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Did a DVD special feature actually help reawaken Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough?

Did a DVD special feature actually help reawaken Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough?

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When it comes to DVDs, there are special features and then there are special features.

Case in point: That virtual castle walkthrough that you'll find on the 2-disc Platinum Edition of "Sleeping Beauty " that Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released back in October. That special feature actually played a crucial role in the re-opening Disneyland's long-closed Sleeping Beauty Castle exhibit.

To hear Tony Baxter -- Senior Vice President of Creative Development at Walt Disney Imagineering -- tell the tale, there has been such a changeover in Mouse House management in the 7 years since this Fantasyland favorite had closed, that many of the executives who now work at the Disneyland Resort weren't even aware that there had once been an exhibit like this located inside of Sleeping Beauty Castle. So the virtual castle walkthrough on that "Sleeping Beauty" DVD proved to be a great visual aid when it came to convincing these execs to allow WDI to rehab and then re-open this attraction.

Which was proved to be quite a challenge. Given that Baxter and his team wanted to preserve the charm of the Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough while -- at the same time -- bringing this Fantasyland attraction technologically up to date.

This is why the Imagineers took an almost surgical approach to this project. Folding in new effects only where they would actually improve the Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough. Like the now-animated versions of Flora, Fauna and Merryweather who wave their wands and put King Stefan's court to sleep.

As for the rest of the changes ... To bring this Fantasyland attraction more in line with the look of the original 1959 film, the Imagineers first removed all of the dolls that had been added to the Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough during its 1978 redo. They then changed all of the displays to dimensional paintings, which did a far better job of reflecting Eyvind Earle's distinctive art direction for this animated feature.

Photo by Shelly Smith 

Mind you, the real challenge here was fitting all of these story scenes into the existing structure. Which often took all of the Imagineers' ingenuity. Like that scene in the Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough that manages to suggest a lengthy hallway in just one foot of space.

Of course, given that this Fantasyland attraction's twisty series of stairs aren't all that wheelchair-friendly, the Imagineers addressed Sleeping Beauty Castle's ADD issues by creating a special viewing area for Disneyland's physically challenged Guests. This brand-new space features a throne built for three, where visitors can then sit and watch the very same virtual castle walk-thru that ultimately convinced Mouse House managers to allow this redo to proceed.

The end result is a revamped version of the Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough that's already drawn high praise from both Disney diehards as well as casual visitors to the Park. They marvel at both the brilliant new theatrical lighting that's found throughout this attraction as well as how little seems to have changed inside of this iconic Disneyland structure.

That's perhaps what makes Tony Baxter proudest of this project. That he and his team were able to do so much work within the walls of Sleeping Beauty Castle (Disney insiders have suggested that the Imagineers have spent as much on the castle walkthrough redo as Walt spent building all of Disneyland back in 1955) without having any obvious impact on the outside of this structure.

But -- then again -- Tony has a talent when it comes to cramming a lot of show into a very confined space. Which is why this veteran Imagineer scoffed when Disney CEO Bob Iger -- during the company's most recent quarterly earnings conference call -- was heard to remark that Disneyland was "built out."

Says Baxter: "There's plenty of land left to build on here at Disneyland. Out behind Big Thunder Mountain Ranch, there's room for an entirely new land at this Park."

Hmmn ... Maybe Tony should talk with the folks at Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. See if they'd be willing to add a "Discovery Bay" virtual walk-thru to that "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (Special Edition)" Blu-ray that WDSHE reportedly has in the works. A special feature like that might a hell of a sales tool when it comes to selling Disneyland Resort execs on the idea of adding a new "land" to that theme park.

I'm just saying ...

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  • And you ain't alone in "just sayin'".....

  • Nice article, Shelley!

    I've heard the lines can really back up for the walk-thru...not like the old days!  I hope the interest in it lasts a long time.

    But...the picture of Tony Baxter had no one in the background, going over the bridge into the castle.  Was that taken before the park opened, or are there days with no crowds there now?

    Beautiful picture, but scary...

    Sue in Texas

  • Thanks for today's article Shelley. I was disappointed when the walk through closed. Not because I was a fan of the 1970's displays though. I thought it was so cool that guests could actually go inside the castle. My daugter and I were disapointed 4 years ago when we discovered it was closed. That's OK though. We are visiting the park in April of 09 and are looking forward to seeing the redone interior.

  • It's a shame our family had to go to Disneyland so early this year. Maybe next year? I was really upset when I found out it was closed. I must have bugged the heck out of those employees every year, who kept on giving those vague "It's not open right now." answers.

  • Sue:

    The photo was taken when the castle area was cleared for media.  Why scary?


  • The castle had "ADD" issues? Are those anything like ADA issues?


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