When I See an Elephant Fly: Why Storybook Circus is Better Than Its Predecessor “Mickey’s Toontown Fair”
by Zachary Fakterowitz
I’m not a fan of the Circus, but I am a fan of Storybook Circus. In fact I would argue that Storybook Circus is one of the most impressive things I have see at Walt Disney World since the early 2000’s. That statement is pretty Ironic. First of all Storybook Circus is only half complete, secondly Storybook Circus doesn’t include any new attractions (at least for the moment it doesn’t).
However before I can explain why I enjoy Storybook Circus its important to understand the history of this area of the park.
Storybook Circus is the first phase of the New Fantasyland expansion at the Magic Kingdom. Storybook Circus was also the phase I was least excited for, it seemed like a boring concept. Storybook Circus was a re-theme of Mickey’s Toontown fair. Mickey’s Toontown fair was a temporary land built in 1998 and was called Mickey’s Birthday land (To celebrate Mickey’s 60th birthday). The land was popular and stuck around. The land eventually was renamed to Mickey’s Starland and a few years later re-named Mickey’s Toontown fair.
Mickey’s Toontown fair was where visitors to the Magic Kingdom could visit the cartoon world of Mickey and friends. Highlights included Mickey and Minnie’s country houses, Donald’s Boat and Goofy’s Barnstormer Rollercoaster (A Vekoma Rollerskater themed to Goofy flying a Bi-plane around his farm).
Mickey’s Toontown Fair always felt temporary. The Barnstormer and Mickey and Minnie’s houses were the only “attractions” in the area that really felt permanent. The rest of the land felt very thrown together, most of the architecture aside from what I just mentioned was made up of tents.
When the New Fantasyland Expansion was announced in 2009 surprisingly Storybook Circus was not in the plans. Originally Mickey’s Toontown Fair was going to be replaced with a Pixie Hollow land (That’s where Tinkerbell lives). About a year after the announcement Disney came to the realization that the New Fantasyland expansion shouldn’t just be aimed at the young female demographic and re-tooled the plans, replacing the Pixie Hollow plans with plans for Storybook Circus.
The plans for Storybook Circus called for the demolition of most of the land (Which wasn’t too big in the first place) A re-themeing of the Barnstormer coaster, a new location for the Dumbo attraction, a children's water play area, a re-themed train station for the Walt Disney World Railroad and plans for something called “Pete’s Silly Side Show” (at the moment no details have been released on this and we are unsure if this is a character meet and greet or a gift shop).
So the expansion really doesn’t sound the exciting. Out of all aspects of the New Fantasyland project this is the part I was the least excited about.
So this poses the question. Why did I think it was so great? Let’s take a walk through the New Storybook Circus and I’ll point out some of my favorite aspects.
Fantasyland/Storybook Circus Train Station
Let’s start with the Train Station. The old Mickey’s Toontown Fair train depot was a metal structure with a blue and white striped awning above it. To put if frankly, it was ugly.
The new train station though it absolutely beautiful! The new backstory of the train station is that it is a 1940’s era Train Station and roundhouse for a little town called Carrollwood (a reference to the name of the miniature railroad Walt Disney built in his back yard called the Carrollwood Pacific railroad, the railroad was the inspiration for Disneyland) . Well one day the Circus (The Circus used to come to town by train you know) came to town. The Circus was so popular that is stayed put for good.
The Fantasyland Train station is richly themed. One of my favorite details are the luggage carts on the station platform. All of the baggage has great humorous references to Disney History (and some of the references are really obscure! Brush up on your 1930’s-40’s Disney history if you want to get all of the great jokes!)
Attached to the Train station building is the roundhouse. Train tracks embedded in the pavement actually run across this area of the the land (In the next few months the Casey Jr. Splash and Spray play area will be open across from this building, Casey Jr. Is a train and there has to be tracks for him to get back into the round house at night!). The roundhouse proves a very practical purpose too, the roundhouse actually houses the restrooms. It gets better though, the restrooms are themed! That’s right, the train tracks (in the form of tiles) run right through the restroom (at least the men’s restroom, I’ll assume the women's restroom is the same.) How can you not love this level of detail!
The Barnstormer featuring the Great Goofini
Walking away from the Train Station the first attraction you come upon (at least until the Casey Jr. Splash and Spray opens) is The Barnstormer. Yep, its the same coaster. It was repainted and received some new trains. The biggest change to the attraction is in terms of the themeing. The first major change in that is that the Queue line is now where the exit used to be and the exit is now where the queue line used to be. Secondly the ride was completely re-themed. Gone is the giant barn that the trains “Crash” through, now guests crash through a large billboard promoting Goofy’s....er....the Great Goofini’s latest Circus act! While it may seem like a detractor to remove the large themed barn, it actually might improve the ride. The ride area looks much more open. This is good for those young kids that want to see the entire attraction before deciding if they want to ride.
Like the Train Station, this area is now heavily themed. Guests enter the queue passing a ticket booth (non-functioning of course, its just for themeing to make you feel like you are at a circus) and wind through a queue passing old props for the past acts of the Great Goofini. From the condition of some of the props you’ll learn that Goofy may not be the best “Dare-Devil” out there. Again, many great jokes and tributes can be found in this area. My favorite is a reference to the short lived EPCOT Center show “Skylaidescope”.
I didn’t ride the Barnstormer, but really enjoyed taking some time to look at the scenery and watch the ride. I many more doing the same.
One last thing to note about the Barnstormer is that it will feature Fastpass in the near future. I am unsure if this will be part of the X-Pass program that Disney will be rolling out in the next few years. For now Fastpass is not being used for this attraction.
Dumbo-The Flying Elephant
Everyone knows what this ride is, that simple ride where you get on an elephant and manipulate a control stick to make your elephant fly “Up or Down” around in a circle. Nothing new or exciting, yet one of the world’s most classic and famous attractions.
The old Dumbo was boring and popular. The new Dumbo solves those problems. First is the popularity issue, currently Dumbo is only operating one set of flyers. However in the near future the original Dumbo attraction will re-open directly next to the new Dumbo spinner. The project is jokingly being called Dueling Dumbos. The new Dumbo will also feature an interactive queue inside a Circus Tent. This part is really interesting and Disney is being very quiet on what will be inside (They’ve said nothing, which is very rare).
For the moment you can still ride the new Dumbo spinner and boy is it beautiful. This is arguably the nicest Dumbo in all of the Disney Parks. The new feature is the Water, you see because of the low water-table in Florida it isn’t possible to dig down to deep. Well when Walt Disney World was under construction it was decided to have a giant basement underneath the park to allow for cast members to work behind the scenes unnoticed. So essentially all of the Original Magic Kingdom is on the second floor. Due to the problems water would’ve caused, the original dumbo attraction never featured a water feature. Toontown Fair was built on an expansion pad for the park on a location without a basement underneath allowing for the water feature to be added. The water is illuminated at night and the fountains change colors to the musical score of the attraction (Which is a great long running loop of music you might hear at a 1940’s Circus).
Lots of intricate details have been added to Dumbo. One of my favorite is the mural paintings (similar to a carousel) that are around the base of the attraction. Obviously they tell the story of Dumbo. A nice touch.
When you think about it Disney really could’ve cheaped out on this project. Dumbo and Barnstormer were already fine attractions for children. Did they need to be re-themed so extensivly? Of course not. However the effort that Disney put into this project has now made Storybook Circus a really great location.
If you’re heading to Walt Disney World defiantly go and see the land. You don’t have to ride anything (I didn’t), but take in the atmosphere. Even if you’re pressed for time take the Train into Storybook Station, walk around and catch the next train (They run every 7 Minutes).
If Storybook Circus is any indication of what great experiences are coming to New Fantasyland consider myself even more excited. Stayed tuned to Coaster-net.com for the next 2 years as we continue to cover New Fantasyland!