“Welcome to Fantasmic! Tonight, our friend and host, Mickey Mouse, uses his vivid imagination to create magical imagery for all to enjoy.” For over 25 years those words have started my all time favorite theme park show and now with this latest update looks like it could go for another 25! But I am getting ahead of myself, — first I would like to look back at May of 1992 where a teenage boy after seeing and hearing all about this new “river show” decided to ditch his high school graduation and take his first girlfriend to Disneyland. Little did I know how much that would change my love of Disney!
For those of you that don’t remember, or more likely weren’t born yet, prior to Fantasmic! New Orleans Square and the area around the Rivers of America was a peaceful place. But, in the early 90’s, that all changed. Here is an excerpt from the 1992 Disney News Magazine about the process to create the show:
“Disneyland is made up of a variety of experiences,” explains Bob McTyre, Vice President of Entertainment at Disneyland, “attractions, food, merchandise, characters, live entertainment. We try to make the whole work together.
“As part of that effort, we were looking at ways to make nighttime at Disneyland a more exciting place to be. And we were most interested in New Orleans Square. Although we have done shows on the River in the past, a real show experience had never been done there.”
The article goes on to talk about how IllumInations was part of the inspiration and the technological advances it took to bring the River to life:
“We had been wanting to do a spectacle on the River for at least 10 years,” says Mike Davis, Director of Entertainment at Disneyland. “When we saw ‘IllumiNations’ at Walt Disney World we started thinking about it again. Then, last year, Michael (Eisner, The Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO) gave us the go-ahead to try something new, so we said, ‘Let’s finally do that River spectacular.”‘
Through the high-tech sorcery of FANTASMIC!, Mickey Mouse draws the audience into a world of his own vivid and colorful imagination.
Of course, Mickey has more than 60 years of spectacular memories stored up, so it should come as no surprise that, once he turns his imagination loose, he can conjure up a sensational array of images — enormous blooming flowers, giant dancing marionettes, swashbuckling “Peter Pan” pirates (aboard a full-scale pirate ship), and exotic “Jungle Book” beasts, including a gigantic Kaa, which slithers its 100-foot-long body around the tip of Tom Sawyer Island.
There are some malevolent forces at work in FANTASMIC! however. A formidable array of Disney villains invades Mickey’s imagination for a thrilling climax, pitting Mickey against the likes of the Wicked Queen from “Snow White,” the demon Chernabog from “Fantasia,” Ursula the Sea Witch from “The Little Mermaid,” and the towering, fire-breathing dragon from “Sleeping Beauty.” It takes all the goodness Mickey can muster to end the nightmare and return Disneyland to its normal state as The Happiest Place on Earth.
In addition to a cast of nearly 50 live performers in hundreds of costumes and a variety of roles, FANTASMIC! features lasers, fog effects, specially choreographed water fountains, fireworks, fiber-optics technology and a full cast of creeping, floating, fire-breathing and generally intimidating monsters.
One innovative technique employed by FANTASMIC! has never before been seen in a Disney Theme Park. As Mickey works his magic, three massive mist screens, each one 50 feet wide, 30 feet high and 6 inches thick, will appear on the River alongside Tom Sawyer Island. These screens are so dense that actual film images can be projected upon them.
Originally Fantasmic! was planned to have its media opening on April 29nd, 1992, but due to the Los Angeles riots that broke out that day after the acquittal of the officers involved in the Rodney King beatings, plans were put on hold. Without any official records and lack of internet, we only know it did open on May 13th, 1992.
Over the years Fantasmic! has seen and caused some changes both big and small, the first of which was, after the opening summer and record crowds, the area around the Rivers of America were reconfigured to add terracing to enhance sight lines for guests. One of the other major changes early on is the highly debated Ursula float. To this day, I have friends that recall seeing her float past on their “last visit” but, in fact, she never made it full time in show past the second summer due to a great number of reasons including breaking down mid show and bringing the entire show to a full stop.
Once the first year growing pains were out of the way it was smooth sailing… or was it? Head to page 2 and find out!