In 1992, Disneyland guests met a show that would become one of the most iconic features of the Disney Parks. Centered on an odd piece of real estate, this show took place on the water between New Orleans Square and Tom Sawyer Island, and it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.
In the over-20 years since its debut, Fantasmic has gone from a new sensation to an essential Disney experience. To give you a sense of how long it's been in our lives, Fantasmic debuted at Disneyland closer to the opening of Walt Disney World than to today.
Yet, in all that time, the show still manages to inspire awe in anyone who sees it and to feel as original and breathtaking as it did all that time ago.
How is that possible? Well, the simple answer is of course “Disney magic” – but let's try to take a look a little bit deeper. Fantasmic is one of the most well-designed shows Disney has ever produced, and there are an awful lot of moving parts that keep it feeling fresh.
Here are five features of Fantasmic that continue to amaze, even in its third decade of life.
One of the most interesting things about the Disney Parks is just how rare it is to see Mickey Mouse in an attraction – and I'm not talking about hidden Mickeys. Sure, he's starred in attractions over the years, but now, he's mostly a character who you only get to meet in person or see in a parade.
There are likely a few reasons for this, but I think the biggest reason of all is that by keeping Mickey somewhat separate from the other characters and attractions, he maintains a special feeling. When you see Mickey, you're always surprised and your day always brightens.
Making him the hero of Fantasmic, then, adds a level of excitement and importance to the show that it wouldn't otherwise have. The stakes of the show feel that much higher, since the protagonist also happens to be the most iconic animated character on earth. When he's in danger, we feel nervous. When he's triumphant, we feel overjoyed.
For many, Fantasmic is the final experience of their day at Disney. And so, after all the stories they've been taken on throughout the day, concluding with an epic tale with Mickey as the star is the perfect thematic climax.
We all already have a connection with Mickey Mouse – to make him the hero of Fantasmic immediately gives us a connection to the show.
But Mickey's presence in Fantasmic wouldn't be enough to capture the imagination without a compelling story. Never fear, however, because story just so happens to be the area Disney has always excelled at – and Fantasmic's is a truly remarkable achievement.
The show tells the story of Mickey Mouse's dream – one which gets interrupted by the devious Disney villains, who team up to turn that dream into a horrific nightmare.
What does Mickey dream about? The other Disney characters, of course – the same thing many children dream about as they go to sleep. He conjures up images of the Sorcerer's Apprentice, the Lion King, the Jungle Book, Pocahontas, and Peter Pan. He weaves his way through the Disney canon with a dreamlike sense of free association. Even the villains come with a bit of dream logic, morphing into one another the same way a thought might morph during sleep.
This idea – that the show takes place during Mickey's dream – is an absolute stroke of genius. It allows the performance to weave in and out of various Disney stories without any unnecessary exposition, and it gives the audience space to lose themselves in the action without worrying about how it all connects. It connects for the same reason any dream connects – because it does. You stop asking questions, and you simply appreciate the spectacle.
Is it a bit simple? Sure. Does the climax feel a bit unearned, with Mickey saying “This is my dream!” and suddenly taking control? Of course. But that doesn't actually matter, because like any dream, it doesn't have to make sense. All that matters is that the journey is thrilling, and Fantasmic's surely is.