Guests visiting Disneyland these days will notice intriguing upgrades and changes to several classic, beloved attractions. As part of the park’s 60th anniversary celebration, the Haunted Mansion, the Matterhorn and Peter Pan’s Flight have all received tweaks, referred to as “New Magic” by Disneyland. The additions to Haunted Mansion and Matterhorn have been open for a few weeks ago, while Peter Pan re-opens today, July 1st.
On the Haunted Mansion, Disney aficionados can finally see a famous part of the Mansion’s lore in action, as the Hatbox Ghost is now a part of the ride. Originally designed for the Haunted Mansion when it opened in 1969, the Hatbox Ghost infamously just wouldn’t work correctly due to the technology of the time not being able to pull off the way his head was meant to vanish from his body and re-appear in the box he’s holding. But 46 years later, the Hatbox Ghost is ready to be seen. The Matterhorn’s changes are more prominent throughout the ride, as the Abominable Snowman who has long menaced guests looks and sounds far scarier and more dangerous than before. As for Peter Pan, most prominently, Wendy, John & Michael now all are flying in the Nursery scene at the start, while other special effects have been added throughout.
Jeff Shaver-Moskowitz (Producer, Walter Disney Imagineering) and Larry Nikolai (Creative Director, Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment) spoke about the thought process behind these additions and how it fits in to the 60th anniversary celebration.
Question: When you’re dealing with taking a beloved, existing attraction and tweaking it, how do you determine what’s too far and what’s the right amount, before people think you’re changing too much?
Jeff Shaver-Moskowitz: In Blue Sky [Disney Imagineering], we play in that arena quite a lot. We go through a lot of different iterations and designs. We’re imagineers but we’re also fans. We enjoy the parks the same way our guests do. We do our own limits test.
Larry Nikolai: We have an enormous amount of respect for the classic attractions, believe me. I’ve been coming here since 1956 so working on Peter Pan, I’ve been riding that since I was a little kid so I know what all those scenes are and I know what was in those scenes. The nice thing is that in this particular iteration of the attraction, we’ve actually kept a few things from all the way back to 1955 that are in there. It is still mainly the 1983 version also [when Peter Pan's Flight was last updated] but with brand new special effects that we’ve put into it. It’s enormously respectful of all iterations of the attraction.
Shaver-Moskowitz: I’d say the same thing. I was producer for Haunted Mansion Hatbox Ghost and for Matterhorn and for both of those, we said the 60th anniversary is a great time to be able to go in and add a new little touch to these classic attractions. With the Haunted Mansion, the Hatbox Ghost is something that the fans have loved. He’s one of the most beloved characters in the Mansion and he didn’t even exist there so we said what a better way to honor our imagineers that worked on the original attraction, and honor our fans, who were such a fan of him to bring him back and really do that effect the way that everybody has been waiting 45 years to see. With the Matterhorn, it was the same thing. It was going through and saying this is an amazing, classic, Disneyland attraction. How do we spruce that up? How do we take it to the next level and really give the Snowman a little bit of a work out? He’s been bulking up. [Laughs]
Question: Can you talk about the technical aspects of the Hatbox Ghost and Matterhorn?
Shaver-Moskowitz: It’s an embarrassment of riches with the technology we get to use nowadays. Doing things like the Hatbox Ghost, we’re able to do it in ways that even ten years ago we wouldn’t be able to. Using our new technology and really being able to make the animatronic do exactly what, in our minds, he should be doing and hold ourselves to the frame at the end of the day and say is that exactly what we imagined in day one? Between projection technologies and what we can do in Matterhorn... Bringing the Snowman to life in multiple ways and really being able to enhance that story. We look at our technology and make sure we’re not using technology for technology’s sake but that it really enhances the storytelling and lets us tell stories in new ways to our guests that we weren’t able to do before.
Question: People think of the Fantasyland rides in a very specific way. How far did you want to go with the technology on something like Peter Pan, because that is a very old school attraction?
Nikolai: The technology is always in support of the storytelling, especially in Fantasyland attractions because they’re smaller, they’ve been there a long time, and they’re classic Disney stories. We don’t let the technology show in a way to where you’re aware of it. It’s just there to enhance and maybe create a little bit of magic where you say, “How did they do that?” That’s something new. I remember in 1983 when they first opened the new Fantasyland, we rode Peter Pan for the first time and it was like “Wow, that’s something new.” We’d never seen them use that kind of stuff before and we didn’t know how they’d done it, in some cases. Hopefully we’ve done the same thing here again. We’ve taken advantage of the new technology but it’s always subjugated to the storytelling.
Question: Is it extra fun fun that you are evoking the classic aesthetics, because obviously the ride needs to look like the ride always has?
Nikolai: Exactly. We had opportunities here because Peter Pan is a magic story. It’s all about pixie dust and magic and going magical places and all that so in enhancing the island like we have, we’ve enhanced the natural features of it with some new effects. The kids in the nursery are now flying which they never were before. They always just watched you go by but now we have them embarking on the journey with you. We brought Tinkerbell back to where she’s in more places within the attraction because we have some new ways of showing her that again probably are going to evoke the magic and say “how did they do that?” We want to make sure it’s magical and not technological.
Question: When it comes to going back and looking at the classic attractions, how did you choose these three versus something else?
Shaver-Moskowitz: We initially started looking at the menu for the 60th, knowing that the 60th was coming up and deciding, alright, what are we going to do? We looked at multiple attractions and looked at where can we increase the storytelling with new ways of telling the story. Where do we want to plus it up? Where can we use new technology and really going back to some of the classic attractions to celebrate the 60th anniversary. These are I think a pantheon of classic attractions between opening day, Peter Pan, the 1959 kind of the second opening at Disneyland with the Matterhorn and then the Haunted Mansion in 1969. It really touches a lot of those classic attractions that are still classic but represent those beginning years at Disneyland. I like to think that these are rides where Walt and everybody else would have been using these tools to tell their stories if they were telling them in 2015 as well.
Nikolai: Peter Pan, as you know is very classic. Everybody runs for it in the morning so it was definitely worth looking at Peter Pan.
Question: Because it has been such a legend for so long, was there ever a thought of you doing the Hatbox Ghost before now?
Shaver-Moskowitz: Yeah, there have been many imagineers over the years that have looked at it. The technology and the timing was right for this one.
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