Update on Fantasmic! – 30 Years Ago at Disneyland

As if Daylight Saving’s Time wasn’t bad enough, last month we leaped a year ahead (or 29 years behind) our usual thirty years ago. This month we are back on track but will be starting out on the wrong side of the park. Yes, this is an update on the construction of Fantasmic!, but first a couple of shots of the other big construction site in the Happiest Place on Earth, Toontown. In November of 1991, there had been a groundbreaking ceremony for the new land, and then construction walls went into place just to the west of it’s a small world’s entrance. That’s right— the entrance was to the west, and there was no Toy Shop. It’s 1992, remember?

Since there was a handle cut out of the locked door in the fence, who wouldn’t want to catch a glimpse of the future site of “the land that toons built?”

Hmmmm. Needs more pixie dust.

Things were a lot more interesting over behind the walls surrounding the future site of Fantasmic! We will start with a couple of transitional shots from that winter, centered around the new stage and Old Mill.

By now, it was plain that this was not to be the somewhat simple performance stage that had grown up at the bend of the river from 1955 to 1990. This one featured a lot of steel and concrete, as well as a pretty deep pit.

Note also the newly framed out building on the right. That’s the “Old” Mill, which was being completely reconstructed in a new location.

From a higher vantage point in the Swiss Family Tree House, one can better see the pit below the stage. We wondered why that was there. Note, also the steel structure underpinning the main structure. And take a look at the carefully preserved mature trees directly behind the new building.

In this ground view from New Orleans Square, one can see the different levels of the new performance stage, although the large basement is completely disguised.

From the Frontierland side, the original Tom Sawyer Island bathrooms can be seen on the right. This building looks pretty old and decrepit in the midst of all the new construction.

It’s a pity that this panoramic view of the “mixing bowl” in the bend of the river is being blocked by thirty-year-ago me. Perhaps if I got behind the camera, rather than in front…

Ahh, there we are. Sharp-eyed viewers might note the canvas-draped area just above the dark green balcony of the Disney Gallery. It’s a bit hard to spot, as it is painted a light tan to blend in with the walls above. It also appears that someone forgot to bring along a level when setting the ridgeline for that mill…

And here is the same view, just a few months later, and a few months away from the Fantasmic! premiere. The Old Mill has been fleshed out more fully (nice roof!), concrete forms have been placed on the Tom Sawyer Island side of the riverbank, and that structure above the balcony has been revealed. It is the control room for Fantasmic!, hiding in plain sight.

Here is a front view of the new structures that will soon be getting “aging” for the brand new siding and roofs. On the left, you can see the last of the heavy steel that was used to shore up the island while work was being done on the performance stage.

From the Disney Gallery balcony, one can see the massive amount of concrete used to create the larger portion of the stage. This will all be concealed beneath wooden planks and carefully placed props.

Focusing on the waterfront on the mainland side, the removal of the construction walls has begun. It was a shock for many long-time guests when they realized that a number of fully mature magnolia trees had been removed.

Looking further west, it was obvious that New Orleans Square’s original waterfront had been swept away. For the first season of Fantasmic!, guests found nothing more than an expanse of bare concrete from the sidewalk cafe to the river’s edge.

Up around the corner, the stately Mark Twain had been undergoing its own extensive renovation. The long hiatus gave the Disneyland crews an opportunity to repair or replace most of the ship’s “fancy-work.” By the night of the premiere, the venerable steamboat was gleaming with fresh paint and polished brass.

There was another very big change made during this time. In 1955 the river had been lined in clay after the sandy soil drained the original river dry overnight. In 1991-92, there was time to add a concrete floor to the river, ensuring a more efficient use of that water.

A view from the steam train shows the work continuing up around the western bend of the river. The “rapids” traversed by the canoes can be glimpsed in the middle right.

Nobody quite knew what to make of this mysterious boat slip that was added near the vicinity of Big Thunder Ranch. But then, we did not realize how many watercraft had to be hidden away between shows.

And that was how it looked in the early months of 1992. The debut of Fantasmic! was just around the corner. We could hardly wait!