The date: Friday, June 17, 2016. The hour: Just after 10:30 a.m. Even this early in the morning, the sun radiates on this shiny Florida day. A large crowd—we’re talking huge—is gathered in front of the spires of Cinderella Castle, its masses extended into the Hub and beyond the Partners statue. Many have Starbucks drinks in hand. Most have, at some point, filmed a 360-degree view of the crowd to immediately post to their Snapchat story. Some even proudly wear buttons exclaiming “I’m Celebrating: MRFF!” A small group near the front is donned in purple cast/crew t-shirts. Higher-ups in formal attire can be spotted along the sidelines. Yes, this is an important day here in the Magic Kingdom Park. Something is about to happen in this space for the very first time. At long last, the fluttering sound of a harp succeeded by loud trumpet blasts fill the air; the massive crowd gathered loses its mind with cheers and shouts. “Lords and ladies, princes and princesses: Come one, come all to the Royal Friendship Faire!” And just like that, the world’s most popular theme park welcomes its first new daytime castle show in ten years: Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire.
In the new show, Mickey Mouse and friends prepare for the Friendship Faire, what seems to be an annual occasion of hosting new friends from distant lands in the name of unity through diversity. Here’s what makes the show a classic experience that defines what the very word “Disney” means.
1. It welcomes a new generation of characters to the Disney family.
The expansive library of Disney characters has always cross-pollinated in terms of treating its fictional stars as part of one universe, despite contradictions of locale or even time period. Therefore, we don’t question or even think twice when Tiana, a heroine from 1920s New Orleans, ascends to the stage of a European medieval castle because she was invited by Goofy, a cartoon character who hails from the imaginary Toontown.
It’s fascinating and exciting to see these personalities collide and interact. And this time around, it’s all characters from recent Disney hits rather than time-tested legends. While Mickey and the gang have hosting duties as usual, their guests are from the string of films known as the Disney Revival: The Princess and the Frog (2009), Tangled (2010), and Frozen (2013).
While an initial reaction might be to dismiss the new and wish for the old, there is also intrigue in discovering the merit of this recent resurgence of Disney Animation. For one, the fact that a show can rely entirely on new characters is a relieving testament to the current state of Walt Disney Animation Studios, who for a period before these films’ releases was not doing well. The idea of audiences embracing newer characters enough to merit their own show at a venue as distinguished as Cinderella Castle is impressive and welcome. Tiana’s name isn’t even spoken at her arrival; all we hear is one note of jazz, and yet we immediately know who’s here, and accordingly the crowd becomes aglow with excitement. A note of music is iconic of one character. That’s neat. There is a certain self-awareness on Disney’s part in that it knows these characters are still somewhat new, and that this show may be the first time some audience members have ever seen them, and as such does a smart job at building anticipation for each character reveal.
Furthermore, infusing new faces allows us, as an audience, to see how these recent stars interact with the likes of such established characters as Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy. As important as characters like Cinderella or Belle are, we’ve been down that road before. We know how they intermingle on the castle stage. Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire offers the opportunity to this newer wave of the Disney legacy to officially be welcomed to the family in proper form. Let’s be honest: It’s pretty cool to get to witness Mickey Mouse introducing Minnie to Anna and Elsa. That’s special. And could there ever be a better line than Donald Duck screaming, “Who are you calling a snuggly duckling?” I don’t think there is.
2. There’s now a cohesive, fluid theme for the park’s entertainment.
The narrator for the opening announcement of Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire is the same used for Festival of Fantasy Parade. While this may seem like a small detail, it hints at something much more strategic. By using this same voice, the two productions are immediately linked and contribute to a bigger theme for the park’s entertainment as a whole. There is now something that binds two distinctly separate daytime productions together, much in the same way that Jiminy Cricket hosting both Wishes and SpectroMagic contributed to the theme of the park’s nighttime productions, when the latter was still open. Additionally, the Friendship Faire costumes could be described as earth-toned medieval, similar in tone to the costumes worn by Cast Members in New Fantasyland, further connecting the show to other activities guests will experience throughout their day. Small details like this go a long way in connecting the park together.
3. Daisy Duck.
Despite being featured prominently in Disney cartoon shorts and other media since 1937, the theme parks have oddly never really put the spotlight on Daisy Duck. She only just received consistent character greeting status within the last decade or so, and was only just added to a parade with Festival of Fantasy‘s 2014 debut. Including Daisy as part of the proceedings of Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire is a long time coming, and adds something fresh to the traditional “Fab Four” group of Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald. In contrast to Minnie’s reserved, put-together sweetness, Daisy is put together but in an entirely different way. Her shade knows no end, and she has no shame in straight-up laying down the hammer on Donald when he’s acting up. Welcome, Daisy. Welcome.
4. The show is enjoyed by all, but for millennials, it’s gold.
A large margin of the biggest fans of Magic Kingdom entertainment is the Instagram community, an eclectic group of millennials who can use something like a castle show as a springboard for creative inspiration, a gathering place of friends old and new, and an anchor of a day well spent in the park. Perhaps sprinkled between an itinerary of Festival of Fantasy and Hoedown Happening, Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire presents the complement needed for a full, photogenic afternoon. What’s more, it’s not just the existence of the show that acts as a fitting beacon, it’s the content. The age of this generation group and the proximity of the spotlighted films’ theatrical releases is perfect. The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and Frozen are all established enough to be considered Disney classics at this point (therefore meriting there presence in a castle show), yet are also recent enough that millennials remember experiencing these movies for the first time, something that perhaps can’t be said for older Disney films we simply grew up watching. We can remember when we saw Tangled in theaters and made that connection with Rapunzel and Flynn. We’ve made personal identifications with these characters and their stories, and that makes seeing them in the capacity of something as special as a castle show a euphoric treat.
5. Joy is at the center.
Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire is, in a word, a celebration. From the very beginning of its opening moments, there is a tone of expectancy for what will happen. The characters sing that they are “heroes of stories that have yet to be told,” coming together to celebrate what makes this kingdom unique: all of us. As such, the bulk of the show is spent doing just that—celebrating. But it’s more than just a few dance moves for the sake of a party. It’s an actual commemoration, through elaborate musical numbers and also quiet moments of conversation, of the power of being a unique individual contributing to a whole community. That’s a bit deep for what could be labeled a simple diversion, but the show pulls it off well. This is the first castle show since the ’90s to not be attached to a Disney marketing campaign (yes, really). As such, it doesn’t have an underlying agenda from the get-go and is free to be its own self, which is, incidentally, the prevailing message of the show. We come away from Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire with a special kind of joy.
6. It’s still about the dreams.
The predecessor to Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire was Dream Along with Mickey, which performed for nearly ten years. Dream Along shot itself in the foot by sticking around much longer than typical castle shows, thus forming a large audience strongly attached to it and leading to inevitable comparisons now that its successor has arrived. The most obvious difference is the character selection, with Dream Along employing only characters derived during Walt Disney’s lifetime. This is quite a contrast to the very new feel of Friendship Faire. Both menus have a distinctly Disney taste, just in different flavors. One is not necessarily better than the other; just different, and both definitive of the Disney brand.
Furthermore, the dominant mantra of Dream Along with Mickey was “dreams come true,” with Mickey’s signature concluding line being “Take the dream with you, wherever you may go.” If we are to take things perhaps a little more seriously than they were intended to be and view Royal Friendship Faire as a direct follow-up to Dream Along within its own canon, we still see dreams as the impetus to this celebration. Going even deeper, we can even cite character development, particularly for Donald, in making use of what he learned from Dream Along. In that show, he went from indignant naysayer to enlightened supporter of believing in dreams, and now in Friendship Faire we see him openly sharing his own dreams with everyone. Bringing things a little closer to home, here Donald’s dream of “being one of the fellas” and Daisy’s of “trying new things and making new friends” is admittedly more relatable than the impassioned, yet fantastical, dreams that Minnie and Goofy had in Dream Along of being princesses and pirates. Here, we see practical application of that longstanding “dreams come true” symbolism that Disney has always embodied in a way that makes us reconsider what that means and how it can apply to an adult reality rather than just a childhood fantasy.
- Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire is performed six times daily. Check a Times Guide or the My Disney Experience app for specific showtimes.
- The viewing area is standing only with no shade. It’s a good idea to have some ice water onhand (conveniently available for free at the nearby Main Street Bakery Starbucks or Casey’s Corner).
- After you’ve seen the show once, try watching from a different angle on one of the side paths to Fantasyland, near Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square on the west bridge or near Cinderella’s wishing well on the right bridge. Characters will often wave right at you.
- If you’re looking for an enthusiastic audience, the show performed during the [2:00] and [4:00] hours are the loudest, probably because of their proximity to the [3:00] parade that the same people have come out to see.
What are you most excited about in Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire?
(Images belong to author’s personal collection.)
Blake graduated Appalachian State University studying Electronic Media Production/Broadcasting and Film. He is currently a participant of the Disney College Program. Blake’s favorite attraction is the hub grass. You can find him on Twitter @blake_242 or at BlakeOnline.com.