“When will Fantasmic return?” is a question Walt Disney World vacation planners and fans have been asking for over a year. There’s been a ton of speculation and rumors about the nighttime spectacular coming back to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to help with crowds. (Updated June 14, 2022.)
In fact, there was a point early last year when a heavily-modified Fantasmic was rumored to be the first nighttime spectacular to reopen at Walt Disney World. That was literally a year ago–still in the “era” of physical distancing and more stringent safety protocol–and fizzled out for a few reasons.
The main one was Walt Disney World opting to undertake a fairly significant refurbishment project to the amphitheater and its infrastructure. Well, “opting” might be the wrong word there, as there were also credible rumors that at least some aspects of the project were necessary to repair damage resulting from the nighttime spectacular not running for so long.
In any case, we have updates on that refurbishment project as well as the latest official word from Walt Disney World on the status of Fantasmic and when it’ll return to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. To quickly bring you up to speed, late last year DPEP Chairman Josh D’Amaro announced that Fantasmic! will be returning to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2022.
More recently, Walt Disney World offered another update, narrowing some of the prior “returning in 2022” entertainment timeframes to specific dates. However, all of that news was limited to Magic Kingdom: the daytime parade, cavalcade, dance party, and castle stage show. All of that entertainment has since returned to Magic Kingdom. And yet, still nothing official about Fantasmic as of mid-June 2022.
In addition to the statement that Fantasmic would return in 2022, Walt Disney World revealed more about changes to the nighttime spectacular. Per Disney, when Fantasmic reopens, it will incorporate an all-new sequence featuring live performers, stunts, special effects and more.
Tom Vazzana, Show Director with Walt Disney World Creative Entertainment teased the work his team had been doing on Fantasmic. In a burst of excitement, he said: “This segment will bring hope and joy to your heart in a scene that you are not going to believe. I can’t wait to tell you more about it…but I can’t. So we’ll just move on.” (For those who are unfamiliar with him, Vazzana is generally beloved by fans for his quirkiness, passion, and authenticity.)
We don’t want to read too much into a vague teaser poster, but the inclusion of details from Aladdin, Moana, and Frozen seems deliberate and notable. With that said, it would be odd for a single scene featuring these disparate properties. But it’s probably not a single scene.
The part that’s being replaced is almost certainly the extended Pocahontas scene, which has a runtime of approximately 82 minutes (longer than the movie!). While that’s probably a slight exaggeration, the Pocahontas portion is lengthy—long enough for multiple replacement segments.
The Walt Disney World version of the nighttime spectacular has always felt inferior to Disneyland’s, and one big reason why is the Pocahontas part that drags and dates Florida’s Fantasmic. It would be like if this show debuted in the mid-aughts and still featured a lengthy scene based on Meet the Robinsons (sorry, fans of that—but it’s no classic) despite the promotional window for that film closing long ago.
One of my go-to “dad jokes” is calling the Disney’s Hollywood Studios version Pocahontasmic! I will happily retire that feeble attempt at humor once Fantasmic 2.0 debuts, especially if it means a better version of the show. What would be a really nice surprise is if Vazzana and co. also managed to convince the misers who hold the pursestrings to give us a new dragon.
The significant development for the purposes of Fantasmic’s potential reopening time frame is that the lagoon that surrounds the island stage in the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater has been refilled. This was huge news because the water had been drained since Spring 2020, and this marked the end of the refurbishment. Or so we thought.
Construction permits were filed last spring, with scaffolding going up around the mountain, the Steamboat Willie ship being rebuilt, and even pipes and other back-of-house infrastructure replaced.
The scope was likely more significant than we realize, as all of this has been gleaned from aerial photos. All of this was a multi-month process, lasting for the better part of last year and continuing in early 2022.
The boat being finished (see above) and moat being refilled changes all of that. This is a strong sign that Sorcerer Mickey is about ready to work his magic and invite guests to step into his imagination to see his dreams and nightmares. Again, or so we thought.
Casting began for Fantasmic and the show began preparing for its return. Then something went wrong.
We don’t know what happened, but the water was drained again. Rumors pointed to damaged show tech that was either caused by, or discovered after, the water was refilled. Regardless of the reason, work resumed on the venue for another couple of months.
At that time, we expressed skepticism that Fantasmic would return for the start of summer, calling July 4, 2022 the more likely internal target. We also noted that Fantasmic is incredibly important to crowd distribution at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, so every effort will be made to get it back as soon as possible.
June 14, 2022 Update: Above and below are new aerial photos from this week showing that not only has the water been refilled, but staging has started for the return of Fantasmic.
Trash cans have started to appear in the viewing sections and construction equipment has been mostly moved backstage (with the exception of one boom lift at the front left of the seating area to service show lighting). It looks like Fantasmic is almost ready to return!
Of course, that can only happen as soon as rehearsals finish for the partially reimagined Fantasmic, and we have zero insight into those. When it comes to performer-heavy entertainment, it’s been pretty typical for Walt Disney World to take about 2 months from the time of rehearsals starting to shows returning.
For both Festival of the Lion King and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, the turnaround time was a little over 2 months. I’m not completely confident about when Finding Nemo: The Musical started rehearsals, but I think it took about the same amount of time.
It’s safe to assume Fantasmic’s timeline will be pretty similar. New scenes might complicate or extend this a little, but probably not too much. The fact is, all of these productions have been modified and also have had plenty of new performers. For all intents and purposes, there’s an element of newness to all of them.
Accordingly, it now seems like July 4, 2022 is unrealistically soon for Fantasmic to return. While I want to hold out hope, that would be a more condensed timeline than any other production, and Fantasmic is arguably more major than any of those.
If Fantasmic doesn’t return by Independence Day or a couple of weeks thereafter, it becomes a question of whether Walt Disney World will hold off bringing it back until October 1, 2022 for the start of the new fiscal year. Timing-wise, resuming Fantasmic for the slower off-season months of August and September doesn’t make a ton of sense, so we could see Walt Disney World sitting on it a little longer–unless there’s a desire to pump up attendance a bit during the early fall.
Hopefully we’re wrong and July 4, 2022 is still within the realm of possibilities. If the company can have Fantasmic ready by then, they absolutely will. The month of July is peak tourist time at Walt Disney World, and Fantasmic would be hugely helpful to absorbing crowds, especially as Disney’s Hollywood Studios has issues with attendance distribution throughout the day and problems with people bouncing from DHS to Epcot for Harmonious. The return of Fantasmic would solve all of that. Regardless, we should know for sure really soon, as Walt Disney World will want to make an official announcement with sufficient lead-time to draw some bookings from the news.
What do you think about this prediction for when Fantasmic will return to Walt Disney World? What’s your anticipated or desired date? Think it’ll happen by July 4, 2022? What about Labor Day? Or, will it be delayed longer, until October 1, 2022, Thanksgiving, Christmas…or even 2023? Are you actually disappointed by this, preferring to enjoy relatively uncrowded evenings at DHS? Do you agree or disagree with our predictions? 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!