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What do you get when you combine Disneyland's "it's a small world" with Sleeping Beauty Castle?

What do you get when you combine Disneyland's "it's a small world" with Sleeping Beauty Castle?

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They say that a man's home is his castle. Well, tonight, my castle is under siege. The wind field associated with Hurricane Sandy has already made its way up to New Hampshire, sending wind gusts of 50 - 55 MPH whistling through the trees. Which means that Nancy and I have already experienced a number of brown-outs & power glitches over the course of the day.

Which is why -- with the hope that I'll actually be able to post this piece on JHM before the power at our place finally officially cuts out -- let's get to that castle-related Why For question which Dale K. sent me late last week:

Have you seen that "Crowning Achievements: Creating Castles for Magic Kingdoms" show which is now being presented at the Disney Gallery at Disneyland Park? There's this concept painting for the castle at Hong Kong Disneyland that Imagineer Karen Armitage painted which absolutely fascinates me.


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The description of this painting says:

"Karen's concept for the Hong Kong Disneyland castle appears to have numerous sources of inspiration, including the popular Disney attraction "it's a small world," La Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris, and the classic animated film Sleeping Beauty."

But if you actually look closely at this concept painting, you can clearly see that not only is Armitage's version of the Hong Kong Disneyland castle covered with those two dimensional flats which you find on the  exterior of Disneyland Park's version of "it's a small world" ...


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... but there appear to be "small world" -style boats floating through this castle. So what exactly was the original plan here? Was the Hong Kong Disneyland castle supposed to have housed some sort of "small world" -like ride?

Dear Dale K.

To answer your question ... The Imagineers looked at a lot of ideas while they were trying to get a handle on what to do with Hong Kong Disneyland.  In a June 2007 interview with the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Karen talked about the challenges that WDI faced on that particular project. Which -- given that this theme park  was designed in the wake of Disneyland Paris' near financial meltdown ...


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We were encouraged to continue to think outside the box but make sure (that this theme park) did not cost money.

More to the point, almost since Walt first insisted that a fairy tale castle be built at the end of Main Street, U.S.A. at the original Disneyland Park, the Imagineers have struggled to come up with suitable occupants for these structures. Which is why Snow White Castle was basically an empty shell from July 1955 to April 1957 until WED installed the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough attraction on the second floor of this building.

And -- yes -- I said "Snow White Castle." Back when the Happiest Place on Earth was originally designed, Walt -- as he was showing people his plans for this theme park and/or walking visitors around the Disneyland work site -- would always refer to the iconic structure at the end of Main Street, U.S.A. as Snow White Castle.


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Mind you, that's not what the blueprints said. If you look close at the image above, you'll see that this iconic Disneyland structure was just designated as "Castle." Not Snow White Castle or Sleeping Beauty Castle. Just "Castle."

Anyway ...  Whenever Walt was telling someone like super-powerful Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons about Disneyland in 1953 & 1954, he'd always refer to the building at the top of the Hub as Snow White Castle. It was only in the weeks leading up to Disneyland's grand opening that Walt (for some reason) seemed to suddenly back away from the idea of tying his Castle to one specific Disney Princess. Which is why -- during ABC's live broadcast of the opening of this theme park -- that knight rides up to the drawbridge and then proclaims:

"Open the Fantasyland Castle in the name of the children of the world!"


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Now jump ahead to 1956. And Disney's animated version of "Sleeping Beauty" has already been in production for five years at this point. More to the point, the Company had already poured $3 million into this Technirama widescreen production and it'll still be at least two years before "Sleeping Beauty" could finally open in theaters. With the hope that a little additional publicity might help build interest in this very expensive / labor intensive animated feature, Walt decried that the Fantasyland Castle  would now be called Sleeping Beauty Castle and that the second floor of this building would feature a walk-through hyping this soon-to-be-released animated feature.

Mind you, given that Walt had the Snow White Grotto & Wishing Well installed on the west side of  Sleeping Beauty in 1961 ... Well, it's fairly obvious that the Old Mousetro was of two minds when it came to which Disney Princess was the real ruler of this castle.

That said, let's remember that Cinderella Castle at WDW's Magic Kingdom was also somewhat schizophrenic  when it opened back in October of 1971. Given that the building itself was named after Cinderella while King Stefan's Banquet Hall, the elegant restaurant upstairs, was named after Sleeping Beauty's father. It wasn't 'til 1997 that the Imagineers finally got around to correcting this continuity error by renamed King Stefan's Banquet Hall Cinderella's Royal Table.


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Which brings us back to the Imagineers' continuing issues when it comes to the interior space in the castles at Disney's theme parks. But no matter what they tried, be it the Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour at Tokyo Disneyland Park ...


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... or La Tanière du Dragon underneath Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant ...


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... never quite worked the way the Wizards of WED had hoped. And by that I mean: These three walk-thru attractions and this sit-down restaurant never had all that great an hourly capacity because they were crammed into such tight spaces that -- because of all the stairs involved -- these facilities weren't all that ADA compliant.

Which is why -- when the Imagineers were trying to stretch Hong Kong Disneyland's construction budget as far as they possibly could in the late 1990s & couldn't figure out how to afford both Sleeping Beauty Castle AND "it's a small world" -- someone remembered those Swan Boats which used to cruise through that canal which circled the Hub at WDW's Magic Kingdom.


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Mind you, the Imagineers had once planned on installing some show scenes along the banks of that canal (in much the same way that Walt transformed Disneyland's "Canal Boats of the World" ride into the "Storybook Land Canal Boats" ride in 1956 by adding miniature recreations of the settings from Cinderella, Pinocchio and Peter Pan to the sides of the river bank) as part of the Magic Kingdom's Phase One. But given the serious cost over-runs that the Company incurred during the initial construction of the Walt Disney World Resort (once projected to cost just $100 million, by October of 1971, the Company had already spent  $400 million on WDW's construction), that proposed Swan Boats upgrade quickly fell by the wayside.

Which isn't to say that the Imagineers ever forgot about this concept. Karen Armitage and her crew wondered: What might happen if they borrowed a page from Reese's you-got-peanut-butter-on-my-chocolate formula and then crammed "it's a small world" into Hong Kong Disneyland's castle?


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As you can see by the size of the "Once Upon a Time" show building at the very top of this Disneyland Asia site plan (which Imagineer Don Carson designed back in October of 1997), this version of Hong Kong Disneyland castle could have easily contained a float-through attraction the size of "it's a small world."

But in the end, it was Michael Eisner who supposedly put the kibosh on building this revisionist version of a Disney theme park castle. The way I hear it, Michael was worried that if Hong Kong Disneyland featured a castle that was basically constructed out of two dimensional flats a la the exterior of Disneyland Park's "it's a small world" ... Well, that might then send the message to the people of Hong Kong that HKDL had been built on the cheap. Which really wasn't the message that Eisner was looking to send the Chinese people.

Which is why Hong Kong Disneyland basically wound with a clone of the Snow White Castle / Fantasyland Castle / Sleeping Beauty Castle that the original Disneyland Park in Anaheim got. But that said ... Well, you know how the Imagineers never really like to give up on what they think is a good idea?


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So have you taken a good close look at the concept art for Shanghai Disneyland?

Here. This is an image capture of a cut-away version of that theme park's Fantastic Fairytale Castle (or -- if you'd prefer -- the other name that the Imagineers have been using for Shanghai Disneyland's central structure, Storybook Castle). Pay particularly close attention to that blue section in the bottom right hand portion of this image. Do you see those two boat-like ride vehicles?


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So while you may have missed out on your chance to experience "it's a small world" inside of Hong Kong Disneyland castle, Dale K., if you can just hang in there 'til 2016, you may yet get a chance to see what it's like to float through a Fantasyland icon. Where -- according to the official description of the finale of this Shanghai Disneyland attraction -- " ... in a secret chamber beneath the castle, fountains of light (will) leap in dance in shimmering pools, surrounding (your) boat with magic, music and color."


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  • I wish Disney would do something with the old Swan Boat moats at MK.  I know that the Swan Boats were sort of a cheaply built ride in the early years of MK, but moats themselves are still there.  Too bad they didn't build a boat ride from the Swan boat loading platform to Fantasyland Expansion . . . would have been expensive to build "caves" for the boats to pass under walkways, but would have added some extra capacity to the park.

  • That's a great idea Anon, and a real shame it isn't being implemented.

    I was always disappointed with how they treated 20,000 lagoon, but not anymore. Maybe the moats will make a comeback?! I'd imagine the material from "Princess and the Frog", "Alice in Wonderland", or better still "Disney Fairies" would provide some great inspirations for potential themeing. Any WED folks out there listening?

    I high capacity gentle water ride sounds like a real winner for this overflowing land!

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