There’s that well-known saying, “A moment lasts all of a second, but the memory lives on forever.” If the Disney Parks do one thing best, I would say it’s creating memories. Sure, we all love riding the rides, seeing the shows and enjoying all of the experiences around us, but the memories we take home after our Disney vacations are where the real magic lives in my mind. Even during these difficult times when many vacations are being canceled, it’s refreshing to look back at some of your favorite Disney Parks memories to put a smile on your face.
One of my absolute favorite Disney Park memories occurred in 1995, but the lead up actually began long before. As a kid growing up in Massachusetts, I was lucky enough to vacation at Walt Disney World every few years. Although I knew of Disneyland, I didn’t know much about its history at the time and certainly hadn’t visited it. The first time I had a grand desire to visit Disneyland park was while watching the televised Walt Disney World Happy Easter Parade. This TV special was a holiday staple from 1984-1999.
During one of the early ‘90s Easter Parades, they showed a teaser video package for “Fantasmic!” The video clip featured Taran Noah Smith, who at the time was playing Mark Taylor on the hit ABC sitcom “Home Improvement.” In the clip, we saw Smith being taken around Disneyland with his VIP Tour Guide dressed in her plaid uniform. As they walked by the Rivers of America, the guide pointed out the construction happening over on Tom Sawyer Island and explained how a new nighttime spectacular would soon be opening. In the background, we could hear the familiar musical themes that would eventually become an iconic part of Disney Parks history. If I had to guess, this was probably the first time the “Fantasmic!” theme was ever heard by the general public.
Smith continues to ask his tour guide questions about “Fantasmic!” and wishes that he could experience it now instead of waiting for its premiere. With a bit of Disney (and TV) magic, the tour guide transforms into Maleficent and shows Smith what lies in store for Disney’s latest and greatest nighttime spectacular.
I can remember watching this and sitting on the edge of my seat. I was riveted and lost count how many times I replayed it on my VHS recording. The clip really didn’t show that much, but I knew that I had to see “Fantasmic!” A special effects show with pyro that featured Disney Villains was right up my alley. But with it being on the other side of the country, I wasn’t quite sure how or when I would get to experience it.
Luckily, a few years later, my family took a Southern California vacation and of course Disneyland was on the list of tourist stops. The year was 1995. Disneyland was celebrating its 40th anniversary and Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye had recently opened. But as I’m sure you could easily guess, my priority was “Fantasmic!”
After enjoying a long day in the park, the time was almost near. Although I had been obsessing over this show, I really didn’t know much about it outside of that video clip. It wasn’t easy to research Disney Parks content the way it is today, and there was no such thing as YouTube where you could watch full videos. So, the lights dimmed, the voiceover began, the music swelled and those bright lights shot up punching the dark night sky. I was already hooked, but then Mickey Mouse was revealed and I was all in.
If you’re reading this article, I’m assuming you’ve experienced “Fantasmic!” for yourself or at least watched a video, so I won’t recap all of the details for you. You already know how great it is. But I would like to point out a couple of moments that really blew mind:
At the time, I was thirteen years old. I already knew that I wanted to work in the world of entertainment, effects and theatrics, so I dreamt up and had experienced a good amount at that point. But something happened when watching “Fantasmic!” that I had never experienced or even imagined. The first time those giant water screens erupted and classic moments from Disney animation were being projected on the water screens, my jaw literally dropped. It was a moment that I’ve had few times in my life where I truly couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. This may be hard for a young reader to understand as this projection style has become quite the norm for Disney nighttime spectaculars, but for many years, “Fantasmic!” was the only place you would see this effect.
I loved this effect so much that when I returned home from vacation, I tried to recreate it myself. I got the hose out in my front lawn and began manipulating the water stream so that it created a similar screen effect like I had seen in Fantasmic! I then took my View-Master Projector and tried projecting one of the slides onto the water screen. It was an epic failure, but I had a grand time trying and, frankly, think it could have worked if I had the proper high-tech equipment.
The other portion of “Fantasmic!” that was etched in my mind was the finale of the show, which makes me think of a Walt Disney quote. Walt said, “Our goal at Disneyland is to always give people more than they expect.” No Walt Disney quote is more appropriate when speaking about “Fantasmic!”
In my mind, “Fantasmic!” has two finales. The first is when the Mark Twain Riverboat is revealed and all of the characters come out dancing with their handography and streamers. As the boat came floating by me, I couldn’t imagine a better finale to what had already been such an unforgettable experience. But it didn’t end there. A bit later, pyrotechnics exploded on top of the structure sitting in the center of Tom Sawyer Island and Sorcerer Mickey appeared for the first time. Up to this point, we hadn’t seen any characters at this height nor had we seen Sorcerer Mickey (other than in projected form). The performance “canvas” went to a level we hadn’t yet seen and simply wasn’t expecting. This is the greatest downfall of the 2017 revised “Fantasmic!” where they don’t build up to this moment, but I digress.
Overall, the first time I saw “Fantasmic!” is a truly unforgettable memory for me, only plussed by the fact that my entire immediate family was there. It was my first trip to Disneyland and quite possibly my favorite. So in these times of Disney Parks withdrawal, I choose to think back on some of my favorite memories.
What are some of your favorite theme park memories? Did it occur when you were a child or an adult? Was it something that shocked you and caused your jaw to drop as well, or did you know exactly what to expect but couldn’t wait to experience it for yourself? Even if you haven’t been able to visit a Disney Park, what are some favorite Disney Parks memories that you’ve watched in video form? 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 gift of “America’s Hidden Mickeys: Lesser Known Disney Destinations Around the U.S.A.” at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.