BACKSTORY (July 17, 1955—Present): Walt said, “What youngster has not dreamed of flying with Peter Pan over moonlit London, or tumbling into Alice’s nonsensical Wonderland? In Fantasyland, these classic stories of everyone’s youth have become realities for youngsters–of all ages–to participate in.” Due to budget constraints, Fantasyland featured Tournament Festival “Tent” façades instead of the original Tudor designs initially drawn. This situation was not rectified until May 25, 1983, when Fantasyland was reopened after a lengthy remodel process, and the attraction façades were changed to the original Tudor concept.
Fantasyland’s main entrance is through Sleeping Beauty Castle, which once had a separate walk-through attraction (The Sleeping Beauty Dioramas) that opened on April 29, 1957, with Shirley Temple presiding over the ceremonies. These dioramas were closed in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks for security reasons as well as accessibility issues.
Where the Pinocchio attraction is today was once The Mickey Mouse Club Theater (8/27/55), which was the official Disneyland headquarters of the Mousketeers until 1963. It also featured a program of Disney cartoon shorts. On June 16, 1956, the theater debuted the 3D film “3D Jamboree” starring the Mouseketeers, as well as the 3D cartoons “Working for Peanuts” (Donald Duck) and “Adventures in Music: Melody.” The Theater was renamed the Fantasyland Theater in 1964 and then replaced by Pinocchio’s Daring Journey during the 1983 Fantasyland remodel.
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Bob Weaver is a frequent Daveland visitor. He wrote a fantastic backstory on Nature’s Wonderland and now he has shared a number of fantastic vintage images from his sister’s trip to Disneyland on August 26,1956. Here are his sister’s memories from that magical day:
I can remember two names from the Disneyland group. The girl with the dark curly hair is Joanne Sullivan, I think, and the girl with the ponytail and yellow sleeveless top is Barbara Metcalf. What a fun day that was! Disneyland was pretty new back then. There were four “lands” plus Main Street. The lands were Fantasyland (always the favorite of young girls), Frontierland, Tomorrowland and Adventureland. Some of these only had one or two features, e.g. Frontierland only had Tom Sawyer's Island and the "frontier town street" and Adventureland only had the jungle boat ride. Tomorrowland had to keep changing completely because of the advances in science and technology. One of the rides when it opened was Rocket to the Moon. Another was Autopia. They added the Fantasyland Autopia later. In the original Fantasyland, I remember the teacups, carrousel, Matterhorn, Snow White, Mr. Toad, Dumbo, and a train ride. The train around the park was memorable, too.
You had to have a book of tickets marked A, B, C or D. Of course all the good rides were D and you quickly ran out of those. The A rides were things like the horse car down Main Street.
My recollection is that Disneyland was a lily white place back then without much diversity. I don't remember seeing many asians or blacks either attending or working there until much later, like the 80's. I knew people who had worked there in college and they had to be very clean cut. They had some really restrictive rules. They were very selective about the appearance of employees they hired (if you were obese or not quite model pretty, you needn’t apply); I think that would be considered discriminatory today!
It was a big contrast to amusement parks like Long Beach Pike because it was kept so clean and there were no people just hanging around. I think it was very safe for kids, at least back then.
Here is the text from the Live Narration of a Guided Tour, circa 1962 (previously started on this page):
There are many exciting adventures here in Fantasyland for young and old alike. Our King Arthur Carrousel is the finest of its type in the world, with 72 hand carved steeds. The themes of the four dark adventures in Fantasyland each depict one of Walt's favorite pictures in a most exciting way. The Skyway, overhead, gives you a wonderful aerial view of the park and will take you through the Matterhorn mountain to Tomorrowland—or from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland.
BACKSTORY (May 25, 1983—Present): Fantasyland underwent a complete remodel in 1982/83. From the Disney Parks Blog on the 30th Anniversary of this historic conversion:
During the initial design of Fantasyland, Walt envisioned a fairy tale village beyond the walls of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Unfortunately, as completion of Disneyland neared, it became necessary to scale back on the design of Fantasyland due to unforeseen budget overages – in fact, Walt’s budget for Disneyland had nearly tripled. So the design of Fantasyland developed into a medieval fair, with banners and flags decorating the entrances to opening-day attractions such as Snow White’s Adventures, Peter Pan’s Flight and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
Then, thirty years ago today, “The New Fantasyland” opened at Disneyland on May 25, 1983. This expansion brought Walt’s original dream to life – the fairy tale village that was originally intended for opening day in 1955. The architecture and facade of each attraction became an extension of the stories that lie within.
On the east side of King Arthur Carrousel, the area reflects a look you may find in England, as you enter Peter Pan’s Flight through a medieval English clock tower or visit a country manor called Toad Hall, home to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Further down the path, you arrive at The Mad Hatter, a charming English country cottage. The area then transitions to giant, brightly colored leaves, the castle of the Queen of Hearts (in which the Alice in Wonderland attraction lies), and of course, the spinning teacups of the Mad Tea Party – creating the feel of the whimsy and wonder of the “Alice in Wonderland” story.
On the west side of Fantasyland, you have the feeling of being immersed in a Bavarian or Alpine village, bringing you into the worlds of Snow White and Pinocchio. The castle of the Evil Queen looms ominously as you enter Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Have no fear, though, because a cheerier atmosphere is right next door at Pinocchio’s Daring Journey. The attraction’s facade features half-timbered architecture and carved wood balconies, resembling the house in which Pinocchio, the wooden puppet made of pine, became a real boy.
As was the case with the original Disneyland Opening, the Alice dark ride fell behind, and didn't open with the other Fantasyland dark rides. Daveland reader and fellow blogger Mike Cozart gave this interesting fact about the remodel:
So much of the Disneyland 1983 New Fantasyland is comprised of details from molds made for EPCOT's World Showcase. Germany, United Kingdom and France details were used to make everything from chimney pots, wrought iron trim and even the plaster and stone finishes. Without EPCOT, the New Fantasyland would have been very different.
Jim Korkis recently wrote a fantastic article for Mouseplanet, detailing Roger Rabbit's abundant (albeit brief) presence at Disneyland:
The original film was released in the summer of 1988 and, by the fall of 1988, a costumed Roger Rabbit character was appearing at Disneyland, Roger had been included as a major character in an NBC television special saluting Mickey Mouse's 60th birthday, a theatrical short called Tummy Trouble (the first new Disney theatrical short in more than 30 years) had been put into production, a possible film sequel was being discussed, and Roger was planned to become an important presence for the Disney MGM Studios that celebrated the Hollywood of the 1940s since the original film was set in 1947.
Disney fans often forget how prominent Roger Rabbit was at the Disney parks for several years.
Roger Rabbit was one of the six gigantic 45-foot-tall inflatable balloon figures that were in Disneyland's "Party Gras" parade from January to November 1990 to celebrate Disneyland's 35th birthday.
The theatrical short Tummy Trouble had been rushed into production and was released with the Disney live-action film, Honey I Shrunk the Kids in June 1989. It was credited in the industry as having significantly boosted the revenue for the film. Almost immediately, a second short, titled Roller Coaster Rabbit was made. Spielberg assumed that this short would be attached to his Amblin film Arachnophobia (1990), especially since it was the first feature to be released by Disney's new Hollywood Studios. However, Disney had invested heavily in the live action feature Dick Tracy (1990) and felt the film needed additional help to recover its costs. Eisner insisted that since Disney was releasing both films that the short be connected with Dick Tracy. Spielberg fumed quietly, grumbling that as the co-owner of the characters, he should have a say in how they were being used and that a Roger Rabbit short should accompany one of his films. Work began on a third short, Hare in My Soup, to be released with the film The Rocketeer (1991), The premise of the short was that Roger, Baby Herman and his mother went to a restaurant. While the mother left the table to powder her nose, Baby Herman followed the chef into the kitchen and violent chaos ensued. Pre-production work was finished on the short when Spielberg announced he could not approve the cartoon and he had concerns about the script for the sequel as well, including the fact that the villain was a Nazi, so he wouldn't approve it either. Eisner realized that there would be even more trouble getting Spielberg's agreement on any future co-productions. Artist Peter Emsile remembered that he had just completed the image of Roger Rabbit for the WDW 20th Anniversary presskit cover when word came from Eisner to stop any projects that featured Roger. So, 1992 was the end of the career of Roger Rabbit. In an attempt to patch things up, Disney shifted focus to a different Roger theatrical short titled Trail Mix Up that did get Spielberg's approval and was released with the Disney/Amblin co-production A Far Off Place (1993), but it did not receive the same attention as the previous shorts. It was clear that Roger was pretty much dead in animation and in the Disney parks by mid-1993. The Disney Company philosophy became basically: Why fight with Spielberg and share the revenues when there were dozens of new Disney animated characters, from a mermaid to a beast to an upcoming lion?
In recent years, there has been some discussion about whether the chilly atmosphere around Roger Rabbit has been thawing somewhat.
A costumed Roger Rabbit made a brief return (March 25 through Easter Sunday March 31, 2013) on Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland as part of the pre-parade festivities and to lead the guests in the Bunny Hop dance. He had previously made a one-night only appearance during the 20th anniversary performance of Fantasmic! in May 2012, waving from the Mark Twain.
Unfortunately, for those wanting the return of Roger Rabbit, it seems for the newest generation of guests, the question is often "Who Is Roger Rabbit?"
Merlin’s Magic Shop opened near The Sleeping Beauty Castle on July 17, 1955, with a Main Street location opening up just two years later. After Merlin’s in Fantasyland closed in 1983, the Main Street location remained. Actor Steve Martin got his start at Merlin’s and briefly worked at the Main Street shop as well. Martin spent three years at the Fantasyland location where he demonstrated packaged magic tricks and practical joke items that were for sale inside the shop. He learned all the tricks, and collected all the jokes, writing down every gag. "I knew every nook and cranny of the shop," he recalls. He identified a number of the items for sale in the window shot at left from October 1963:
There's a Ouija board window in the window as well as a Troll Doll. These were very popular “ugly” dolls that were fad items. In the other window in the lower left are the “Sucker Die Box,” a magic trick where the audience was led to believe they figured out the trick (but didn’t), and a Jerry Mahoney ventriloquist doll.
At right above, click on the thumbnail to see the window in 1962. Martin recalls:
Wow, it’s the bunny rabbit puppet in the window that I used in my stage act for years. I put a rubber juggling ball in the end and produced the rabbit saying, “a live, bouncing, baby rabbit.” Then I bounced it.