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Why For did Storybook Circus wind up replacing the Pixie Hollow portion on WDW's Fantasyland expansion project?

Jim Hill

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Why For did Storybook Circus wind up replacing the Pixie Hollow portion on WDW's Fantasyland expansion project?

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PixiePal 225 recently wrote into say:

I've been following the Fantasyland expansion project at WDW's Magic Kingdom for a couple of years now. And while I love the level of design and attention to detail that I've been seeing in the completed portions of Storybook Circus, as a Tinkerbell fan, I have to admit that I find myself missing what was originally supposed to have replaced Mickey's Toontown Fair. Which was a full-scale walk-through mini-land celebrating Disney Fairies.

Tinkerbell Concept art for the Pixie Hollow section for Disney World's Fantasyland expansion project.
Concept art for the Pixie Hollow section that was originally proposed for Disney
World's Fantasyland expansion project. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Given how popular the Disney Fairies franchise is, I was surprised when I learned that this portion of the Fantasyland expansion had been cancelled in favor of Storybook Circus. Is there a particular reason that the Imagineers made this change after they'd previously publicly announced Pixie Hollow?

To be blunt, PixiePal 225, there are two specific reasons that Pixie Hollows wound up getting nixed as Mickey's Toontown Fair's replacement. And both of them have to do with Disney CEO Bob Iger's November 2009 decision to have Tom Staggs and Jay Rasulo swap jobs. So that Disney's then-Chief Financial Officer would become Chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts while the Head of Parks & Resorts would then become Disney's new CFO.

Fantasyland Expansion Artwork from Jay Rasulo concepts
Jay Rasulo's take on the Fantasyland expansion project. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Now while Rasulo had been riding herd on the Fantasyland expansion project, Jay had wanted this new portion of the Magic Kingdom to wholeheartedly support two of the Company's biggest franchises, Disney Princess and Disney Fairies. Which is why -- in addition to Pixie Hollow -- Fantasyland was originally supposed to have had three NextGen Disney Princess meet-n-greets. Where Guests could have gotten face time not only with Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" but also with Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

But when Staggs came on board as the new head of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts ... Well, you gotta keep in mind that Tom has two relatively young sons. And when he was looking at the Fantasyland expansion project, he saw a $400 million addition to the Magic Kingdom that was pretty lopsided. Meaning that there was plenty here that would appeal to young girls but little or nothing that would attract small boys.

Entrance to Mickey's Toontown Fair County Bounty
The entrance to Mickey's Toontown Fair County Bounty retail space

More to the point, Staggs -- in his former role as CFO -- was very aware of which stores at the Walt Disney World Resort generated the highest revenue. And given that County Bounty (i.e. that huge store which served as the post-show area for those super-popular character meet-n-greets which used to be offered to Guests in the Mickey's Toontown Fair portion of this theme park) was second only to the Magic Kingdom's Emporium in terms of highest-level-of-in-park-retail-sales ... Well, Tom really didn't like the idea of shutting down that terrific revenue stream just so the Imagineers could then build a full-sized version of the Pixie Dust Tree.

So Staggs reached out to the Imagineers and asked that they overhaul their Fantasyland expansion  plans. Tom wanted WDI to take a far more balanced approach to this addition to the Magic Kingdom, making sure that there were rides, shows and attractions here that appealed to little boys as well as little girls. More to the point, Staggs ordered that the Imagineers find a way to keep County Bounty right where it was. So that once Fantasyland's facelift was completed, this super-popular store could once again still service the Guests who were visiting this theme park.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,Inc.  All rights reserved

And given that County Bounty was housed in a giant tent-like structure ... Well, it didn't take all that much imagination on the Imagineers' part to use the County Bounty building as the new inspiration for a brand-new theme for this corner of the Magic Kingdom. One that would then drop Disney's storybook characters into a circus-type setting. More to the point, which would then allow County Bounty (with a brand-new name, mind you. Big Top Souvenirs) to remain in operation.

Luckily for the crew working on the Fantasyland expansion project, there was plenty of inspirational material to be found in WDI's concept art morgue. The Imagineers pulled a number of the pieces that had originally been created for Dumbo's Circusland (which -- appropriately enough -- had been an expansion of Disneyland's Fantasyland which had originally been designed back in the early 1970s but never greenlit) and used those as their jumping-off point.

The model that the Imagineers built for Disneyland's proposed Dumbo's Circusland
addition back in  the early 1970s. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

As for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ... To be honest, this is another project that had been languishing for decades. I remember hearing Imagineers talk in the early 1990s about how this "Snow White" -themed runaway train ride would make a perfect addition to Euro Disneyland's Fantasyland during Phase II of the construction of that theme park. But then when Euro Disney opened in April of 1992 and failed to meet its financial targets, WDI was forced to rethink its original expansion plan for EDL's Magic Kingdom. And instead of building the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in order to increase that theme park's hourly ride capacity, they opted to go with the far-more-affordable Le Pays des Contes de Fées (i.e. the Storybook Canal Boat ride), Casey Jr. - Le Petit Train du Cirque and Les Pirouettes du Vieux Moulin (The Old Mill's Swirls).

Promising projects getting cancelled only to then be resurrected decades later as a possible addition to an entirely different theme park ... That's pretty much how Imagineering rolls, PixiePal 225. Which is why I wouldn't entirely lose heart here just because Tom Staggs opted not to build Pixie Hollow as part the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland expansion.

The original model for a Disney Fairies-themed area which was to have been built as part
of the Jay Rasulo version of WDW's Fantasyland expansion project.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

After all, given the way things work at WDI, all of that Disney Fairies-themed concept art has now been placed in a file somewhere in WDI's morgue. And if you can just wait a decade or two (or three. Or -- in the case of Dumbo's Circusland -- four), that perfectly solid idea for a land and/or a set of attractions for a Disney theme park will eventually once again bubble to the surface.

The only problem is -- by the time the full-sized walk-through version of Pixie Hollow finally gets built -- you may have to buy a plane ticket to Brazil in order to be able to visit the Disney theme park where this Tinkerbell-themed  area finally lands.

Disney CEO Bob Iger during his appearance on Bloomberg TV earlier this month.
Copyright 2012 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved

And -- no -- I'm not pulling that idea out of thin air. Go listen to that interview that Bob Iger did with Bloomberg TV's Carol Massar earlier this month and you'll hear Disney's CEO admit that The Walt Disney Company is looking towards Brazil as part of its international expansion plans.

But the upside is ... If you really are a Pixie Pal, PixiePal225, you can avoid purchasing a plane ticket for your flight by just hitting up Tink for a little pixie dust.

Copyright Peter and the Starcatcher. All rights reserved

But seriously ... Don't give up on Pixie Hollow just yet. That idea for a new theme park land is just too solid. More to the point, given that Tony-nominated production of "Peter and the Starcatcher" which is now on Broadway (more importantly, given the movie version of this Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson book that Walt Disney Pictures recently put into development), it's not as if the Mouse is going to stop making trips to Neverland anytime soon.

So you just have to have a little faith, PixiePal225. Faith, hope and pixie dust.

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  • I find it funny that the person whom has asked the question claims to have kept up with the fantasyland project but for some reason didn't know 'why for' disney changed the plans.....this website along with others has talked about it multiple times.

  • without question...the SMARTEST move by Disney in a long long time.

    I was never happy with the decision to add Pixie Hollow, let alone an entire mini- land. If anything, Pixie Hollow and Neverland...should consider a home over at Animal Kingdom;  to replace "Rafiki's Planet Watch!

    This would be a logical and easy overhaul allowing  Peterpan, Jake and the Neverland characters, Tink and her fairy friends to teach environmental education, offer meet and greet areas, and maybe a ride or two. It just "fits" Animal Kingdom better.

    With regards to the Storybook Circus, what...if anything is being done with Aladdin's Magic Carpet ride?

    Is it being removed entirely, rethemed or relocated.

  • The whole Pixie Hollow was a hair-brained idea from the start.  Why in the world would you build an entire new land of aging princesses who's video's had been locked in a "vault" for decades while a whole generation passed by. Scaggs will go down as a Disney hero when this is all said and done by saving Fantasyland from the princesses.  I hear the new land is beautiful and very detailed ala Walt's vision including the new restaurant being build.  Good for Disney if this is a winner, although this won't stem the tide of people who will choose Harry Potter (and it's new land being build where Jaws once stood) over Fantasyland.  Disney needs to do more to it's terribly out of date and aging EPCOT and Tomorrowland and soon to be outdated Hollywood Studios.

  • So how about telling us about the 5th park you hinted about a year ago. I´m sure it´ll be an avanger park with Pixie hollow in a Tron Theme and it will have .. well you are better making this stuff up.

  • No surprise the Walt Disney Company might be looking at Brazil.  World development economists have identified a group of countries known as the BRIC's:  Brazil, Russia, India, China.  These are countries on their way to join the first tier of world economies.  Disney's last park was Hong Kong and its next one is Shanghai, so it has the BRIC's on its mind.  And Brazilians are becoming a significant component of WDW's foreign visitors.

    On the other hand, in those same interviews for Bloomberg, Iger acknowledged that they do have future locations in mind, but cautioned that they were 'in the drawer' and not 'on top the desk'.  It sounds to me like it will be the next CEO that will make that call.

    Always bear in mind, however, that the foreign parks don't generate as much money for the company as the domestic ones.  Of course, there are co-investors so it doesn't require as much company capital either.

  • Brazil Disneyland?  Come on.  While it would be great to keep that many tourists off of WDW property, how much further are they planning to dilute this brand before every country has it's own Disney theme park?  Ugh.

    So may I blame Staggs for ripping out the Snow White dark ride or was that always the plan?

  • Great article Jim, this is what I love about this site, these behind the scene articles on Imagineering.  One of the few types of articles I like to read again every couple of days as you a tingle up your spine when you think about what might have been and what was.  If you ever write an Imagineering book, I'd be the first to buy it!

    I was kind of surprised that TDO went with the Circusland concept as it looked very old school to me, celebrating a relatively older Disney film, Dumbo, and using the circus theme.  

    I read the older article on Dumbo's Circusland was was surprised to see that it included a dark ride.  As an armchair Imagineer, I thought that this new land needs a dark ride, or at least more rides.  If Storybookland Canal boats, Casey Jr. Circus train and the windmill were 'cheap' rides to add to Disneyland Paris after the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Coaster was dropped, will these 'cheap' rides be added to MK?

    I'd feel sad if they built a Brazil Disneyland as the yellow t-shirted Brazilian tour groups are practically a part of any visit to WDW in summer.

  • I wish you guys had a facebook share button....

  • Ask and you shall receive. There is now a Facebook Share button at the bottom of the articles. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Thanks!! Now I can share your articles without cut and paste. :-) Keep them coming.

  • I love your blog, Jim. One thing I have to comment on about the new placement of the Dumbo attraction at MK: Used to be that the 360 view of Fantasyland was a pretty magical part of riding this in the old location (for young and old). Now I imagine getting to see the top of the tent queue for 180 of the spin is perhaps not something that the little ones will notice, but nonetheless seems like a downgrade for riders to this Disney park-lover. While on this subject of simple spinning rides and their placements, I have to say that when I visited Disneyland and rode the Astro-orbiter near the hub I found its new proximity nearer to the ground a total buzz-kill. Why did they move it years ago to such a blah spot out there on the west coast anyway? At least its counterpart in Florida is still riding high (literally)....which is 80 percent of the attraction's thrill (let's be honest). Don't even get me started on that tacky, metallic, spinning Aladdin's carpets monstrosity. Yeesh.

  • I've just visited for the first time since the expansion opened. Very disappointed that the proposed pixie hollow was not there as I remember the pictures on the fences.

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