Free Time: Disney's Small World Creating Big Dreams

Parks' 'Year Of A Million Dreams' Under Way

Tim Lammers, Web Staff Editor

UPDATED: 7:23 am CST March 2, 2007

It's definitely a tall order, but Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida have promised -- and are making -- a million dreams come true.

It's part of the theme parks' "Year of a Million Dreams," a 15-month celebration that began in October.

It involves the random selection of park guests and mail-in entrants to receive anything from a FastPass badges for quicker admittance on any attraction at the parks, to a tour on Disney Cruise Lines, to a tour of all 11 Disney parks around the world, to staying at Mickey Mouse's Penthouse Suite overlooking Disneyland.

And the ultimate fairy tale is up for grabs, too: a night in Cinderella's Castle Suite at Walt Disney World.

During a recent trip the theme park, I was given a rare peek at the suite, housed on the fourth floor of the parks' iconic Cinderella Castle. It only takes one step inside to feel like you've been transported inside a 17th-century fairytale, with modern amenities expertly hidden within to preserve the rooms' magical atmosphere.

Created from scratch by Disney's Imagineers, the suite features, among many things, cut-stone floors, stained-glass windows, two queen-sized canopy beds and mosaic artwork. A painting above the fireplace (which boasts a mini fireworks-type of display when switched on), also has the ability to come to life in the form of television at the click of a button. Most importantly, though, is a special case in the foyer that houses Cinderella's glass slipper.

Plus, being a Castle Suite resident entitles the guests to, well, royal treatment. That includes a spot at Cinderella's Royal Table in the castle for dinner and a turn as grand marshals of a Magic Kingdom parade.

What makes the suite most unique, however, is that only one park guest (and up to five members of their party) is selected to stay in the suite per day, making it the most exclusive castle suite in the world. And while the park has yet to decide how the suite will be utilized once the Year of a Million Dreams is over, one thing is for certain: Even $1 million won't buy you a night in the castle.

"The theory is that it won't be sold for money because it's a 'money can't buy' experience," said Charles Stovall, public relations manager for Walt Disney World. "They might continue with the randomization process or may do some charitable organizations things with it. They haven't decided exactly what to do."

New Attractions

Expanding their already enormous selection of attractions, Walt Disney World's 2007 offerings focus on Walt Disney Film Studios' collaborations with Pixar Studios.

Based on the 2003 blockbuster, the characters from "Finding Nemo" can be found in two new attractions: "Finding Nemo: The Musical" at the Animal Kingdom's Theater in the Wild, and The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot.

Robert Lopez (co-creator of the Broadway smash "Avenue Q") and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (co-creator of the a capella musical "Along the Way") composed the music for the 30-minute stage show, which takes the narrative of the film and adapts it into a Broadway-style musical.

Much like the Animal Kingdom's breathtaking musical revue "Festival of the Lion King," "Finding Nemo" boasts an impressive array of costumes and set pieces, and the vocal performances and puppetry of superior Broadway quality. The show also extends out into the audience, but don't worry, the giant jellyfish won't sting.

The Seas with Nemo & Friends is unique in that it's an underwater attraction that's been upgraded to include the characters from "Finding Nemo." Formerly "The Living Seas," the aquatic inhabitants of the exhibit now have new companions in Nemo, Marlin and Dory, except that the fish from the film appear in their original computer-animated form.

What makes the attraction truly stunning is how the characters appear in the massive saltwater tank that houses real underwater life. Combined with the computer-animated characters, you'd swear that the two worlds really do co-exist.

Kids can even get a chance to interact with the "dude" character from "Nemo," the 150-year-old turtle, Crush, in "Turtle Talk," which employs the same sort of interactive element of an upcoming attraction based on Disney/Pixar's "Monsters, Inc." Called "Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club," it's sure to be -- no pun intended -- a monster attraction.

While the attraction doesn't open until spring, I had the opportunity to sit in with a test preview audience of 400 guests -- and for the lack of better words, there were screams of laughter throughout the theater.

For those not familiar with the "Monsters, Inc." film, monsters come out of children's closets after bedtime to gather screams from the kids in order to generate power for their world. But at the conclusion of the film, it was discovered that children's laughter not screams could generate much more power to keep Monstropolis running.

In The Laugh Floor Comedy Club, located at the Magic Kingdom, audience members step into the world of Monstropolis, where the one-eyed green Monster Mike Wazowski is the club's emcee.

Some of the original characters (and some new ones) appear on a big screen at the front of the theater on a virtual comedy club-like stage. But the difference between the comedy club and the movie is that park guests can actually interact with the characters on-screen. Besides a little chitchat, audience members can text-message their jokes to the monsters, too, and all guests are subject at anytime to become a featured audience member on a smaller screen just to the lefthand side of the main stage.

Since the Comedy Club is essentially an extension of the "Monsters, Inc." film, several Pixar creative heads were integral in the creation of the project at Walt Disney World, said Joe Garlington, vice president for Interactive Projects, Walt Disney Imagineering.

"We've worked very closely with Pixar on this -- everybody from the movie's director, Pete Docter, to John Lasseter, who runs the studio," Garlington said. "We've been through many brainstorming sessions and reviews with them. They're very happy with what we're doing."

Garlington said the material will change throughout time, but don't expect the club to like regular comedy clubs in the real world where comedians riff on current events. You have to remember, we're in the monsters' world now.

"We want you to believe that when you into Tomorrowland and through a monster door into Monstropolis and the theater, which is an energy capture facility," Garlington said. "And while they do come into our world through bedroom doors, they see an odd view of our world. They see it from the point of view of children. They don't understand politics, transportation systems and stuff like that."

Since the project is two years in the making, Garlington is confident that the Laugh Floor Comedy Club will leave audiences in stitches. And while they want the end result to be laughter, the cultivation of these projects is something that Garlington and his fellow imagineers take very seriously.

"Different businesses work on different economics. In the film industry, seven out of 10 films fail, two break even and one makes money," Garlington said. "Parks would never open in that kind of situation. That's why we take the time to do the work until the show works."

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