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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  • JCSkipr79

    The only thing I give MK’s Fantasyland is Small World as it has no characters, has larger well placed sets and is WAY more heavily influenced by Rolly Crump. But other than that? No dice. A Tangled area with nothing but restrooms comming up against the Mansion, Casey Jr. turned into outdoor porta potty, meet n greets and Princess dining out the wazoo. And the biggest issue?? Only ONEORGINAL dark ride left. So that means MKs FL has no subversive, scary, dark dark rides. MKs Fantasyland has become teh most girly, safe, corporate, boring Fantasyland of all.

    • jcruise86

      Apparently I’m the only person who likes the Disney characters in Small World at Disneyland. That ride is soooo long that the few new characters get my attention in a good way. With the bad exception of Woody, they fit Mary Blair’s style and if you listen hard you can hear their own musical themes briefly blending in with The Sherman Bros. unrelenting torture. The ceilings on this ride remain inexcusably ugly.

      • AvidTurtleTalker

        Don’t worry. I love them too. And they honestly aren’t that obtrusive. It took me a while to see the little Jiminy Cricket and Tinker Bell actually.

  • horizonsfan

    I’m okay with Fantasyland in Florida and think that New Fantasyland will make it better. However, it’s truly no contest. At Disneyland, Fantasyland is the center of the park and has so many classic attractions. Even with the updates too much of WDW’s section feels cramped and isn’t designed to handle that volume of guests. It still pales in comparison to the original.

  • DobbysCloset

    “The Skyway chalet sat empty for years, until a recent refurbishment turned them into…bathrooms! In all fairness, though, they are really nice bathrooms.”

    NEVER downplay the importance of BATHROOMS! And yes, I know I’m screaming, but bathrooms are key to the total park enjoyment experience. It doesn’t matter how fun the ride is if the kid needs to use the potty afterwards and one can’t find it. The woman who knows the location and approximate wait time for every toilet in a theme park is the woman I want in my party!

    I’ve not visited WDW so I can’t vote on which I prefer. I do know that, for some reason, I didn’t see Toad as a child and thus never understood the ride. The early sixties DL Snow White gave me a recurrent nightmare that bothered me until I was twelve or so — something horrible was chasing me through the ride on foot and I never quite reached the turnstile at the end before I woke up. For me the treasure of DL Fantasyland was coming through the castle and riding the carousel, with its beautiful horses and then…Dumbo.

  • Dapper Dan

    I actually have to give this one to Disneyland. Even with the updates Florida has received recently, they still can’t compete with the original Fantasyland, especially considering the sheer number of attractions. Storybookland, Casey Jr, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, and now Snow White are all nonexistent in Florida. In Fact Florida’s Fantasyland has changed so much, it only has four rides in common with Disneyland anymore. Peter Pan, It’s A Small World, the carousel, and the teacups. Florida’s Fantasyland doesn’t even have Dumbo anymore if you consider Storybook Circus to be its own land. It’s a bit ironic that in an age where we complain so much about cloned attractions the flagship areas for both parks are more different from each other now than they have ever been and appear to be moving away from each other.

    At least Florida’s exteriors have caught up some. The new part of Fantasyland looks great and I hope that the old parts get a face lift once the dwarf mine opens, but they probably won’t. Not that any amount of facade work can make It’s A Small World compare to the original.

    I am a bit shocked that the movie characters inside that ride are considered to be a plus now. I’m in the camp that thinks that move and adding an America scene completely ruined the ride. The message is completely different now, and it’s not a good one. That version of the ride really now is, “A salute to all nations, but mostly America.”

    I’m really surprised that Jeff didn’t play the castle card. When he didn’t play it for Main Street, I thought, OK, technically it’s in Fantasyland he’ll probably throw it down there. It’s not a big deal that it doesn’t have a walkthrough. It’s huge. It dominates the view from across the seven seas lagoon. It is the highest structure in the park. It has the Cinderella mosaics which are kind of a walkthrough, It has its own store. It has its own restauraunt. Tinkerbell starts her flight there. Walt’s apartment was in there. It is the most photographed man made structure on the planet earth and it doesn’t even get a mention?

  • jcruise86

    Will the dwarf coaster = the Storybook boat ride & KC Jr. Train? I doubt it.
    Alice in Wonderland is a nice little ride, though the ugly rail issue has yet to be resolved.

    Which Dumbos have a better view? (I haven’t seen the new ones at WDW.)

    The most important characteristic of a bathroom isn’t theming, it’s cleanliness.
    So which theme park has the cleanest restrooms in the world?

  • jcruise86

    On second thought, move Disneyland’s current Sleeping Beauty castle to WDW’s Animation Resort, or better yet to a beautiful gardeny DCA extension across the western road to the south of the Paradise Pier. That castle is part of California’s history, so it fits the DCA theme. It should be on a hill that’s about 20-30′ high.

  • mksgrist

    Fantasyland in MK seems to follow their trend of lots of superficial fluff with little substance…..

  • DG2

    Overall I have always rated Disneyland hands down the superior park to WDW. Fir too many reasons to list. However , since We are talking about fantasyland the castle is the center of fantasyland And that’s where the differences are huge in Florida. Think about the fact that you can go inside and have dinner !! I will never forget The looks on my kids faces when they first saw that castle all away at the end of Main Street USA… WOW ! Couple years after our first WDW trip we took the little ones to Disneyland and the reaction on mainsteet USA looking towards the castle was more of an official ” Larry David “Eh”…

    60 years is a great run .John Lasseter -Bob Igar make the new castle at the original Disneyland one that in 2013 Walt would have done !!

  • PecosBill

    1. Keith forgot to mention the sleeping beauty castle walk through attraction.
    2. I don’t think Jeff can reference Story Book Circus as part of Fantasyland, unless Keith gets to add ToonTown into the mix. In which case Disneyland hands down wins the competition.
    3. Disneyland has 20 something attractions between Fantasyland and Toontown as compared to 11 in Fantasyland Story Book Circus at MKP.

  • Big D

    I haven’t been to WDW since they opened the new Fantasyland, so I can only go by what was there before the re-do. Disneyland wins by a landslide. The WDW Fantasyland feels like what Disneyland’s Fantasyland used to look like in the videos of opening day. The pictures of the new Fantasyland look nice, but now the newer part of Fantasyland is going to make the older part look that much worse by comparison. Also, Keith forgot to mention how amazing the Small World Mall looks at Christmas!

    By the way, I don’t think they’ll ever make Disneyland’s castle bigger, because it would ruin the perspective of the size of the Matterhorn. If they put Walt Disney World’s castle at Disneyland, it would be just as tall as the Matterhorn and it wouldn’t look like a mountain.

  • DG2

    A new castle in Disneyland does not need to be as big as Cinderellas agreed. However, it needs to be and can be at least a third larger. Utilizing the footprint with modern technology and landscaping the brilliant engineers at Disney can easily
    Do this without it throwing off the forced perceptive of Main Street or Matterhorn. They should do it and make it Snow Whites castle ! Perfect fir the 60th anniversary. Lets be honest. Snow is far more popular then Sleeping Beauty plus it will be a true original that no other park has.

    I have read many books on Walt Disney and if he were alive today I could bet a years pay he would have upgraded the icon of his masterpiece

  • jasmineray

    Talks of making the castle bigger is… No. Leave it as it is, it’s perfect for Disneyland’s size. If they ever made it taller, I think I would cry. Just no, please. Don’t make it Snow White’s Castle, don’t make it taller. Leave it alone.

  • tofubeast

    Just wanted to add— I never got to ride Mr. Toad at MK back in the day, but rode it several times at DL. Having just watched both tracks on you tube off the one that was at MK, I can now truly understand why so many people lament the loss of this ride. It was way better than the DL version. What a loss. Sad I never got to ride it.

  • TRONAlex

    I wonder if Disneyland will have the 7 Dwarfs Mine Car Coaster in the near future?
    The only prime realestate in Fantasyland left is the old Videopolis area.
    I remember when I was a kid, going to WDW and I thought that all the rides were the same as Disneyland, except for 20,000 Leagues.
    I didn’t really pay much attention to the Magic Kingdom.
    I am very use to Dland.
    I did like the castle a litttle better in MK because it was bigger, but I
    do like the Disneyland Fantasyland better because it was and is still the original. I also thought that there were more things to do and see in Dland, Fantasyland then MK’s.
    So I like the Disneyland Fantasyland way better. Even though I still miss the Motor Boat ride.

  • TRONAlex

    One more thing to add. Our Yetti still works..LOL