As we get ready for the return of “Fantasmic!” to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it got me thinking about this epic nighttime spectacular that continues to thrill crowds many years after its opening. In my mind, “Fantasmic!” is the greatest nighttime spectacular of all-time. It seamlessly mixes spectacular music, live performers, pyrotechnics, projection effects, lasers, animatronics, and so much more. Yet none of it feels like the effects are simply there to “wow” the crowd. Every effect serves a purpose in telling the story of Disney good versus evil. People love to choose a favorite “Fantasmic!” between Disneyland’s version and Walt Disney World’s. I’ve always loved them both for different reasons. Here are a couple of those reasons.
When “Fantasmic!” opened at Disneyland in 1992, it was truly something that folks had never experienced before. I remember seeing those mist screens for the first time, followed by my jaw dropping. One of the things about Disneyland’s “Fantasmic!” that will always be a huge plus for me over Walt Disney World’s is its location. The fact that the spectacular takes place on Tom Sawyer Island, a location we’ve been looking at all day and perhaps even visited, makes the show that much more magical.
It is one thing to enter a venue built for a show. It is a whole other kind of “wow” moment when a location you’ve witnessed all day takes on a whole new life for the production. It’s one of those rare circumstances where what you’re seeing before your eyes is something you’d never imagined. Who’d have thought while they were spending time on Tom Sawyer Island, that just hours later a dragon would be breathing fire where you once stood. The location of the “stage” is definitely a huge plus for Disneyland’s “Fantasmic!” in my opinion.
The second area where Disneyland’s version defeats Walt Disney World’s is agreed upon by almost everyone. That would be the Maleficent Dragon animatronic used during the show’s villainous finale. When “Fantasmic!” originally opened at Disneyland, it used the same sort of “head on a crane” dragon used at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But in 2009, the show got some major additions. Most notably the 45-foot-tall fire-breathing (more like fire launching) dragon. It is truly a sight to be seen. I expected there to be an announcement at D23 Expo that this new dragon would appear as part of the updated “Fantasmic!” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Unfortunately, no such announcement was made. But perhaps they have a surprise up their sleeves for us. I hope so.
If the dragon and performance location win the comparison race for Disneyland, then where does Disney’s Hollywood Studios “Fantasmic!” supersede? As much as I love the location of Disneyland’s “Fantasmic!” living right there in the middle of the park, I’d be lying if I didn’t say how I appreciate the seating at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Those bleacher seats are definitely a huge plus after a long day walking around the parks. Having the show tucked away in a corner of the park that isn’t witnessed until showtime isn’t as impressive. But my feet and butt thank the bleachers in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The other more show-specific thing I’ve always loved about “Fantasmic!” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the inclusion of more villains. As someone who originally experienced Disneyland’s production, I was so happy to see the inclusion of Cruella de Vil, Hades, and even Frollo from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (one of my favorites) along with numerous other Disney villains. They don’t all necessarily have their own scene in the show, but a lot of villains have been worked into montage sequences. That is something I wish would have been added to Disneyland’s production during the changes throughout the years.
Overall, I love “Fantasmic!” Whether it’s the Disneyland version or Disney Hollywood Studios version, they both have some differences that I prefer over the other. But no matter which version of “Fantasmic!” you see, one thing is guaranteed: You’re in for a treat. What are some of the things you prefer from one or both versions of “Fantasmic!”? Leave a comment and let me know.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit,” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com. DePaoli’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent Attractions Magazine.