Many of you are no doubt aware that New Fantasyland at The Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World is scheduled to open on December 6. You may also be aware that previews (also known as…well, opening) start November 19. What you may not be aware of is that there is a chance to see part of New Fantasyland right now.
Enchanted Tales with Belle began testing in late August starting with Cast Members (where it was wonderfully detailed in this post). A week or so later the tests expanded and Disney began allowing plain old guests into the attraction. For some reason, they even allowed me in there (I guess their persona non grata list was not updated). I have no facts to back this up (and I’m way too lazy to look), but this seemed like a long time in advance to be testing an attraction. I realized why they began testing as soon as I saw it.
This is an attraction unlike any other at Disney World. The unimaginative would dismiss it as a simple meet and greet like the Mickey Mouse one set up at the Town Square Theater. The slightly imaginative would compare it to the former Rapunzel and Eugene (a.k.a. Flynn Rider) meet which began with some interactivity. Both would be wrong.
As the attraction stands right now (and it is presumably finished), it is the love child of a stage show and a meet and greet (go ahead, get that image out of your head). The best way I have thought to explain its oddness is that it is a show in which you are always part of it. From the moment you approach Maurice’s Cottage, you are on stage and you do not exit until you exit the attraction.
I know the goal of just about every Disney attraction is to make you feel like you are part of the show, but this one feels different. The intimacy and interactivity with the characters is what makes Enchanted Tales unique. The best way to fully explain is to walk you through each step.
Scene 1: Approaching the Cottage
This section of New Fantasyland could not be styled more differently than “old” Fantasyland. Where there were once concrete and carnival tents there are now old (looking) stone and plants…lots and lots of plants. As you can see in the picture to the left, it looks very inviting, yet Beast’s castle seemingly off in the distance lends that air of dreaminess. The meandering approach around trees, wooden fences, and an old well reminds you that you are simply going to visit an old friend (who happens to have invited several hundred other people and set up a stroller parking area).
Stepping into the first room in the cottage is another reminder that this is a familiar place. The room has clearly been well lived in with paintings, books, dishes, and scrolls lining the tables and shelves. There is a hearth (pictured, right) that still has some cooking pots strewn about (sadly sans-stew) and the chimney over the mantle has lovely wildflowers drying from the warmth.
This intricately detailed room also contains a writing desk, small display case for china, and stacks of books. To add to the lived in feeling, Maurice has marked the wall with Belle’s height from every birthday since she was one. Near those markings a broom is casually leaned against the wall and a (blocked) staircase leads upwards, suggesting that our hosts might just be upstairs washing up.
This room will basically be used as a holding pen, yet even with several people in it the room feels inviting and familiar and perfectly continues the feeling that you are on a social call rather than in line for an attraction.
I call this the mirror room because that is probably all you will care about once you see it. It is a second room within the cottage that you will move into presumably as a group. This room is just as detailed as the previous one with some wonderful drawings that are pointed out by the Cast Member on duty here (and you can see a bit of in the bottom corner of the picture to the right). Then there is the mirror.
The mirror is a large, gold framed beauty that does not fit in with the furnishings in the rest of the cottage. Luckily, this anti-theming is part of the story as the mirror is magical. The Cast Member explains that this mirror allows us to visit Belle anywhere and at any time. You are then asked to actively participate for the first time in this production by saying “Take me to where Belle buys everyone a round at Raglan Road!”…okay, okay it is actually “Take me to the night Belle and Beast fell in love,” but a guy can dream.
Following that ambiguous declaration, the mirror begins to sparkle and a picture is revealed where the reflective surface once was. It then expands as the picture moves into Beast Castle…seriously, the mirror gets bigger until it is as big as a doorway. Then it becomes a doorway! Really, the mirror turns into a door!! Sorry for the exclamation points, but this is really cool!!!
Okay, I have calmed back down, but the point is still true. This mirror does not seem to be particularly difficult technology, nor does it seem to be revolutionary, but it is extremely clean, well done, and wonderful to witness.
Scene 4: Madame Wardrobe
After stepping through the mirror (I really like the mirror), you find yourself getting deeper into the story. A very good, and very large animatronic Madame Wardrobe (that I didn’t get a good picture of) explains to you what is going on. You see, the inhabitants of the castle are going to surprise Belle by regaling her with the story of how she came to be there. For some reason this will help her fall in love with the Beast, but let us not pick nits. Volunteers are requested to play parts such as Felipe the horse, Chip, and Beast. This fully integrates you into the story as either an integral part or a knowing viewer. Once all the parts are assigned you move into the final area.
Scene 5: The Library
The library is where the remainder of the attraction, and the most show-like part, takes place. The library itself is beautiful with a large (fake) fireplace, grand (fake) windows, and shelf after shelf lined with (fake) books. It also contains a dozen or so (real) benches for those not participating in the story’s retelling.
The focal point of this room however, is Lumiere, the French-accented candlestick. As you see in the picture to the right, Lumiere is life-sized…or candlestick-sized since I guess he is technically not “alive.” What he definitely is though is a fantastic animatronic.
Using a combination of robotics and projection technology, Lumiere is, in my opinion, the best animatronic at Walt Disney World. His range, speed, and accuracy of movement is wonderful to watch and only enhances the feeling that you are in the world of Belle and Beast.
What Lumiere is there for is to call Belle into the Library and tell her the story using all of the volunteers. It is very cutesy, sappy, and adorable, but it is also heartwarming and fun. It is a quick telling of the Beauty and the Beast story that is interesting even to those not participating.
The only actual “meet and greet” part comes after a small parade around the room with the volunteers. Each one gets to pose quickly for a picture with Belle before she is shuttled out the door. Those not participating may become upset that they do not get their picture, but I am personally hoping it stays this way. The nature of the show will make the turnover slow as it is without a room full of people stopping for pictures.
Overall I was very impressed with this new brand of attraction. It is a meet and greet at its heart, but with such a lively and inviting show element that even those without a desire to meet the princess can enjoy it. I fear that, even with two libraries, the attraction may move people through slowly, but that is why they are doing all of this testing. I do not fear that this will be a well received new wave of show for Disney.