On the opening of Disneyland back in 1955, Walt was able to introduce each of his fantastic lands in just a few sentences each. But as they’ve grown, and even when they first opened, their component themes are incredibly wide ranging; an eclectic collage of ideas and settings grouped loosely by their land’s title. In this series, I hope to break down these sub-themes (their settings both in location and in time) to better understand how to lands come together as a cohesive whole.
“Fantasyland is dedicated to the young and young at heart. To those who believe that when you wish upon a star, your dreams do come true.”
“Fantasyland is the world of imagination, hopes and dreams. It is dedicated to the young, and the young in heart. To those who believe that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. Come with me to King Arthur’s Carousel, to see an elephant fly, to dig for diamonds in the dwarf’s goldmine, and to ride a pirate ship though the sky.”
At opening, Fantasyland was by far the most eclectic of the original lands that spreads its subthemes remarkably wide. With so many disparate themes, you’d think they wouldn’t blend together – but just like a fairytale castle at the end of a small town Main Street, it somehow fits magically. Fantasyland began as the sole domain of Walt’s animated features.
The land’s entrance marked the most iconic of the Fantasyland subthemes. Sleeping Beauty Castle was a fairytale image brought into three dimensions, supported by the walkthrough later added inside it, Snow White’s Adventures attraction, and the 1961 Snow Whites Grotto addition. Beneath stone castle towers and by a musical wishing well, this subtheme was distinctly European, inspired by Disney’s princess features; Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. But at the same time, the style was not an attempt to be realistic. The Castle was inspired by real European castles, but modified to appear friendly, not imposing. Remarkably however, this land makes up very little of the original Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland.
During Disneyland’s construction, there just wasn’t enough money to properly theme the Fantasyland attraction facades. Instead, the soundstage-like boxes containing the attractions were dressed up two dimensional as stone buildings - continuations of the castle – and decorated with dozens of flags, shields and striped awnings. At this stage, the courtyard was not a village. Instead, it was the centre of a grand medieval tournament. At any moment, we might imagine two jousting knights gallop past. These facades did not match up to the attractions inside; Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Adventures, Mr Toad’s Wild Ride and the Mickey Mouse Club Theatre, but the exterior theme was cohesive with a limited budget. This was the Medieval Tournament.
Speaking of the Mickey Mouse Club Theatre, whilst it did not entirely establish a subtheme of its own, it did lay the foundation for a theme that would develop over time. The theatre established, before Mickey’s Toontown was even dreamt up, that the Fab Five could have a place in Fantasyland. The Toons were represented.
The attraction that most intrigues me is the Carousel. To all intents and purposes, it is un-themed. Why does a Victorian carousel exist in a fairytale or storybook village? And yet, it fits. Of course, the reason is the fond memories Walt had watching his daughters on the merry-go-round when he first dreamt up the idea for the park, but I still like to contemplate how its placement affects the cohesion of Fantasyland, especially when it could have fit thematically in Main Street USA. Essentially, the carousel brings a piece of the Edwardian to Fantasyland, a theme backed by the Fantasyland Station before its conversion into Toontown Depot. Rather than have the station as a whimsical fairytale structure, the station was essentially a slightly more fanciful version of Main Street Station, but, of course, it works.
Walt had a love for the circus, and this too is represented in Fantasyland. Both based on the animated classic Dumbo, the Casey Jr. and Dumbo the Flying Elephants attractions bring American Circus into Fantasyland, specifically a 1940s era travelling circus probably located in Florida.
If that was what the exterior theme was established as, what maintained cohesion within the attractions themselves? Snow White as said is part of a Fairytale Princess subtheme, but the other dark rides, including Alice when it was later added, are all part of a Storybook subtheme. This one is quite broad, but includes all of the childhood stories that we might have read when we were young; Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio, Wind in the Willows and so on. More modern than the medieval fairytales, Storybook is still very nostalgic – awarded a very Victorian and Edwardian sensibility. No individual theme is explored as a mini land, perhaps the closest is the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and Alice in Wonderland attractions being adjacent which could arguably by a Wonderland mini area, but this is negligible. There was also the Chicken of the Sea pirate ship and Skull Rock in Fantasyland, which brought a small piece of Peter Pan’s Neverland to the Magic Kingdom. Most intimately linked with this theme is the Storybook Land Canal Boats, which directly present a boat ride through stories before bedtime. An update of the entirely unthemed Canal Boats of the World, this attraction blends the storybook and fairytale themes together with its dioramas, and incorporates the circus theme as well with the intertwining Casey Jr. track.
Another Fantasyland classic, “it’s a small world” moved from the 1964 Worlds Fair to Disneyland in 1966. Entirely disconnected from the other themes of Fantasyland, I am honestly surprised Walt didn’t label it as part of Tomorrowland, where it fit with his optimistic hopes for the future and would been equally as contemporary as the Carousel of Progress. Regardless however (probably due to space), it was placed as part of Fantasyland and established a 1960s Contemporary theme in the land. Later, when the Matterhorn switched its land designation from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland, the 1960s Contemporary theme was strengthened. Most remarkably to modern day guests, we also have to remember that some of the Autopia’s were located in Fantasyland; the Junior Autopia (later Fantasyland Autopia, and then the Rescue Rangers Raceway) and the Midget Autopia. Most likely, these are anomalies from a time before the themes were set in stone, where more practical considerations such as land space and cost took precedent. Still, 1960’s Contemporary became established in Fantasyland, stretching from the Alps to all around the world.
In 1983, the New Fantasyland make-over took the theming to a new level. Along with moving attractions around the both create more space and strengthen the subthemes (the Tea Party was moved next to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), the Castle courtyard received a magnificent update. Gone was the Medieval Tournament, no longer to be part of Disneyland Park, and in its place was built a wonderful fairytale village, with giant twirling beanstalk, thatched cottage roofs and quaint old time architecture. Partly inspired by Pinocchio’s village, the update also enhanced the Storybook subtheme, giving a stately home to the front of Mr Toads Wild Ride, a puppet theatre in front of Pinocchio, and adding more to the Wonderland area.
Just as I chose to argue that New Orleans Square was a subland of Frontierland, I want to again take the controversial position that fundamentally, Mickey’s Toontown is a subland of Fantasyland – although I admit, it is more removed than New Orleans. I want to propose this because there was already a historical precedent that the Toons could appear in Fantasyland, established with the inclusion of the Mickey Mouse Club Theatre at the parks opening. Later, this was continued with the Disney Afternoon Avenue down Small World Promenade in 1991, which included Duck Tales, TaleSpin, Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers and the Gummi Bears in Fantasyland. Toontown is simply an extension of this – giving the classic Disney characters there own city of bent laws of physics and wacky goings-on. Its time period is elusive; the Fab Five’s houses seem modern, but Roger Rabbit’s inclusion places the year as 1947, and Gadget’s Go Coaster confuses the setting even with its time setting back in the 1990s. Really, this land is timeless – after all, toons don’t age, do they? At parks without a Toontown, such as Hong Kong Disneyland, the toon characters are still unashamedly a part of Fantasyland – for example with its inclusion of Mickey’s PhilharMagic.
At the Magic Kingdom’s opening, Disneyland’s established Fantasyland was continued. Although without Casey Jr., the Circus appeared with Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and the Medieval Tournament style continued to theme the facades of the Storybook attractions. The inclusion of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in Fantasyland incorporates Pooh Bear into the Storybook subtheme.
However, the park did make two major influences on the established Fantasyland mythos. First was that large parts of Fantasyland here used quite realistic European village architecture, most significantly Bavarian architecture. These buildings weren’t as fanciful as the later 1983 New Fantasyland at Disneyland would go with, but instead presented a large scale Fantasyland set in real medieval times (although the contents within were distinctly fanciful).
Another major development was the inclusion of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction. The spiritual successor to Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage, the attraction was moved from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland. The reasoning behind this is interesting, and makes the ride an example of how Imagineers were really making up the rules as they went along, seeing what worked and what didn’t. The decision to swap lands was due to the source material being entirely fictional, and the view that it therefore fit into Fantasyland. At the time, Tomorrowland was solely a realistic approximation of what the future might become, and did not yet have the science fiction elements that would later turn it into the future that never was. Still, the location was not entirely successful, and whilst the ride was well received, and the blue lagoon looked wonderful, the steampunk submarines were a severe mismatch with the fairytale and storybook architecture on the land. With Tomorrowland now welcoming science fiction into its background, it’s unlikely a science fantasy like this would ever be built in Fantasyland again. Although it was certainly a brilliant transition between fantasy and science via science fantasy, future versions of this will almost certainly be entirely located in Tomorrowland, and only border Fantasyland. Still, Steampunk has been established as a Fantasyland subtheme.
Mickey’s Toontown Fair (formerly Mickey’s Birthdayland and then Mickey’s Starland) is an extension of the Mickey’s Toontown theme from Disneyland, transposing Toontown’s urban setting to a country rural area.
In 2009, Disney announced the New Fantasyland expansion for Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, doubling the size of Fantasyland and incorporating a greater presence for Disney’s incredibly popular Disney Princesses franchise. Fundamentally, this New Fantasyland is a massive expansion of the Princess Fairytale subtheme, including Cinderella, Belle and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty. But as well as this, it expands the Storybook theme with a Little Mermaid area, a vast jump from the relatively small Ariel’s Grotto that preceded it and its equivalent Triton’s Garden from Disneyland. Even the Circus is being added to, with a second Dumbo spinner and a clown themed rollercoaster. Whilst some of the eastern architecture will be made more fairytale, most of the expansion is outside of the castle courtyard, meaning the existing Medieval Tournament subtheme of the western part of Fantasyland will remain.
Disney’s international parks have stuck rather closely to the precedents of the state-side parks. Tokyo Disneyland’s Fantasyland is very reminiscent of Walt Disney’s World’s Fantasyland, including Medieval Tournament exteriors, and a number of Storybook attractions – Alice even gets her own restaurant.
The major divergence here, however, is the inclusion of the Haunted Mansion as a Fantasyland attraction. Part of the tradition of locating the Haunted Mansion in a different land for each of its incarnations, with no New Orleans Square or Liberty Square it was decided that ghosts and spirits most fit into fantasy stories in Japanese culture. Inside the Mansion, things continue as normal however. The Ghost Story has claimed its place in Fantasyland.
Disneyland Paris contains the most beautiful of all the existing Fantasylands. As with Tokyo however, it does not stray from the established Fantasyland themes. Appropriately, Peter Pan’s Flight is moved to border Adventureland, providing a smooth transition to Adventureland’s pirate island sub-area.
The most noticeable difference is that the European heritage of much of Fantasyland is recognised by a much more international European Village. Rather than staying with one style, the architecture blends French, Swiss, German, British and Italian influences as guests move through the land, each nationality appropriate to the attraction or restaurant contained within the building.
Edwardian is also strengthened with the beautiful Fantasyland Train Station and Fantasy Festival Stage, while Storybook is expanded with a Wonderland labyrinth.
Hong Kong Disneyland
As with Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland remains faithful to the established Fantasylands. However a future addition will arguably act as a Fantasyland miniland.
Just as Mystic Point can be viewed as an Adventureland miniland, and Grizzly Gulch as a miniland of (a non-existent) Frontierland, it can be argued that the upcoming Toy Story Land could be counted as a miniland of Fantasyland.
Toy Story Land will be a contemporary addition, but conforms entirely to the childhood theme of Fantasyland. It is the modern equivalent of a ‘Babes in Toyland’ miniland, and I’m sure very few of us would think it odd if Walt had included that in his original Fantasyland. To be shrunk to the size of a toy and to play with living versions of favourite toys is perfect for Fantasyland, if guests embrace it – something we will see in time.
Fantasyland may be the only land whose focus has narrowed rather than broadened. As its original three sibling lands were intended to portray reality (real nature, real history, real ideas of the future), Fantasyland was the sole domain for already established Disney imagination. But gradually, that fantasy crept beyond the borders of Fantasyland: talking Tiki birds and tropical island tree-houses in Adventureland, Zorro and Tom Sawyer in Frontierland, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in Tomorrowland, and redefined what Fantasyland was for, probably due to Walt’s realization that there wasn’t enough humour in the other lands. Consider an attraction based on Aladdin; if it was part of Disneyland at opening, it would most probably have been part of Fantasyland. But now, many of us would expect it as part of Adventureland. Fantasyland has narrowed its focus, and its result is a remarkably diverse but still cohesive land, where fairytales, storybooks, circuses and even global understanding all fit together like a jigsaw. The binding idea appears to be, quite simply, childhood. Fantasyland is made up of;
- Princess Fairytale (including Fantasy Forest)
- Medieval Tournament
- Toon (including Toontown)
- Storybook (including Peter Pan’s Neverland, Alice’s Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood)
- 1960’s Contemporary
- European Village
- Victorian Science-Fantasy
- Ghost Story
Recognising Fantasyland’s malleable theme, there are a number of possibilities it could delve into in the future.
- Perhaps a full embracing of of the storybook lands could be included? Fully fledged minilands, each with their own handful of attractions and shops, could be built for;
- Peter Pan’s Neverland – with Skull Rock, Captain Hook’s Jolly Roger, an improved Peter Pan’s Flight, Indian Territory, Mermaid Lagoon and Pixie Hollow.
- Alice’s Wonderland – with the Mad Hatters Tea Party, Queen of Hearts Castle and the numerous other unexpected elements of Lewis Carroll’s world.
- Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood – with hunny bees, heffalumps and woozles, kites, balloons and even Pooh Sticks.
- The Little Mermaid – perhaps the Mermaid Lagoon section of Tokyo DisneySea would fit into a Fantasyland.
- Or what about other classic stories; the Wizard of Oz, 101 Dalmatians, or any of Disney’s other animated classics.
- Perhaps the Edwardian aspect could be expanded, bringing Mary Poppins to the park.
- Could genuine medieval life be recognised, with real knights in armour, blacksmith shops with horseshoeing demonstrations and other information about genuine castle life?
- Could the childhood memories outside of Europe and America be included? Perhaps Chinese children’s stories could appear in Shanghai Disneyland?
- Would Aladdin and the stories of the Arabian Nights be appropriate in Fantasyland, or should they be in Adventureland?
- Could the Disney villains be given there own Toontown style miniland?
- Maybe Toyland could be expanded beyond solely the Toy Story movies, perhaps along the lines of Babes in Toyland or with a Santa’s Workshop.
- Could a holiday subland be included, with celebrations of Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Halloween?
- What about a candy land, inspired by the proposed Candy Mountain that was to have been built in the 1950s?
- How about a subland of mythical animals; unicorns, trolls and dragons?
Once again, I hope you enjoyed reading this! Check back soon for the penultimate article in the series, all about Tomorrowland!