Disney Parks have long been known for providing a wholesome, family-friendly experience for all who enter the magical gates. As Walt Disney himself said:
“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.”
Walt always wanted to offer a place where families can go enjoy their time together. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that parents would take their children to Magic Kingdom for the vacation of a lifetime… and to scare them right out of their pants!
Believe it or not, one of Fantasyland’s original opening day attractions did just that. Are you intrigued (and maybe just a little scared)? Today’s look back follows Disney’s first princess.
In today’s installment of Disney Days of Yore, let’s venture into the wild woods (along with seven of our closest friends) as we ride Snow White’s Adventures. Just don’t touch the apple!
Disney’s First Princess
Walt Disney built a reputation on being a hard-working, groundbreaking entertainer, who always saw a challenge as an opportunity to innovate. In the 1930s – several years into the unprecedented success of his most popular creation Mickey Mouse – Walt yearned to do something more. His studio continued to push the envelope for animation techniques in short films, but Walt thought his team was ready to do something bigger and better than simple cartoon shorts. This pioneering spirit led Walt to take the biggest gamble of his career to date – committing to creating a full-length animated feature film.
For his endeavor, Walt chose Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – a classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale. The story – set in Germany – follows young Snow White, a fair maiden constantly in pursuit by the jealous Evil Queen, and Snow White’s blossoming friendship with seven lovable dwarfs. Of course, Walt put his signature storybook touch on the classic tale, making it more family-friendly than the original.
The idea of animating an entire feature-length film had never been attempted. Common film industry opinion at the time was that the venture would be too expensive, and wouldn’t be able to hold the interest of an audience for more than a very short period of time. As was the case with many of his decisions, Walt trusted his heart and his instincts more than the words of so-called experts.
In 1934, Walt Disney Productions formally began work on the film. For three years, the project consumed the efforts of the majority of Walt’s creative team, while critics dubbed the project “Disney’s Folly.” $1.5 million later, on December 21, 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered at Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. It debuted with smashing success, and the same critics who questioned Disney’s ability to pull off this project were singing its praises. The film even won Walt an Oscar for his special achievement.
Between its initial run and eight re-releases throughout the decades, the film has earned well over $400 million. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, and incorporating the re-releases, the film still registers as one of the top 10 American film moneymakers of all time (according to Box Office Mojo – September 2006).
Snow White in Disneyland
Fast forward 15 years, to the early 1950s. Walt’s next, even larger gamble – Disneyland – was in development. Fantasyland – one of the six lands in Walt’s groundbreaking theme park venture – would feature representation from across Disney’s spectrum of family entertainment. Snow White, the first Disney Princess, would have a prime attraction in the new land, along with Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Mr. Toad, Dumbo, and many others.
Once again pushing the envelope of guest entertainment, Walt and his Imagineers (as they came to be called) told the stories of several of their Fantasyland attractions from the main character’s point of view. The guests would experience the role of the main character, but by definition, that character wouldn’t physically appear in the attraction.
When Disneyland opened in 1955, Snow White and Her Adventures was one of Fantasyland’s anchor attractions. The experience put guests right in the middle of Snow White’s tale – quite literally. The ride vehicles – styled as four-person mine cars – rolled inside the dwarfs’ mine, through the forest, into (and out of) the Evil Queen’s castle, and through terrifying nighttime in the woods, all the while being chased by the Evil Queen.
The first-person concept was a little confusing to Disneyland guests, and many asked why Snow White didn’t appear in her own attraction. But even more concerning to guests was the fear the Evil Queen put into small children. An experience that started as a tour through the dwarfs’ mine turned into a flee from a fatal fate. The attraction was refurbished in 1961, but the storyline remained largely the same. Still, the attraction remained one of the most popular in Fantasyland, and it’s hard to argue with success.
Snow White in Magic Kingdom
When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, many of the experiences and attractions selected for Magic Kingdom were designed to capture the magic guests experienced in Disneyland. Most of the lands of the park were the same as those in California, and many of the attractions within those lands were inspired by (or even duplicated from) successful Disneyland attractions.
With this blueprint in mind, Snow White’s Adventures opened to guests on day one with an experience similar to the Disneyland attraction, but with one notable difference. It was a bit scarier than the already-scary Disneyland version. Guests experienced the same first-person storytelling, thereby keeping Snow White herself out of the attraction. However, the Evil Queen struck seven times.
As for the seven dwarfs, they made a panicked appearance in only one scene. Like in Disneyland, this Snow White attraction scared the daylights out of little ones. In fact, ride signage even requested that “smaller guests” enter the ride vehicle first (perhaps to prevent them from running out of the vehicle’s door when they got scared)! Believe it or not, the attraction remained largely unchanged, scaring kids from around the world for over twenty years.
In 1994, Disney Imagineers performed a major refurbishment on the attraction, lightening the tone significantly. The Evil Queen still made several appearances, but she was not as frightening as she was in the previous version.
The dwarfs marched their way into several scenes, playing a heroic role in the story. Most significantly, Snow White herself appeared several times, as the first-person point-of-view was abandoned by Imagineers and replaced with a simple retelling of the story.
While refurbishing the ride, Imagineers increased the capacity significantly by making each ride vehicle larger, seating up to six people instead of four.
Perhaps the most curious change to the attraction was the addition of one word to the title. Snow White’s Adventures became known as Snow White’s Scary Adventures. An attraction that was just made much less scary adopted the descriptor “scary” in the title. Regardless of the name change, the friendlier feel of the attraction delighted scores of children, and definitely reduced the amount of anxiety this Fantasyland ride caused over the previous two decades.
Fantasyland’s New Era
Snow White’s Scary Adventures enjoyed a run of close to 18 additional years until it closed in May 2012 as part of an ambitious makeover of Fantasyland. Imagineers transformed the space into Princess Fairytale Hall, a place where guests could meet a rotisserie lineup of princesses, including Snow White herself.
Guests missing the presence of classic Snow White were rewarded in May 2014 with the opening of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The family-friendly coaster – built on the location of the former 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction – takes guests on a wild ride in and around the dwarfs’ gemstone mine.
The dwarf animatronics from Snow White’s Scary Adventures were reused in impressive fashion for the new attraction. Snow White fans fear not! Disney’s first princess makes a brief appearance at the end of the attraction.
A Storybook Tale
At long last, in 2018, guests were able to dine with Snow White at Walt Disney World’s Wilderness Lodge. Storybook Dining at Artist Point offers guests the chance to meet Snow White, the Evil Queen, Dopey, and Grumpy in this unforgettable dining experience (Touring Tip – the Evil Queen can be a lot of fun for guests who choose to interact!).
Disney’s first princess has played a significant role in Walt Disney World’s evolution. From the early days featuring her frightening experience, through present-day where guests can truly celebrate with the Fairest One of All – Snow White has adapted to the changing times.
Thanks for riding, and please follow along here for additional articles in this series. We’ll continue to explore many other former attractions and experiences from Walt Disney World, including Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
Sources referenced in writing this article include:
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Pirates & Princesses (PNP) is an independent, opinionated fan-powered news blog that covers Disney and Universal Theme Parks, Themed Entertainment and related Pop Culture from a consumer's point of view. Opinions expressed by our contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of PNP, its editors, affiliates, sponsors or advertisers. PNP is an unofficial news source and has no connection to The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal or any other company that we may cover.