Ah, the holy wars of Disney geeks raise their head again. And who doesn’t love chiming in on their favorites? So when Matt Hochberg suggested I write a comparison of the Disneyland (DL) and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS) versions of Fantasmic!, I had to smile.
I’ll cut right to the chase: In direct defiance of much of the Disney digerati, I prefer DHS’s version. Why? Because I’m old, and I like having a place to sit myself down.
The two versions are far more similar than they are different. If you haven’t seen them both, you might want to check out the side-by-side comparison on YouTube. Both versions have big ol’ firebreathing dragons, and who doesn’t like that? Both have scary dancing neon monkeys, fireworks shooting from Mickey’s hands, classic animation projected onto water-fountain screens, and the ultimate, clear triumph of good over evil (one of my favorite Disney things, really, so different from the real world).
There’s plenty of reason to like DL’s version better. First and foremost is the fact that it doesn’t happen in a specialized theatre – it takes place right out in the Rivers of America, that same river you might have just traversed in the Mark Twain Riverboat. It’s magical, woo woo! The lights come out of nowhere! The river’s caught fire right in the middle of the park! Pinocchio dances on Tom Sawyer Island, for real! The Peter Pan fight sequence acted out on the Columbia is far more exciting than the Pocohantas scene they use at Walt Disney World, especially since Peter swings so close to the crowd. The production is technically and artistically superior in so many ways, I can’t recount them all. I’m very glad I’ve had the chance to see the Disneyland version, and will probably consider it a must-see on my next visit out west.
But see, here’s the thing. I’m in my early forties, and most of my recent visits to Disney Parks have been as a lumbar-pack-wearing, poncho-toting, solo-with-kid mom. As often as not, it’s crowded because we need to travel during school vacations (don’t judge me on this . . . I know plenty of people chose differently but it doesn’t work for us). And when we’ve seen Fantasmic! at Disneyland, the logistics are just too hard. Can we find a spot with a decent view? It’s late in the evening, and sometimes too crowded to even sit on the ground . . . is my kid too cranky to stand up the whole time we’re waiting, plus through the whole show? Do I have enough snacks in my lumbar pack to keep us both happy, if he’s too young to leave on his own while I forage?
At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there’s a dedicated space for the show, and logistics are so not the drama. Most nights, we can get into the theatre as long as we arrive at least 30 minutes early. Sure, the prime seats are already taken, but there’s not really a bad view anywhere in the theatre. Snacks? No problem, you can’t swing a light saber without hitting a vendor pushing popcorn or snowcones. I can rest my weary feet and take off my lumbar pack. We can sit ourselves down and recall our fabulous Disney day, text our friends to make them jealous, and play trivia games with Pal Mickey (who frequently is confused about his location when he’s in that theatre . . . for some reason he seems to think he’s at Animal Kingdom when he’s there, maybe it’s the proximity of the fire-breathing dragon).
So, Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios gets the vote of this cranky old broad. But truth be told, I’d happily go see either version any day!