Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ride Review - Fantasmic

We'll close things out this weekend the way Hollywood Studios closes out every day (well...a couple days a week.) It's Fantasmic and it might be the best thing at Walt Disney World...oops, I spoiled the ending.

Intro: Introduced in Disneyland on the Rivers of America, Fantasmic was quickly duplicated at the Studios in Florida. For the show, they built an amphitheater and a lot of seating to accommodate crowds for the popular show. To get into the theatre you have quite a walk ahead of you. The official entrance is on Sunset Blvd. near the Beauty and the Beast show, from there, in what doubles as a queue, is a very long sidewalk leading to the theatre that is more or less in the parking lot.

Preshow: There is no real preshow, but they play music and offer concessions for those who arrive early, as is often necessary. Often times the crowd will amuse themselves with random cheering sections, beach balls, and the wave. When they make announcements leading up to the start of the show (Fantasmic will begin in 15 minutes, etc) the crowd tends to go berserk. It may sound stupid here, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the mob mentality.

Show: The lights go out and a recorded announcement fills us in on what is about to occur. The entire show, she tells us, takes place in Mickey Mouse’s dream. However, this dream will turn into a nightmare and we will be witness to the powers of good and evil doing battle in Mickey’s imagination. This all sounds weird enough and in a moment the music reaches a crescendo and out runs everyone’s favorite rodent! Mickey has the power to make fountains appear on the lake in tune with the music. This IS his dream, see. There is lots of color on these fountains as Mickey dances to the music in front of a fake mountain range. I have no clue why there is a mountain range, but there it is. In a really cool effect the fountains turn into one solid stream of water where they start to project video clips of Sorcerer Mickey’s scenes from Fantasia. The fountains turn to waves in sync with waves appearing on the projection, nice touch. The music touches on the mystery and magic of our imagination, thus we can tell it will be a recurring theme tonight with both the announcer and the music mentioning it.

Then some weird jungle music plays and for no apparent reason an elephant appears on stage with some other jungle creatures like ostriches, alligators, and some giraffes. Then monkeys float by on a boat (??) and the music turns to the opening chords of “I Just Cant Wait To Be King” from the Lion King. The fountains come back and play clips from the same scene in Lion King and then the music keeps transforming from classic song to classic song as the fountain screen plays clips from the same movies as the songs that are playing. The clips appear in bubbles, something else that seems weird until you actually see it. Sampling of the movies featured: Lion King, Jungle Book, Dumbo, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Fantasia, Hercules, Pinocchio, Aladdin, Mulan, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, Bambi, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, various shorts, and probably a bunch of movies that I missed as well (Peter Pan? 101 Dalmatians? Toy Story? Rescuers?)

Jiminy Cricket shows up in a bubble and the music stops. For no good reason, Monstro shows up. I guess Mickey’s dream is moving from nostalgia to bizarre nightmareishness. Somehow or another Mickey ends up in the darn whale. And then in the most bizarre and random moment ever, Governor Ratcliffe shows up (in live action) to claim the fake mountain range in the name of King George III. I’m not kidding, the animation comes to a dead halt (with Mickey in the whale, mind you) so that the British could claim a big fake rock. Then as quickly and randomly as they appear, everything goes dark and some Indians row in on canoes. I think they just built this lake as a dumb excuse to utilize boats in the show. Then the British return to dig for gold. It should also be noted that they seem to have chopped down about 30 trees that were never there in the first place. This back and forth stuff goes on for a little bit building to the inevitable fight scene. For no good reason they just start attacking each other. At least in the movie there was a reason. People start climbing the big fake rock and then someone actually gets thrown off! The immature 14 year old in me was marking out for that one. Just for laughs, Pocahontas consults Grandmother Willow for her take on the whole situation. I have an oak tree in my backyard that thinks its kind of contrived, but then again I have a tangerine in my kitchen that thinks Crystal Pepsi was a good idea, so who knows what plants are thinking these days. So, as randomly and pointlessly as this segment began, it ends with Pocahontas singing something and we go to black for a moment. Then, on nicely colored barges (think floating Spectromagic floats…that’s unfortunately worded) come three Disney princesses (Snow White, Ariel, and Belle) all dancing with their princes. Well, Ariel is a mermaid here so she is more or less just sitting with Eric while he walks around there looking goofy, but the other two are dancing. The music fades in and out of “Beauty and the Beast” first, and then “Part of Your World,” ending in a crescendo with “Someday My Prince Will Come,” in a moment that gives me goose bumps every time I see it. The colored fountains from the beginning return for a nice backdrop to the little scene.

Then, like everything in this show, it quickly turns to something totally different. Snow White’s Wicked Queen appears, presumably ticked about Snow getting a barge. More consulting of inanimate objects, as the Queen looks to the mirror for guidance on matters of being evil and the like. The mirror, obviously unaware that it is made of easily smashable glass tells the queen that in Mickey’s dream beauty and love will prevail. I wish that in my dreams, people would actually acknowledge that it was my dream, that way I could do all sorts of weird stuff and assume that I will be waking up soon anyway. Back to the show, as the Queen casts a spell to call together all the forces of evil. Those same awesome fountain screens return, only this time instead of all the good characters from the movies it features the villains (see that folks, its continuity, they did not just randomly figure out a way to get them in there, like a fight on a mountain, they called back to earlier in the show by using the fountain). The Queen, it seems, wants to wreck Mickey’s little dream of princesses and musical numbers (and the prerequisite colonist/Indian fight). Ursula is down with the plan, Cruella takes it one step farther and wants Mickey’s spirit, Scar just offers some general encouragement (we know he’s mean to mice anyway), Frollo has positively nothing of value to say, and Jafar one-ups them all and gets the next scene in the cave of wonders. Jafar then utters his snakelike line from the movie and MORPHS INTO A GIANT SNAKE. Yes, a big giant GLOWING mechanical snake comes on stage to attack Mickey. For such great family entertainment there sure have been a lot of people taking to fighting with little to no provocation whatsoever. Mickey stumbles across a magic lamp, however, and rubs it. But this does not work; it just makes Jafar MORE powerful. Hades shows up to kvetch about Mickey’s general personality and then bring about his friend from Bald Mountain. Yes, Chernabog from Fantasia! See, more continuity as Chernabog was the spirit of darkness and he would be in the netherworld with Hades. Sadly this is just an excuse for splashing in the lake in sync with the waves in the movie playing. Then out of nowhere comes Maleficent and she TURNS INTO A DRAGON! How awesome! The Queen finds this idea of “imagination” to be hilarious and just laughs in an evil manner, right in Mickey’s face and all the villains from the rest of the show (except Ratcliffe, because his inclusion was stupid) take turns laughing at Mickey too. I would have given anything for Gaston to be part of this whole show, just on the off chance that maybe he would say something like “Minnie is mine!” It should also be noted that for anyone who happens to be annoyed by Mickey, for whatever reason, this part of the show is great because watching Mickey run around scared out of his wits is downright unheard of elseware in Disneyana. This is not Mickey getting chased around by a lion in a short or something; this is all the greatest Disney villains TRYING TO KILL HIM. Now, if you like Mickey or are with a small child, this is all downright terrifying. I’m serious; it’s got loud sounds, explosions, and evil laughter galore. Then the darn dragon LIGHTS THE LAKE ON FIRE!

Mickey finally has enough of all the evil in his dream and sets off the fountains, then grabs a sword and points it in Maleficent’s general direction. I guess this act of semi-aggression is enough to get rid of the villains as they all scream in terror and die on screen. Yeah, some of them are electrocuted; others just fall to their doom. Tinkerbell then shows up and the music gets happy again with the song from the beginning and out comes a giant steamship, captained by Steamboat Willie himself, in a nice little touch. A whole ton of characters ride along. At quick glance I spot Minnie, Chip, Dale, Pluto, Goofy, Beast, Belle, Ariel, Eric, Pinocchio, Gepetto, Snow White, some dwarfs, Mary Poppins, Pocahontas, Quasimodo, Brer Fox and Brer Bear (huh?), Aladdin, and Jasmine. Fountains and fireworks go off to familiar singing about imagination.

Sorcerer Mickey is back to light off some fireworks and fountains, then regular old Mickey returns to the stage to set off one last firework and leave us with his parting words: “Some imagination, hah?”

Postshow: A mass exodus to some busses, or if the park is not closed yet, smart guests will stay in their seats for a half hour, stroll outside for an ice cream and then head back to the hotel.

Thoughts: Well, this show is thoroughly awesome. Sure, it has some faults, like random pointless Indian fights and the general fact that it will scare the bejezzus out of anyone under age eight. But the random cuts and strung together scenes early on can be forgiven for the storyline of it being Mickey’s dream. I mean, what dream makes sense anyway? But from the Wicked Queen’s appearance onward, this show is fifteen kinds of awesome and an absolute must see. What really makes it work is that Mickey does not stare in the face of danger being all brave, he is scared to death of these villains and at multiple times says things like “OH NOOOO!!!” So then, when he really does get the courage to stand up to Maleficent, it means something, plus it gets across its message of standing up for yourself and facing your fears. It tells kids that it’s not bad to be afraid; Mickey spends the whole show afraid, as long as eventually you can face your fears. The effects are great and the fountain screen is something to see, plus the burning lake is a great effect (would be better if they did not explain how they did it in another part of the park) and the princess scene is pure Disney beauty. Plus, like any Disney story, good prevails over evil in the end. You have to see this show, it’s an absolute must see and a surefire Disney classic.

Note: Rumor has it that the Pocahontas scene is on the way out in favor of a Peter Pan scene. It still won’t make sense, but at least Hook is a better foe than Ratcliffe, and also, Peter won’t be conversing with any vegetation…I hope.

Overall Rating: *****

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