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The Wondrous and Wonderful Festival of Fantasy

Festival of Fantasy Poster - DisneyHear ye, hear ye! Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the Magic Kingdom! You are warmly invited to join Mickey Mouse and his Fantasyland friends for a magical celebration in the streets. Dreams will come true, hearts will soar, and you will become a part of the magic. For the time has come to take your places and prepare to welcome the wondrous and wonderful Festival of Fantasy!

These words herald across the airwaves of Magic Kingdom Park each afternoon just before 3:00 pm. They prompt anticipation, signal excitement, and mean one thing: the parade is on its way.

A good, old-fashioned parade is a tradition dating back to the very first day of operation for any Disney theme park, July 17, 1955, the opening day of Disneyland. It would become a staple included as part of Magic Kingdom‘s opening celebrations in October 1971. Over the years, different styles of parades have come and gone, from minimalist, intimate marching band processions to energetic street parties to nighttime spectacles to seasonal holiday favorites. Generally, though, when I say “Disney parade,” you think of the extravagant, no-expenses-spared [3:00] signature of the Magic Kingdom bringing to life scenes and characters from Disney’s most treasured animated classics. Of this genre, there have been many iterations, and the current one, Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade, is among the park’s finest.

With parades being steeped in such deep history in the Disney parks, Festival of Fantasy taps into this tradition with expertise. The parade debuted on March 9, 2014, just as the park was about to conclude its multi-year New Fantasyland project. Where story is concerned, few parades have a literal narrative, but all have traces of a theme. For Festival of Fantasy‘s story, New Fantasyland was turned to as a starting point. Steven Davison, Creative Director of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Creative Entertainment, said of the process:

[Walt Disney World] had just opened the new expansion of Fantasyland and we said, “Hey. What would be really great is if the characters exploded out of Fantasyland and said, ‘Come to our new land. Come help us celebrate.'”


Festival of Fantasy - DisneyPaying close attention to the opening monologue, it’s inferred that Mickey Mouse is the person putting on this festival, as it were. With this idea in mind, Davison and his team began to develop the parade. Davison’s Disney resume also includes Disneyland favorites like World of Color and Mickey’s Soundsational Parade, and the same sense of innovation of those productions is evident here in Festival of Fantasy. As far as characters go, the choices here go for iconic rather than rare, a decision that ultimately works well within the context of this particular parade. The energy of the performers matches the energy of elated guests as they spot their all-time favorites coming their way. It’s like Disney took a ranking of most posted-about characters on fanboy Tumblr accounts and plopped them all in one parade. The result is one that leaves everyone anticipating who will come next.

There is a famous story of Disney CEO Bob Iger attending the 2005 opening of Hong Kong Disneyland and watching the parade. He noticed that of all the characters appearing in the parade, the only ones representing films created in the past ten years were the Toy Story gang. As legend has it, this is what initially planted the seed for Iger to move forward with the Disney acquisition of Pixar in January 2006. With this tale in mind, the assumption can be made that Disney parades are a pulse of the state of Disney animation. They are indicative of the company’s successes, both for timeless masterpieces and more recent wins. If a character is given the honor of being in the parade, one can assume Disney values the films in which those characters appear. Likewise, the assumption can be made that the only characters Disney includes in their parades are the ones they are confident of withstanding generations to be part of the Disney legacy long-term. If this is true, then Festival of Fantasy is reassurance in the best way that Disney’s animation department is at the top of its game. Of the thirteen films and franchises represented in Festival of Fantasy, four of those were just introduced to the world in the past six years. Nearly 31%! That’s a far cry from only one new film having the legs to appear alongside the classics. The Princess and the FrogTangledBrave, and Frozen all stand their ground rubbing equal elbows with the likes of Peter Pan and The Little Mermaid. It’s a nice reminder of this special time in Disney history.

Festival of Fantasy Peter Pan - DisneyThe floats carrying these Disney icons are worthy complements to each fantastic film, the scope of which is unlike anything the park has seen and doesn’t use anything recycled from previous Florida parades. The floats’ soaring heights are so tall that they mandated a complete restructuring of Main Street, U.S.A‘s Christmas decorations. (Typically the street is adorned with swooping garland, but if those remained, Festival of Fantasy floats would tear them down as the processions glided through. Instead, 2014 saw the debut of faux candlelit wreaths attached to Main Street storefronts.) Size isn’t the only quality of the floats’ wow factor, though. They are all kinetic, having some form of movement, from giant swinging axes to a conga line of dancing robotic fish. The fire-breathing Maleficent dragon is especially impressive. There is so much to look at, and it’s impossible to soak it all in with just one viewing.

The ongoing movement accentuates the energy of the parade, something different it brings to the table and what will likely become a precedence for future parades. One can’t help but dance along. With all the motion happening everywhere in the foreground, in the background is a nearly perfect soundtrack. It weaves a new theme song as its central, recurring tune that is stylized according to each unit’s film and paired with familiar songs from that movie. Of particular note is the joyous orchestral arrangement of the princess float and the rustic, celebrational feel of the Tangled unit. The choreography of the Lost Boys in the Peter Pan unit was even inspired by Newsies.

Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade takes what had unfortunately become a stale, tired part of the Magic Kingdom entertainment lineup and brings refreshing life back into the esteemed tradition of the [3:00] parade. It is exactly what you want it to be, infusing the characters it knows its guests will go crazy for, and who also symbolize important moments in the story of this magical place as a whole. It is the embodiment of what the Magic Kingdom itself emulates: The belief that, if only for a fleeting moment, fantasy can become real with the help of timeless heroes ready for a transportive experience that will leave you wanting to come back to see it all over again.


Images © Disney.


BlakeBlake studies Electronic Media and Film at Appalachian State University. He enjoys making his family of six watch the parade in Frontierland and then sprint to Main Street in time to see it again. You can find him on Twitter @olddirtyblake or at BlakeOnline.com.