Walt Disney World recently completed guest testing Enchanted Tales with Belle, one of the many experiences that will officially debut when the New Fantasyland expansion of the Magic Kingdom opens later this year. During the roughly two week preview of this particular experience, guests were periodically let behind construction walls, on an unannounced schedule, to explore Maurice’s Cottage, spend some face time with Madame Wardrobe and Lumiere, and engage in a storytelling activity with Belle, all part of the 20-30 minute “Beauty and the Beast”-inspired attraction.
But Disney is hesitant to even called Enchanted Tales with Belle an attraction. It’s also not a show or a ride. Nor is it a traditional meet-and-greet opportunity. It’s something different. And it’s because of this uniqueness that Walt Disney World guests were allowed to see it early, offering designers and operators a chance to gain feedback in an effort to tweak its flow and content to find a balance between offering a new style of experience but also making sure not to disappoint those expecting something more familiar.
Before getting into the details of what Disney has taken away from this play test, take a look at the full experience itself, shot on its final preview day, Saturday, September 15, 2012:
Video: Full “Enchanted Tales with Belle” experience preview in New Fantasyland
Guests were notably impressed by the detail-rich Maurice’s Cottage, impressive magic mirror, and lifelike Audio-Animatronics figures of Madame Wardrobe and Lumiere.
But the whole Enchanted Tales with Belle experience has left fans with mixed reactions. (My own opinions on the experience can be heard on Show 389 of our podcast.) The most commonly-heard negative feedback guests voiced upon exiting the preview is that many were confused and/or disappointed by the way it concludes. Without being offered any expectations or instructions, most guests entered Enchanted Tales with Belle thinking they would leave having met the famous Disney princess and with a photo to mark the moment. But many left without a memento, puzzled by the premise of it all.
Those who volunteered for (or were pulled into) roles in the retelling of the “Beauty and the Beast” story were all offered a bookmark souvenir and a quick photo opportunity with Belle. Cast members were also supposed to scan those not participating, seated in the library, to see who appeared to also desire a picture. Inevitably, that process left quite a few in the audience who didn’t look visibly eager to hop up for a photo without one altogether.
Disney gets it. They’ve heard the feedback and plan to make some adjustments between now and the experience’s official debut near the end of this year. But they are also quick to admit that the vast majority of Enchanted Tales with Belle will remain exactly as it was previewed and as it is seen in the video above.
This new experience is designed specifically to be something other than a standard meet-and-greet. Disney does not want guests lining up for a picture, as it would break the story of Madame Wardrobe and Lumiere surprising Belle with a quick story time adventure before she rushes off to dine with the Beast nearby. Story is at the root of everything Disney does and with Enchanted Tales with Belle, they are counting on this immersion into a story to make up for the fact that not everyone gets a picture.
On the flip side, those who wander into Enchanted Tales with Belle, don’t participate in the storytelling, and have no desire to take a picture with Belle are “trapped” inside the library during the final portion of the rather long experience. The doors do not open until Belle makes her exit, leaving many sitting and waiting while others take pictures or prance around the room. Disney is actively figuring out what to do with this situation as well.
But not all negative feedback will be met with equal attention. The actual content and flow of Enchanted Tales with Belle will remain largely the same as it has been seen. Those who feel Maurice’s Cottage is far more decorated with props than the rather boxy and flat environments for Madame Wardrobe and Beast’s Library will likely find little change when New Fantasyland opens in a couple months.
But even among the “complaints,” which also extend to the “cardboard cutout” character props used during the storytelling, all fans seems to agree that the area surrounding Maurice’s cottage looks fantastic and is just a small indication of the impressive place making Disney has in store for guests when the construction walls slowly come down around New Fantasyland. And while the Enchanted Tales with Belle experience may not be for everyone, all fans will at least appreciate the lifelike characters Disney has created within, bringing to life familiar faces of “Beauty and the Beast” like never before.
Though Enchanted Tales with Belle testing has wrapped up and it likely won’t reopen until the November 19 New Fantasyland preview date rolls around, all guests walking through the Fantasyland area can’t help but notice quite a few new things popping up. Most recently, construction walls have come down around new Cinderella Castle courtyard walls, which previously offered the entrance into the French countryside.
Beyond that, construction continues toward completion of the Be Our Guest restaurant, Gaston’s Tavern, and Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid, all slated to open at the same time as Enchanted Tales with Belle, just a couple months from now. The rest of New Fantasyland (Princess Fairytale Hall and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) will debut by 2014.
More photos of Enchanted Tales with Belle in New Fantasyland: