Remembering 2001’s “100 Years of Magic” as Disneyland kicks off “100 Years of Wonder”
Disneyland Resort’s Disney100 celebration is in full swing, but do you remember “100 Years of Magic?” The 2001 campaign celebrated Walt Disney’s 100th birthday with the iconic sorcerer’s hat, new parades at all four Walt Disney World theme parks, and other anecdotes since lost to Disney history.
Let’s take a trip back in time and explore everything “100 Years of Magic” had to offer.
A Tale of Two 100s
In 2023, The Walt Disney Company kicks off “100 Years of Wonder,” sometimes also called “Disney100.” The year-long event honors the centennial anniversary of the date brothers Walt and Roy Disney founded the company in 1923. Disneyland Resort in California serves as headquarters for the party. There, Sleeping Beauty Castle shows off an updated look, “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” opens in Toontown, and two new nighttime spectaculars debut after dark.
The celebration has an impressive lineup. It naturally brings to mind the other Disney 100th anniversary from 22 years ago. Don’t worry, the math checks out. “100 Years of Wonder” commemorates the birthday of Disney the company, while “100 Years of Magic” celebrated the birthday of Disney the person. It kicked off Oct. 1, 2001, and lasted through Feb. 2003. (If you questioned why the 2023 event chose the word “wonder” as its descriptor instead of perhaps the more appropriate “magic”, now you know. The name was already taken, by Disney itself!)
Conjuring a Controversial Park Icon
Much like Disneyland serves as home base for “100 Years of Wonder,” Walt Disney World was the party host for “100 Years of Magic.” Specifically, Disney’s Hollywood Studios — then still called Disney-MGM Studios — put on most of the festivities.
In the middle of the park, directly in front of the recreation of Grauman’s Theater, Disney constructed a bold centerpiece for the celebration: the sorcerer’s hat. The 122-foot-tall structure recreated the magical, blue cap Mickey Mouse borrows from his instructor during the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment of 1940’s “Fantasia.”
Despite a mixed reception, the sorcerer’s hat stuck around well past the 2003 conclusion of “100 Years of Magic,” and remained at the center of Hollywood Studios until 2015, when Disney removed it. Today, the space on which the hat stood is an open plaza and the view of Grauman’s Theater is unobstructed once more.
Keeping Walt’s Memory Alive
Part of your day in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2023 might include a visit to “Walt Disney Presents,” the museum-like walk-through attration chronicling the story of Walt’s life. At the conclusion of the tour, you might stay for a biographical short film about Walt narrated by Julie Andrews. Did you know the experience began as “Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream” and opened with “100 Years of Magic”?
In a 2001 press release preserved on WDW Magic, Imagineer Roger Holzberg said, “When we were researching the attraction, we found that many of our guests under the age of 15 did not know Walt Disney was a real person. They thought it was just a company name.”
Today, “Walt Disney Presents” looks a little different than when it debuted. It now includes a character greeting with Sulley from “Monsters, Inc.” It also regularly swaps out the biopic for a sneak peek of the latest Disney film. The tour remains a refreshing change of pace during a day in the park, even if its focus now partially strays toward the Disney company rather than Walt himself.
Parades in All Four Parks
A 2001 article in the Orlando Sentinel recapped the entertainment Walt Disney World rolled out for “100 Years of Magic.” At Magic Kingdom, “Cinderella’s Surprise Celebration” debuted on the castle stage. The show featured classic characters, like Mickey and Snow White, as well as new ones for the time, like Mulan and Shan-Yu. Interestingly, Cinderella spoke her lines live into a microphone attached to her person, while every other character had pre-recorded dialogue.
The real showstopper of “100 Years of Magic” was all four Walt Disney World parks premiering new parades. While technically true, the statement stretched the truth just a little. Epcot’s parade, “Tapestry of Dreams,” was a rebrand of “Tapestry of Nations,” which had initially debuted for the Millennium Celebration.
At Hollywood Studios, “Disney Stars in Motor Cars Parade” was a procession of motor vehicles tricked out with creative designs. Aladdin and Jasmine’s car, for example, resembled Genie and the magic carpet. The parade performed through 2008.
Magic Kingdom premiered “Share a Dream Come True Parade,” with each of its floats being giant snowglobes. Keeping the focus on Walt, the parade featured him as a face character in its opening unit. The production also had narration from Julie Andrews and Peter Pan, making note of sharing Walt’s dream.
The parade morphed over the years, retaining the same floats, but changing its name and music. In 2006 it became “Disney Dreams Come True Parade.” In 2009 it transformed into “Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade” before finally retiring in January 2014. The villain float lives on annually during Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Additionally, one of the floats in the present-day “Disney Adventure Friends Cavalcade” — the one carrying Mirabel from “Encanto” — seems like it could be the shell of a former snowglobe float.
The longest-running parade that was first part of “100 Years of Magic” was “Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade.” Hosted by Mickey and Rafiki from “The Lion King,” it trekked through Disney’s Animal Kingdom until June 2014.
A Necessary Delay
The Orlando Sentinel noted at the time that Disney had to change its marketing strategy in light of 9/11, which occurred just before “100 Years of Magic” was slated to kick off. The resort opted for a soft launch due to the sudden decrease in travel. It then introduced a more traditional marketing campaign a few months later.
That marketing strategy included a huge tie-in at McDonald’s. The collection of Happy Meal toys had a staggering 100 different options, all depicting favorite Disney characters. Diners could also purchase four collectible glasses, one representing each Walt Disney World theme park.
Long-Term Investments Attached to Short-Term Regalia
Several of the aforementioned publications cited new attractions as part of “100 Years of Magic” that were likely already scheduled to open regardless of any ongoing anniversary. These included “TriceraTops Spin” and “Primeval Whirl” at Animal Kingdom, “The Magic Carpets of Aladdin” at Magic Kingdom, and “Playhouse Disney – Live on Stage!” at Hollywood Studios. All made their debut during the event and remained open long afterward, with both Dumbo-style rides still operating today.
Comparing 2001 to 2023
Despite being different celebrations created two decades apart, one can’t help but compare 2001’s “100 Years of Magic” to 2023’s “100 Years of Wonder.” Both leveraged permanent openings as add-ons to their promotion. “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway,” for example, was likely going to open at Disneyland regardless of the company’s 100th anniversary. The celebration, though, gives the permanent attraction a logical opening date to coincide with the event and help it feel bigger.
Both also centered their festivities around one specific place, heightening the atmosphere there perhaps at the expense of other destinations. Disneyland fans probably felt left out when Walt Disney World got all the love for “100 Years of Magic” in 2001. At the time, though, this was simply par for the course. Disneyland and Walt Disney World didn’t share marketing campaigns, and wouldn’t until 2005.
In 2023, the hype at Disneyland and lack thereof at Disney World is probably more a result of the latter’s 50th anniversary, “The World’s Most Magical Celebration,” still ongoing. It continues through March 31, 2023. Starting “Disney100” in Florida while the 50th’s pomp and circumstance is still everywhere would be confusing. Reading between the lines, the pandemic may have delayed the original start date for WDW’s 50th. In an alternate timeline, the 50th celebration might have begun earlier than October 2021. Therefore, it would have finished in time for Florida to partake more in the 100th.
Thus far, Florida’s only participation in “Disney100” is a new line of merchandise. It sends somewhat mixed messages on shelves right alongside the 50th collections. Disney promised Epcot’s upcoming fireworks show — the one that will debut at a to-be-announced date following the limited-time run of “Epcot Forever” — will connect with the 100th. Details about that show, though, are still under wraps.
At Hong Kong Disneyland, Mickey and friends debuted their “Disney100” outfits. The park will construct a new statue honoring Walt.
Beyond theme parks, 2023 might have 2001 beat. A traveling exhibit, an ABC News documentary, a coffee table book, and more will give Disney fans the opportunity to join in on “100 Years of Wonder” even if they aren’t able to make it out to Disneyland.
Another way to stay connected to all the fun? Don’t miss our coverage of everything happening as part of “Disney100,” which will continue all year long. So far, we’ve taken a tour of the “Runaway Railway” queue with Imagineers and got to see an advanced showing of “World of Color – One.”
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