The Immersive Disney Animation Experienceby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another…well, actually, this time around I'm taking a break from the usual Top 5. I had a great Disney experience on a recent trip to Boston and I thought I'd report on it. I feel a little late to the party on this one. I wasn't even aware of this exhibition and quite literally stumbled upon it by accident.
I made the pilgrimage to Beantown to partake in another of my life's passions, the Grateful Dead. The most recent incarnation of the band, Dead and Company, were playing two nights at Boston's legendary Fenway Park. This is purportedly the final tour for this current touring lineup, so I had to make sure I caught at least one show. Not only did I get my daughter into Disney at a young age, I also took her to see the Dead when she was in college and it's become another thing that we can do together and that makes us both very happy.
So that put me in the great city of Boston for the weekend. The show was Sunday night. We were both off Monday, so the plan was to find something to do in town for a few hours and then I'd make the journey back to New York. We had decided on lunch and a visit to one of my favorite comic and collectible shops, Comicazi in nearby Somerville. If you're anywhere near Boston, and like comics, toys or collectibles, make this a stop. They've got tons of cool stuff here and lots of it Disney or Disney related. I walked out with a rather cool vintage Mickey Mouse radio, but I digress.
So we're driving over to Somerville to spend an afternoon walking around the shops and having some lunch when we stop at a red light and there's a bus stop on the corner and the advertisement on the glass had several Disney characters like Elsa, Moana, Simba and others and it said, "The Immersive Disney Animation Experience now through August at the Boston Lighthouse Artspace." I asked her, "What is that all about?" She replied, "I have no idea. You're the Disney expert, don't you know?" Turns out that writing for a Disney-focused website for 15 years still doesn't fill you in on every single corner of the media giant's universe. Samantha quickly looked it up on her phone. There was a 2 o'clock show with open tickets. That would give us enough time to about face, grab a quick lunch near the venue and check out whatever the Immersive Disney Animation Experience had in store for us.
Turns out my daughter had been passing by this amazing building for a few years now and always wondered what it was. "Boston's Castle," as it's become known, on Columbus Avenue in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston was built in the late 1890s as an armory for the First Corps of Cadets of Massachusetts. Since then, the building has housed everything from a Military Historical Society to film and TV shoots. Since 1975, however, it has been an event space and since January 2023 it has been hosting the Immersive Disney Animation Experience. And just what was that exactly?
If you've been to Walt Disney World or Disneyland in the last decade, I'm sure you've noticed the amazing leaps and bounds that projection technology has made. Just stand in front of Cinderella Castle during Happily Ever After and you can see that projection is now an art form. Think back to Wishes, the previous nightly fireworks extravaganza at the Magic Kingdom. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED Wishes. But go back and look at the YouTube videos and compare the two shows. Wishes was driven by the song, Jiminy Cricket's narration and the beautiful fireworks. Happily Ever After has a great song, great fireworks, but the upgrade from simply bathing the castle in different colored lights during Wishes to the current state-of-the-art projection is simply stunning. Now let's imagine those types of projections indoors, completely surrounding you on all sides. Pipe in the music and some famous lines from the tremendous back catalog of Disney animated classics and that's the immersive experience they are currently offering. I'm sure many of you have either seen or heard about the two different Van Gogh immersive experiences that have been out there touring the country. I haven't seen that show, but my daughter did and said that the idea was pretty much the same.
When you enter the facility, there are dozens of simple Disney character sketches adorning the walls. There even a guide to help you find them all and let you know, if you didn't already, which character was which. All the biggies were represented as were some more obscure ones.
To keep you occupied while in the queue, there were Walt Disney quotes.
There was a wall depicting the transition from rough animated sketches to finished product.
Walt and Ub Iwerks' famous invention, the multi-plane camera, was explained and this wonderful example of a Belle and Beast animated cel up against their famous ballroom background helped convey the depth used during the animation process.
Once you entered the main room, there were places to sit, but most of us spent the time before the show began strolling around and looking at the various images from the vast history of Disney's animated films. Certain areas were static but others were moving and animated like Tinker Bell here. As you watched Tink, she went through several rough sketches of one of her most famous poses from Peter Pan.
The rose from Beauty and the Beast shimmered and the sword in the stone glistened.
Some sketches on the wall were finished products but most of them were either rough, or concept drawings. My favorite images were from my favorite Disney classic, Peter Pan.
And let's not forget the floor. As you walked around the room you began to notice that the floor was covered in pixie dust projections that interacted with you as you walked through them. You could "brush" them away with your feet. The kids in the room, both big and small, were having a good time with this special effect.
Soon, the show began with, who else, Mickey Mouse, Sorcerer Mickey to be more precise. He opened up a storybook on the main wall and then a montage of classic Disney images spilled out and surrounded you.
Then it was time for feature segments. First was The Lion King classic, "Circle of Life," from the opening of the beloved film.
After that it was one classic scene after another. Some were montages of classic characters…
…others were more focused on specific films like Zootopia, Moana, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas…
…and my favorite moment of the whole show, "I See the Light" from Tangled. If you've ever wanted to be in a room surrounded by the lanterns from that beautiful scene in the film, then head to this show. It's a breathtaking moment for sure and it tugged on my heartstrings just like the film always does.
It wouldn't be a Disney show without a nod to the dark side. The villains got their segment as well.
Did I mention bubbles? Oh yes… there were bubbles. Bazillions of bubbles during The Little Mermaid segment and again during the Frozen segment. The coolest thing about the Frozen bubbles? They were filled with some sort of smoke, so when you popped them, the smoke sort of exploded outwards. It was a very cool effect that had all the kids…and me as well…chasing down smoke bubbles to pop them.
I have to say that there were plenty of the more obscure characters being given their fair share of time on the screens. I was literally shocked to see so much of Treasure Planet. I'm a fan of this forgotten classic and it was great to see it get some love. I did not expect to see the whales from Fantasia 2000, or several shots from The Rescuers and its sequel, The Rescuers Down Under. And I've always been a big fan of The Emperor's New Groove, so it was good to see Kuzco make the cut.
The show wrapped up with big segments from The Princess and the Frog, Moana, Elsa not from Frozen, but from the follow-up Frozen 2, Encanto and the big ending? Of course, it was Jiminy singing the always classic and practically definitive Disney song, "When You Wish Upon a Star," while the screens filled up with all time classic animated film moments like this one…
…and this classic moment from The Sword in the Stone, another film that doesn't get enough love in my opinion…
…and the classic swooping camera shot of Belle and Beast dancing in the ballroom, a moment that essentially defined just how far Disney had come with their animation craft at the time and made even grander here as that classic moment surrounded all of us.
Ever so slowly the room began to transform back into the library-esque room that we started in and the show came to a close. As we walked out and once again, brushed the pixie dust off of the floor, I had several thoughts. The first was that I seriously enjoyed the whole experience. I thought it was reverential to the legendary history of this company. They included so much, and could have even included more, but how could they fit it all in? They certainly cherry picked some sweet moments from the last 100 years of animation produced by the Walt Disney Company. I was thrilled to see films like Fantasia 2000, The Emperor's New Groove, The Rescuers, The Sword and the Stone and Treasure Planet represented alongside A-listers like The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Peter Pan and Frozen. That makes me think that a real fan was behind the scenes here making the decisions.
We were, of course, led out through the gift shop…and yes, I bought something. I've been journaling all of our Disney trips for years now, and they had a classy, simple Mickey Mouse journal that's full of blank pages ready for my trip documentation to spill out of my Mickey Mouse pen collection.
My next thought was that this should be an ongoing thing. Why not make something like this a permanent addition to a place like Hollywood Studios or California Adventure? I think that would be a big hit with guests and it would be something that they could add to as the years go on. The whole show was about an hour in length. That would be a sizable piece of air-conditioned bliss on a hot day touring the parks, but I'm sure they could shorten it a little if they needed to fit multiple showings in a day. If anyone in charge is reading this, go ahead and take my idea. I want no credit. I would just like to see this show continue. As long as the technology exists, and that can only improve, this could be an ongoing experience that I'm sure Disney fans would line up to see in a place like Walt Disney World or Disneyland.
The bottom line? If you can catch the Immersive Disney Animation Experience in one of the 11 cities it's currently playing in, do so. Check out the exhibition's website for all of the info. It's a reasonable price, about $39 for a basic ticket. I, shockingly, didn't spring for the extra 10 bucks which gives you a free print and an interactive bracelet. There's no more room on my walls for another Disney print at this point! The little kids in the room were having a ball and the rest of us big kids certainly seemed like we were all enjoying the show. It was a very cool, very last minute surprise for my daughter and I. It was hard to beat the Grateful Dead and Disney all within the space of 24 hours! A magical weekend was had by all!
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts and I'll see you next time with more of that great Disney stuff that we all love so much.