The Story Behind Mickey's PhilharMagic

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

As part of Walt Disney World's 50th anniversary celebration by the end of this year, a new scene is being added to the Mickey's PhilharMagic attraction from the animated film Coco. The new scene will take guests into the iconic song, Un Poco Loco, with Donald Duck celebrating with the characters during his search for the Sorcerer hat. So I thought this might be a good time to explore the background of the attraction.

PhilharMagic is one of the very few attractions where WDI collaborated directly with Walt Disney Animation Studios as it did with Fantasmic!

Mickey Mouse has always loved leading a band of musicians from Mickey's Follies (1929), The Barnyard Concert (1930), The Band Concert (1935), and Symphony Hour (1942) among others.

So it was no surprise when it came time to create the very first Disney theme park attraction featuring Mickey for Walt Disney World, Mickey was once again leading an orchestra.

The Mickey Mouse Revue opened as an "E" Ticket attraction at the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971, and ran until September 14, 1980. In 1973, it was downgraded to a "D" ticket. It was meant to be the signature attraction of the Magic Kingdom. The attraction was located in the building that now houses Mickey's PhilharMagic.

Originally, this almost 10-minute show was going to be called the Mickey Mouse Musical Revue. That name appeared on some early posters, and remained on the recorded last announcement in the pre-show.

There was an eight-minute pre-show film in which an animated, squiggly soundtrack line explained the connection of Disney with music, accompanied by appropriate animation clips from Disney films. By the end of the pre-show, the focus had shifted to Mickey Mouse, who invited guests into the main theater to re-live some of Disney's musical milestones.

Unfortunately, due to poor planning, the pre-show area held almost 200 fewer guests than could be accommodated in the theater so the show never once played to full capacity during its entire run.

An Audio-Animatronics figure of Mickey Mouse conducted an all-toon orchestra of 23 characters along with other characters not performing on musical instruments.

The show itself showcased various scenes and songs from some of the memorable Disney animated films that were staged in tableau areas around the orchestra that lighted up when the song was sung. With thirty-three functions crammed into a 42-inch tall body, Mickey Mouse was the most complex Audio-Animatronics figure at that time. There were a total of 73 different Disney Audio-Animatronics characters who performed in the show, from the Fab Five to Humphrey the Bear, Timothy Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Baloo, Dumbo, Scrooge McDuck and many, many more. They filled the 86-foot long stage and ranged in height from 12-inches high for the smallest characters, like the Dormouse, to up to 6-feet tall for larger characters, like Baloo the Bear.

The inclusion of Baloo, Kaa and King Louie from The Jungle Book in the show were meant to represent the last Disney animated feature supervised by Walt Disney himself before Walt Disney World opened in 1971.

In actuality, there were a total of 81 figures built, since some characters appeared at different places on the stage, like the Three Caballeros, or in different costumes. One scene had the Fairy Godmother change Cinderella's rags into a beautiful ball gown right before the eyes of the appreciative audience.

Several characters planned for the show, like Horace Horsecollar, Clara Cluck and the Big Bad Wolf, didn't end up in the final production. However, a shadow of the Big Bad Wolf did appear before the song Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Songs included Heigh Ho, Whistle While You Work, When You Wish Upon A Star, Hi Diddle Dee Dee, Who's Afraid of The Big Bad Wolf, I'm Wishing, The Silly Song, All In The Golden Afternoon, The Three Caballeros, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, So This Is Love, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, and the Mickey Mouse Club March.

None of the voices in the show were from the original soundtracks, perhaps for legal reasons or the need to compensate those original performers, and there was no effort to mimic those familiar voices, but the new singers did capture the spirit of the music.

Imagineer Bill Justice was deeply involved in the creation of this show that was planned to be the signature attraction at the new Park. He had a long and illustrious career with the Disney Company, from being the primary animator of Chip and Dale in the theatrical animated shorts to being one of the original Audio-Animatronics programmers on attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Mickey Mouse Revue was the original brainchild of Justice, although, of course, others were involved as it developed, including John Hench and Blaine Gibson. About the time work was beginning on the Magic Kingdom in Florida, Justice had an idea.

As he shared with me in an interview I did with him in March 1997:

"WED (now known as Walt Disney Imagineering) had designed some imaginative shows for the parks, but we seemed to be getting away from our heritage. Pirates of the Caribbean was a big hit but what did it have to do with Disney? What we needed was a reminder of what Walt had accomplished. I pulled out a sheet of paper and got to work.

"Mickey Mouse would have to be the main figure. Yet some mention must be made of our great animated classics. I made sketches of all the characters I thought should appear. Then, I called upon my modeling skills to build a 1/16th-inch scale paper cut-out model of what I wanted. The entire set was about 18 inches long by 3.5 inches high. But this model was a good tool for planning the show sequence and experimenting with different scenes.

"Once I thought I had a winner, I recruited some craftsmen and we built a room-size miniature theater with a stage about 12 feet wide. Blaine Gibson and his assistants sculpted all the figures to 1/4-inch scale from my drawings. Everything worked except the figures themselves — lighting, turntables, curtains, sound tracks. When we were done, I notified my bosses. They invited Roy O. Disney to see the results of our work.

"The show we had in mind was this: Mickey Mouse would lead an orchestra of Studio characters through a medley of Disney tunes. Then on the sides of the stage and behind the orchestra, scenes from our most popular animated features would appear one by one. Mickey and his orchestra would close the performance. Roy looked the model over, then paid me the best compliment I ever had in my career: 'This is the kind of show we should spend our money on.' That's how The Mickey Mouse Revue was born."

The Mickey Mouse Revue was the one place in the Magic Kingdom where guests were guaranteed to see Mickey, especially since in 1971 there was no daily parade down Main Street or a dedicated meet-and-greet location. Since it appealed to all ages, the show was instantly popular in 1971.

The Mickey Mouse Revue was the one place in the Magic Kingdom where guests were guaranteed to see Mickey.

In 1980, for a variety of reasons, the big red curtain with the Mickey Mouse masks of comedy and tragedy closed for the final time at the end of the show. The attraction was closed and dismantled and sent to Tokyo Disneyland where it was an opening day attraction there in April 1983 and closed on May 25, 2009 when it was replaced by Mickey's PhilharMagic, a 12-minute film written by Alex Mann and directed by George Scribner.

With a few modifications, like a dubbed Japanese voice soundtrack, the original attraction continued to delight guests for almost another three decades. When it closed a set of the Three Caballero figures were moved to Epcot where they were incorporated into the finale of the Grand Fiesta Tour.

Mickey's PhilharMagic Concert Hall opened in the same location as the Mickey Mouse Revue. Both attractions feature Mickey as a conductor leading an orchestra in some of the classic tunes from the Disney songbook.

Donald Duck must set up the instruments on the stage for the performance but is warned not to touch Mickey's Sorcerer's Apprentice magical hat that Mickey will use to conduct the instruments. Of course, Donald disobeys and finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of magic that swirls the hat away. Donald follows to try to catch the hat that spins through several animated features including Beauty and the Beast, Fantasia, The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, Aladdin and The Lion King.

Although the premise is that Mickey Mouse will be conducting the PhilharMagic Orchestra at the Fantasyland Concert Hall, just as he had led several orchestras in his short cartoons, Mickey appears just briefly at the beginning and the end of the show. A total of 14 different Disney animated characters appear.

At 150-feet wide by 28-feet tall, the screen for Mickey's PhilharMagic is the largest seamless projection screen in the world. The theater accommodates up to 496 guests (including those in wheelchairs/ECVs) who use 3-D "opera glasses" to enjoy the show.

Wayne Allwine originally supplied the voice for Mickey Mouse when the attraction opened. Most of Donald Duck's lines were pieced together from sound tracks of old cartoons where he was voiced by his original voice Clarence Nash. Tony Anselmo, the current voice of Donald, supplied only five new lines such as the scene where Donald Duck hums to the tune Be Our Guest.

It is considered a 4-D attraction, meaning that in addition to the 3-D film itself, there are other elements, like scents (including apple pie offered by Lumiere), water spray (in Ariel's underwater world), the jets of air while flying over London and a three-dimensional rear end of Donald Duck struggling in the back wall of the theater at the end of the show. The rest of Donald can be found in the wall of the Fantasy Faire merchandise shop after exiting the attraction.

It is one of the very few attractions where WDI collaborated directly with Walt Disney Animation Studios as it did with Fantasmic!

The entire production of Mickey's PhilharMagic was created totally on computer, representing the first time the featured classic Disney characters were completely modeled and animated by computer. The next time was in the straight-to-video Twice Upon a Christmas released a year later in 2004.

Animator Nik Ranieri, who brought Lumiére to life for the original animated feature Beauty and the Beast, returned to render him in 3-D for Mickey's PhilharMagic. This was the final time that actor Jerry Orbach reprised his role as Lumiere before his death in 2004.

Animator Glen Keane, who animated Ariel in The Little Mermaid, also returned to animate her for this film. It was his first time doing computer animation.

Songs featured in the show include Be Our Guest, I Just Can't Wait to Be King, Part of Your World, A Whole New World, You Can Fly!, and instrumental versions of Sorcerer's Apprentice and the Mickey Mouse Club March.

Mickey's PhilharMagic was the seventh 3-D film presented at WDW following previous films including Captain EO, Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, Magic Journeys, Muppetvision 3D, It's Tough to be a Bug and Working for Peanuts.

"We're always exploring ways to take 3-D to the next level," said Tom Fitzgerald, executive vice president and senior creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering in January 2002. "We keep looking for new ways to allow guests to become a part of the action and story. Mickey's PhilharMagic will be the most animated, energetic and magical 3-D show we've ever created!"

"This is where all the Disney characters go to see concerts," said Kevin Rafferty, senior show writer and director for Walt Disney Imagineering. "Today's performance will feature Mickey Mouse conducting the PhilharMagic orchestra. What's neat about this space is this is where Mickey made his debut as a conductor in the Mickey Mouse Revue when the Magic Kingdom Park opened. It's exciting that Mickey is coming back in a next generation version of a classic character attraction.

"The theater has a beautiful musical motif inspired by the classic music halls of Europe, mixed with the design elements of Fantasyland," he said. "The décor inside has royal blues and golds, and the carpet has musical notes and instruments in the design. As soon as guests walk in the door, they'll know it's a very special, enchanted place. Donald decides he wants to be the conductor, so he puts on the enchanted hat and begins to conduct the instruments. The instruments give him a hard time and send him into this vortex like Alice in Wonderland."

Creative Executive for Theme Park Productions at WDI Geroge Scribner directed the animation. He also directed the animation for the Gran Fiesta Tour at the Mexico pavilion in Epcot. He started at Disney as an animator and became a director on Oliver & Company (1988).

Scribner said,

"For example, all of the close-ups and tight shots of Lumiere were done by Beauty and the Beast animator Nik Ranieri who animated the character in the original feature film. He was amazing. Here's an animator who shifted from traditional animation to learn computer-generated techniques and nailed it.

"Then there was The Little Mermaid animator Glen Keane who animated Ariel in the original feature film. We wondered how we could make a scene with Ariel and Donald better, and Glen went in, reanimated it in computer-generated animation and it really showed.

"Music is an important element. Our goal was to convey the storyline through music and not have to rely on dialog, thus making the production more universal in scope which is one of the reasons that Donald was perfect for the starring role."

According to the posters in the queue area, previous performances in the theater have included:

  • "An Evening with Wheezy-Now in its final squeak!" Wheezy is the squeeze toy penguin from Toy Story movies.
  • "Genie Sings the Blues." Aladdin's Genie is, of course, blue.
  • "Hades Sings Torch Songs." From Hercules, Hades is fond of fire.
  • "Ariel's Coral Group – A Must Sea." The Little Mermaid's poster is a pun on both undersea coral and musical term "choral".
  • "Wolf Gang Trio performing Sticks, Stones and Bricks in B flat." The Wolf Gang Trio is a musical group made up of the Three Little Pigs who lived in houses of sticks, stones and bricks and flattened the Big Bad Wolf.
  • "Festival de los Mariachis – Una Fiesta Festiva". This poster advertises the Three Caballeros: Donald Duck, José Carioca, and Panchito Pistoles.

The large mural found in Mickey's PhilharMagic's queue is titled "Music on Parade" and according to a plaque it was donated by Minnie Mouse. The mural features imagery from classic Disney cartoons that showcased music including: Toot, Whistle, Plunk & Boom (1953), Melody Time (1948) and Fantasia (1940).

Disney fans like to joke that Disney purposely puts a merchandise shop at the exit of its ride attractions as a way of squeezing more money out of guests. Actually, the original concept was actually more innocent. It was felt that after enjoying the emotional experience of an attraction that guests might like a physical souvenir as a memento and that by placing a merchandise location near the attraction would make things easier and perhaps prompt an impulse buy.

Walt got the idea when he saw the UNICEF merchandise shop at the exit of the "it's a small world" attraction at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair.

Over the decades, the shops became more and more themed to the particular attraction in addition to offering other general park merchandise.

For instance, with the opening of Mickey's PhilharMagic in 2003, the Fantasy Faire shop in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom underwent a transformation so that it was an extension of the new attraction. The name of the store refers to the Renaissance fair atmosphere of Fantasyland and the outside banner design reinforces that theme. It opened in May 1995 replacing the Mad Hatter hat shop that occupied the space since 1971. The shop's themed architecture features musical-instrument accents and fixtures situated around a hanging sculpture from the ceiling of an exasperated Donald Duck, who is entangled in 13 (because it is an unlucky number that is referenced in several Donald Duck theatrical short cartoons) musical instruments.

"In the attraction, Donald steals Mickey's Sorcerer's hat and the instruments attack him," said Joni Van Buren, art director at Walt Disney Imagineering. "In the sculpture, he's totally tied up in them and has that typical angry Donald 'I couldn't be more frustrated' look."

Not only does the shop offer attraction-logo merchandise but many items featuring Donald Duck.,

"Since Donald figures prominently into the attraction's story, we needed a good selection of products with him," said Kevin-Michael Lezotte, who was in charge of merchandise for the shop. "At the end of the story, Donald gets shot out of a trombone and crashes into a wall so we created a design called Donald Breakthrough."

"Every product with this art is two-sided. With the T-shirt, Donald's head and arms stick out through the front and his tail sticks out of the back like he's crashing through the shirt, he said. "We also created an Attitude Donald design with hats that say, 'I'm not mad at you. I'm just naturally crabby' and "Crabby yet loveable'. Like our successful Grumpy products that feature Grumpy and his attitude, we've taken Donald and allowed him to have that attitude."

"Any time we have a new merchandise offering, it's another great way to bring to life a tangible memory that guests can take home," said Merchandise General Manager Mary Burns.

The shop also offers general park merchandise including custom embroidered Mickey Ears as well as character plush, pins, hats, plush dolls and t-shirts. The shop showcases a full-sized sculpture of Mickey Mouse dressed in a tuxedo but wearing the Sorcerer's Apprentice's hat and holding a baton standing behind a music podium getting ready to conduct an orchestra.

There is also a pressed penny machine with four different images of Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Winnie the Pooh playing musical instruments.

The background music loop in the shop plays the same songs heard in the queue line to the attraction.



  1. By carolinakid

    I love PhilharMagic. I only wish more Walt era films were represented. The Peter Pan sequence is my favorite.

  2. By mkelm44

    Before relocating to Orlando, Philharmagic was always my first and last ride of the trip- it was the bridge between the movies and the park, and then a return back to the movies when I left. I would love if there was a randomizer a la Star Tours that made it a different mix of movies each time but even without that, I love that submission into the fantastical universes of the movies.

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