Five Places Where Disney Messes with Your Mind
How tall are you? I’m asking because you seem a lot bigger when I stand right beside you than when I see you from across the room.
That’s the funny thing about our eyes. They sometimes lie to us about what we’re actually looking at. And Imagineers take full advantage of this quirk.
Here are five familiar places at theme parks where Disney messes with your mind!
The mighty Beast’s Castle towers over the rest of New Fantasyland. It’s the visual pinnacle of Magic Kingdom’s entire expansion.
Park officials desired a castle at the back of the park that rivals the ones at the front.
So, Imagineers constructed a castle worthy of the Beast. Disney even posted some video of the building process:
Watching this clip may have blown your mind. Did you notice the worker standing beside a turret? He was the same height!
How is this possible?
Disney employs forced perspective throughout its theme parks to make objects appear differently than their actual sizes.
At Beast’s Castle, you’ll only approach one part of the grounds, the entrance to Be Our Guest. Everything else lacks a walking path.
By taking this approach, Imagineers can create the illusion that you’re gazing at a full-size castle in the distance.
In reality, the front door of Beast’s Castle is about one foot tall! Beast couldn’t even crawl through that!
J.R.R. Tolkien referred to structures like these as “bigatures,” a term that Disney has since adapted. It’s something that combines big and small elements.
Beast’s Castle is a bigature in that the restaurant part includes accurate spacing for parts of the castle like the Ballroom, the West Wing, and the Rose Gallery.
Most of the façade is a miniature scale model of an actual castle that tricks your mind into believing it’s massive in size.
Here’s a different way Disney messes with your mind, but it’s still a valid one, at least at Disneyland.
When you enter The Stretching Room at Haunted Mansion, you’ve boarded a gravity-assisted elevator. You just can’t tell because of the theming.
To you, it’s a vaguely octagonal-shaped room that’s dimly lit and overly crowded. The latter part is true because cast members ask you to move to the center.
Logistically, that’s a necessary step since the elevator moves when the room “stretches.”
The Disneyland version comes with unique functionality. Unfortunately, this park lacks space for Haunted Mansion on its first floor.
So, the elevator drops guests to the basement level, where the full ride experience occurs.
You won’t notice any of this because a Ghost Host performs narration that draws your attention.
Similarly, paintings on the walls expand to tell a different story than they’d initially indicated.
So much is going on that you don’t realize your elevator is going down to the lower floor, at least at Disneyland.
Magic Kingdom includes so much space that Imagineers didn’t need to use a bottom floor for the rest of the attraction. So, its version isn’t an elevator.
Main Street, U.S.A.
Quick, how many stories are the buildings on Main Street, U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom? For that matter, what floor are they on?
These questions work as dog whistles for Disney fanatics who know one of the best-kept secrets at Walt Disney World.
Magic Kingdom and much of the Walt Disney World campus struggles from a known condition.
Walt Disney purchased much of this land cheaply because it was literal swampland. This part of Florida was barren before Disney showed up.
When construction crews started building Magic Kingdom, they quickly deduced that the water table here didn’t mesh with the plans.
The “first floor” of Magic Kingdom is too soggy for the safe location of attractions. All those moving parts could have experienced sinking and/or rusting.
So, Disney has built Utilidors instead, which consist of underground walkways and workstations for cast members. Magic Kingdom resides above those on the second floor.
Also, park planners wanted Magic Kingdom to appear grand in scope as guests entered for the first time.
That far-reaching view from the train station to the castle should make you catch your breath.
To facilitate this bit of visual hypnosis, Disney again employed forced perspective.
In this instance, the buildings appear to be three stories tall. But, in truth, they’re only two stories each, utilizing the same tricks as Beast’s Castle.
The first floor is regular height, while the second one is 5/8th size, and the third is only half of what it should be.
In a weird bit of coincidence, the two-story buildings ARE three stories in the air, though.
That’s because of the water table and Main Street, U.S.A. starting on the second floor.
You can’t fake some things, especially not toward the middle of a theme park.
So, Rapunzel Tower at Fantasyland isn’t short the way that Beast’s Castle is.
Otherwise, the two structures share some similarities. Disney built each one as part of the New Fantasyland makeover about a decade ago.
Also, both buildings utilize forced perspective to trick your mind into believing that they’re bigger than they actually are.
When you walk close to Rapunzel Tower, it stretches into the clouds. The pronounced spire accentuates the illusion that a princess cannot escape such a place.
In truth, Rapunzel Tower is taller than the surrounding trees. Ergo, it’s not as misleading as some of the other stuff on this list.
Still, you’d swear that this place is tall enough to supersede Cinderella Castle. But, instead, it’s less than 40 feet high.
Any Disney Princess could jump out of this place and safely shimmy down the trees to the ground. Mother Gothel even lies about the height of her tower!
Sleeping Beauty Castle
The most famous example of Disney messing with your mind circles back to opening day at Disneyland.
At that time, guests marveled at Sleeping Beauty Castle, which stood 77 feet in the air.
However, the structure seemed bigger. In fact, park planners had intended for it to be larger in stature.
Alas, the cost of building a castle to scale proved price prohibitive. So, Disney relied on forced perspective for the first time here.
When guests gaze at the fantastical castle, they presume that it must be massive in scope. That’s their minds filling in the blanks.
A discriminating look at Sleeping Beauty Castle reveals something entirely different.
The various turrets and windows on the building grew smaller with each level.
You think they look bigger because they’re closer to you than the backdrop, just like an object appears larger in size when you’re standing beside it.
By using this trick, Disney has saved millions of dollars over the years. It doesn’t have to build castles and other structures to actual size.
Instead, Imagineers merely need to mess with your mind and make you believe that the buildings are that size. It’s brilliant! And devious!
Feature Image: Disney