Mickey in the Parks: Past, Present, Future

Just two more days left in our month long celebration of Mickey’s birthday!

When you are hopping from attraction to attraction while in the Disney theme parks, it’s easy to forget you aren’t experiencing much Mickey. Especially because he is absolutely everywhere. You literally can’t go five steps without seeing those famous ears (pretzels, mugs, balloons, the works), but when you sit down and think about it, there are very few attractions that actually celebrate the Mouse.

I don’t know about you but it makes me a little sad. I would much rather have something Mickey themed than the Tomorrowland Speedway or an empty stage in the middle of nothing in Tomorrowland (that they still decorate for the holidays – go figure). But with the new Fantasyland expansion, the “Avatar Land” no one really knows anything about, and the fact that my beloved DHS is still stuck somewhere in 1980s, the World has some other things to focus on.

For now we can just sit back and celebrate Mick’s history in the parks along with two other Mick-tastic (yes I said it) attractions that are still around for us to enjoy.

PAST

Mickey Mouse Revue was one of the opening day attractions when Walt Disney World opened in 1971. Walt actually had the idea back in 1962 – during an interview he talked about creating an attraction using the Disney characters as animatronics. “I have in mind a theater,” he said, “and the figures will not only put on the show but be sitting in the boxes with the visitors, heckling. I don’t know just when I’ll do that.”

Bill Justice, the main animator of Chip and Dale, was the one who put the idea into motion once brainstorming for Walt Disney World began. Once Bill was able to pull together a miniature of the proposed show, the concept was shared with Roy O. Disney. He loved it. “This is the kind of show we should spend our money on,” he said. (And you know how Roy was with money.)

Nine years later, guests were invited into the Fantasyland Theater to watch a short pre-show film of Mickey’s illustrious career. Afterwards they were seated in a 500-seat theater, watching Mickey conduct an orchestra of familiar characters. When are you going to see Jack and Gus playing a trombone or Dumbo on the trumpet? Cinderella and Snow White sharing a stage? Donald and his caballero friends were all present and accounted for, even those troublemakers, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. At the time when this attraction opened, The Jungle Book was the newest animated feature to be released and you can see a few of the characters playing in the orchestra as well. And as far as animatronics go, at the time of the opening, Mickey was the most complicated animatronic of its time, having 33 moving parts.

Unfortunately, crowds were not knocking each other down to see Mickey Mouse Revue. (Due to a planning glitch, the pre-show room only housed 300 while the actual theater could hold much more.) The attraction was downgraded to a “D” attraction in 1973, and in 1980 was closed for good. (Sadly, it was the first attraction from opening day to close.) The troupe’s gig wasn’t entirely finished, though; they were moved to Tokyo Disney in 1983 and ran until 2009.

Despite the scary Donald in Tokyo, I can see why I’ve read so many awesome things about Mickey Mouse Revue. Much like the not-so-new new Enchanted Tiki Room, it bursts with the classic feel we can only associate with Walt. Plus, it’s not every day you get to see so many of your favorite characters on the same stage, even if they are animatronics. Many were hoping for a revue return after it said goodbye to Tokyo, but no such luck. Not only does it not have a home in Fantasyland anymore, but many of the animatronics are rumored to have been used as upgrades in the other theme parks.

In 1988, Mickey Mouse turned 60, and Magic Kingdom unveiled “Mickey’s Birthdayland”, accessible on the Walt Disney World Railroad loop or between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. It was a place to meet many of your favorite characters, see a pretty self-explanatory show titled “Minnie’s Surprise Party”, or even meet a cow with a spot that looked just like Mickey at Grandma Duck’s Farm. (I didn’t think this cow was real at first, but it was!)

(Source)

Even though Birthdayland was more of a temp land, Disney learned people wanted to see Mickey! (Go figure!) Two years later, Birthdayland morphed into Starland. “Minnie’s Surprise Party” became a show featuring characters from the Disney afternoon cartoons (Darkwing Duck, Baloo and later, characters from Ducktales [woo ooo] and Goof Troop!).

(Source)

1996 brought a major makeover when Starland was changed to Mickey’s Toontown Fair, where you could walk through Mickey and Minnie’s house, pal around on Donald’s boat, whip around on Goofy’s Barnstormer roller coaster (a favorite of my mom’s), and meet the big guy himself in the Big Top Tent. Toontown came to a bittersweet end in 2011, when it was closed to make way for the Fantasyland expansion.

(Source)

PRESENT

Mickey’s Philarmagic, oddly enough, is currently housed at the Fantasyland Theatre too. (Magic Journeys [does that theme song freak anyone else out?] and The Legend of the Lion King were there in between.) This is actually one of the more recent Magic Kingdom additions (as if 2003 were recent) that I have no qualms about.

While it’s called Mickey’s Philarmagic, Donald is really the star of the show. If he hadn’t “borrowed” Mickey’s sorcerer hat while setting up for the big performance, we would never have gotten our journey into a few of our favorite animated classics. Instead, the show might have ended up like a 3D version of the Mickey Mouse Revue… don’t you think?

In fact, if you get a chance to check out some of the entertainment posters lining the halls on your way into the theater, they actually pay homage to the attraction that premiered there in 1971.

So here we are with a Mickey show that isn’t too much of a Mickey show. In fact, when he does show up on screen, he’s a little bit moody. Although I guess anyone would feel that way if their magic hat went missing and the paying audience only got one song. (Or did we?) This 3D feature is fast-paced (and smells like apple pie!), and I love how we get to revisit some of our favorite characters from Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Fantasia, Peter Pan, and even The Lion King in one spot (another similarity to MMR).

When it comes to nighttime entertainment, you can go to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, or Hollywood Studios (most evenings) and end your day just right. I know when I’m in town Wishes and Illuminations are the most accessible of firework/laser shows so I end up seeing both of these more frequently. Because of that, making the trek into the Hollywood Amphitheater (and possibly waiting on a very long line) makes Fantasmic feel more like an event.

I’ve sat in the rain (with the possibility of it not even going on), the extreme heat, and even a chilly March evening, waiting to see this show., and it is always worth it. (I have a fondness for the Disney dance music that plays beforehand too. Not kidding. I just bought the used CD a month or two ago.) Here we are, about to spend some time with Mickey catching clips from so many of our favorite movies, when the villains decide to take over Mickey’s imagination and turn it into a nightmare.

As we watch Mickey battle some of the more elusive villains, we also get a great glimpse into his wardrobe. Classic red shorts, a Robin Hood get-up, the Sorcerer’s apprentice outfit, even the vintage (and rarely seen) Steamboat Willie look. He also has some quotable lines, like “This is my dream!” (We say this one a lot in my house.) Many of the memorable moments are the ones that capture snippets of scenes from a few animated features and the grand finale, led by the Mouse himself, is a huge party of many favorite faces in one place.

I don’t want to spoil the grand finale, but it is Disney so (as you may have guessed) Mickey manages to find his happy ending. Paired with dramatic and catchy music, some pyrotechnics, Fantasmic is just brimming with some remarkable Mickey moments.

FUTURE

What I like most about the attractions that once existed or are still being enjoyed at this very moment, is that it’s not a true Mickey party without his friends. He is never a solo act, and I think that’s why everyone loves him so much.

It’s unfortunate that unless you are meeting Mickey (and Minnie) on Main Street, checking out the above two attractions, or watching him from afar in the parades, the most you see of Mickey is in the gift shops (especially with the popularity of Vinylmations). While it doesn’t seem like anything is in the works for a new Mouse-ified attraction, I have to hope we’ll see one at some point in the future.

If we were all surprised with an Avatar announcement, there’s no telling what we have to look forward to. All I know is: I want more mouse.

* * *
> More awesome pictures from Mickey’s Starland can be see on Lost Epcot.

Posted by

A book publicist who loves writing about Disney and books, and sometimes Disney books.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s