Welcome to Disney Extinct Attractions. My name is Cole, and today I’ll be your Clopin as we visit a few Festivals of Fools.
2019 is set to be a huge year for the Star Wars franchise, with both the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and release of Star Wars Episode IX. Tuesday night, things were shaken up when Lucasfilm announced that they and Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow have parted ways on the project due to “creative differences.” What this means for the film’s release date, who knows, but all we can do is hope that this does not affect the opening of Star Wars Land, as well.
But with the opening of Galaxy’s Edge quickly approaching (even though it’s still two long years away, it feels like just yesterday that it was announced), today we are going to take a look back at two attractions that used to haunt the ground where Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will soon call home.
Released on June 21st, 1996, The Hunchback of Notre Dame came right towards the end of the Disney Renaissance and tends to be overlooked amongst the great films of that time. While not a runaway success, the film was the fifth highest-grossing film of the year worldwide and garnered an Oscar nomination for its score.
During the 1990s, Disney loved bringing its animated films to life within the parks, with nearly every Disney Animated Classic (sorry, Rescuers Down Under) receiving some sort of representation in the parks, whether it be parades or shows. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was no exception, with a show opening in both Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on the same day as the film.
Our first stop today is in Disneyland for The Festival of Fools. Sadly, there is almost no historical information on either of the shows, so most of today’s post is going to be my personal thoughts on them. (I also have to preface this by saying I haven’t seen The Hunchback of Notre Dame since I was five, so the story is a little hazy to me.)
Anyway, The Festival of Fools was a part of Big Thunder Ranch, hidden in the back of Frontierland. It was the first major show in the Ranch area and utilized a theater in the round. It actually made it a little difficult to see everything going on in the show, but you can still get a feel for it in the video below.
I really enjoyed The Festival of Fools because it did not try to be a direct copy of the film. The show felt similar to The Legend of the Lion King in Disneyland Paris, where certain characters appeared recreating their roles from the film. “Directed” by Clopin, the show, which was literally us watching The Festival of Fools, felt self-aware and broke the fourth wall continually. Throughout the show, many of the songs from the film were performed live, including a great rendition of “Out There.”
It’s difficult to tell from the picture, but the stage for the show was actually gigantic. During “Out There,” Quasimodo runs around the entire stage, made even more impressive by the fact that he was a walkaround character, so the actor playing him had to run around everywhere looking through what amounts to a mask.
Overall, I thought the show was very fun, but I can see why it did not last in the park forever. The storytelling method was very unique, but it wasn’t poignant enough for the show to become a classic. Still, it was a little odd when the show closed on April 18th, 1998, and the stage then sat abandoned for years. I remember riding the Disneyland Railroad when I was young and asking my parents about the empty stage. Little old me really thought that the show would reopen one day because how could they keep that stage closed forever.
But needless to say, the show never reopened, and the stage sat abandoned until it went through a major renovation for Billy Hill and the Hillbillies to take over in 2012. Today though, all of Big Thunder Ranch is gone, a victim of Galaxy’s Edge construction (but I’m sure there aren’t too many people complaining about that).
Meanwhile, if we jump back to June 21st, 1996, The Hunchback of Notre Dame: A Musical Adventure opened in the Backlot Theater in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Replacing The Spirit of Pocahontas, this show was very much in the vein of a traditional Disney Parks show. In fact, I think it worked even better than The Festival of Fools did, primarily because its 335-minutelength really helped establish the characters. Sure, it’s still a little rushed, but that’s to be expected when you try and cram a feature length film into a stage show.
This show was just pure fun, with all of the performers being extremely talented. Every single performer did a great job bringing their character to life, with Quasimodo and Esmerelda being especially wonderful.
I really love that Disney even created this film to begin with and bringing it into the parks is an even more powerful statement. The entire story revolves around looking past differences and accepting people for who they are inside. Involving religion in this quest also helps the story transcend beyond simply being a morality tale. It brings the entire story into a completely different perspective that Disney does not usual delve into, so including that story in the parks shows that religion can have a place there.
In addition to its great morals, the show was also incredibly paced. Of all the shows I’ve seen at Disney that try and tell the story of an Animated Classic, I’ve only seen a couple that worked better than this one pacing wise. Really, my only complaint with it is the reduction of Frollo’s role and the cutting of “Hellfire.” He is such a charismatic villain that I wish we could have had a little more of him in the show.
It seems that many agreed with me because the show was a part of the park until September 28th, 2002. While six years is not a long time, it still lasted longer than many other Disney Parks’ shows. Ultimately, it was time for the show to move on to new pastures, so the show closed. The Backlot Theater was renamed the Premier Theater and transformed into a special events center. But last year, the theater was demolished along with the rest of the Streets of America to make way for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. So ironically enough, both of the stages for the shows were destroyed to make way for the same land but on different sides of the country. But they will never be forgotten as long as The Hunchback of Notre Dame lives on.
And now for a look at next week’s post.
- This attraction is extinct in two places, but its successor lives on in three, soon to be four parks.
- The host of this attraction also plays Kronk.
- This attraction uses IMAX screens.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this dive into The Hunchback’s Disney Parks history.
And for my Game of Thrones fans out there, have a magical day!
Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.