BAY LAKE, Fla. – It’s one of the first attractions guests spot if they cross through Cinderella Castle to reach Fantasyland. Walk past La Fontaine de Cendrillon and the currently-closed Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique, turn left before the Carrousel and you can’t miss it: Mickey’s Philharmagic.
Since 2003, Maestro Mickey Mouse has welcomed guests to don 3D “opera glasses” for a special concert presentation. Being a modern theme park attraction, something goes terribly wrong and the performance is hijacked by Donald. But this isn’t the Maestro’s first concert in this space, and it’s not the first time it’s been hijacked. Both times it was taken to Tokyo, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
In the December 31, 1962, issue of Newsweek, as he touted a dazzling innovation in 3D animation he named “Audio Animatronics,” Maestro Walt Disney talked up the then under-construction Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland.
Looking past singing birds and flowers, he was plotting a show with “all of the Disney characters, so everyone can see them … I have in mind a theater, and the figures will not only put on the show but be sitting in the boxes with the visitors, heckling. I don’t know just when I’ll do that.” That “when” turned out to be Oct. 1, 1971, when “The Mickey Mouse Revue” debuted on opening day of Walt Disney World, albeit without hecklers. That idea was first used in Country Bear Jamboree that same day (and much later in Muppet*Vision 3D).
Like Hall of Presidents, “Mickey Mouse Revue” was too advanced to pull off before Walt left us, but the idea was clearly not forgotten. To give some idea of the scope: On opening day, there were 36 presidents sharing a stage in Liberty Square, and 73 Disney characters were featured in the Revue, but there were actually 81 animatronics.
Cinderella was “transformed” from her rags into her magical ball gown by the Fairy Godmother and later in the show appeared with her Prince Charming, all thanks to a different kind of magic: Hydraulic lifts and light effects.
Similarly, a major highlight of the show featured The Three Caballeros popping up in different parts of the theater. First Donald, Jose Carioca and Panchito are together, then they split up, before ending their number reunited. To pull that off, it took three copies of each character and it all plays out in under a minute.
Also impressive: Alice singing “All in the Golden Afternoon” with a chorus of flowers from the 1951 animated classic “Alice in Wonderland.”
Snow White sings “I’m Wishing” amid a small forest of animals. A few feet away, all seven dwarfs sing “The Silly Song” inside their cottage, with Grumpy playing the pipe organ.
Mickey’s orchestra itself featured 23 Disney musicians ranging from Daisy and Huey, Dewey and Louie to the then-new stars Baloo, King Louie and Kaa (playing his tail as a flute) from 1967′s “The Jungle Book,” and Winnie the Pooh, Rabbit and Piglet from 1966 & 1968 short films. Their entire feature film didn’t debut until 1977.
Perhaps, most fittingly, Minnie Mouse gets the spotlight with an impressive violin solo of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” while the most advanced figure in all of Walt Disney World was Mickey himself. Standing at 42 inches tall, Maestro Mickey could perform 33 different functions, the same as Abraham Lincoln from the Hall of Presidents, who was nearly twice as tall at 6 foot 4″.
If this sounds like a stunning show, well, it was. It was also an audience-friendly 9 minutes and 30 seconds, much shorter than sister musical revues The Enchanted Tiki Room and The Country Bears. However, Mickey Mouse Revue was one of very few headliner attractions to drop from an “e-ticket” to a D (the opposite of Dumbo).
There are likely two major reasons it wasn’t as popular: As I just mentioned, it was one of three similar singing robot shows, and the Bears and the birds originally had more time to show their personalities. The second, larger reason - in a rare miscalculation, the main theater for the Revue could hold about 500 guests at a time, but its preshow could only hold a little over 300, so most of the time the main show had plenty of empty seats, which sends a bad psychological signal.
Still, it’s possible Mickey and the gang would still have been performing for the 50th anniversary if not for The Oriental Land Company. When the owners of Tokyo Disneyland toured both Florida and Anaheim, they made a list of what they wanted most for their new park and Mickey Mouse Revue was high on that list. When Tokyo Disneyland opened, it was kind of a strange hybrid: California’s Small World, Space Mountain, and Pinocchio Ride, next to Florida’s Haunted Mansion, Snow White and Mr. Toad Rides, and a few -- like Pirates that are mixtures of the two. It was designed by a small crew of Imagineers, because by far the bulk of the entire Disney Company was funneling their time and money into building EPCOT Center. The two parks opened less than six months apart.
With its enormous cast, it was far easier to pack it all up and ship it to Tokyo than to build a duplicate. So the curtain fell on Mickey Mouse Revue on Sept. 14, 1980, just shy of a 9-year run in Florida. In Tokyo, it played to mostly packed crowds from opening day, April 15, 1983, until May 25, 2009, or 26 years.
The Revue’s building in Florida stayed dark for seven years, until EPCOT Center’s creepy Magic Journeys 3D movie moved in (it was replaced at EPCOT by Captain EO). After six years, Journeys closed to make way for the “Legend of the Lion King” puppet show in 1994. That played until 2002 to make way for Maestro Mickey to reclaim his home. Mickey’s Philharmagic is such a success, since its 2003 debut, it has now opened in one form or another at every Disney resort complex around the world, except Shanghai. That’s what replaced Mickey Mouse Revue in Tokyo.
Just in time for the 50th, Philharmagic will debut an added scene based on the Pixar film “Coco,” giving guests a new reason to see the 18-year-old attraction.
You can also see some of the Mickey Mouse Revue performers to this day. While the figures aren’t as advanced, the molds to the seven dwarfs were used in a 1994 revamp of the Snow White’s Adventure ride. When that closed in 2012, most of those figures were moved to the cottage scene at the end of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
More significantly, one original set of the Three Caballeros from 1971 made their way back to Florida after closing in Tokyo, They have been performing for guests as the finale of the “Gran Fiesta Tour” boat ride in Epcot’s Mexico pavilion since Dec. 4, 2015. Figures from the same molds actually debuted in Florida in April 1969, on display with Maestro Mickey at a V.I.P. and press briefing in Ocoee to announce construction on Walt Disney World was moving forward.
The Caballeros were also displayed at the Walt Disney World preview center. The set of figures actually used in the Revue were just given a freshening up earlier in 2021 and are back in Mexico’s ride. Hopefully they can keep entertaining guests in Florida for the next 50 years.
To all who come to this happy corner of ClickOrlando.com, welcome! Walt Disney World is counting down to its 50th Anniversary, and so are we. With 50 days until 50 years, we are taking a daily look back at the past, how Disney’s opening shaped Central Florida’s present and a peek at what’s in store for the future.
We’re also looking to hear your memories of Walt Disney World: What do you love? What do you miss? What are some of your magical moments? You can share them with us by sending us an email and we’ll post them all for everyone to enjoy. Some might even be featured during our News 6 TV coverage of Walt Disney World’s 50th.
Here’s to dreaming, and here’s to another half-century of The Most Magical Place on Earth!