Once Upon a Dream Come True: Disneyland to Reopen the Castle Walkthrough
by, 07-17-2008 at 03:00 PM (10569 Views)
Once upon a time there was a beautiful castle in a magical kingdom. For 46 years, boys and girls of all ages enjoyed walking around within its walls, seeing and hearing the enchanting tale of “Sleeping Beauty.” But one day, evil forces put a spell on the castle, causing the story within it to sleep forever — or so we thought…
Now, after nearly seven years of slumber, Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough will awaken this year, “sometime before the autumn leaves fall,” according to Tony Baxter, senior vice president of Creative Development for Walt Disney Imagineering.
The original walkthrough opened on April 29, 1957, nearly two years before the premiere of “Sleeping Beauty,” with an in-park ceremony featuring Walt Disney and actress Shirley Temple.
Imagineer Ken Anderson and animation art director and color stylist Eyvind Earle created the “pop-up” storybook look of the attraction, using beautifully colored panels, forced perspective, mirrors and effects that, at that time, weren’t like anything anyone had seen.
Because the film came out after the walkthrough, some story points were added into the walkthrough that weren’t in the film (such as Maleficent calling the demons together at her castle) or vice versa (the walkthrough completely skipped over Briar Rose growing up in the forest and meeting the prince).
The original walkthrough used books, songs and even scents to take guests from King Stephan’s palace to Maleficent’s. The transition included a “Meet the Demons” area that turned into a logjam as guests tried to figure out how some effects were done, such as the goons looking back at you (turns out that the goons “eyes” were actually the eyes of the guests reflected in mirrors).
In 1977, the medieval style was replaced with miniature dioramas (which you can find examples of in the windows of the Emporium on Main Street, U.S.A.). Many of the effects were removed completely … although the books and sounds remained. The dark hallways continued to be a source of fright and amusement for guests. (Writers note: As a Fantasyland cast member in 1998, I was asked to close the castle for the night on a few occasions. Let me say that I don’t think I’ve ever been so creeped out in my life as I did when walking through there alone at closing time. At one point, later in the summer, management informed us that only male CMs were allowed to close the attraction after it was revealed that some teenage boys were hiding out in the castle nooks and crannies to scare the female CMs.)
The beloved Disneyland attraction closed its doors on Oct. 7, 2001. However, no specific reason was given for the closure during a special event at the Disneyland Opera House to announce a platinum edition Blu-ray Hi-Def edition of “Sleeping Beauty,” in honor of the 50th anniversary of the original film, which will be released in January 2009 (where fans of the attraction can gleam more information on its history, along with deleted scenes and songs).
Some say the walkthrough was closed because of the lack of accessibility for those in wheelchairs, some say it was because of the high cost of maintenance, some say it was because of safety (the day it closed was the day the United States began bombing Afghanistan and Disneyland was considered to be a possible target) and there are others who say it was only closed because it was needed in a MouseAdventure quest and the evil creators of the game were being especially evil.
Regardless of the reason, fans of the attraction can thank Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment for generating the spark to reopen it. One of the bonus features on the two-disc DVD is a recreation of the original walkthrough.
To make it happen, the team at WDHE needed some inspiration -- and they didn’t have much to go off of besides an old ViewMaster scene. So they turned to Walt Disney Imagineering for the key – literally. WDI Art Director Chris Merritt and Technical Director John Gritz went to Disneyland to see what they could find to use for inspiration, but the attraction looked nothing like it did seven years earlier. However, peeling away the old paint and wallpaper revealed something remarkable: Some of the scenes and colors and effects were still there – including the goons and their mirrors, which hadn’t scene the light of day in more than 30 years.
When the attraction is unveiled later this year, the “show” will return to the unique style of the original 1957 walkthrough, but add in some technical enhancements not available in the 1950s) and Merritt and Gritz are even creating some new scenes – although they are keeping mum on exactly what they plan is.
What we do know is that one of the two stores within the castle is closing, so that guests who are unable to climb stairs or navigate the tight castle passageways will be able to experience the walkthrough “virtually” in a special room, similar to the one for the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage in Tommorowland.
WDI’s Doug Hartwell, who created the model of the castle that WDHE used for its virtual walkthough took me on a tour this morning in the foyer of the opera house (I felt a little like "Miss Disneyland Tencennial” Julie Reihm when Walt gave her a tour of the Pirates of the Caribbean models.)
Hartwell, who drove the submarines in 1976, has been with WDI for 21 years. The model he created at 1/4-inch actual size is amazing. It has 12 scenes and two books at the start and finish of the attraction, in addition to a “bottomless pit echo chamber,” the true love’s kiss scene and the room of floating spinning wheels. It reminded me a bit of Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
“The castle looks small – but there’s all this space inside,” Hartwell said, adding that the model will be used to create the actual attraction, and was inspired by some of the scenes on the DVD.
When it was announced at WDI that they would be undertaking the castle “awakening” it was “total excitement,” Hartwell said. “You don’t get opportunities like this very often. You get project s you are willing to work on, but when you get something like this … to actually be part of history – recreating history – its very exciting.”
I think Walt would be proud with the new walkthrough, and the kiss that WDI and WDHE bestowed on the castle. It might not be song or beauty – but on Disneyland’s 53rd birthday it is the perfect gift – and the perfect finish to this fairy tale.
And, as Fauna says at the end of “Sleeping Beauty”: “I just love happy endings.”
One more thing: Tony Baxter offered a teaser for the future of Disneyland, proving that the possibilities are endless for what WDI can do: “[It’s] a whole new galaxy. That’s a hint.”