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An Open Letter to Imagineering

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by , 03-25-2012 at 05:30 PM
Dear Imagineering,

I had the opportunity to experience the soft opening of the Storybook Circus expansion of the New Fantasyland last week (March 21-23). I had a few thoughts as a Disney researcher, historian and enthusiast. My overall reaction is one of joy and excitement; it seems as if there has been a fundamental change in the Disney Company and I am glad to see Walt Disney World get the attention it has needed. Also, the anticipation of the completion of the entire project has grown dramatically for me.

Even though I had seen tons of pictures prior to visiting, ultimately, nothing could have properly prepared me for the experience.

When you enter Storybook Circus, you are confronted with a red canyon of barricades with attraction posters greeting you happily and welcoming you. Immediately, it is a far cry better than the traditional construction walls with a few Dreambuilder signs. The posters are a mix of movie posters, traditional attraction posters and carnival flyers. They help tell the story of the Circus, but they are also works of pure art.

Image courtesy Bob Angelo from Everything Walt Disney World.

Dumbo and Goofy's Barnstormer

The Mrs. Jumbos and the gold peanuts were such a great addition.

The first area you walk into is the Dumbo/Barnstomer section of the Circus. Even with construction walls, the beauty of Dumbo is evident. There is a depth to the attraction that you soak in while you wait in the queue. Make sure to notice the story panels at the bottom and the decorations as you make your way up the spinner portion. The attraction shines with a sophistication that we have not seen in years. The ticket booth near the temporary entrance is a real charmer and harkens back to the ticket booths from Disneyland.

Such a creative and whimsical design on the ticket booth. I wonder how it will be used once the Dumbo interactive wait area is opened.

More fantastic signage. The group in charge of the signs and posters did an astounding job.

The one thing that really jumped out was the attention to the layering of everything. It wasnít just a landscaped wall, but a well designed and constructed stone wall. The area between Dumbo and the Barnstormer offers more detail that simply amazes. Take a closer look at the Exit Only and Stroller Parking signs. Notice the small detail at the bottom? It is a round medallion with the letters CP in a very stately script. This will tie into the entire theme of this part of the Fantasyland neighborhood.

That is a gorgeous stone wall. Image provided courtesy of Bob Angelo from Everything Walt Disney World.

So, it seems like I might have been the only one in the area that was excited by the permanent Stroller Parking sign. That CP graphic is very strong and well done.

There is an extremely rich tapestry that starts with the ground and flows up. The area looks rich and it feels the way a Disney park should feel. Not overtly themed, but like it was meant to be this way. Also, it was refreshing to see permanent signage for the strollers. Another example of the level of forethought that went into planning the area.

Carolwood Park

The Fantasyland Train Station is one of the most beautiful and well-designed areas. The brickwork on the building is handsome and the proportions are very pleasing to the eye. Almost every person I spoke to thought the station/restroom area was the best part of the expansion. It takes you several passes to take in the entire structure. At first, with the train station, you notice the Carolwood Park sign. A truly fantastic tribute to early Disney history that will be missed by most visitors, it works as a bookend to the Main Street station. In the queue for the train, the details come into focus and you notice the light fixtures and the signs for the boarding gates.

I love the Carolwood reference.

Casey Jr.!

The main part of the building, although it is purposed as a restroom, is a stunning recreation of a railroad roundhouse. You donít notice it at first until you look at all of the details. Check out the tracks leading up to the building. See the door separating the bathrooms? Notice that there are three track lines heading to the building? When you make your way into the restroom, you will notice another detail that pulls everything together: There are tiled train tracks on the floor (I was told that the womenís restroom had the same details, but I canít confirm this).

Yes, that is a restroom disguised as a roundhouse!

The tracks lead you to the restrooms and a garbage can.

The tracks continue in the men's restroom.

When you make your way around the side of the roundhouse/restroom, you find yourself at the exit walkway for the train. There is more great theming that includes period travel luggage and some nods to the inhabitants of the circus.

The luggage really helps to date the area and continues the story.

I wonder if this travel sticker is a tribute to any of the current Imagineers?

A fantastic reference to the pachyderm inhabitants of the film and the circus.

The ground throughout the expansion has details scattered throughout, like straw, peanuts and various animal prints.

Railroad spur line

A fellow blogger mentioned that the area really looked more like a carnival to her and she agreed that the whole area had a beautiful tapestry. I was walking with some other friends and was reminded that I can act like a walking encyclopedia at times; I had to explain the references to Carolwood Park to the history of Walt Disney and his backyard railroad in Holmby Hills. This is part of the magic of Disney Parks, you can find surprises and hidden details everywhere.

Off to the side of the station, there is the remnant of a spur line for Casey Jr. It was a detail that didn't need to be there, but it adds so much. When I was taking photos, several people stopped to see what I was doing. They were impressed with the detail, but it was obvious they would have missed it, otherwise.

The spur line from Casey Jr. Notice the only remaining buildings from Mickey's Toontown Fair?

While thinking about the area, I wanted to place the Storybook Circus firmly into the mid-1950s. I felt like I was in a Donald Duck/Humphrey the Bear short in Brownstone National Park. Of course, more of the theme is going to be revealed over the next year.

Over the past five years, we have seen a change with the designs that Imagineering has been able to execute in the parks. I was talking to Foxfurr from Passport to Dreams and we hit upon the theory that the group designing the current rides and attractions are fifth (maybe sixth) generation Imagineers. They grew up worshiping the earliest theme park designs and want to pay tribute to their predecessors through design. Probably the earliest attraction to see this type of design would be the 2007 Haunted Mansion refurb at the Magic Kingdom.

So, thanks go out to all of the Imagineers that are working on this project. It is obvious that the Fantasyland Expansion is going to be amazing. This is the fourth Fantasyland in the continental United States and each one has brought more to the table. I can't wait until that first moment I get to take it all in.

Warmly yours,


Do you have any thoughts about the Fantasyland expansion?

Do you think we are seeing a change in Imagineering or the Company?

By George Taylor

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

You can follow me on Twitter @imaginerding
Or like Imaginerding on Facebook.

George is also one half of the incredibly talented, handsome and charming duo behind Communicore Weekly. You can find them on the Mice Chat Youtube Channel.

Thanks to Everything Walt Disney World for providing their photos.

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  1. mratigan's Avatar
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    I loved that!!!
    I wish that WDI fixes Tommarowland bere are my ideas.......
    bring back circle vision
    Move the dream house the R2P2
    Something new in inonventions
    peoplemove comes back
    something new in Magic Eye Theater
    add The Land
    move the astro orbiter to its old home
  2. Dustysage's Avatar
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    Thank you for this essay on the first phase of the Fantasyland expansion. It does indeed look like a much richer level of detail than what has been done in the Magic Kingdom previously.

    Interested to hear how you feel the new sections of Fantasyland will play against the older, less elaborately themed, section? Will they need to do a rebuild of the facades there as well to make it all look right?
  3. themur's Avatar
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    I imagine that Chicago postcard is a reference to Walt attending the the Chicago Railroad Fair with Ward Kimball in 1948.
  4. Cory Gross's Avatar
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    Great photo essay! The new areas look fantastic... I love the Carolwood references as well, and the design of the circus is wonderfully retro. I wish the few circuses still percolating around North America looked as cool!
  5. BK31's Avatar
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    I would think that the Chicago sticker is referencing the fact that Walt Disney was born at 1249 Tripp Avenue in Chicago (now 2156 North Tripp Avenue after they renumbered things in the early 1900's) according to Werner Weiss. That's my guess at least...
  6. zippa d doodah's Avatar
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    Nicely done, George!
  7. ttintagel's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the detailed pictures; I can't wait to see it in person! This looks like one of those areas it's fun to just hang out in and let your imagineation be captured.
  8. spajadigit's Avatar
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    This is a beautiful update. It's nice to see the Magic Kingdom is finally getting some serious lovin'.
  9. Disneylandfan85's Avatar
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    The Chicago sticker may or may not be a reference to where Walt himself was born. He was born in Chicago and then moved a few years later to Marceline. In 1948, he returned to Chicago for a railroad fair going on to escape from his work for a time, which was getting him down at that time.
  10. DragoHarley's Avatar
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    This is one of the very best reports I have ever read on the expansion. I have to say that I was not excited by the circus stuff at first...but this report, and reports by Ricky over at ImaginetheMagic, have made me really excited to see the Storybook Circus in person. I get so excited when I see new pictures and I love seeing video of the new expansion. I think the Imagineers have outdone themselves and I am so grateful they were allowed to use their talents and that Disney invested so much in this expansion. We are all truly blessed and I am excited to see this in person!
  11. Max Power's Avatar
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    Those Toontown buildings are functional. The WDWRR crews top off the tender water with the water tower. The fireman used to stand on the tender and pull the water spout down by a rope; but OSHA rules keep them from standing on the tenders, so they use a pole now.

    The building closer to the foreground treats the water for the tower. It adds an oxygen depleter to inhibit rust, a descaler to prevent scale buildup in the boiler, and a dye so no one drinks it. If the treatment system is not functioning, the lantern on the building will light up.