Don’t underestimate Disney’s proposed Fantasyland upgrades in the Magic Kingdom debuting in 2012. Some families should even consider postponing Disney vacation plans if they can’t get to Orlando very often.
The new Fantasyland doesn’t look “new” at first glance because it focuses on decades-old movies available only on DVD: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937,) The Little Mermaid (1989), and Beauty and the Beast (1991). It’s not Harry Potter, which had a still-hot book, not-yet-complete movie franchise, and hoard of kid-teen fans before the first shovel moved dirt. How can poor Snow White’s high-pitched 1930s voice compare to that kind of existing demand?
Slippage – that moment when emotions drown out logic and you feel that maybe you really are a pirate or princess – will be the new Fantasyland’s strength. Instead of comparing it to Harry Potter’s nearby stomping grounds, however, compare it to Disney’s current Fantasyland – a gray, concrete-block walkway with a cold castle-circus theme. Except for the German-styling of Pinocchio’s restaurant, today’s Fantasyland is little more than fantastic signs on top of ho-hum buildings. The rides are cool; the land is not. It doesn’t emotionally transport you anywhere.
And that’s the importance of Disney’s new expansion: It’s not just about what you’ll do (eat and ride); it’s about how you’ll feel. Expect the Little Mermaid’s territory to have a watery glow, with ponds and waterfalls and cave-like nooks and crannies. In the Beauty and the Beast forest, expect tall trees, lush, dark cul-de-sacs, and babbling brooks. Disney will try very hard to make visitors believe for a second that fantasy characters exist, and Disney is king at manipulating emotions.
Before the first shovel of dirt started on Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the public got excited. That’s not true for Disney’s Fantasyland, and the company’s P.R. department has its work cut out for it.
But expect the company to put the fantasy back into Fantasyland.