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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Comments for Dueling Disney: Fantasyland Face-off are now closed.

  1. Our Yetti-I mean the Disneyland Yetti still works…In comparred to the Disco Yetti…

  2. Disneyland wins no contest. More rides, a coherent theme and the Matterhorn easily tips the scales. Not to mention tales with belle is one of the worst attractions ever offered by Disney imo. Had new fantasy land included a beauty and the beast e ticket and a smaller dark ride based on Dumbo then we could talk comparison.

  3. Geat Article Guys

    Personally, DL’s Fantasyland has more attractions, and a bit more variety with the Mattahorn. Despite WDW’s Fantasyland looks good, fo me, the money that was spent could have included more unique rides, such as Beuty and the Beast, instead of a resturant.

    And DL has Mr Toad and no tents as facade.

    Thanks Again Guys