Disneyland has officially paused Fantasmic until at least Labor Day to fix damage from a fire that destroyed the Murphy Audio Animatronics dragon. This post covers the latest news, plus a possible reimagining and replacement entertainment for the California summer tourist season.
For starters, Disneyland released a new statement: “Our goal is to always deliver the best possible show for our guests. With that in mind, we’ve made the difficult decision to put Fantasmic! on hiatus through at least Labor Day. Teams are actively exploring alternate entertainment offerings for guests this summer and we look forward to sharing more soon.”
Disneyland also shared the impact on Cast Members, reiterating that no one–guest or employee–was injured during the incident last month. They also stated that all impacted Cast Members, including performers and supporting roles would be reassigned to other locations around the resort while Fantasmic is being repaired.
First of all, it’s important to stress that Fantasmic returning after summer is entirely tentative at this point. Fantasmic could return even later than that–it all depends upon how quickly interim replacements for the damaged showpieces can be prepared. Judging by the nature and extent of the fire damage, it’s likely that the Murphy Audio Animatronics figure of Maleficent will be missing for far longer, and will not return by Labor Day.
At the very least, the Maleficent dragon scene is likely going to be presented in b-mode when Fantasmic does return. Whether that ends up being a mist screen (likely at first) or a “dragon on a stick” (possible within a few weeks) remains to be seen. Do not expect to see the Murphy AA anytime soon–possibly not again until 2024 and maybe not at all.
Frankly, we’re skeptical of a Labor Day return for Fantasmic given what else Disneyland has announced. It seems like this is more a signal that Fantasmic will not be performed this summer than it is confirmation of when the show will return.
This is because Disneyland also indicated that Disney’s creative entertainment team is using Fantasmic’s downtime to evaluate the nighttime spectacular and “explore opportunities to add new magic and touches” for guests to enjoy.
Disneyland’s tease of a reimagined Fantasmic is unsurprising. We figured that if the show had to remain dark for multiple months or if Disneyland had to invest tens of millions of dollars to rebuild the Murphy Dragon AA, they’d go a step further and introduce a reimagined version of the show.
For one, it’s not exactly marketable to say, “we built the dragon that we accidentally burned down–locals, come check out the thing you’ve already seen many times!” By contrast, a reimagined Fantasmic with new scenes or other enhancements does give Disneyland something to promote and it will draw locals and Disneyland diehards. They could do a whole promotional campaign with merchandise, special menus, popcorn buckets, sipper cups–basically pull a page from the Main Street Electrical parade playbook.
For another thing, Disney literally just reimagined the Walt Disney World version of Fantasmic, and did so with great success and an incredibly positive guest reception. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the recently-returned Fantasmic features an all-new sequence that brings to life heroic moments from Disney stories such as Moana, Mulan, Aladdin, Frozen 2, and Pocahontas.
Through this extended sequence, the audience goes on a journey with heroes, watching as they find the strength within themselves to push through in a truly spectacular way. The new heroes part features a high-energy Aladdin chase stunt session, a powerful scene with Elsa set to the song “Show Yourself” that is sure to thaw the most frozen of hearts, and stirring moments with Pocahontas, Moana, and Mulan.
Prior to this, one of my go-to dad jokes was calling the Disney’s Hollywood Studios version Pocahontasmic! We seldom watched Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios–I could count the number of times we had seen the show in the last 5 years on one hand. And none of that was by choice, it was all to test touring strategy. Suffice to say, we were not fans. Our view on Fantasmic was that it was pointless to watch the Walt Disney World version when we could see the far superior Disneyland incarnation. That was before.
In the months since its return, I’ve seen Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios roughly 10 times. Sure, part of that is for the sake of strategy tests, but I’ve enjoyed it every single time. On more than one occasion, I’ve watched twice in one night. We now make a point of ending every day at DHS by seeing Fantasmic, even if that means choosing the nighttime spectacular over a last-minute ride on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
The Walt Disney World and Disneyland versions have very different strengths and weaknesses, and are almost incomparable as a result, but frankly, I’d rather watch the Walt Disney World one at this point. The new heroic moments sequence is so good and the whole process of seeing the show in the amphitheater is so much easier (I love the way Disneyland’s Fantasmic has a more ‘organic’ viewing area, but it can be a hassle to see), that I’d give the edge to the Walt Disney World show from a combined quality and practicality perspective.
Judging the shows on their respective merits alone, it’s a more difficult decision. Disneyland’s Fantasmic probably still gets the edge. Or did, until Murphy the Dragon burned down. But the point is that this was never a close call before–Fantasmic at Disneyland trounced its Florida counterpart. The point is that the new scene has bridged the gap in a big way, and it’s likely that Disneyland wants some of that to once again give it the more pronounced edge. It’s also likely that the company wants to promote its newer characters from Frozen, Moana, and other movies.
The heroic moments medley was designed for Walt Disney World, and could not easily be introduced at Disneyland without significant modifications to account for the differing presentations of Fantasmic. It’s likely that the Aladdin chase sequence would be cut entirely, which makes sense given that Disneyland’s Fantasmic already has its own unique magic carpet scene.
Without spoiling anything, it’s also probable that the Moana part would need to be modified for Disneyland. The other segments would need to be tweaked, but could largely be plugged into the existing Fantasmic without being totally reworked. It’s also possible Disneyland would want its own, unique additions that differentiated it from (and made it superior to) the Walt Disney World version.
One obvious change would be a fully-fledged Encanto scene. Based on the announcement for the Florida version and the development timeline, it’s likely that they just missed out on the popularity of Encanto. Coming a little later, it seems possible that Disneyland would remedy that.
Regardless of what enhancements are made, having this all done by Labor Day strikes us as an exceedingly aggressive timeline. If the Audio Animatronics Murphy the Dragon is being rebuilt and any amount of new sequences are being introduced, we’d expect Fantasmic to be dark until at least early 2024. Even that might be overly ambitious.
However, it’s possible the plan isn’t to launch Fantasmic 3.0 by Labor Day. Disneyland has previously suggested that an ‘alternative version’ of Fantasmic could be produced while the full show is reevaluated and repaired. Now, they’re indicating that production has been put on hiatus in order to prepare a high quality version. That could still mean an interim version of Fantasmic around Labor Day, and the reimagined Fantasmic in 2024.
In fact, that’s our bet. Honestly, it’s also what we hope happens. Not having Fantasmic for the summer is unfortunate, but things happen. It’s better to take the necessary time and prepare a high quality production than rush back with a dragon on a stick and a show that’s a shadow of its former self.
As for the reimagining, there’s only so much that could be done between now and Labor Day. Once the new segments are developed or adapted for Disneyland (that takes time!), they would require several weeks (if not a month-plus) of choreographing and training, none of which can be done while the fire damage is being repaired. The best case seems like an interim Fantasmic by Labor Day, with entertainment continuing to work after-hours on the reimagined version until 2024.
In the meantime, Disneyland also announced that “alternative entertainment experiences are being explored for the summer.”
As for what this means, well…the obvious and immediate conclusion that any Disneyland fan will draw is Main Street Electrical Parade. The McRib of Disney entertainment seems destined to make its 376th farewell run this summer, coming out for “one final appearance” for a limited time run. (In actuality, I doubt Disneyland would call this a farewell run–given how often it has been trotted out in the last several years, that tagline has lost all impact/meaning.)
An obvious alternative to Main Street Electrical Parade that would get fans excited is Paint the Night. That parade has been absent for a few years now, after receiving a new Incredibles float for the Pixar Fest. After the roughly 5 year absence, Disneyland fans would be ecstatic to see this parade–which is still being stored in Southern California.
However, it’s our understanding that Paint the Night needs a number of repairs and modifications that make its return for this summer “prohibitive.” Even prior to this, we had heard rumors of Paint the Night returning sometime in 2024. Hopefully, that’s actually the plan.
As for Main Street Electrical Parade, I’ll admit to enjoying it last year during its 50th Anniversary run. Seeing the parade again was heartwarming and felt like a return to normalcy. The new finale is cute and the whole thing came at a time when nostalgia and sentimentality really hit the spot. I won’t be upset if MSEP makes yet another return.
I also won’t be the least bit excited. If MSEP returns for Summer 2023, it’ll be out of necessity–a way to fill an entertainment void and give summer tourists (who have mostly never seen it) another option. It’s too soon to move the needle for locals and Disneyland diehards; we all just saw it, buying our Elliot sippers and Spirit Jerseys last summer. Given the anticipated summer tourism slowdown, Disneyland might be well-advised to do something different.
My hope is that they quickly throw together a unique summer offering. Perhaps something in the style of Jungle Book: Alive with Magic or Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom.
Obviously, there would have to be differences, but the key point is that Disneyland has access to a lot of things that made up the heart of those shows: live entertainers and floats from Fantasmic. Mix that with some new music (or something recycled from Walt Disney World or one of the international parks that few Disneyland fans have heard) and boom, “new” summer show presented on the Rivers of America that fans would flock to see.
Put a jazz band on the Mark Twain and do nighttime cruises. Deck out the Sailing Ship Columbia as the Flying Dutchman and do eerie evening voyages. I have no shortage of bad ideas, I’m just spitballing here.
Frankly, I don’t care if these are complete flops–just think outside the box and do something fresh. It’s only one summer season, and the worst case scenario is a short-lived piece of entertainment that develops a cult following but misses the mark for mainstream audiences, and gets its own Defunctland episode a few years from now.
Best case is that Disneyland produces something really fun and weird on a tight timeline without the normal guardrails restricting creativity, and it becomes so beloved that they’re “forced” to find a way to keep it around in 2024. Anything is better than constantly bringing back MSEP, which feels like the theme park equivalent of all these lazy live action movie remakes.
Ultimately, Disneyland will probably opt for the tried and true with Main Street Electrical Parade, which is predictably crowd pleasing. There’s minimal downside to that, but also, only so much upside after they just trotted it out last year. We just want to see something unique and original this summer season. Admittedly, there’s far more downside–it could be a total trainwreck–but also far more upside.
Whatever the summer entertainment does end up being, don’t expect it until about a month from now (late June 2023). Everything with entertainment takes time, from developing the productions to casting and training. Even next month would be a very aggressive timeline when considering staffing constraints and turnaround times in the past for bringing back MSEP (announcement time to debut date).
It’s safe to expect a non-permanent version of Fantasmic to debut around Labor Day, followed by a reimagined nighttime spectacular in 2024. In our view, that’s the best case scenario, as the return of a ‘permanent’ Fantasmic around Labor Day necessarily means something less ambitious. Regardless, it should be fun to watch this saga continue to play out–hopefully Disneyland will make lemonade out of lemons!
What are your thoughts on Fantasmic being dark until at least Labor Day? Hope that it returns then in permanent form, or that Disneyland takes more time to give it a more ambitious reimagining or enhancements? Thoughts on entertainment additions in the meantime for Summer 2023? Do you agree or disagree with our perspective? 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!