From "being" the characters in Fantasyland favorites, to drifting through scenes in Pirates, to starring roles thanks to the simulator, it's not every day that Disney Parks introduce a whole new genre of guest experience. But when The Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast debuted September 28, 2020 (six months after scheduled, and in a country closed to outside visitors thanks to COVID-19), fans gathered around YouTube to find that Disney had indeed rewritten the rules of the ride once again. And this time, reception was... well... mixed.
The Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast is a trackless, LPS dark ride – and the first of Disney's batch to also include a motion-base platform. Technologically, it's among Disney's coolest. I mean, 6 ten-person teacups are dispatched into the ride at once – an awesome capacity and a literal and figurative dance of vehicle positioning that's astounding to watch. But narratively, this new attraction is very unlike any that's come before.
Is it a "book report"? Weirdly, not exactly. It's both something more than that, and something less. Maybe it's just something different. If you haven't, watch for yourself and see if you can figure out how to categorize this new ride:
Does the Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast retell the story of the film, condensing its 90-minute plot into a 3-minute ride? Not really... For example, the ride's first scene – right off the bat! – is "Be Our Guest," a song that occurs 38 minutes into the original film. Guests spend two full minutes in that scene, merely dancing along to the showstopper as the room gradually transforms with more and more projection and props. The Belle Audio-Animatronic (that many seemed to assume was reading a book or telling a story to frame the ride) merely sits at the head of a table, smiling for the duration.
From there, guests' teacups travel into the second scene, "Something There," the film's (underrated!) unspoken love long as Belle and the Beast see each others' better sides. Here, the six teacups spend over two minutes in a relatively barren scene, circling around surprisingly simple, snowy scenery. There's not much to do for those 120 seconds except appreciate the Belle and Beast animatronics... but two minutes of instrumental is a lot of time to scrutinize the lovely figures which look wonderful but, frankly, don't do a whole lot. In other words, while they might've been stunning in passing, as the central (and only) focus of an extended scene, it feels like the ride needs more. Even having placed this scene in the castle's library rather than its obviously-contrived and stark "outdoor courtyard" would be a bit of an improvement.
Traveling on, a corridor of mini-scenes show Belle and the Beast after their famous ballroom dance (insinuating we just missed it), then the shadows of intruders attacking, then the Beast's revival and return to human form (via an impressive Pepper's Ghost effect and a projection-based transformation of the castle's hallway) in a rapid-fire, 60-second showcase.
Finally, it's off to the ride's third major scene – and its finale: Belle and a transformed Prince dancing together in the Grand Ballroom. By far, these are the most fasincating of the ride's Audio-Animatronics figures in practice, given that the ballroom dance between the two looks so effortless and real. But this scene, too, lasts a full two minutes, with only changing lighting and the looping Audio-Animatronics to keep guests' attention. As "Beauty and the Beast" crescendoes, the teacups exit the Ballroom and align with an unload area.
It's honestly quite tough to compare the Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast to anything you'll find at Walt Disney World or Disneyland Resort. By default, the closest comparison might be The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel's Undersea Adventure, but even then, the Little Mermaid dark ride uses a more traditional ride system to tell a more traditional "book report" story.
In this case, Disney Imagineers seemed to use the trackless dark ride technology for its massive capacity (able to dispatch six very large, 10-person vehicles into the ride at once) and its grace. Paired with the motion base, these vehicles can "dance" around each scene, circling the room as riders sway to the songs. It's not really meant to introduce the story of the film or even to relive it, but to participate in three of its most showstopping songs. The atmosphere appears to be one of a show, where you might foot-tap, clap, or even sing along out loud. Interestingly, it seems that Tokyo Disneyland – in some ways – revived the concept of a Beauty and the Beast Audio-Animatronic dinner show once developed for Disneyland Paris, and simply decided to have guests ride through it rather than eat through it.
To our thinking, Tokyo Disneyland's new ride is a category all its own; not a "book report" ride, but a "sing-along ride." Culturally, we'd expect that fits very well with the Tokyo Disney Resort, where Japanese guests queue for hours and hours to meet obscure characters, enter lotteries to gain access to shows, and politely, unobtrusively (and without flash!) photograph stage shows with great fervor. It's not even unusual for the resort's shows to capture the soundtrack from a film, but completely shuffled so as to make the flow of the story practically illegible. To that end, Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast feels like it fits right in; a larger-than-life, high capacity show with performers who never get tired and never need a break.
But after the first videos of this distinctly-Japanese E-Ticket surfaced, suddenly many fans changed their tune about bringing a clone of the experience back home. Suddenly, some fans who'd once wished that EPCOT would recieved a copy of Beauty and the Beast rather than the Modern Marvel: Remy's Ratatouille Adventure decided they were content with their Disneyland Paris hand-be-down. It's definitely true that the Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast probably isn't exactly what you thought it would be; it's probably likely that every Audio-Animatronic Disney teased ended up used in a very different context than you imagined.
You might even feel the unspeakable notion that Tokyo Disneyland's new ride... well... isn't the Beauty and the Beast ride you'd personally waited 30 years for. Maybe it's that the new ride is tuned into a cultural difference between the American and Japanese audience. Maybe it just needs to be seen in person to be believed – an impossibility during the ride's initial opening months due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
But now we leave it to you: would you like to see this new "sing-along dark ride" added to EPCOT's France, or to Disneyland or Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland? Does it feel like it fits among Fantasyland classics? More to the point, is it a new anchor, or a rare miss for Disney Imagineering that fails to capture the romance, adventure, and story of its source material? Let us know in the comments below or when you share this story with friends!