Some of the fondest memories from the Disney theme parks are intrinsically connected to music. The warmth of a ragtime band as we step foot onto Main Street, U.S.A. The flare of the trumpet as the spotlight shines upon Mickey Mouse at the beginning of Fantasmic! The melody of “You Can Fly!” serenading a journey over London during Peter Pan’s Flight. Whether by means of an original composition developed specifically for a park environment or the inclusion of a favorite Disney tune from an age-old classic film, music is at the center of so many special Walt Disney World moments, and Cinderella Castle stage shows are no different.
The tradition of the castle show goes back decades, though it’s hard to pinpoint when exactly it began. Regardless, it was not a staple of the park when Magic Kingdom opened in 1971. There wasn’t even a stage in front of the castle at all. Sometime in the ’80s is the best bet for when stage shows in front of the castle became a regular park feature. Let’s take a trip back in history to remember some of the castle stage shows that served as the soundtracks to infinite vacations.
Theme park entertainment of this nature was not heavily documented prior to the Internet, so a firm premiere date for some of these shows is a bit fuzzy. Regardless, we begin our journey with Every Day’s a Holiday and Disney Mania. The two productions ran simultaneously, with YouTube videos listing them both being recorded as early as 1990. Yes, that’s right… TWO regular daytime castle shows running at the same time! So much fun. They both performed through 2001, a huge length that we’ll later see repeated.
Both shows lacked a true story, instead essentially being song-and-dance revues, Disney Mania involving classic Disney movie moments and Every Day’s a Holiday spotlighting the different holidays celebrated throughout the year. While the latter stayed the same during its 11-year run, the former was continually updated to reflect different Disney films, which it could do effortlessly thanks to its segmented nature. My personal favorite number in either show was Chip, Dale, Pluto, and the Country Bears performing “This Land Is Your Land” to celebrate the 4th of July in Every Day’s a Holiday.
In an extremely cool feature that is hard to imagine being in place today, these early castle shows made use of a live band, who performed the entire show’s music eye-level with guests on the ground in front of the stage. This set the tone for the shows to be decidedly a bit more rock & roll than the style of castle shows we’re used to today, but it was perfect for the time.
By 2001, Disney began to recognize the potential of its princess characters as a brand all their own. This surge in popularity toward the princesses paired with the increase in demand for more characters in the parks was evident in Cinderella’s Surprise Celebration, which ditched the live band and background dancers to instead focus its entire cast on Disney characters. Originally premiering as part of the 100 Years of Magic celebration in October 2001, Cinderella’s Surprise Celebration had energy that was similar in feel to a live Disney show touring the country. That is to say, it treated the arrival of every Disney character as an exciting reveal, as if we’re seeing them for the first time in our vacation. This made the show feel like a real event, and in its own right was so, especially considering the allocation of its entire roster of performers to be characters equating to a who’s who of Disney celebrities, including everyone from Snow White and Mulan to Jafar and Cinderella’s mice.
Musically, Cinderella’s Surprise Celebration featured an original song entitled “A Little Bit of Me” as its opening and finale, as well as a traditional princess song medley and “Ev’rybody’s Got a Laughing Place.” The phonetic highlight of the show was definitely the infusion of instrumental themes such as “Friend Like Me” and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” as each respective hero defeated their villain during the battle sequence.
Next came Cinderellabration, arriving in 2005 in time for The Happiest Celebration on Earth, an 18-month commemoration of 50 years of Disney theme parks. Imported from Tokyo Disneyland, there really wasn’t much to Cinderellabration. The plot surmised that we’d somehow gone back in time to the moment Cinderella was officially crowned a princess, complete with royal dignitaries Snow White, Aurora, Belle, Jasmine, and their princes attending the occasion. The show was largely a ballroom pageant, with some of its soundtrack highlighting its respective princesses’ notable songs, but most of it being devoted to regal orchestration.
The strongest quality of this era of castle shows was presenting Cinderella Castle as the actual home of Cinderella and Prince Charming, Magic Kingdom as a real kingdom over which they rule, and the space in front of the building as a gathering place for Disney friends, particularly Mickey Mouse, to host celebrations whenever they please. There’s a special quality in the fantasy of that, and it makes the park and its characters seem all the more real. This motif of the castle being Cinderella’s real home would later be recalled again for Cinderella’s Holiday Wish, the holiday lighting ceremony performed 2007-2013, which didn’t include any actual songs, but did feature orchestral arrangements of “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” and “White Christmas.” Cinderella played host again in 2016, when the temporary, 6-minute show Elena’s Royal Welcome performed for four months to celebrate the arrival of the title character of Disney Junior’s Elena of Avalor. The ceremony featured a live vocal performance by Elena of her show’s theme song, “This Is My Time,” and featured a small fragment of Dream Along with Mickey‘s score when Cinderella and Prince Charming arrived onstage. Speaking of…
DREAM ALONG WITH MICKEY
The show still mourned over, Dream Along with Mickey debuted in 2006 to commemorate Disney’s Year of a Million Dreams promotion. Many expected its operation to mimic that of its predecessors and be replaced once Year of a Million Dreams concluded and for a new show to coincide with whatever the next marketing campaign was. However, 2009’s What Will You Celebrate? theme was all but completely rolled out and Dream Along with Mickey was still hanging around. And kept hanging around… for a total of 10 years. Perhaps it was the economic recession limiting funding for any new show development, perhaps it was the fact that Disney frankly wasn’t cranking out hit films during this time that were ripe with new characters to use in the parks, or perhaps it was a different reason altogether. Nonetheless, Dream Along with Mickey performed for nearly a complete decade, within that time cementing its status as a Disney classic and a fan favorite. It became attached to many families’ annual Disney vacations as much as a ride on Pirates of the Caribbean or a stroll around World Showcase and that made its departure particularly heartbreaking.
Dream Along with Mickey was actually an adaptation of Mickey’s Gift of Dreams from Tokyo Disneyland, borrowing its songs “Join the Party” and “Find the Dream Inside of You,” as well as much of its interlude score. Recycled or not, though, this introduced the idea of an original interlude score for a castle show not dependent on established Disney songs for the first time in Florida. In Dream Along with Mickey, I believe we saw a shift in an attempt for castle shows to be definitive of the entire Disney vacation experience. Dream Along with Mickey embodied what Walt Disney World means from a philosophical perspective, and maximized its prime location at the epicenter of the property’s most special location to hone in on the feelings and themes that make the Disney brand unique, particularly the idea of dreams coming true.
Featuring only characters created during Walt Disney’s lifetime, when Dream Along with Mickey incorporated the Disney songbook, they were also only from Walt’s time. The only exception is an instrumental of “Hellfire” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame during Maleficent’s arrival, probably explained by the fact that the same sequence in the original Tokyo Disneyland version of the show followed a “Topsy Turvy” sequence that was absent from Dream Along.
Come one, come all
In 2016 came the debut of the first new daytime castle show in a decade, Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire. From a thematic standpoint, the production carries the strengths of Dream Along with Mickey and puts a new flavor to them. The show is again very much an embodiment of the spirit of Disney’s brand, and emphasizes the message of dreams coming true, but does so with newer Disney characters and by deepening that dreams-come-true mantra to focus on self-confidence and unity with others.
As for music, the show features an original theme song, “On This Day,” as well as nearly every song from The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and Frozen, though you may not notice many of them. A lot of the films’ songs are heard throughout the show’s interlude score, subtly but effectively accentuating the action. They ebb and flow seamlessly with original instrumental composition, the highlight of which is definitely the altercation Donald Duck has with the Snuggly Duckling ruffians.
In a first, the finale of Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire rotates with the seasons. Its default most of the year is “With a Smile and a Song” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a rare song inclusion and an appropriate nod to the studio’s beginnings amidst a stage full of very new faces. The holiday version spotlights the Frank Sinatra song “The Christmas Waltz” (it works, I promise). But arguably the most fun and memorable finale is the autumn version, cranking the insanely catchy “Vive le Vie,” a song borrowed from Disneyland Paris‘s Halloween parade. When Daisy proclaims, “Can you feel the autumn breeze now?,” you know it’s about to go down (even if the Orlando temperature is firmly eliciting heatstroke).
Dream Along with Mickey‘s extended stay became its own undoing in prompting perhaps unnecessary comparisons between the two shows, but Friendship Faire uses its own distinct style to imprint the same message as Dream Along, I’d even say on a more practical level. Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire is a celebration of this generation’s Disney, executed with the classic fanfare that has always been and hopefully will always be tradition.
Castle shows aren’t just limited to regular park hours. Magic Kingdom‘s special event parties host their own exclusive castle shows.
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party showcased a show called Villains Mix & Mingle for years. It was mostly a revue of Disney villain songs. It was replaced in 2015 by Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular, superior in every way. Boasting projection mapping, an incredible storyline, and the iconic inclusion of the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus, the show is incredible. Its three music anchors are performances of “Friends On the Other Side” by Dr. Facilier, “Oogie Boogie’s Song” by Oogie Boogie, and the showstopper, “I’ll Put a Spell On You” by Winnifred Sanderson.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party also recently replaced a longstanding signature, Celebrate the Season. In terms of music, it had a fun, original opening song, but then reverted to usual holiday song selections. Its replacement, on the other hand, Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration, which debuted in 2016, seems to break every rule of castle stage show song lore. It’s got your standards, like “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Here Comes Santa Claus,” but it also has a few numbers you’d never expect, like “Text Me Merry Christmas,” “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (performed by Clarabelle Cow, no less), and “It Feels Like Christmas” from The Muppet Christmas Carol. (Right?!)
Take the Dream with You
It’s hard to underscore (wink) the importance of music to the Disney theme park experience. It’s likewise impossible to refute Cinderella Castle and its surrounding area as the most important physical space in all of Walt Disney World. Standing in the shadow of the castle represents the realization of what has probably been months, if not years, of saving money, making preparations, and dreaming of when this moment would arrive. It’s only fitting, then, that that moment be accompanied by melodies nothing short of legendary, by songs as grand as the castle itself.
For more history on castle shows, check out these posts:
- Saying Goodbye to Dream Along with Mickey
- 6 Ways Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire Defines What Disney Means
- Why Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration Had Me Shook
(“Every Day’s a Holiday” and “Tangled” images belong to author’s personal collection. All others © Disney.)
To learn more about Blake and read his recent posts for WDW Radio, visit his author page by clicking the link on his name at the top of this post.