I’ve always loved the “any dream can happen if you just believe” motto that Disney has. I also enjoy the how deep the concept of imagination runs in the company. Walt Disney was one to believe in the power of imagination, and in turn, allowed his timeless characters to believe the same thing.
This is shown in the nighttime spectacular show Fantasmic! I’ve always been a fan of this show. It always puts a smile on my face and a question in my head: How can I use my imagination today?
The show encourages the audience to use their imagination and to dream up something incredible, just as Mickey Mouse does every night in the show. With a mixture of special effects, music, and story, it’s no wonder that people have flocked to this show for the past 25 years in Disney parks around the world.
Brief History of Fantasmic
The first version of the show opened in 1992 in Disneyland on Tom Sawyer Island by The Rivers of America. However, Entertainment at Disneyland had wanted to put up a show on the man made body of water ten years prior to the shows opening. It was actually on the opposite coast in Florida where they got their inspiration to try developing a new nighttime show again.
The Disneyland team had traveled to Epcot in Walt Disney World to see IllumiNations, a waterfront pyrotechnic filled show that still runs today. Then, when Michael Eisner, the Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company at the time, told the team they could try a new show in California, they got to work with their plans.
To get ready for the show in Disneyland, they started to drain The Rivers of America, remove the riverboat and ship they usually had floating there, and reconstruct Tom Sawyer Island. They had to make way for the high-tech instruments that were to be on display in the show. Show Director Barnette Ricci discovered that Disney had the resource to use new 50 foot wide, 30 foot tall water-screens.
The screens would shoot up into the air, and since they were thick enough, Entertainment had the idea to project Disney animated film clips right onto them. By doing this, the show was able to project clips from movies like Fantasia, Pinocchio, and many more. Entertainment would also be able to support the shows fifty performers alongside pyrotechnics, including a fire breathing dragon.
Every piece of set, props, lights, and pyrotechnics is matched up to the triumphant theme music written by Bruce Healy. Once you see the show, you will never forget the music. Seriously, you’ll want to by the Fantasmic soundtrack before you leave the park so you can relive the show at home. With his original theme, Healy also created some orchestrations to some existing Disney music. For example, there is a Princess Medley in the show, featuring royalty and music from The Little Mermaid, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and Sleeping Beauty.
When Disney decided to take the show Walt Disney World, they had the opportunity to play the show in a bigger space. Since there was still room to construct a stage in the nearly ten year old park, Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios), Entertainment decided to place Fantasmic there. Since the show opened in 1998, they’ve also made the decision to revamp the show to include clips from some of the new movies that had happened since 1992.
In one of the scenes from the show, there is another medley that includes many award winning movies from the Walt Disney Animation Studios up until that point. In 2015, to act as a companion to the switch from projecting film to digital movie clips, Entertainment has even implemented newer movies like Tangled and Frozen in the show. There were also some scene changes in the show that showcased new movies like Disney’s Pocahontas.
The theatre was built like an amphitheater and could sit 6,900 people with 3,000 standing room viewers. This was so much better for the company because not only could more people watch the show nightly, but they could sit more comfortable with a better view of the show. Most every seat in Disney World’s Hollywood Hills Amphitheater has a great view, so you won’t be disappointed at any angle you may sit at.
Also, since the show at Disneyland had a waterfront, Entertainment wanted to present the new show in the same way. However, instead of having the show surround Tom Sawyer Island, Disney decided to build a new island in the amphitheater with a huge mountain as its center piece.
The show starts with a darkened stage. An announcer presents a monologue describing the journey you as an audience member are about to take with Mickey Mouse. She explains that Mickey’s dream could take you on an exciting adventure, or a nightmare waiting to happen. She even questions if the Mouse’s imagination is strong enough to fight off the evil forces that invade his dream.
Before anyone can answer her question, the performance starts with one ray of white light, beaming from the stage. The light builds to become brighter, until suddenly, Mickey Mouse appears right in front of the audience as if by magic. Mickey even does some magic tricks right out of the gate, making pyrotechnic fireworks shoot out of his gloves.
The stage darkens again to reveal projection of Mickey as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on the water-screens. He magically controls the water surrounding him on the screens and in the water near the audience to become waves. If you choose to sit near the water, watch out! On a windy night, you might just get wet.
The madness Mickey produces becomes mellow when a calm female voice sings of seeing “mysteries and magic” in your imagination that will lead you to have “wonderous dreams.” Quickly, Mickey’s imagination takes us into a jungle full of goofy monkeys, elephants, and many other neon lit animals.
You might even recognize the famous baboon from The Lion King, Rafiki. Then we are led to watch the medley of characters I had mentioned before, animated in bubbles and projected upon the water-screens. In the next scene, Mickey is seen sinking into a whirl pool until Maestro the Whale from Pinocchio crashing onto the water screens.
In the midst of the whale’s intimidating theme music, the sound of a cannon pops at the audience, bringing the English characters from Disney’s Pocahontas into the light onstage. Their leader, the rich Governor Ratcliffe, tells the men to dig for gold. On the water, Native Americans from Pocahontas’s tribe paddle in canoes. Because of the conflict between the two groups, war breaks loose as they called each other “savages.”
Just as John Smith swings onstage to help ease the fight, Pocahontas appears at the top of the mountain with Grandmother Willow’s voice speaking to her, telling her that the spirits will guide her. This then leads the show into a beautiful Princess Medley featuring couples such as Belle and the Beast, Ariel and Prince Eric, and Snow White with her Prince, dancing on lit up floats in the water.
Once the royal couples leave the scene, Snow White’s Evil Queens appears to speak to her Magic Mirror. He tells her that although she is beautiful Mickey’s imagination will always produce beauty and love. Angry at the news, she turns herself into an old hag and calls on all the forces of evil to help turn Mickey’s dream into a Nightmare.
Villains from Ursula to Scar invade the water-screen laughing at the joy of ruining Mickey’s dream. Even Jafar from Disney’s Aladdin turns into a snake to frighten Mickey, but one of the most terrifying villains of them all appears onstage too, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. To frighten Mickey and the audience, she turns into a vicious dragon, taking over the majority of the stage.
Recognizing that her power means nothing in his dream, Mickey takes matters into his own hands, using a sword to vanquish the dragon and all of the villains that taunted him before. As a finale, Mickey appears as he did in the cartoon short Streamboat Willie, captaining a steamboat full of almost every main Disney character you can imagine.
Mickey then jumps from being on the boat to the top of the big mountain in his sorcerer apprentice attire, shooting fireworks above the audience with a grand gesture. Finally, by using the last bit of magic of his performance, Mickey jumps from the mountain to the bottom of the stage where we first met him, waving goodbye to the audience and thanking them for witnessing what his imagination could do.
Influence at Tokyo DisneySea
Fantastic! is not only seen in the United States, but also in Tokyo DisneySea. Now, this show is a little different. There is still a waterfront and a mountain that acts as a stage for the show, but the use technology in the production is amazing. The mountain is a screen that showcases scenes from Disney movies on top of the projections on water screens.
There is also beautiful fountains synched up to the music just like in the American parks. The floats are also massive in this show, mostly because it seems like the park has a bigger waterfront to play on. They even have new musical arrangements in the production surrounding the original Bruce Healy theme. The show is also presented in Japanese with some lyrics in English mixed in.
Although this production looks amazing, I can’t help but to stay a committed fan of the productions in Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
And now, Tokyo DisneySea will introduce Fantasmic 2.0 on the world—a redesigned show that will feature a newly recorded Fantasmic score, as well as an overall performance that will take place on boats and barges rather than a set stage like most Fantasmic fans are accustomed to seeing.
Fantasmic Disneyland vs. Disney World
Like I mentioned, there are differences between the two productions in the United States, especially now that Disneyland recently revamped its entire show. In the summer of 2017, after I went to the D23 Expo in Anaheim, CA, I had pleasure of seeing the opening night of the new production in Disneyland. The new production was introduced to celebrate Disneyland’s birthday, July 17th, and Fantasmic’s 25th anniversary.
New graphics were added to the production, along with new scenes onstage with Aladdin and Jasmine singing “A Whole New World” on a magic carpet, and Jack Sparrow fighting off other pirates on huge sailing ship, originally occupied by characters from Disney’s Peter Pan. The coolest thing that I’m glad they kept was their beautiful Maleficent dragon.
Now, if you compare the two dragons between Disneyland and Walt Disney World, you will see that Disneyland’s is better, much better. During my Disney World College Program, I got to participate in a backstage tour of Fantastmic! and I got to see the dragon up close. It was awesome to see her right in front of me, but after seeing the Disneyland show, I wish Walt Disney World world revamp Maleficent.
Don’t get me wrong, it is a great dragon, but the one at Disneyland looks just like the one from Sleeping Beauty. She is colorful, has a full body, and still breathes fire. All we see at Disney World is her face and wings with hardly any color to her except in her eyes.
To conflict this, Disney World has better Fantasmic seating compared to Disneyland. When my family and I went to Disneyland, we had to get there super early in the morning to get a Fastpass just to see the show. If you didn’t have a Fastpass+, I wouldn’t know how you could see the show, especially since it was just opening.
Also, after we got in line two hours before the show to get a spot, we were only able to get standing room. I don’t know if it was just because it was opening night, or if we were just native to Walt Disney World, but the whole process was just messy.
The limited seating area (no chairs) at Disneyland, made me appreciate the space that Disney World has. If you decide to plan a trip to Disneyland within the next year to see the show, make sure you prepare to either stand or sit on the ground for the show. People brought blankets and food into the area with them to make the wait for the show more enjoyable. I know I’ll be more prepared next time I go!
Otherwise, I thought the new show was great, but the one at Disney World will always have a special spot in my heart.
Getting a seat at Disney World probably won’t be as stressful as getting one at Disneyland, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be prepared. In order to land your spot for the Floridian production of Fantasmic!, you might want to try using these tips:
- Get there 45-90 minutes before show time.
- Book at FastPass+ for preferred seating.
- Book the Dinner Package.
- Book the new Dessert & VIP Viewing package.
- See a later show (depending on the time of the year).
If you end up missing the first showing of Fantastmic!, depending on the day, you can probably catch the second, or sometimes third, performance of the night. There is usually a lesser crowd meaning more seats for you and your family.
Fantasmic Dinner Package
The Dinner and Dessert packages are also great ways to get preferred seating for the show. For Dinner, if you book a reservation at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano, Hollywood & Vine, or The Hollywood Brown Derby, you will be able to get a spot for the show as soon as you are done eating.
No need to rush to get to the amphitheater early, your seat will be reserved for you. The Dessert package is a unique experience where you can actually eat sweets while you watch the show. You’ll pick up treats inspired by the show, and then sit in the VIP section reserved just for you!
Pricing for this package is $39 per adult and $19 per child (ages 3-9). If you decide to get there early without preferred seating, you can enjoy the pre-show led by a DJ who spits out the latests tunes you’ll love to dance to. You might even find yourself a part of a huge audience all participating in “the wave.” Also, make sure to pick up your Made with Magic ears and wands that literally glow with the show as you watch it.
No matter how you decide to see the show, you will enjoy your experience with Fantasmic!. It will be one that you and yours will always want to revisit over and over again.
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