Photo of Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through Yesterland
 
The 1977 Version
of the

Sleeping Beauty
Castle
Walk-Through

 

“A” Ticket
 

Would you like to go inside Sleeping Beauty Castle? Not just across the drawbridge and through Sleeping Beauty Castle... and not just into Glassblower shop... but actually up into the Castle?

Then look for the entrance to the Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through. It’s located between the Glassblower and the Tinker Bell Toy Store.

Photo of Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through
If you have a stroller, park it. There are many steps inside.

This door and canopy might be the most modest entrance to any attraction in the park. Or you can think of the entire Castle as the attraction building, in which case this “A” ticket attraction has the grandest attraction building of all.

Photo of Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through
Illuminated manuscripts, like those of the Middle Ages, tell the story of Sleeping Beauty.

If you take time to read (and admire) the beautiful manuscripts along the way, you’ll enjoy the dioramas even more because the manuscripts and dioramas tell the story of how and why Princess Aurora grew up as Briar Rose, unaware that she was a princess—and what happened after she turned 16.

I hope you don’t mind stairs. You’ll be going up stairs twice and down stairs twice. You’ll see ten sophisticated miniature dioramas, each with little animated figures. You’ll hear the music of Sleeping Beauty film score—which was adapted from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1890 Sleeping Beauty ballet—as well as appropriate sounds from the various dioramas.

Photo of Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through
The king’s loyal subjects trek to the Castle to pay homage to the infant princess.
 
Photo of Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through
Maleficent predicts death for Aurora from the prick of her finger on a spinning wheel.
 
Photo of Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through
Briar Rose, on her 16th birthday, is still protected by Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.
 
Photo of Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through
Prince Phillip awakens Princess Aurora with a kiss.
 
Photo of Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through
Walk back down the stairs to the exit.

The dioramas are fun to look at. They tell the story of Sleeping Beauty. But the best part of the Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through is just being inside the world-famous Castle.

Photo of Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through
And they all lived happily ever after.
 

Sleeping Beauty Castle has been the symbol and centerpiece of Disneyland since the park’s televised opening event on July 17, 1955. There wasn’t an attraction in the Castle when the park opened—just an empty space on the Castle’s second level.

According to the 1987 book Disneyland: Inside Story by Randy Bright, the Castle was never intended to host a show. However, “empty spaces were an anathema to [Walt] Disney.” He challenged his Imagineers to use the limited space. After an unexpected encounter with the cats and fleas living in there, the Imagineers designed a walk-through attraction. It opened April 29, 1957.

The results in 1957 were quite different from the pictures in this Yesterland article. The initial dioramas reflected the style of artist Eyvind Earle, the brilliant Production Designer of Walt Disney’s 1959 feature Sleeping Beauty, who gave the film its distinctive design. He personally painted most of the film’s backgrounds. And Earle was directly involved with the creation of the Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through.

The Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through was redesigned in 1977. New dioramas replaced the Earle originals. Presumably, someone felt that Eyvind Earle’s style looked dated by the standards of 1977. (We now admire the mid-century style, but it was seriously out of fashion in 1977.) The 1977 dioramas had more movement and depth. They were highly detailed. However, they looked like Main Street Emporium display windows; they lacked the artistry of Eyvind Earle.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, guest attendance and revenue at the Disney parks and resorts plummeted. Disney cut theme park and resort operating costs wherever they could. On October 7, 2001, Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through was closed “for refurbishment.”

Over time, Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through dropped off the refurbishment list. The attraction’s sign disappeared from its portal. Disneyland celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2005. The park’s guest count and revenue recovered, but the doors to the Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through didn’t reopen to guests.

Disneyland never announced a permanent closing and never provided an official reason. There was widespread speculation on the Internet that the reason was due to security concerns. More likely, the reason was cost. Although the Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through was not particularly costly to operate, it wasn’t particularly popular either. Finally, there was the issue of accessibility. Although the attraction was exempt from ADA requirements because it predated the 1990 law, Disney now strives to make attractions accessible to all guests, whenever possible.

For years, there was a difference of opinion about whether the dioramas were still in place behind the locked doors. The bigger question was whether the attraction would ever return. It turned out that it didn’t matter if the dioramas from 1977 were still there—because folks at Disney had something better in mind.

Photo of Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through, 2008 version
In 2008 the Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough reopened at Disneyland.

On July 17, 2008, Disneyland officially announced that the Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough would return by the end of the year:

The interior of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland will open in time for the December holiday season, offering guests a “reawakened” version of its classic walkthrough presentation kissed with vibrant scenes of Aurora, her charming prince, the evil Maleficent and other characters from the beloved fairy tale film.

It wouldn’t simply involve dusting off the little dolls from the 1977 version. Disneyland would do it right:

When the attraction is unveiled later this year, the “show” will differ from the dioramas of the 1980s and ‘90s, returning to the unique style of the original 1957 show and motion picture. Enhanced with new scenes and special effects magic, the re-Imagineered attraction will employ technology not available in the 1950s to represent scenes from the story of “Sleeping Beauty,” including the magic of good fairies Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, and the more sinister spells of the evil Maleficent.

In other words, the attraction would combine the legendary art of Eyvind Earle with current technology to make the Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough better than ever. It would represent the combined talents of the Imagineers from the 1950s and from today.

Disney also addressed the accessibility issue:

For the first time, guests who are unable to climb stairs or navigate the passageways of the Castle will be able to experience the walkthrough “virtually” in a special room on the ground floor of the Castle.
Photo of Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through, 2008 version
Guests in late 2008 saw dioramas based on the original 1957 version.

The Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough opened to guests at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 26, 2008—just in time for the long Thanksgiving weekend. It had been closed for more than seven years. Actually, the version with the Eyvind Earle art had been closed for almost three decades.

Disneyland guests posted glowing reviews on the Internet. The consensus was that the Imagineers had succeeded magnificently. Once again, the Castle isn’t just a symbol of Disneyland and the entrance to Fantasyland; it contains a jewel of an attraction.

Photo of Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough, 2008 version
Compare this Maleficent in the 2008 version to the 1977 version.

What about the other Magic Kingdoms?

  • Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World doesn’t have a walk-through attraction, but has a very popular restaurant, Cinderella’s Royal Table.
  • Cinderella Castle at Tokyo Disneyland had a spectacular guided tour, The Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour, from 1986 until 2006.
  • Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Paris has a lavish walk-through, la Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant, with illustrated books, tapestries, and stained glass windows.
  • Sleeping Beauty Castle at Hong Kong Disneyland, which is similar to Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, does not contain an attraction or restaurant, although the Royal Banquet Hall is nearby.
Photo of Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough
The Disneyland Paris Castle tells the story of Sleeping Beauty in stained glass windows.
 

The 50th Anniversary Edition of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959) includes a bonus features about the new Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough at Disneyland. The CGI visuals are spectacular. Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering Tony Baxter and Imagineer Chris Merritt provide fascinating commentary about the 1957 version of the attraction, what they found inside the Castle, and how they brought the walkthrough back to its original glory.

Sleeping Beauty Blu-Ray disc cover

I highly recommend Sleeping Beauty, the 50th Anniversary Edition. The bonus material alone is worth the price of purchase—and there’s plenty of bonus material in addition to the features about the new Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough.

The movie itself is arguably the most visually striking Disney animated feature ever, and the new digital restoration shows it off beautifully.


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© 2007-2009 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated July 16, 2009.

Photo of Briar Rose with straight hair in Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through: 2000 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of entrance to Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through: 2000 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of illuminated manuscript in Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through: 2001 by Allen Huffman, courtesy of Allen Huffman.
Photo of loyal subjects heading toward the Castle in Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through: 2001 by Allen Huffman, courtesy of Allen Huffman.
Photo of Maleficent with the king and queen Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through: 2001 by Allen Huffman, courtesy of Allen Huffman.
Photo of Briar Rose is in the forest in Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through: 2001 by Allen Huffman, courtesy of Allen Huffman.
Photo of Aurora and Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through: 2001 by Allen Huffman, courtesy of Allen Huffman.
Photo of stairs down to Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through exit: 2001 by Allen Huffman, courtesy of Allen Huffman.
Photo of “The End” in Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through: 2001 by Allen Huffman, courtesy of Allen Huffman.
Photo of entrance to the 2008 version of the Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough: 2008 by Joe Perrigoue, courtesy of Joe Perrigoue.
Photo of interior of the 2008 version of the Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough: 2008 by Joe Perrigoue, courtesy of Joe Perrigoue.
Photo of Maleficent in the 2008 version of the Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough: 2008 by Joe Perrigoue, courtesy of Joe Perrigoue.
Photo of la Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant: 2005 by Werner Weiss.