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Disneyland Article
How Disneyland Made Snow White Ride Less Scary And More Happily Ever After
Orange County Register
Brady Macdonald
Walt Disney Imagineering’s Dave Caranci remembers feeling a mix of trepidation and excitement about riding the Snow White dark ride in Fantasyland for the first time as a 5-year-old visiting Disneyland with his family.

“The first time I rode it was in the early ‘70s and it scared me to death,” said Caranci, Imagineering’s manager of creative development. “It was always one of those that you wanted to ride, but as you went to get on it you didn’t want to.”

Caranci has spent the past year working with a team of Imagineers to make the renamed Snow White’s Enchanted Wish attraction decidedly less scary as the creative arm of Disney reimagined the backstory for the classic Fantasyland dark ride and added new scenes.

The $445,000 transformation of Snow White’s Scary Adventure was announced in late 2019 and largely took place while Disneyland was closed for more than a year by the COVID-19 pandemic. Snow White’s Enchanted Wish returns when the Anaheim theme park reopens Friday, April 30.

Caranci often thought back to that first ride on Snow White and her Adventures in 1972 during the latest transformation of the original Disneyland attraction.

“You look at it from your eyes as a child. We talk about that often, especially those of us that are working on it. How did this make us feel as children?” Caranci said via a virtual online interview. “That experience as a child riding helps us as Imagineers to really focus on our audience. Because our audience is not just teens and adults, but it is children. So we want to be able to balance that show for all three.”

Caranci and his fellow Imagineers frequently crouched down to kid height to see the attraction from a child’s perspective.

“We’ll try to get down to the level of a guest in the attraction vehicle,” Caranci said. “Do our guests get to see the best show possible? Are they seeing those effects?”

Caranci knows firsthand the nostalgic significance of generation after generation riding a classic Disneyland attraction. Caranci’s parents both moved to California in 1955 — the year Disneyland opened. Long before they met, the teenagers would visit Disneyland often and ride the Fantasyland attractions that are still at the park today.

“That’s one of the cool things about Disneyland,” Caranci said. “A lot of our Fantasyland attractions that are legacy attractions have been here since ‘55. There is that remembrance that this is something that I did with my parents and they did with their parents.”

Caranci’s parents rode the same Fantasyland attractions that he hopped on as a kid and decades later experienced with his own children. Now Caranci is looking forward to taking his future grandchildren on Snow White’s Enchanted Wish.

Caranci has worked at Disney for 37 years on projects like the Disneyland 60th anniversary decor, the Cars Land Halloween and Christmas holiday overlays and the first Halloween event at Disney California Adventure. His latest project takes on Disneyland’s only princess ride-through attraction that pays tribute to Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature, the 1937 film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Imagineering looks at original “Walt Attractions” at Disneyland like King Arthur Carrousel, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Peter Pan’s Flight and the Snow White dark ride through a different lens, according to Caranci.

“We want to keep that history alive, but still bring them along so they fit into 2021,” Caranci said.

The changes to the Snow White dark ride were designed to be moderate rather than drastic, according to Caranci. The revamped ride shouldn’t feel unfamiliar to older generations of riders, but rather the same with a few new additions.

“History, culture and tradition are so important to Disneyland,” Caranci said. “We’re always very careful, especially with legacy attractions that Walt was a part of. When we look at these, we want to keep the integrity of what Walt wanted.”

The original Snow White and Her Adventures dark ride that debuted in 1955 at Disneyland wasn’t for the faint of heart.

“In ‘55, it truly was scary. It was horrifically scary. It was very, very dark,” Caranci said. “It focused primarily on the witch, the queen and the scary forest.”

The 1955 Snow White attraction was filled with rudimentary theater props and lacked one crucial element: The title character.

“In 1955, Snow White was never actually in the attraction whatsoever,” Caranci said. “We do have photos that show the ride operators dressed up like Snow White. I have to be honest with you, not everybody should dress up like Snow White. That’s not always the best way to represent her.”

The 1983 New Fantasyland makeover led by Disney Legend Tony Baxter added “scary” to the name of the Snow White ride and aligned the attraction’s story line with the tale told in the animated movie. The 1983 face-lift also added Snow White to her own ride for the first time in the cottage scene.

“The attraction still maintained a very scary quality to it,” Caranci said. “At that point, there was a lot of skeletons and torture and things like that.”

Snow White 3.0 adds 12 laser projection scenes with the goal of harmoniously mixing in the new special effects with the dark ride’s traditional theatrical storytelling elements.

“The challenge is to take technology and blend it with a legacy attraction to where you’re not destroying the legacy of that attraction,” Caranci said. “We didn’t want technology to overshadow the story. We didn’t want everything to become projections. We wanted to blend projections and the three dimensional characters, sets and props together in a way that felt comfortable.”

Imagineering “plussed” 90% of the scenes in the attraction, according to Caranci.

“What we’ve really done is we’ve bookended the movie and we’ve given a complete story,” Caranci said. “The ending scene was the witch trying to roll the boulder on you. She would scream, lightning would hit her, then the doors would open and ‘They lived happily ever after.’ It was like ‘What happened? What did I miss?’ We wanted that to make sense. Who lives happily ever after? Because it wasn’t the witch.”

The updated 2021 version of the Snow White dark ride adds 50 new sculpted figures. Snow White dances with Dopey in one new scene that features the smell of baking apple pie wafting through the air. New shadow projections show the dwarfs marching off to work in the mine while singing “Heigh Ho.” Grumpy hoists a pick and Dopey looks through giant jewels in the updated mine scene. A cauldron glows and flasks of colorful poisons bubble in the den of the Evil Queen. Love’s first kiss from the prince awakens Snow White from a deep sleep before they head off to a golden castle for her new “happily ever after” finale.

The reimagined ride introduces important milestones from the animated movie and keeps key scenes like the poison apple and the queen turning into the witch in the magic mirror. Outside the attraction, the wicked queen still peers out the second-story window into Fantasyland. The boulder finale has been removed.

“Now when those doors open up and they say ‘They lived happily ever after’ it’s like ‘OK, this now all makes sense,’” Caranci said.

The latest makeover focuses more on the title character — increasing the number of Snow White figures from one to four.

“We really highlighted Snow White,” Caranci said. “This is now about her. This is her adventure and it has a happy ending to it.”

The narrative of the Snow White ride has shifted through the years. In the 1950s, riders assumed the point of view of Snow White. In the ‘80s, riders shared Snow White’s experiences. Now, we are observers through milestones in Snow White’s journey.

“As an Imagineer, I never felt like Snow White’s Scary Adventure told a complete story,” Caranci said. “It left you hanging at the end. In a lot of people’s minds, it just didn’t make sense. Now we have a complete narrative that’s really balanced between good and evil.”

Generations of kids will no longer be scared to death of riding Snow White’s Enchanted Wish and parents won’t have to worry about exposing their kids to the night terrors they experienced in their childhoods. Scary has been replaced with suspense on Snow White’s Enchanted Wish.

“What we tried to do is create a sense of suspensefulness, but we’re not trying to scare people,” Caranci said. “We went from what we would call 75% scary and 25% happy to we’re now at 60% happy and 40% suspenseful.”

Caranci hopes Snow White’s Enchanted Wish becomes the most popular ride in Fantasyland, throwing down a challenge to the neighboring Peter Pan’s Flight.

“We’re going to give Peter Pan’s Flight a run for its money,” Caranci said. “Peter Pan always has the longest line. We’re hoping we’re going to have the longest line now.”

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