“Mysteries and magic, visions fantastic…”
In this season of villains, it only seems appropriate to shine a spotlight on one of the greatest villainous battles you can find at a Disney Park – the nighttime extravaganza Fantasmic! However, since there are somewhat different stagings of this show at both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort, let’s see how one stacks up against the other… at least in my personal opinion!
I remember that my overriding first impression of the Walt Disney World Resort was being blown away by the sheer SIZE and immensity of everything compared to the Disneyland Resort. I couldn’t stop saying “IT’S HUGE!!!”
I looked at Main Street, U.S.A. and said, “It’s HUGE!”
I looked at Cinderella Castle and said, “It’s HUGE!”
I looked at Spaceship Earth and said, “It’s HUGE!”
I looked at the Tree of Life and said, “It’s HUGE!”
So you can imagine the mindset I went in with to see Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ version of Fantasmic! – my absolute favorite Disney nighttime spectacular and one of the most thrilling, emotionally moving and magical experiences I think any guest can have at a Disney Park.
But I knew something was off as I approached the stadium bleacher seating under the bright lights, with Cast Members peddling popcorn and snacks across the rows of people while a couple of other guys shouted bad jokes at the crowd and tried to get them to do “the wave”…
And then I saw the size of the waterway and the cave set that the show would be performed on… and I started to laugh… “but it’s all so small!”
And I didn’t stop laughing until long after the show ended.
So I’m going to give you the spoiler result right up front: Disneyland Resort wins this comparison hands (gloves?) down. And here’s why…
I’m going to break this into components of the two different presentations. Let’s start with:
- Viewing area/Seating setup
Disney’s Hollywood Studios:
I will give credit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for their easy to find bleacher seating (including an option for reserved VIP seating with various dining packages). You can also use FastPass+ here to make a reservation. Given the half-hour length of this show, guaranteeing everyone a seat rather than making them stand is a big win.
The one area where Disneyland doesn’t get it right – its recent transformation of Fantasmic! from a first-come, first served show with most people able to find an acceptable viewing spot even up to showtime – to a nearly-exclusively Fast Pass and dining package-reserved viewing area show that still doesn’t work efficiently or offer any extra seating. This change also came with a horrendous traffic pattern change, which makes New Orleans Square IMPOSSIBLE to pass through now during Fantasmic! hours. Whereas previously one could fairly quickly work their way around the crowd on the way to Critter Country or Frontierland/Adventureland. A frustrating, epic fail all around. That said, I’d still pick obstructed standing-only viewing to see this show over seating at the other one. But that’s also because of…
Sitting (or standing) in the darkness in front of the Rivers of America, the low murmurings of the crowd around me, with area-appropriate music and lamplight coming from behind me in New Orleans Square, waiting as the introduction to Fantasmic! begins, still sends chills up my spine every single time, knowing what wonders I am about to experience… Or as they say on the Interwebs these days… oh, the feels!!! (And then there is the glorious music of the show itself – the Fantasmic! theme is one of my favorite pieces of park music – but I’ll talk about that in a future article!)
Disney’s Hollywood Studios:
Can I get a churro with that? Yeah, I felt like I was at a baseball game, sitting in the bleachers waiting for this show to start. No darkness, no musical theming to get you into the slightly spooky place-setting mood. Just loud, bright, garish, noisy – and then the show starts. There was none of the majesty and grandeur of the Disneyland version. It was just… another show.
- Production values
Disney’s Hollywood Studios:
Not only were the cave and moat sets for the show here small by comparison, but the effects were, too. Everything from the water screens to the light, laser and flame effects seemed… contained.
As opposed to the Disneyland version, set against Tom Sawyer Island on the Rivers of America. Everything about this show is BIG – from fire and water effects to the laser light projections – and the setting adds such verisimilitude!
Granted, Disneyland has only had this massive animatronic a few years, and granted it took him quite a while to work properly once they did have him! (Hence the nickname “Murphy” as in the Law.) But he works and he is glorious!
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Dragon
All I kept thinking as I was watching this was – It’s a head. On a pole. With ribbons on it. Seriously? Should I just call this Fantasmic! Jr.? Yeah, pretty much…
Disneyland: Boat sequence
The heartwarming finale with more than two dozen characters aboard the magnificent Mark Twain Riverboat is always breathtaking to behold!
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Boat sequence
They have an open-air barge with the characters waving from it. It’s… quaint. Though it was nice to see a different mix of characters than those in the Disneyland show. But it just emphasizes the smaller, staged feeling of this version of the show vs. Disneyland’s “reality” of an “actual” river and an actual working riverboat.
- Different scenes
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Pocahontas sequence
As a big fan of Pocahontas, I actually really enjoyed this segment of the show just because it was new and different for me. But it still felt a bit dated to have such a long section dedicated to this one relatively older film that is not really considered one of the “classics”. However, even an extended fight scene and John Smith swinging around the cave set doesn’t compare with…
Disneyland Park: Peter Pan sequence
Peter Pan fighting Captain Hook amongst the rigging of the moving Sailing Ship Columbia along the Rivers of America! Really, this is one of the most exciting scenes you can find at any show at any Disney Park. It’s breathtaking (and a bit scary) to watch the performers so skillfully telling a story while performing incredible rope and fight stunts at the same time!
There are so many things I love about the Walt Disney World Resort. Especially its size. But based on everything I saw between the two productions, I give this one squarely to Disneyland as opposed to the “Fantasmic! Jr.” version at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This was the one place where I felt Disneyland absolutely did it bigger and better!
It makes me incredibly sad to know that in just a few weeks we will be losing Fantasmic! as the entire Rivers of America section of Disneyland Park will be going under construction in January for Star Wars Land and the show will go dark for likely a year and a half minimum. And when it returns, it may not be the same show it is today.
So I cannot say it enough – if you’ve never seen Fantasmic! at Disneyland Park – PLEASE do yourself a favor and do so NOW while you still can have the full experience with the show and the Rivers in all their glory! I hope to catch it at least one or two more times in the next few weeks myself before it starts to seem like it was all just a dream…
Have you seen BOTH versions of Fantasmic!? Do you have a favorite and why?
Update 9/13/16: I’ve uploaded a Fantasmic! Orlando video – Check out one of this show’s performances here on the Mousertainment YouTube Channel