Mickey's sorcerer cap, at Disney-MGM Studios, is the 100 Years of Magic icon.
Beginning Monday, October 1, 2001, almost 100 years after Disney was born, and ending Dec. 31, 2002, the custodians of his dream hope to teach guests about the man behind the Mouse. Far from a lecture, "100 Years of Magic" is education wrapped in Disney regalia. "Walt was quoted as saying, 'Give them what they want, but surprise them on how you present it,' " says Rich Taylor, vice president of Walt Disney entertainment and costuming at the Orlando resort.
The central theme, Disney the man and his vision, plays out in all four theme parks -- Disney-MGM Studios, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney's Animal Kingdom.
"No one in Disney history has launched four parades at a time," Taylor says.
At Disney-MGM Studios, the focal point is a 12-story, 150-ton sorcerer's cap from Disney's Fantasia. Inside are computer kiosks with quizzes and stories about Walt Disney history. At night, the icon fires up with a state-of-the-art light show and an original new musical score.
New wearable "Disney's Magical Moments" pins light up at various spots in all of the parks. They might pulse like heartbeats at the Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom or flicker in celebration when guests respond correctly to quiz questions at kiosks. At all four parks at night, guests and their pins become part of the light show, says Roger Holzberg, senior show producer-director at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Tucked behind Mickey's cap at the Studios is the real tribute to the life of Disney. In "Walt Disney: One Man's Dream," spectators stroll through scenes from Disney's life. His own voice narrates.
There you'll see Disney's Oscar for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and his homemade animation table and chair. Disney was the kind of guy who never envisioned sitting down on the job, Holzberg says. His table was built for standing work, but his chair wasn't. So he added a wooden attachment to the legs that viewers can still see.
Some of the pieces of history push the edge of the squeaky-clean Disney envelope. In a display containing a historic letter from Disney to a colleague, Disney is pitching his park. In his pen, the note reads, "I must say it's going to be one Hell of a show."
Those carrying on his dream at Walt Disney World hope for nothing less, with almost 400 performers putting on the parks' new daily parades. These parades feature more characters than ever, Disney's Taylor says. And for the first time, Animal Kingdom gets a daily character parade, "Mickey's Jammin' Jungle," in which the Disney gang heads out on safari.
In Epcot, the "Tapestry of Nations" parade has been retooled and renamed "Tapestry of Dreams." It's the most artistic of the parades, with few recognizable characters. Children around Epcot write down their dreams on handheld trinkets and place tiny wish coins into nets held by characters called "Dream Seekers" as the parade goes by.
The voice of Julie Andrews introduces "Share a Dream Come True," the parade down Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. Classic characters wave from inside air-conditioned glass snow globes. Along the way, Mickey's float might stop to include children in a Mousketeer march. On the villains' float, the Evil Queen from Snow White transforms into a hag before onlookers' eyes.
For kids, Cinderella has planned a "Surprise Celebration" in front of her castle in the Magic Kingdom. She invited 18 characters to the party but 24 show up -- villains try to crash the festivities, of course. For the all-new show, children will get closer than ever to the characters, Taylor says.
"Not only will they get to see them in the show, but they'll get to hug them afterward."
Paul Stirling, a Disney-MGM visitor from West Palm Beach, stops a Disney official in a gift shop after the parade rolls through. "Was that the first time they did that parade?" he asks. It was. "I thought so!" says Stirling, who said he was "49, going on 12 today, probably -- everybody here is."
He's a burly guy with a gruff voice, a deep tan, faded blue tattoos on Popeye-sized forearms and a "Capt. Tony's" tank top. He had just watched the "Disney Stars and Motor Cars" parade, character-filled classic cars accompanied by audio from Walt himself.
Stirling's eyes were wetter than Typhoon Lagoon.
Choking back a lump in his throat, he says he loved everything about the new parade and the vision it promotes.
"This is a piece of history we saw today," he says.
Disney's '100 Years of Magic'
What: New quiz-game kiosks, attractions and parades celebrating the life of Walt Disney.
When: Oct. 1, 2001 through Dec. 31, 2002.
Where: Disney's Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom. All are in Lake Buena Vista, southwest of Orlando off Interstate 4.
How much: Single-park admission (tax included) for adults, $50.88; for ages 3-9, $40.28; for age 2 and under, free.
Where to call: 407-824-2222.