Disney’s Castle Projection Shows: The Castle is Alive! …Oh, wait, not anymore

In December of 2011 my family and I were standing in Main Street with our Dole Whip, waiting for Wishes, my favorite fireworks show, to start. Suddenly, we heard an announcement that was not, as we expected, from Jimminy Cricket, but from Disney’s generic Something’s-Gonna-Happen Guy.

“Today, right here, in the Magic Kingdom, thousands of magical memories were made, and you were there…So join us now, as we visit all the fun, all the all the adventure, all the family experiences you made here today as we proudly present: The Magic, the Memories, and You.”

And then the castle started…changing. Tinker Bell flew around the castle…I don’t mean the well-paid acrobat who jumps out the window. An animated Tink circled her castle and lit up the frame and the whole castle “opened” like a curtain, revealing a castle of a different color.  Tink then tapped her wand and the whole thing became a black mass blending in with the night sky, but shrouded in fairy dust. Slowly, ivy snaked around the different turrets of the castle, as pictures appeared on the different surfaces of the castle.



Our jaws dropped. The whole mosh pit that was Main Street in December stood still, entranced by this magic set before us. Sure, a lot of it was boring pictures of people we don’t know, but the way they made the castle change! Trains traveled the perimeter of the windows, bricks flew off and on the castle, the whole thing transformed into a gingerbread house and then (for one terrifying moment) the 25th anniversary birthday cake. The best moment was when the Buzz Lightyear made the top turret appear to zoom out of the castle like a rocket ship. The whole thing culminated in fireworks that started from the bottom of the castle and spiraled outwards to synch perfectly with a real firework coming from behind the castle.

It. was. amazing. The crowd gasped, oohed, and aahed. When it ended, everyone stood paralyzed for a moment before we all broke out in thunderous applause and cheers. That’s Disney’s version of a pre-show? That’s why this place rocks. You can see the “holiday” version of the show I saw below, but the video doesn’t quite capture just how real the whole thing looks when it’s standing in front of you.

So when I went to visit in early January of this year, with different members of my family, I couldn’t stop gushing about this projection show we were about to see. I had read that they changed the show from its original version that I saw, taking out the “photopass” aspect, but I was more than okay with that because, well, I don’t really have any interest in seeing stranger’s vacation photos. So we stand in Main Street, waiting for the pre-Wishes entertainment to start, and I’m expecting to watch my family have the same experience I did last year.

And then…this happened.

It wasn’t bad, it was fairly entertaining. But it didn’t stop my heart and drop my jaw like the previous one did. Some people I’ve talked with attribute this to the new show having “less heart” than the previous one. And I can see that point of view, this show is a pretty generic message of “Hey, watch some Disney characters on our castle!” My aunt called it “Philharmagic without the 3D glasses or storyline.” But the previous show didn’t have a strong storyline, it just had the general sentiment of “Didn’t you have an awesome day?” And that was enough. Although, the previous show would have been strengthened by having a strong story, especially since that’s what Disney does best. But that’s not what made this show so underwhelming.

The problem, I think, is that they just used the castle as a giant projection screen. Well, that’s not very impressive. I can do that with my projector at home. The original show really utilized the architecture of the castle, and made it look like the castle was actually moving and morphing. It looked like real magic. Now the castle just looks like an awkwardly shaped video screen. No “wow” factor whatsoever. The new “Celebrate the Magic”‘s first image uses a full projection image that encompasses the whole castle. So our eyes adjust to seeing it as a screen and not a castle, which completely takes away the illusion that the castle is alive and moving. It does have its fun moments; there is one sequence using “Wreck It Ralph” which is cool, and another where the castle turns into Casey Jr’s circus tent.



They did also pull some of the same tricks from the previous show, like the rocket ship and the moving bricks, but they really didn’t have as big of an impact on me or the audience this time. No one reacted when the rocket ship launched out of the castle this time; last time it was met with applause. I think the presentation of these super cool tricks was mismanaged because they didn’t start out small enough. The show’s high points were buried, unseen in the mess of castle-encompassing shots. There was no room for these effects to breathe and register with its audience.

In “The Magic, the Memories, and You,” they started really small, simple vines and pictures. It was like the castle was a moving, interactive, yet incredibly mischievous picture frame. And that’s where our expectations were. So when the whole thing transforms into a colorful “It’s a small world” replica, it had more impact. And then, before the firework finale, it used the whole castle as a giant projection screen to showcase Walt saying those famous words, “To all who come to this happy place, welcome.” That way it had more impact, and since we were still thinking of the castle as, well, a castle, it was another shock to the senses to transform the whole thing into a video screen for just a moment, before it morphed back into a truly bewitching castle.



Bottom line, Disney needs to go back to the drawing board. I don’t think they should bring back “The Magic, the Memories, and You,” because the photo pass concept was a little lame. But clearly they have something truly groundbreaking here, if they can just tap into it. What if they made an actual story take place on the castle? Might be fun to see an old-style Mickey cartoon with the gang trying to do construction on the castle, and then the castle starts being uncooperative and morphing just when Donald is almost done painting? Goofy could fall and cause a couple of the bricks to fly off, the three could compete for the right color, etc. From what I’ve seen, this would definitely be possible. We could even have Cinderella pop her head out of her window to see what the rumpus is about.

I don’t know, I’ll leave that up to the clearly more intelligent Imagineers. But I really hope they realize that Castle Projection Show 2.0 is a dud. Time for the next generation.

Update: I saw the projection show again recently and they seem to have made some serious improvements to the show. They use a lot less “whole castle” projection images and utilize the architecture more. It’s still not as good as “The Magic, The Memories, and You,” but they’re definitely heading in the right direction. So maybe that breathtaking show isn’t too far away. Also, touring tip, the effects definitely look more impressive when you’re standing farther away.