Back in the late 1980s while Disney’s Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks continued to be the primary form of nighttime spectacular at Disneyland, it was decided that the River Stage on Tom Sawyer Island could be an ideal setting for a new type of nighttime spectacular that would go beyond just fireworks and music.
The original concept was titled Imagination. The concept would tell a story of the power of the imagination using the vivid imagination of Disney’s own Mickey Mouse.
Disney’s creative entertainment team had been considering a nighttime river spectacular for the area for many years. After the Disneyland team saw the debut of Epcot’s groundbreaking nighttime spectacular IllumiNations, set on the waters of World Showcase Lagoon in 1988, the idea gained renewed strength.
In 1989 Fantasmic Show director Barnette Ricci had been researching entertainment effects technology for a new castle show to celebrate Disneyland’s 35th anniversary to be held the following year. The idea was to integrate mist screens in the castle moat, lasers, and live performers into a castle show.
We now know that the 35th anniversary castle show never happened thus leaving the technology available for Ricci to incorporate it into a new project. The final go ahead was approved by none other than the then CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner to create Fantasmic.
With the show approved and the effects researched, Disney looked to the musical talents of Bruce Healey to bring the show to life through music. Bruce Healey had grown up only a few miles from Disneyland and during his late teens even performed with the Disneyland Band.
Healey and Show Director Barnette Ricci came up with a heroic theme for Mickey and that inspired the direction of the show.
Healey recalled that the challenge was “to reflect all of the different emotions and attitudes in the show.” Healey couldn’t simply edit existing audio into one seamless soundtrack. Instead he not only adapted and re-orchestrated existing musical tracks like Night on Bald Mountain and Someday My Prince Will Come, but he also wrote original themes to describe all the various aspects of Mickey’s imagination.
The Show tells the story of the power of Mickey’s imagination and features some thirteen tracks from classic Disney films such as Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan, and more take a listen.
But as usual, things don’t stay wonderful for long, even in Mickey’s imagination. Those disney villains insist on showing up to turn Mickey’s dreams into a nightmare Fantasmic.
With the onslaught of these villains, Mickey finally faces his most terrifying foe, Maleficent in Dragon form, as he suddenly realizes that this is HIS dream and he fights back, heroically defeating Maleficent and proving that nothing is more powerful than the power of the imagination!
The original Disneyland soft opening was scheduled to begin Wednesday, April 29, 1992. By late afternoon, rioting began in Los Angeles associated with the not guilty verdict of the Los Angeles police officers involved with the beating of Rodney King. Promotional materials with the slogan “Be Here When the Night Ignites” were hastily pulled from circulation and the show went on as scheduled with its official opening taking place a couple weeks later on May 13, 1992.
Walt Disney World
The Walt Disney World version of Fantasmic debuted in 1998 in its own custom built 10,000 seat arena called the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or the Disney MGM Studios at it was then known.
While there are several variations in this version from Disneyland’s, perhaps the most notable difference in the Florida version of the show is the replacement of the Peter Pan section with a Pocahontas segment. The replacement of Peter Pan with Pocahontas is owing to two reasons. The first was that Michael Eisner specifically requested the this new version of fantasmic offer more recent films. But also a more practical reason, Florida doesn’t have a large Sailing Ship Columbia hanging out on which to perform the Peter Pan scene.
On February 5 2010 it was announced that a new version of Fantasmic would debut at Tokyo DisneySea in the Spring of 2011 as a replacement for their long-running show BraviSeaMo. Unfortunately the earthquake and tsunami in Japan that occurred in March of 2011 saw the temporary closure of Tokyo Disneyland until April 15th. Fantasmic however, as it was being staged in Tokyo DisneySea wasn’t able to debut until Tokyo DisneySea was able to reopen on April 28th.
This iteration of Fantasmic features a new track by Don Harper entitled “Imagination”. Both this new track and Bruce Healey’s original re-orchestrated score were re-recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Abbey Road Studio in London.
Tokyo DisneySea, being a park centered around a volcano and waterways, doesn’t have a stage area to serve as the venue for Fantasmic, so this version uses several barge units on which to stage this show in the middle of the Mediterranean Harbor waterway.
In 2016 Disney announced that several Disneyland attractions would be temporarily shutting down in order to accommodate adjustments to the Rivers of America to make way for the new Star Wars land. The company also announced that when Fantasmic returned it would be coming back with some new magic.
On July 17th, 2017 Fantasmic made its return to Disneyland.
the new soundtrack has been updated and re-orchestrated and also includes new scenes from now classic Disney films The Lion King, Aladdin, and the Little Mermaid, as well as newer properties like Pirates of the Caribbean among others.
Pre-show Music music
It takes a while to fill up the 10,000 seats at the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater so leading up to the performance Disney entertains with some pre-show music to get us in the mood. The set list for the florida version of Fantasmic is sourced heavily from a few albums but mostly two: mouse house dance mixes and La Vida Mickey.
More recently that area music loop has been replaced with a dj/radio show theme that plays current pop music tracks like Shake it Off by Taylor Swift, Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus, and occasionally throws in some actual Disney tracks like Love is an Open Door.
But now we jet back over to Tokyo DisneySea for a look at their pre-show music. This is where it gets inventive. The Imagineers for Tokyo DisneySea searched across the globe seeking out music that would enhance the experience and deliver a sense of anticipation of what they were about to experience and they found music that did just the trick by venerable Greek composer and musician, Yanni. The tracks they selected were from Yanni’s 1980s albums and include Paths on Water, Point of Origin, Running Time, and You Only Live Once.
View the episode of EarzUP where this segment appeared! Enjoy!