and breathtaking castle As the part that Walt personally build deserves it

    • Because Florida’s Magic Kingdom was my Disney park from the age of 7 through 17, I love that castle and have castle envy when I see Disneyland’s. I’d like Disneyland’s increased to 120-150 feet. Sell the old one to the Stamos or the highest bidder. They pay moving costs.

      Build in a dream suite which will be bestowed on one guest/family per day, build a dungeon with a dragon and a cell for the Imagineer who temporarily made the castles into giant birthday cakes.

      • Blasphemy!!!!

        Hahaha…. I love that castle too much. It is more than a castle. It is an icon in our imaginations.

  3. Per DG2′s remarks – the castle will never be touched. It’s iconic. Just won’t happen.

    I give this one to Disneyland. The Fantasyland expansion is great, but with all that space, they managed to put in a restaurant, a glorified meet-and-greet, and a ho-hum dark ride (with an excellent queue, I admit – far superior to its DCA counterpart). It also has this lame circus area that is just Mickey’s Birthday Land wrapped differently, too much Dumbo, and of course, the Great Goofini. *yawn*

    Disneyland’s just makes more sense. The buildings actually look European (sorry, but I’m baffled that they have maintained the carnival theme at MK for this long), the Pinocchio ride totally rocks as one of the best dark rides in the park, Mr. Toad is awesome, even if the dual tracks in MK were superior. Also, um, Casey Jr? Storybook Land? Talk about atmosphere.

    And Disneyland has a better sense of space. Sure, there’s the initial area, but the way the land veers eastward to the Alice mini-land, the Matterhorn, and then up to Small World – it can’t be beat. I agree that anywhere in the environs of the parade route doesn’t exactly seem as Fantasyland-ish as the rest, but still (I hardly regard the Matterhorn as inherently part of Fantasyland or even its original Tomorrowland. It’s just there on its own.)

    I enjoy these duals. I hope you keep finding things to compare. Get uber picky and go attraction to attraction.

    • Eek. “Duels.” Bad moment for me.

      • Story book circus couldve been awesome if it included a dumbo dark ride! Imagine how charming that would its high on the list of disneys best films. But unfortuneately disney world opted for a mcdonalds style play area instead.

  4. I have to say, I prefer the DL version of Fantasyland, and I have seen the new MK expansions. The DL one seems far more “unified”. MK’s is all spread out and disjointed. The Dumbo section makes no sense to me at all. It is nice enough, but to spend so much $$ on expanding Dumbo? The new Tangled rest rooms are VERY nice, I love this area, but it is not connected to the other renovated areas. So it seems even more strange, to go from new Fantasyland, to old, to new again, as you walk thru…… I loved Gaston’s, much more than Be Our Guest, actually. And the CMs playing Gaston are very funny and clever, out front.

    But DL has the Casey Jr TRAIN, I mean, ride inside the Monkey Car and you will have to agree, DL wins this one!!

  5. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Peter Pan. I haven’t been to DL in a few years, but the Peter Pan ride there was always enchanting and fun. The one at WDW, though shockingly popular and with an unexplicably long line, is sooooooo lame! It couldn’t cost much to upgrade Peter Pan at WDW to DL standards–or better. I wish Disney would hurry up and do it! The version that’s in WDW right now screams 1970′s and outdated; Peter Pan at WDW deserves some serious pixie dust!

  6. Unfortunately, Disney World’s Fantasyland is a mess of different styles and quality levels. It’s massive and the new areas are beautiful, I’ll give it that. But, in all that space, they didn’t manage to build as many attractions as Disneyland has in its small but much more uniformly beautiful Fantasyland.

    Disneyland has more dark rides, the Matterhorn, a theater, a castle walk-through, the whimsical stacked rides of the Storybook/Casey Jr. Complex, and a brand new character meet and greet area which didn’t require the park to close any attractions to build.

    The only things that Disney World has which are better than Disneyland are a better restaurant (Be Our Guest), and an over the top bathroom (Tangled Toilets).

    Disneyland wins this one quite clearly. Quality AND variety put Disneyland way over the top.

  7. The exterior of Disneyland’s it’s a small world is spectacular and blows it Florida cousin’s out of the water. but adding the fictional Disney cartoon characters to the interior GREATLY diminished it, and made it a pale shadow if its former inspiring, even tear-jerking self..

    • I do prefer DL’s exterior, but the Magic Kingdom’s flooded flume has completely ruined DL’s interior for me. It makes iasw look temporary now.

  8. Walt always said ” keep making it better”. Disneyland castle is iconic no doubt but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it better. Your probably right that they will not touch it but IMHO and many other east coasters who go to both parks. They should

    • I agree with you. If they kept the same look but just made it taller (perhaps adding a restaurant to the 2nd level) I think that would be a good thing.

      Walt did want a bigger castle. We should give him one.

  9. Love these duels guys, hope you keep them coming for a long time. I’ve yet to visit WDW, but every time I read about the two-track version of Mr. Toad, my heart breaks just a little. Wish I could’ve seen it. To future duels, huzzah!

    • It had two tracks, but never the tight gag after gag pacing and much more effective
      Train collision and hell sequence that the DL version has always had.

  10. Thanks for another fun article…..
    DL has far more packed into it’s smaller space and room to expand (the Motorboat area). Theming is important, and they seem to have done a great job in the WDW remake, but only a marketing dept. could think that restaurants and meet & greets should be the main focus of a land.

  11. I think I have to judge Fantasyland through the eyes of a child. To a child, the number of rides really makes a difference. Because Disneyland has so much more to offer for a child, I have to give it to Disneyland. Even though the castle is more spectacular at WDW, I enjoy being able to enter into Fantasyland through the castle at Disneyland. The overall design of Disneyland’s Fantasyland also is much more unified. I think Keith wins this one.

    • And to a child, the castle at DL is plenty big!

  12. I have not seen the new Fantasyland at WDW, so for the time being, once again, it’s Disneyland for the win. They’ve packed in a lot more rides anyway.

  13. For me, its DL over WDW… although I’ve been to New Fantasyland at MK and was very impressed – in fact, once Seven Dwarves Mine Train opens, I expect the difference to narrow, as this ride will add to the majesty and sense of space that MK’s Fantasyland needs.

    For me, the difference-maker right now is Storybook Land/Casey Jr… this is such an iconic, stunningly beautiful and cleverly designed part of the park that I absolutely love – and with the Matterhorn as a backdrop, really helps transport you to another place and time. The European theme ties in so well together… and this area, as well as the Matterhorn really seals the deal.

  14. I give it to Disneyland based on the sheer # of rides and original Small World. BUT BUT BUT, I really do love the new changes at MK. The expansion is stunning. It makes me feel like I am in a whole other world. I love that we have Gaston running around. I am super excited for the Mine coaster too. I also think our Winnie the Pooh ride is better. It’s not fair to take off points for our Tea Cups because it has a roof. If it didn’t, there would be limits on the times you could ride it due to weather. Also, the dual Dumbos are AWESOME. Having a toddler and not having to wait in a long line (i.e. doing the opening Dumbo dash) is perfect. Plus they look stunning at night with all their lights.

    So even though DL has a stronger FL in my book, it doesn’t make MK’s FL a ‘loser’ to me.

  15. I have always loved the 1983 Disneyland New Fantasyland Steve Kirk Dumbo ride that he did in 1982 with all its kinetic magic. I don’t think TDL got this version when they opened in early 1983. All the Disneyland attractions got super sized in 1983 as well as great new facades which speaks well for Tony Baxter’s team back then. I’m sorry he could not convince the management to keep the Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship and skull Rock in a new location. I have not been to Fantasy Fare yet to see if it can make me forget Carnation Plaza Gardens, as it has fond memories with my parents dancing to the Big Bands during my first visits to Disneyland.

    • Thanks for mentioning the pirate ship. Tuna fish never tasted so good as when it was made by pirates. Granted I was only 7…

      • For me still, it was the “Best” and with cheese added. Made Chicken of the Sea a Friday night Special at our house using the placemat recipe which I still have. Disneyland should bring it back in Fantasyland as a Captain Hook Special.

    • Actually, I heard that when they overhauled Disneyland’s Fantasyland, the pirate ship got damaged beyond repair, but they did manage to salvage the ship’s rigging, cannons and lamps, and use them in the overhauled Peter Pan ride.

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