In honor of the 50th Anniversary, Walt Disney World is introducing “Cinderella Castle Mural of Memories,” a virtual souvenir. While at Magic Kingdom, you can use the My Disney Experience app to add select PhotoPass images to the castle using augmented reality technology via Snap.
This sounds like it’ll work similarly to the augmented reality technology that’s already a part of the Genie+ service, except with a few twists. We’ll run through the process as per Walt Disney World’s press release, and then share our own commentary after that.
You’ll start using the Cinderella Castle Mural of Memories by selecting a portrait-oriented PhotoPass image from your photo gallery within the My Disney Experience app. If you prefer not to use one of these photos, you can also choose from Walt Disney World’s collection of stock images featuring Disney icons and favorite characters. (Although that would be an odd decision…what’s the point?)
This Cinderella Castle Mural of Memories product will cost $9.99 and includes:
A spot of your choosing on available sections on Cinderella Castle to digitally pin your photo, which will be waiting for you and other guests to view again and again during visits to Magic Kingdom throughout the World’s Most Magical Celebration and beyond (for at least three years).
A special video of your photo flying from the castle that can be downloaded and shared.
The ability to download a high-resolution version of your pinned photo from your Disney PhotoPass gallery without watermarks (a $16.95 value), both in its original form and an additional version with a special border applied that includes your first name.
If you’re a Cast Member, Annual Passholder, Disney Vacation Club Member, or Club 33 Member, you’ll even receive a personalized border reflecting your affiliation.
While exploring Cinderella Castle Mural of Memories, you can enhance your experience with AT&T 5G in select locations surrounding Cinderella Castle. (I’m assuming this is mentioned in the press release due to Corporate Alliances and AT&T being the “Official Wireless Sponsor” of Walt Disney World, but it also might make AR a little more reliable and less laggy?)
According to Walt Disney World, Cinderella Castle has received a few makeovers over the past 50 years, but this beautiful collection of digital memories is particularly special because it’s created by the happy moments experienced by so many of you. As the celebration continues, the company will be releasing additional sections of the castle onto which you can pin your memories, so check back each visit to Magic Kingdom to see how the mural has grown around your photos.
Walt Disney World also indicates that this is one way the company will be continuing its “next-generation storytelling” and “using innovative new technology to engage guests in our theme parks.” The Cinderella Castle Mural of Memories will join other experiences like Disney PhotoPass Lenses and future additions like MagicBand+ at Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
In terms of commentary, my first thought is that this is a lot like a paid version of the Magic, Memories & You, the first Cinderella Castle projection show from a decade ago. Or a virtual version of Leave a Legacy at Epcot or Walk Around the World in the Magic Kingdom area. Both of those were removed in the last few years, but were popular and beloved with longtime fans before their demise.
This Cinderella Castle Mural of Memories seems like it’s trying to be that, but minus the cost of a physical product. Also unlike a brick or big stone pillar, it’s not visible to everyone entering the park. While I like the idea of not cluttering up Cinderella Castle with photos, I also fail to see the appeal of a virtual version of those offerings. Then again, I’m an old man at heart.
The Cinderella Castle Mural of Memories is also notable from my perspective as it sounds like Walt Disney World’s first foray into both the metaverse and NFTs. That’s a highly imperfect comparison, as this is not even a remotely “pure” version of either. Nevertheless, it is more or less a collectible that exists in the virtual world, so it’s on the spectrum of both. Sooner or later, we were going to have this conversation about Walt Disney World, NFTs, and the metaverse, so it might as well be now.
Personally, I think NFTs are stupid and the metaverse is big tech “trying to make fetch happen.” (Watch me be colossally wrong on both fronts in the coming decade.) If the last couple of years have taught us anything, it should be that the virtual world is no substitute for tactile, real world experiences. The latter is what humans crave, and there’s an inarticulable joy about occupying physical spaces.
I’m going to digress quite a bit here, but all of this is a pointless tangent anyway, so stop reading if you’re not interesting in my off-topic rambling. From my perspective, this enjoyment of physical spaces is innately human.
It probably explains a lot of the nostalgia for the 1980s or 90s, and shows like Stranger Things that are set in old malls. Or even those retro Pizza Hut commercials. The internet has been revolutionary and improved our lives in myriad ways, but there’s something to be said for a simpler time of inviting physical spaces, even if we can’t fully explain the appeal.
More to the point, this is precisely why Walt Disney World resonates so much with people. Calling theme parks a “repudiation” of the virtual world would be inaccurate–they were simply conceived of and mostly built pre-internet. While the intention differs, the end result is similar. For many suburbanites, they’re also the closest approximation of a good city–one with walkable public spaces, efficient transportation, and things to do.
Walt Disney World’s grounding in the real world is probably why games on the Play Disney app (among other things) have largely failed to catch on. It’s also why there has been a backlash to recent additions that fundamentally undermine the physical spaces of the parks and encourage more screen time. (Genie+ would’ve been controversial regardless as paid FastPass, but that’s not the entirety of the current complaints.)
Technology can be leveraged to enhance the physical world, but it also has pitfalls and all too often undermines real life. Too many technology evangelists fundamentally misunderstand human nature, and these voices currently have an outsized role in developing experiences and products. As we’ve written before, the tail should not wag the dog when it comes to tech–especially in themed design.
With regard to the metaverse, specifically, it’s laughable to see retailers like Walmart create virtual versions of their stores for browsing in the metaverse. There’s no demand for this to exist, outside of extreme use cases. (Personally, I enjoy browsing physical stores as a way to get out and do something; I also love online shopping for convenience. A Walmart that you can virtually visit is literally the worst of both worlds, combining the downsides of each, but none of the upsides.)
Disney likely does have a role in whatever the metaverse eventually becomes, but probably not as a virtual substitute for the parks as they currently exist. Whether it be a fun way to revisit extinct attractions or some other novelty, there is potential there. But also, probably not for a mainstream audience.
I also think there’s a future for virtual collectibles, but not as the NFT market presently exists. It’s a speculative bubble, and the most ardent backers of NFTs undoubtedly realize that the only way it’s sustainable is as a quasi-pyramid scheme…which is probably why they won’t shut up about all things NFT. Perpetual hype and new entrants into the market is the only thing keeping it going.
Fortunately, this “Cinderella Castle Mural of Memories” isn’t really either an example of the metaverse or NFTs. At most, it’s Walt Disney World taking a step in that direction, seeing what kind of products or experiences are viable in that general space. More accurately, it’s them getting into the virtual collectibles game.
Personally, I don’t have an issue with virtual collectibles, but I also don’t want them to be a runaway success and supplant physical additions to the actual parks at Walt Disney World. I think we’re a long way from that happening, especially given Disney’s “mixed” history with tech. Still, I’m also concerned that this is the type of folly that could see billions of dollars of investment despite having a limited market and no clear path to ROI. It wouldn’t be the first time Walt Disney World did that with a tech initiative.
What do you think of the Cinderella Castle Mural of Memories? Will you be purchasing this? Think it’s a fun offering that doesn’t need this much analysis, or are you worried that it’s Disney dipping its toes into more virtual products and experiences? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!