After months, the walls around Sleeping Beauty Castle have come down and the icon has emerged from behind construction scrims, revealing a new color scheme of blue and pink with a bit of pixie dust. In this post, I’ll share my photos of the new-look Sleeping Beauty Castle and offer thoughts on the final results in Flip or Flop: Disneyland.
Since 1955, Disneyland’s castle has been repainted many times, but generally with just minor color variations. If you compare photos from decades ago to last year, you’ll notice it progressively become more colorful, with blues and beiges giving way to pinks. Over time, it had transitioned from a cool to warm color palette.
Imagineer Kim Irvine headed the Sleeping Beauty Castle refurbishment project, and she recently had a fascinating interview with the Los Angeles Times. From that, we learned that this was Irvine’s sixth castle refurbishment, and the most important. Irvine chose to emphasize richer pinks and deeper blues to honor Herb Ryman’s original designs, while also realizing John Hench’s intention to “fix that color scheme” to make Sleeping Beauty Castle more “colorful and bright.” Her goal was to push the color and make it more fantastical without being too cartoony.
The latest update of Sleeping Beauty Castle comes after extensive damage was done to the roof structure of the castle by the 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration overlays, and also as part of the Project Stardust place-making and crowd-flow improvements.
Work exceeded the scope of what was “necessary” to repair overdue damage to Sleeping Beauty Castle, but with the goal of sprucing up Disneyland ahead of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it’s fitting that the castle would receive a fresh look. The end result is more of a re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty Castle than a simple refurbishment and fresh coat of paint.
For me, the most noteworthy changes are to the color of the stonework, which is more varied and overall has a cooler appearance. Additionally, the turrets atop Sleeping Beauty Castle now use a deeper cobalt blue and definitely pop more. The classic diamond pattern flanking each side offsets these bright colors.
Topping the towers are eye-catching gold spires, along with gold accentuation elsewhere. The roof’s shingles have been individually painted with weather-resistant coatings and some luster to highlight the color. The facade has been repainted a lighter shade of pink that is, again, not as warm as the previous scheme.
While unnoticeable with the naked eye from a distance, there’s also pixie dust painted directly onto the center blue roof that is very visible from the Central Plaza. This is easily the most controversial of the changes, and is one Irvine had to have seen coming.
While down for the structural repairs, Imagineers experimented with new colors to increase Sleeping Beauty Castle’s perception of height. The shades of pink and blue progressively lighten as your gaze goes up the castle. The idea here is to achieve forced perspective via color, which is something we saw with the Cadillac Mountain Range in Cars Land.
Among fans, this has already been a polarizing update. I have strong opinions on all things Disney, even seemingly insignificant matters, but to be entirely honest with you, my feelings here aren’t especially vehement. To the contrary, there are aspects I like and dislike, and I can understand why the re-imagining has its fans and critics.
I’ll preface this by saying I don’t have degrees in color theory, architecture, design, art, or literally anything that would qualify me to have an informed perspective on this. My opinion is no less or more valid than yours, or any of the thousands of voices online who are strongly for or against the re-imagined Sleeping Beauty Castle. So take all of this for what it’s worth.
Personally, what I like most about the new-look Sleeping Beauty Castle is the increased depth and detail. The repainted lower-level stones draw attention to their texture, and my gaze is naturally drawn upwards from there to the rest of the castle. Other details that were previously easy to overlook have been accentuated with fresh coats of paint, and the end result for me is something more regal.
For me, this is a testament to the overall success of the new color scheme. Sleeping Beauty Castle as a “toy castle” has been the butt of jokes by Walt Disney World fans for years, but now it looks more substantial, and significant. This isn’t about forced perspective, it’s more about the castle having more details highlighted and its textures enhanced. For me, Sleeping Beauty Castle now has a sense of vigor that I found wanting in the warm pinks and blue hues.
In fairness, one of the harshest criticisms of Sleeping Beauty Castle tracks closely with my praise: that it’s unharmonious, has too much going on, or is “dialed up to 11” color-wise. The argument is that this is becoming a common trend among Disney projects like Pixar Pier, Toy Story Land, and Hong Kong Disneyland’s castle. There’s little denying that all three of those projects are visually busy at best, downright garish at worst, and striving to be “Instagramable.”
The Sleeping Beauty Castle redesign is a different story. It is using more and richer colors, and maybe the goal is to make the park’s icon more photogenic. However, it’s not as if colors that clash with its surroundings in Fantasyland are being used, or it’s being “enhanced” to appeal to trendy, ostentatious tastes. At most, the whimsical nature of the castle is being emphasized over the medieval nature.
Moreover, if we’re talking about Disney “trends,” it’s far more common for recent projects to use a gritty, muted, or subdued color scheme than a vibrant one. Look no further than literally every single hotel or restaurant redesign, along with the natural worlds of Galaxy’s Edge, Pandora, and Cars Land. That’s not criticism–I don’t think Imagineering is skewing too much in either direction in the theme parks. It’s simply to illustrate that both approaches are being used where appropriate.
I wouldn’t disagree that there’s a lot going on with Sleeping Beauty Castle, and perhaps too many details have been emphasized. (If anything, this criticism is most valid on the backside, where your eye bounces all over the place.) For the most part, I view exaggerating the castle’s minutiae as a net positive.
Additionally, and this is a matter of perspective, but I do not think Sleeping Beauty Castle needs to act as a transition from Main Street to Fantasyland. Logically, a castle makes no sense there and never will. We accept it because it’s a perfect anomaly in Disneyland’s meticulously themed design.
An exception to the rule that just works, and something that has always been and will always be. For me, Sleeping Beauty Castle is a punctuation mark; the pièce de résistance of Disneyland that should announce to guests they are entering the world of Fantasy when they walk under it.
With all of that said, it’s not perfect. One thing I don’t like about the new look is the finish on the roof. Under the “right” amount of sunlight, this produces a soft glow that really makes the castle pop. However, under intense midday California sun, these produce harsh glare that illuminates the roof and makes it appear as if what’s supposed to be wood shingles is actually a metallic surface. For me, that undermines the quaint vibe of Sleeping Beauty Castle.
I also don’t like the pixie dust sparkles that have been painted on the center of the roof. That strikes me as beating the guest over the head with the sense of whimsy that the design should naturally evoke. Everything from the core design to the new paint scheme reinforces the fantastical notion of Sleeping Beauty Castle. No one is going to confuse it for a real medieval fortification from centuries ago, around which Disneyland was built.
Same goes for the attempts at forced perspective. Pointing out their uses of forced perspective seems like one of Imagineering’s trademark things, sort of like HGTV and open concept. It doesn’t work, and just looks like a bunch of shades of pink were used for no discernible reason. No amount of forced perspective painting is going to make Sleeping Beauty Castle appear tall–you’re not going to step foot on Main Street and say, “whoa, it’s as big as Cinderella Castle now!” Quaint and charming are Sleeping Beauty Castle’s strengths, and Imagineers should lean into that rather than trying to make the impossible happen.
Overall, though, you can count me as a fan of Sleeping Beauty Castle’s re-imagined look. It’s not perfect, but I don’t let that be the enemy of good. Even if I had complete creative control over the castle redesign, I probably wouldn’t be totally satisfied with the end result (and not just because I haven’t the slightest idea how to repaint a castle).
As with most things, Sleeping Beauty Castle does look better in person when viewed with the naked eye, rather than while poring over super-zoom photos on the internet. Even if you don’t like what you’re seeing here or via social media, its appearance might grow on you once you’re in the park. Or not. On the plus side for everyone, nothing is permanent when it comes to Sleeping Beauty Castle, and Disneyland’s 75th Anniversary is just around the corner. 😉
What do you think of the new-look Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Any particular details you strongly like or dislike? Any questions? 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!