Walt Disney once said, “The park means a lot to me in that it’s something that will never be finished. Something that I can keep developing, keep plussing and adding to—it’s alive. It will be a live, breathing thing that will need changes.”
The modern Walt Disney Company is fond of using that line to justify any changes. Reactionary Disney fans often act as if any change is an affront to their childhood memories.
In the end, they’re both wrong. Neither stubborn traditionalism nor change for its own sake serves Disney parks well. But sometimes, there is honest-to-goodness “plussing,” just as Walt meant it, adding to existing attractions in ways that only enhance, never diminish, the guest experience.
Snow White’s Enchanted Wish at Disneyland is one of those examples. Having already been torn down and rebuilt once for the 1983 New Fantasyland renovation, this Snow White dark ride may have a new name, but it’s simply a stellar upgrade that maintains more than enough of what the original did right to please all guests.
So what changed?
Being the first Disney animated feature, Snow White deserves a dark ride that capture the true spirit of the film. What it’s had since 1955 (at Disneyland, at least), is Snow White’s Scary Adventures, a ride that, while beloved, confusingly focused on the movie’s more haunting aspects.
Readers are best served seeing the changes side-by-side:
Each scene received some level of updated animatronics, set redesign, or new projection effects. Perhaps most notable is how the new ride actually tripled the number of Snow White figures in the attraction (to three).
The Seven Dwarves mine scene is the first scene you’ll see that has been substantially altered. Gems sparkle with colors much more vibrant than the previous painted backdrops, bolstered by new practical figures of Dopey and Doc.
The Evil Queen transformation that has scared generations of Orange County kids is still there, but with added projection effects. The skeleton-filled torture chamber is gone, however, replaced with bubbling concoctions leading up to an enhanced Old Hag figure, complete with a poisoned apple that transforms before guests, thanks to yet another projection.
Yet the ride significantly toned down the “scary” aspect by removing the Forest scene, replacing it with something with much more eye candy. You’ll spot a new projection of Snow White eating the poisoned apple and practical figures of the Dwarves as they chase the Old Hag up a cliff, much like the old finale.
To top off the new scene, there’s True Love’s Kiss, a beautifully-rendered and dazzling piece of Disney Imagineering, all set to “Someday My Prince Will Come.” It’s an improvement in every sense, giving guests more to spot on repeat viewings and not wasting any of the attraction’s limited footprint.
In fact, my only surprise is how none of the alterations feel like a downgrade. In an era where Disney cutting corners and budgets has become the norm, there’s no scene or even effect from the revamped attraction where a guest would be underwhelmed. Simply put, every change here was for the better.
To step back from overselling it, however, a great C-ticket ride is still a C-ticket ride, and Snow White’s Enchanted Wish succeeds within the boundaries of its limited footprint and scope. It’s not Rise of the Resistance or Indiana Jones Adventure, but it’s never trying to be either.
A ‘book report’ ride? So what?
One criticism leveled at more recent Disney dark rides is that they amount to “book reports” consisting of an abridged retelling of the original film. Imagineer Tony Baxter has repeatedly used this description in interviews to describe newer dark rides, while praising the older Disneyland attractions for emphasizing specific elements of the movie’s plot — such as “scary” elements of Snow White.
It’s my review, so I’ll come out and say it: I think Tony Baxter is wrong. The classic Disneyland dark rides have always been some version a “book report” — and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The 1955 trinity of Snow White, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Peter Pan’s Flight also consist of an abridged retelling of the film’s plot. Sure, they don’t include everything, but neither do “The Little Mermaid” dark rides in Orlando or California, or Disney California Adventure’s “Monsters Inc.” attraction.
Baxter’s argument ignores the similarity of the approaches between the older and newer rides, and takes a rose-colored glasses view of Disney history, retrofitting a high-concept motive to older Imagineering decisions while denigrating new attractions. It doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, unless your default position is “old Disney good, new Disney bad.”
If you don’t want any version of a “book report,” then the dark ride needs to be an original story, like Radiator Springs Racers or Frozen Ever After. Perhaps that’s necessary to be a true headliner in a park, but as I previously alluded, that wasn’t the goal here.
The Disney fandom’s aversion to change made me anticipate that the “book report” label would be quickly slapped on Snow White’s Enchanted Wish. To my surprise, that has not happened. Maybe even the most stubborn, hardened Disney keyboard warriors truly enjoyed the additions.
This overhaul is the kind of respectful, thorough makeover that every Fantasyland dark ride deserves (at some point). Every scene is an improvement over its predecessor, without unnecessarily altering what was already working. I’d like to think Walt would approve.
DISCLOSURE: This review is based on my own opinion and perspective. I paid for my own park tickets. Disney did not grant me any special access to the park or to Snow White’s Enchanted Wish to conduct this review.