A Great Mystery…

It is well established that we suck! Everything Disney gets in Tokyo is far superior to our honky-tonk, county fair, ho-down like experiences. If given a choice between a trip to the Tokyo Disney Resort and say ending world hunger only a fool would choose to feed the children. In fact in my very own completely non-biased, super scientific and ultra fair comparison Tokyo Disney Sea emerged as the greatest Disney park out there, besting even the original Disneyland. Sorry hungry kids of the world but we have to get our priorities in order.

A mystery is held deep inside.

As shocking as it may seem even the Japanese are fallible and the proof can be found in the now defunct Castle Mystery Tour that operated at Tokyo Disneyland for 20 years from 1986 to 2006. Two missteps are at play here; the first was building a major new attraction (it was a “D” ticket… that’s the second best for you youngsters) that hinged on the success of the Black Cauldron (that’s a crappy, failed Disney animated movie that nearly destroyed the animation division. Please try to brush up on your Disney history so I can stop with the parentheses.) 

Adventure, action, Satan’s minions out to kill us all… good family fun.

The second was closing it down as it was totally unique and had a charm about it that is hard to find elsewhere, especially in mega rigid Japan. So yea, I’m saying it was a mistake to both open it and to close it, Disney just can’t catch a break can they? Some fool on some obscure blog is going to complain about something no matter what they do. Worse yet that fool may not fully understand all for forces at play and really be clueless of the actual facts… but we won’t let that stop us.

Sure beats some stinking tapestry.
The Castle Mystery Tour was great for many reasons. First off it was a real and honest attraction set inside the castle. Not murals, not a restaurant, not small dioramas not character meet and greets not a super fancy off limits hotel room or even a self guided walk through, it was a real attraction with real effects ad a real storyline that was well worth seeing.
Frenchy here owes it all to his Japanese cousin.
Secondly it had a dragon. A big A.A. (OK seriously… if you don’t know what AA stands for why are you even reading this?) dragon lurking in the basement. While everyone seems to know about the dragon that lives beneath Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant in Disneyland Paris few seem to realize that a virtually identical one pre-dated it in Tokyo by more than 6 years. In fact it is a logical assumption that if not for the Japanese version the French would likely have a big empty hole beneath their castle instead of the crazy cool reptilian that currently calls it home.
Third is the fact that it was really the only other attraction (along with the Jungle Cruise) in which cast members narrated the entire experience and therefore had a HUGE impact on the show. The Japanese tour guides really took their roles seriously and had a lot of fun playing the part. While the narration was 100% in Japanese the visuals and audio cues were pretty easy to follow.


We’ll save the final factor of greatness for later but suffice it to say that those children may not only go hungry but also be deprived souvenirs as well… stay tuned.

These storyboards are actually quite rare.  This is the first time
they have been posted on the web and they help illustrate the attraction
and it’s scale.  See, we can post the good stuff too!

The entrance to the attraction was at ground level along the side of the castle. Groups would collect outside of the doors and be led in (20 or so at a time, they could run 2 groups simultaneously through twin sets, ala the stretch rooms at the Mansion) and congregate in the foyer. As with every other Disney attraction ever created something goes horribly wrong at this point. What was billed as a calm tour of the castle’s beautiful chambers takes a turn for the worse when classic Disney villains (and the Horned King) feel slighted at being overlooked for so long.

All the timeless and classic Disney heros and heroines; Briar Rose, Pinocchio, Snow White… and um…
is that Sandy Duncan as Peter Pan…
Transformed into their villain alter-egos… and Skeletor from He-Man I think.

Our tour guide banters with the Magic Mirror from Snow White who appears throughout the attractions to help move the story along. The Mirror sends us on our way through the unknown nether regions of the castle. It all gets very dark and spooky, bats screech, prison cells are traversed, dumbfounded Americans are scolded for trying to take pictures (give me a break, I couldn’t understand a freaking word).

They are not kidding.

Eventually we descend one of several sets of stairs into the Queens liar where we see she is making the apple that will be used to take out Snow White. The tour continues through some dungeons and the cast members really play up the creepiness with lots (and lots and lots more) exposition as to what exactly is happening (or as we might call it, unintelligible gibberish). We catch a glimpse of Chernabog and move on through several more spooky dungeon scenes.


Down another dark corridor (this attraction would have lasted exactly 32 minutes in the U.S. before someone’s Lil’ Rascal scooter flipped over and 12 subsequent law suits were filed) we come upon a talking skull who warns that there be squalls ahead and the dead men tell no tales or something like that. At this point a cave full of glittering jewels is made visible to us and as lighting strikes we see the aforementioned dragon chilling in the cave. He wakes up and the guides warn us that we have to flee. As in all the best Disney movie escapes we head to the nearest elevator. You didn’t realize that medieval castles were equipped with elevators did you? They had ADA issues back then too… only they didn’t and we are in Japan but whatever.

We could not manage to avoid tapestries altogether as it turns out.

Up we go in the elevator, when the doors open we are in the world of The Black Cauldron. Wall tapestries weave a tale of poor story telling, lack of focus, PG ratings and regime changes… The guide keeps blathering in Japanese (seriously, the amount of narration in this thing is incredible) but the gist is that the Horned King controls the soldiers of death and that we are all screwed.


So the guide bickers back and forth with the mirror and we join the second group (which has been mirroring us through the tour) in a big and impressive recreation of the Horned Kings liar. As impressive as the dragon’s den was this is even more so.

And you thought Alien Encounter was the first scary Disney attraction…

The king appears and informs us (no joke here) that we are all going to die, that Satan’s kiln controls us all and that he will resurrect an army of the dead to torment what little is left of our lives… you know, typical happy go lucky Disney stuff.

More of that cool concept art, and the real deal was actually larger and MORE impressive!
It’s touching how they always choose a child to defeat the Horned King.

Mr. sour puss starts chanting and the undead start rising all around us as spirits of death billow from the cauldron of doom. But wait, a magic sword of light is handed to a lucky guest who points it at the Horned King (stay on target) and shoots a blinding beam of death… I mean light that kills the king (don’t get cocky kid).

Did they have an Evil Conquers Good banner all printed up just in case things
didn’t turn out so well? And this whole thing has been totally in Japanese,
then just when you are walking out the door they tease you with some token
English.

We adjourn to a side room where the final great thing about this attraction takes place… they give something away! Not a piece of paper, not a magical wave or a smile… no they give away something real, and cool. The lucky guest who wielded the sword (generally a child) receives a bronzed medallion that is hung around his or her neck as they accept a grateful round of applause. However on my first visit they unexpectedly handed me the sword! Why I am still not sure, there were kids in our group but I guess the goofy American guy was enough of a novelty to warrant breaking from tradition. Honestly, these kids all looked pretty well fed (Japan is one of the wealthiest nations on Earth) so I did not feel too bad plundering the loot. They were all very good natured and people seemed to get a kick out of it, oddly even asking to have photos taken with me afterwards.

Remove your drool from the screen.



Now how many Disney attractions can boast dedicated cast members, unique story lines, large set pieces and the chance to walk away with cool free stuff?

Sure, the Black Cauldron was probably not the best choice in retrospect, but it worked… it was unique to the park and now with the closing of this, Meet the World and The Mickey Mouse Review that is getting to be more and more rare. (Though this being Tokyo after all they still have Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, Monster’s Inc. Hide and Go Seek, and several other exclusive to Tokyo attractions… plus all of Tokyo Disney Sea for that matter).

A new more friendly attraction is supposed to open later this year but my guess is that not unlike Stitch destroying Alien Encounter the ship may have sailed on the Mystery Tour for good. But I still have the medallion and my memories (even if they would not allow a couple of photos… geez). 


Check out this video from the closing days of the attraction.  It is a very dark place to shoot so this only gives a general sense of what it was like but you will get the idea.  And notice at the end, they gave medals to EVERYONE… lucky fools!





UPDATE:
In the comments section Shane asked about a walk around character they used to have dressed as the Magic Mirror… yes, quite bizarre, quite Japanese… and here he is:





Special thanks to www.tdrfan.com for the photos as marked.

23 thoughts on “A Great Mystery…

  1. Russ:

    After a quick trip to Google I see exactly what you mean. I was always more of a Son of Svengoolie guy myself.

    It was interesting because today I am sure the mirror image would be computer generated. Then they just filed a guy in make up but in many ways that was actually more effective.

    And the really crazy thing is that they had a walk around magic mirror character outside the castle. Basically a guy in a black robe with a mirror frame around his face!

  2. Oh man… you missed two goodies. They are also similar in the fact they they were (or likely will be) replaced with much watered down versions of themselves.

    While you can go on Stitch and get a feel for how it must have been trust me when I tell you that they were REALLY different attractions.

    From what I have read the replacement for this will still walk through the castle but that is where the similarities will end. I have read that it may open as early as this April so we shall see.

  3. Amazing!

    I had no idea there was an under-castle dragon prior to Paris! I absolutely love the dragon in Paris….The entire experience sounds darned impressive.

    Now this gets added to Mickey Mouse Revue, Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland and Alien Encounter as attractions I sorely wish I could have experienced.

    Brer Dan

  4. Daniel:

    Good list. I must say that While Mickey Mouse Revue seems like the one you would have wanted to see over this I think the Castle Mystery Tour is actually much stronger. MMR was a tad sleepy and certainly showed it’s age near the end.

    And yes… full on dragon… just as big and the exact same design (at least of the head) as Paris. In fact I am sure they used the exact same art work / molds to make both. The Paris setting is a lot larger but you got MUCH closer to the dragon in Tokyo… like touch it close.

    Richard… Yea… Gummie Bears, My Pretty Pony… possible Care Bears… lts going on!

  5. This is easily one of my favorite posts of yours. Like others have mentioned, I have extraordinary regret at never having seen this attraction.

    In many ways, the idea is similar to that Poseidon’s Fury garbage at IOA. This is smaller scale, but much more charming.

    Now, find a picture of that walk-around Magic Mirror character! I’d love to see that.

  6. Shane… your wish is my command. Since I cannot post pix in the comments I have added them as an update to the main entry… check it out and witness mirror man for yourself.

    Yes, the scale was certainly small compared to the Universal stuff, but I think in general that is something Disney really understands. Bigger is most often NOT better, a smaller human scale feels better and can be much more relatable.

  7. Who knew? It’s unfortunate they chose Black Cauldron or maybe the attraction would have stuck around.

    The king appears and says that “we are all going to die, that Satan’s kiln controls us all and that he will resurrect an army of the dead to torment what little is left of our lives.” You gotta love Japan.

    What a post…A+. And you nabbed a medallion too! Congrats.

  8. Thanks!

    As silly as it sounds that medallion is one of my favorite
    Disney items. It was such a fun surprise and I have many fond memories of that whole experience… much more so than simply buying some “collectable”.

    I think the lesson they have learned is to never build attractions now until the KNOW the movie is a hit.
    Notice there are no Treasure Planet attractions lingering around.

  9. Sorry Walter…

    My oversight, here you go:

    After exploring the dark labyrinthine corridors of the castle’s dank basement visitors come face to face with a haunting figure hiding in the shadows.

    I think this must be a little known character from the Black Cauldron but for the life of me it appeared to be a walrus, perhaps his name was Paul.

    Anyway, we emerge into some strawberry fields and the tour continues…

  10. Gotta love the Magic Mirror character. Too funny!

    I just experienced Poseidon’s Fury for the first time last week. I was impressed by some of the effects and scenery, but the sheer size of the rooms and quantity of the people did detract from the experience. I kept thinking I wanted the big vehicles from Universe of Energy/Ellen–but now I realize I just wanted more intimacy (and a better storyline).

    As for cool collectibles that are given away, did you ever see Golden Screams at DCA? While the show was forgettable, I was quite jealous of the kid who was selected to participate, as he/she received a nice figurine of Chernabog (the Scream Award). It looked awesome–and I agree would have so much more meaning than something simply bought.

    Brer Dan

  11. Daniel:

    You’re dead on. Many times designers wrongly think bigger = better. Vegas is a great example of this mentality as is Poseidon’s Fury. The truth is that while big can work more often then not it just overwhelms and that in turn becomes a disconnect and a turn off.

    Main Street is not built at 2/3rds scale because they could not build it full scale, they chose to build it small so that it felt intimate and relatable… comfortable and not foreboding, warm and inviting.

    This was very much the feeling at the Mystery Tour. Small spaces, hallways that actually felt like hallways and not some giant show building etc. Was it a world beating incredible attraction, no, honestly it was not. But so many designers could learn a lot from how they managed the scale and the space… it really worked.

  12. Excellent post! I have been wanting to do a post on this attraction, but having only pics of the exterior and signage, I kind of gave up.

    I loved this attraction AND the Mickey Mouse Revue and have missed them on recent trips to Tokyo. I am hoping that the new Cinderella walk through will utilize all of the space that the Castle Mystery Tour took up and not just be some simple “Meet and Greet”. I wish there was more info out there about this future attraction, but I guess we won’t have too much longer to wait.

    I am concerned about what has been happening at TDL in recent years….as you mentioned, at least Pooh and Monsters Inc. are unique experiences, but replacing the MM Revue with Philarmagic and adding Stitch to the Tiki Room worries me. Oh, and they shut down their Toontown Trolley!

  13. Closing the trolley is a very UN Tokyo like move… I guess even they have some lawyers.

    I was never a really huge fan on Mickey Mouse Review to be honest, and it is also not really a Tokyo original having come from WDW. Frankly most people will enjoy Philarmagic more. I guess the truth is also that MANY more people will enjoy Monsters Inc. then Meet the World though I do miss that simply because it was so uniquely Japanese.

    But I agree, I really hope the new castle deal is more than simply an elaborate meet and greet though that is exactly what I am betting it is. Though Tokyo still seems to up the ante on every attraction they get (for example the much more elaborate Turtle Talk) it would be nice to see them continue with original ideas. Midway Mania is the next big thing to open there… that is after Philarmagic, Turtle Talk, TOT etc… time for the new stuff guys!

    I am going back in April so I will have a chance to see the castle walk through then.

  14. I probably won’t be able to get back over to Tokyo until the Fall, so I’ll be looking forward to you posting about the new castle attraction…which I hope you will!

    I was kind of hoping that the new attraction would use the Cinderella figures from MM Revue. But that’s just wishful thinking on my part. When you think of it, they had Jaques and Gus from the orchestra part of the show, the Prince, the Fairy Godmother, and three separate Cinderella figures (dressed in rags, dressed in ball gown, and the one standing alongside the prince) What else are they going to do with those seven AAs? I guess they could always throw them onto the trash pile along with the Meet The World AAs. :-(

  15. I think we have about as much chance of seeing those AA figures again as we do of Disney suddenly deciding to build Disney Sea in Long Beach. HOWEVER what about the dragon?

    They have this very cool, very large figure stuck there… could they not incorporate that space with him still in it? Maybe as a way to make the attraction more boy friendly. If not I doubt they would even move him which would make that an incredibly interesting place to find… just a hulking reminder of the past.

  16. Pingback: Here There Be Princesses – Tokyo Disneyland | Parkeology

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