The Four Fantasia Gardens

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

It has always intrigued me what original Disney animated classics never made it into a Disney theme park. Of course, a Bambi shooting gallery would have been inappropriate, but neither that film, nor those beloved characters, left their imprints in the parks.

In addition, Fantasia seems to be a film filled with so many possibilities for use in the Disney theme parks, but was never fully utilized. There are a plethora of interesting characters in the film from flying pegasi (the plural of pegasus), who also floated like swans, to the hilarious hippos and alligators.

It is interesting that Sorcerer Mickey, so common an image these days in the parks, especially at Disney Hollywood Studios, was not the first choice of including a character from Fantasia in a Disney theme park.

One of the reasons Sorcerer Mickey is so prominent at Disney Hollywood Studios today is that originally the theme park was to represent the Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s, and one of Mickey’s milestone achievements was in Fantasia released in 1940.

For a quarter-century, Welch’s Grape Juice Stand was located in Disneyland’s Fantasyland between Snow White's Scary Adventures and the Mickey Mouse Club Theater (later Fantasyland Theater) basically where Pinocchio’s Daring Journey is today. Welch’s was one of the sponsors of television’s original Mickey Mouse Club. Because the stand that opened in 1956 and lasted until 1981 sold grape juice and frozen grape juice bars, the location was decorated with an abundance of artificial grapes.

What better way to theme the location to Fantasyland than using a huge painted mural by legendary artist Eyvind Earle (done in the style of his distinctive work on Sleeping Beauty) of the centaurs, centaurettes (a Disney created term, by the way), fauns, unicorns, and winged cherubs from the Pastoral Symphony segment of Fantasia all carrying baskets of grapes waiting to be turned into wine for Bacchus. Of course, these grapes were earmarked for non-alcoholic treats for little Mouseketeers. (Disney artist Frank Armitage assisted with the mural as he did the other artwork Earle did for early Disneyland.)

You can see photos of this location and the now long lost mural at the site of the ever entertaining and knowledgeable Kevin Kidney.

As a possible addition after Disneyland opened, Imagineering did have some plans to develop a garden walkthrough of scenes from Fantasia tentatively titled “Garden of the Gods.” There would have been statues and fountains and piped-in music from the film. However, like most of the ideas for walkthrough attractions, such as the original plans for The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, limited capacity was one of the main factors that killed that plan.

Later in the mid-1960s, Imagineer Marc Davis worked on a possible overlay of the unexciting Motor Boat Cruise that had opened in 1957. With boats on tracks leisurely navigating through gentle currents with nothing much to see but some uninspiring landscaping and a few boulders, the attendance for the attraction continued to drop and needed something to enhance the experience.

For a proposed “Fantasia Gardens” overlay, the boats would remain relatively unchanged except for a new paint job but would now journey through topiaries and water sculptures reminiscent of characters and scenes from “Fantasia”. However, Imagineering was unable at the time to completely block out the sound intrusion of the ambient noise from the nearby Autopia attraction which would have disrupted the “Fantasia” music. The often impromptu internal combustion cacophony would interfere with the “Pastoral Symphony.”

At one point, concept art was made of a ride vehicle that resembled a golden Pegasus horse (remember that in the film, these winged creatures floated on the water like swans, as well) and there was even discussion about using that ride vehicle on a rail like a monorail and transforming Storybook Land into the “Garden of the Gods” filled with never-ending fountains with even a visit from the demon Chernabog rising from Bald Mountain at the conclusion.

Years later, Davis’s original concept of “Fantasia Gardens” was revived by Imagineer Claude Coats for the possible overlay of the Swan Boat ride pathway at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in 1984 to also be called Fantasia Gardens. Working with Katy Moss Warner of Walt Disney World Parks Horticulture, Coats envisioned topiaries of the Fantasia characters along the route.

As Disney historian and friend David Koenig wrote in 2003, “Coats adapted his initial designs to the waterway at the end of Main Street. Coats, show producer and writer Mark Eades, and vice president of Concept Development Randy Bright divided the ride into six show scenes, each themed to a sequence of Fantasia. The first section, coming clockwise off the load area, was going to be a simple, beautiful, colorful garden based on Toccata and Fugue. There would also be sections devoted to the Pastoral Symphony, the Rite of Spring, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and two for Dance of the Hours. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice section, for instance, would feature fountains shaped like giant broomsticks that dumped buckets of water in the path of the oncoming boats – drying up just as each vessel approached.”

One concept sketch of the grand finale would have had Sorcerer Mickey with upraised arms standing on a rock in a lagoon surrounded by waterfalls. In the water were elephants with upraised trunks squirting water while hippos and cherubs played and danced amidst Greek columns adorned with leaves and flowers.

The attraction was estimated as costing approximately $20 million. But no sponsor could be found to fund the project and it died.

Finally, there were plans to include “Fantasia Gardens” as part of the Beastly Kingdom section for the under-construction Disney Animal Kingdom. The boats would have sailed past Greek architecture like temples and Mount Olympus, as well as floated beneath a brightly coloured rainbow archway.

According to the Disney press release: "There is also Fantasia Gardens. A gentle musical boat ride through the animals from Disney's animated classic, Fantasia. Both the crocodiles and hippos from Dance of the Hours and the pegasus, fauns and centaurs from Beethoven's Pastoral are found here."

When Beastly Kingdom was put on hiatus and then eventually cancelled, so was this project. However, no good idea ever dies at Imagineering. They often just go into hibernation and, just as the Beastly Kingdom was being cancelled, a new Disney entertainment venue was created near the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort hotel and it inherited the name Fantasia Gardens.

The 11-acre Fantasia Gardens miniature golf site located near the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort hotel is home to two very different golf courses.

“Fantasia Fairways” is quite literally a Lilliputian traditional 18-hole golf course designed for putting only, with diminutive water hazards, dog-leg bends, roughs and sand traps. The other course, called Fantasia Gardens, is a miniature family-friendly golf experience themed to the Disney animated classic feature, Fantasia.

“Some of them [the items in the Fantasia Gardens’ course] were no-brainers,” said Joe Lanzisero, WDI senior concept designer, in May 1996 after the area opened. “Things people identify with when they think of Fantasia: elephants and hippos, snowflakes, mushrooms, Mickey and the brooms. We wanted soft classical sequences that were more garden-like and fit the environment. That’s why there’s no Rite of Spring section [with its oversized dinosaurs].”

Nor is there the foreboding Night on Bald Mountain with the frightening Chernabog threatening to bring darkness into the world.

The final plan included five sections from “Fantasia” that fit the gentle garden theme: Toccata and Fugue, The Nutcracker Suite, The Pastoral Symphony, Dance of the Hours, and finally, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as the dramatic conclusion.

However, Fantasia was not the first choice for a theme for the area. Imagineering seriously considered concepts including Alice in Wonderland (with golf substituting for the Queen’s croquet game at one point), Roger Rabbit (with a more extreme “toony” landscape) and Storybook Land (echoing the Disneyland attraction with guests journeying through the miniature world of Disney animation architecture).

Budget and the naturally elegant outdoor backdrop of the location were determining factors in the final decision to create a site based on Fantasia that would appeal to families and conventioneers.

For Fantasia Gardens, Lanzisero worked on the project along with WDI concept designer Robert Coltrin. It was one of the first projects where WDI merged forces with DDC (Disney Development Company). DDC’s Bob Kamerlander as construction manager and DDC’s Paul Katen as project manager were assigned to the project. Jack Wolfe of DDC and Charlie Hardiman of WDW were also involved in translating the WDI concepts into a physical reality.

For those who are so engrossed in not exceeding the six stroke limit per hole or entranced by the audio and visual treats that getting the ball in the hole might produce, here is the complete verse written by Imagineer Robert Coltrin, WDI concept designer for the course, that you might have missed along with some commentary about some of the individual holes.

Tocatta and Fugue

In the film, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach featured shadowy live action shots of the orchestra that transitioned into abstract animated patterns that reflected the music.

1. Our musical game has just begun/And here comes treble for everyone/Up to the top the ball must run/For any hope of a hole-in-one.

Comment: While this is the first hole on the course, it was the last one completed and turned out to be one of the most difficult requiring a straight, well-hit shot. The Imagineers tried to design the course with varying degrees of difficulty so some were easy and would give an immediate payoff but others are much more challenging.

2. The notes upon the staff you see/May seem quite lovely musically/But now as you being to play/You’ll see they may get in your way

Comment: If you putt directly over Mickey’s head on the first shot, the ball will roll right toward the hole and avoid all obstacles.

3. Before our little fugue concludes/The music swells and changes mood/Avoid the rests and you will hear/Chimes a ringing sweet and clear.

Comment: This was project manager Paul Katen’s favorite hole because he felt every player would get some sort of tune on the xylophone steps.

Nutcracker Suite

In the film, Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky featured sugar plum fairies, waltzing flowers, dancing mushrooms and the changing of the seasons.

4. Spring is here and just beyond/Blossoms float upon the pond/The open bud should be your goal/Its dainty petals surround the hole.

Comment: The Imagineers nicknamed the two lilies floating in the artificial turf that looks like a pool of water, Titanic and Edmund Fitzgerald. (While readers are probably aware of the Titanic and its ill-fated maiden voyage, The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest boat on North America’s Great Lakes and sunk in Lake Superior in 1975 during a storm, losing the entire crew on board.)

5. These lively mushrooms circle ‘round/While one is hopping up and down/At the feet of little Hop Low/Is where you want the ball to go.

Comment: This is a clever variation on the traditional “drawbridge” theme found at many traditional miniature golf courses. To go right down into a good position in the lower putting area, a player needs to hit the ball right in front of little Hop Low, the small mushroom, when he is in the “up” position.

6. As winter arrives, the fairies create/A frost-covered pond where they can skate/Their path on the left is where it should roll/ Then watch as it waltzes down to the hole.

Comment: In the film, the flying fairies make little skating trails with their feet and so the Imagineers tried to imitate that with the different concrete grooves.

7. And so this musical suite we close/Amidst the flurry of winter snows/Weather the storm where snowflakes fall/Or easily putt around them all.

Comment: This was taken from the last scene of the Nutcracker Suite with the spinning snowflakes and is based on the traditional “windmill” theme found in many traditional miniature golf courses.

Pastoral Symphony

In the film, The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven depicted the mythical world of ancient Greece with cupids, fauns and centaurs and a playful Zeus on Mount Olympus throwing lightning bolts to disrupt the wine festival of Bacchus.

8. Within Mount Olympus this opus unfolds/And what mythological creatures it holds!/ When putting the ball, be careful to go/Straight through the pillars to the caverns below.

Comment: Because of budgetary reasons, the nearly 30-foot tall mountain home of Zeus was almost cut but was saved at the last minute thanks to some re-configuring of the budget. Imagineering felt it was important as the central focus point that organized the design of the entire course. The squirting fountain at the top of Mount Olympus is the source of all the streams and ponds in the course.

9. The impish faun loves to tease/As plays his pipes with ease/ So if you putt straight and true/ Perhaps he’ll play a tune for you.

Comment: This is one of the simpler holes so that when the ball goes into the hole, the little faun statue plays a tune. The music was digitized, put on a microchip and pushed through a 50 watt amp and two little speakers.

10. In all of the land there’s no one more raucous/ Than this fellow here, the infamous Bacchus/ He’s poured you a path that you simply putt up/ Hit it just right and it spills to the cup.

Comment: There was a misinterpretation of the design when building it so the hill ended up three feet higher than indicated on the drawing making it a much tougher shot. It is almost a steep 45-degree angle. The idea was that when the ball came down the side it would be like a pachinko game going “bink, bink, bink” as it hit the wine bubbles.

Dance of the Hours

In the film, Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli featured a comic ballet with dancing ostriches, Hyacinth Hippo and her dance partner, Ben Ali Gator, as well as bubble-blowing elephants.

11. You will notice in a glance/ These graceful ladies love to dance/ This bird ballet is lovely, but/ They may distract you as you putt.

Comment: Imagineering was especially happy with the eyelashes on these artificial topiaries of ostrich ballerinas.

12. And there, the dance grows even greater/ Enter now: Ben Ali Gator/ With hippo high, he strains beneath/ Now simply putt between his teeth.

Comment: If you hit the ball into the gator’s mouth but it doesn’t have enough speed, he spits it back to you.

13. After they dance their amusing duet/ Hyacinth Hippo will now pirouette/ Carefully watch as she spins here for you/ Time it just right and the ball will go through.

Comment: This was based on the “sideway bridge” from traditional miniature golf courses and careful timing will allow the ball to go through to the green beyond. Otherwise, the ball drops into the moat.

14. Twilight brings a mood of romance/ The perfect time for an elephant dance/ So while she strikes this beautiful pose/ Aim for the path beneath her toes.

Comment: Imagineering struggled to get the elephant to squirt just into a very small pond. However, during the test and adjust phase, they noticed some kids who just loved getting wet so Imagineering just turned the water up rather than trying to limit it.

15. Before we can finish this silly ballet/ This fanciful fountain is ready to spray/ So keep an eye out for each little jet/ They’re hopping and hoping to get the ball wet.

Comment: This is an Imagineering joke. The pop jets of water do not affect the golf ball at all nor do they react when the ball goes into the hole. However, guests will still wait for the water to stop before trying to take a shot. This lulls the unsuspecting guests into a sense of security before the big water payoff at the next hole.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice

In the film, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by Paul Dukas, casts Mickey Mouse as the apprentice who attempts some of his master’s magic tricks and brings brooms to life and floods the room.

16. Mickey’s in trouble for casting a spell/ Meant to assist him in filling the well/ Now armies of brooms with a water supply/ Are ready to douse anything that goes by.

Comment: “Everyone gets the payoff here. You don’t have to do anything special to get the brooms to dump the water. The water squirts not only over the putting area, but over where the people walk, too. This is programmed so that the buckets shoot water in sequence, but if you make it to the putting green in one shot, the ball has to go by three sensors so all the buckets splash at one time,” smiled Lanzisero.

17. When Mickey is dreaming, he’s brave and he’s brash/ Conducting the stars and creating a splash/ From high on a cliff, he’s on top of it all/ He’ll show you his stuff when you’re putting the ball.

Comment: “You putt off one side and inside the little piece of rockwork is a sensor that sets off a wave crashing up against a cliff,” Coltrin said.

18. The wave has grown bigger, with magic it stirs/ When up from the bottom, a whirlpool occurs/ A putt to the left will spin it, and then/ We hope you’ll return here again and again!

Comment: This a parabolic bowl and ideally, the ball will make about five or six revolutions before it falls through the finale hole, shooting off one final spray of water.

MousePlanet's Mark Goldhaber posted a photo tour of the Fantasia Gardens course back in 2006.

In case there are any interested MousePlanet readers in the area: Disney voice artist Mark Silverman (the voice of Rod Serling in Tower of Terror) and I will be the guest speakers at the Dayton Disneyana Show at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Dayton, Ohio on June 30 and July 1. The event is open to the public. For further information, go to this link.



  1. By spectromen

    I never knew that there was an attempt to Fantasia-ize the Motor Boat Cruise; very interesting. I guess it's small consolation that they plopped two fake topiaries in the water after the attraction was closed for a few years.

    The grape juice bar mural was fantastic. A few years ago, reproductions of it were listed in a merchandise release at the Gallery but then when the day came, that item had mysteriously fallen off the available list and only a few CMs even knew what I was talking about when I asked for it. For some reason or another it couldn't happen, but I hope it's something coming in the future.

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