A 4 part series devoted to the many senses of the Magic Kingdom
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Walt Disney? Mickey Mouse? Inventor? Visionary? For me, it’s Engineer. Or in his terms, Imagineer.
Walt Disney’s first business was ‘the pictures’. One of his ideas for a movie was a picture that could take hold of all 5 of the audiences senses and bring them to a far-off place. While technology was not ready for Walt’s vision (but later seen at attractions such as It’s Tough to be a Bug at Animal Kingdom), his 5 senses movie idea was instead created for the entrance to the first park at WDW, the Magic Kingdom.
The next time you enter the Magic Kingdom, think about the entrance as if you were entering a movie theater. You will never be able to enter the same way again!
One of the easiest senses to focus on is the sense of sight. Imagineers use the sense of sight throughout Main St. USA and the Magic Kingdom to tell the story of the Magic Kingdom in a fun way.
Cinderella castle, the “main character” of the attraction can be seen from the TTC, and when you are on the outskirts of the park. I remember that first feeling while riding the bus to MK my first visit to Walt Disney World (last summer,as a 20 year old), thinking about the building anticipation and maybe slightly giddy feeling of being near that awaiting castle for the first time. Imagineers did this intentionally, as a sort of teaser for guests eagerly awaiting their entrance to the park. And, well, because a 189 ft castle is kind of hard to hide 😉
When you pass through the turnstiles to enter the park, you are handing in your ticket in exchange for the main attraction, or the park. When you approach the gate to the Magic Kingdom, you can no longer see the castle. Instead, the Railroad Station is in the way. This tactical design is the movie theater’s curtain, so to speak, so you can’t see the castle right away. Think about how boring it would be if you could see the castle while you were waiting in line at security or sticking your ticket into the gate. Walt wanted to ensure guests were fully focused on the castle and could devote all of their attention to it (except for tripping on the cobblestone, of course!).
Inside the railroad station, posters of the “coming attractions” can be seen, a foresight into what sort of future fun your day may hold here at the Magic Kingdom. These include posters of attractions such as Pirates of The Caribbean and Thunder Mountain Railroad. Like in any movie, after the “coming attractions”, the show begins and the opening credits start to roll.
Popcorn has always been a beloved movie snack since movies were invented. The first snack you can see available for purchase in the Magic Kingdom is popcorn. All playing into the movie theater effect.
On either side of Main St , there are many credits to the construction of the Magic Kingdom. On the window panes in the second story windows above Main Street USA are credits to Walt himself, his brother Roy, and many people in the history of WDW that have been of great influence. An example of this is the window above the Chapeau gift shop, “Fashions by John” and “Town Square Tailors”. This window is dedicated to Bob Phelps, who designed costuming for the various animatronics characters seen on the attractions, and responsible for the costuming of over 20,000 employees at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
One of my favorite is “M. T. Lott Real Estate Investments,” which credits the fake companies Walt came up with when purchasing the original land for Walt Disney World.
Now of course, my first time at WDW, I had no idea those were even there. It took some extensive research to learn about them, but hey, its all part of the movie effect, right?
As you progress up Main Street, suddenly, you can see that castle: the feature picture. The amazing sight people have travelled thousands of miles just to see, presented to us in a way that only Disney Imagineers could think of.
Maybe if you take a closer look at the castle you will notice the size of the bricks changes from the first level as you travel upward. This idea is called “forced perspective” For those who don’t know what this means, forced perspective is a style of architecture that tricks our mind into thinking something is taller than it actually is! For instance, the second floor of the buildings along Main St USA are only 80% of the height of the first floor. The same idea can be applied to Cinderella castle. The tiny railing that Tinker Bell hops over during wishes is supposed to appear like a standard 4’ high rail like at the base of the castle. In actuality, it is only 1.5’ high! A fun fact is that if the castle was actually built to full scale it would be 300ft tall, instead it is 189 feet. Why 189? At the time of the castle’s construction, once a structure reached 190 ft, a blinking light needed to be placed at the top for airplane safety. Walt did not want this incorporated into the design, so he chose to keep the structure just below the minimum height. While the bricks in the castle do appear as though they get smaller and smaller as you look upward, in fact, Cinderella Castle has no bricks at all. It’s made out of fiberglass.
Most of the elements I discussed in this post are considered “show” features as defined by Disney Imagineers. Show is one of Disney’s sacred “Keys” for cast members. Throughout my posts I will discuss Show, Safety, Efficiency and Courtesy, the sacred 4 that make up everything the Imagineers design for.
Walt’s vision for a 5 senses movie did not come to fruition in his lifetime, but he definitely got his wish for the Magic Kingdom Park. *
*Contributed by: Kim M. (NDI#85). Kim is our resident Imaginerd and hopeful future Imagineer.*