A tale of two Disney fire-breathing dragons – DePaoli on DeParks

By now, most theme park fans have heard about the recent unfortunate incident that occurred during Fantasmic! at Disneyland. The impressive 45-foot tall Maleficent dragon caught itself on fire instead of spewing a flame into the Rivers of America. But it wasn’t too long ago when an eerily similar situation took place at Magic Kingdom with another Maleficent dragon. Here is the tale of these two Disney dragons and their ironically unfortunate fate with fire.

disneyland fantasmic dragon

Festival of Fantasy Parade at Magic Kingdom debuted on March 9, 2014. This was a welcome change of pace for the Walt Disney World theme park. It had been a long time since a brand new parade had rolled through the streets of one of the world’s most popular theme parks.

Arguably, one of the most popular elements of the parade is a steampunk inspired Maleficent dragon float. Not only does it look really cool, but it also breathes real fire. I personally love when real fire is used in entertainment. Sure, the flowing fabric with lights bouncing off it in Pirates of the Caribbean is a neat effect. But it’s not the same as feeling the heat of flames in something like Indiana Jones Adventure or The Great Movie Ride. There are two things that are sure to get a reaction from a crowd: people “flying” and fire. Therefore, the fire-breathing Maleficent float is quite the people pleaser.

Unfortunately, on May 11, 2018, the Maleficent dragon’s head caught on fire instead of shooting flames forward. This effect is done 26 feet in the air when the dragon head is at its highest point, but it’s still traveling through many areas of the park and very close to guests. It’s a much less controlled environment than it would be in a ride. Therefore, when the Maleficent float caught on fire fairly close to parade onlookers, it was definitely concerning.

festival of fantasy dragon

Many people wondered whether or not the destroyed dragon would ever return to the parade. And if it did, would it ever breathe fire again? Impressively, that Maleficent dragon did indeed return on January 25, 2019, just over seven months after the disaster.

In the case of Disneyland’s Fantasmic! dragon, she’s had a tough go of it ever since the beginning. So much so that she earned the nickname Murphy among Disney fans. This refers to Murphy’s Law where, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

When the original Fantasmic! opened at Disneyland in 1992, the dragon was similar to the one currently used at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But in 2009, there was a lot of fanfare about a new animatronic dragon being added to Disneyland’s nighttime spectacular. In fact, two dragons were a central part of that summer’s advertising campaign for Summer Nightastic at Disneyland. The first dragon was the “Pete’s Dragon” Elliott float from Disney’s Electrical Parade at Disney California Adventure. And the other, of course, was the new Fantasmic! dragon for Disneyland. Yet, when Summer Nightastic launched on June 12, 2009, there was only the Elliott dragon to be found.

summer nightastic

I vividly remember that day. As a die-hard fan of Fantasmic! myself, I made plans to drive down to Disneyland just to see the show. I remember being extremely disappointed when I found out that the dragon’s appearance would be delayed. But nothing prepared me for just how long it would be delayed.

Summer Nightastic ran its course through August 23, 2009, and the new Maleficent dragon still hadn’t made its debut. It wouldn’t be until September 1, 2009, when the fancy, new animatronic took the stage for the public to see for the very first time. She certainly was lovely to look at, but “Murphy” still wasn’t spewing her impressive fire stream from 45-feet in the air down to the waters below. It would take a bit longer for her to become fully functional. But once she was, she was a sight to be seen. It was a huge improvement over the previous incarnation.

For years, Disneyland guests marveled over this marvelous mechanic. But on April 22, 2023, similarly to the head of the dragon catching fire in Magic Kingdom, Disneyland’s dragon head caught itself on fire, and the inferno eventually covered her full body. It really was quite sad to see. In addition, it appears the fire destroyed some areas of the stage as well.

disney fire breathing dragons

Now the question needs to be asked. Will this version of the Maleficent dragon ever return to Disneyland? It appears as though it would need to be an entire rebuild. With current cost-cutting measures in place, it seems unlikely it will happen anytime soon. An even scarier thought is, could this be the end of Fantasmic! at Disneyland? It’s certainly not an inexpensive show to run with such a large cast and extreme effects. This could be the perfect excuse to create a new, yet less expensive nighttime spectacular.

Fantasmic! performances are currently suspended at Disneyland at the time of publication. The fire effect in the previously mentioned Magic Kingdom dragon has been turned off out of an abundance of caution as they try and figure out what went wrong at Disneyland.

In both cases, the way the fires were handled was impressive. What could have been much bigger disasters was taken care of before it could get worse. In neither case were there any reported major injuries.

So, that’s the sad tale of Disney’s impressive, yet problematic fire-breathing dragons. If you’re still looking for a bit of dragon pyro-excitement in the theme parks, you can see the Maleficent dragon at Disney’s Hollywood Studios spew a less impressive fire effect during Fantasmic! Or head on over to Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida to feel the heat of the fire-breathing dragon above Gringotts Bank.

What do you think? Do you believe we’ll see the return of the dragon at Disneyland? Do you think this could affect Fantasmic’s existence as a whole? Leave a comment and let me know.

Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles.

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.


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