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Disneyland Article
Cursed History Of Problematic Fantasmic Dragon That Burst Into Flames
Brady Macdonald
The Disneyland dragon that burst into a towering inferno during “Fantasmic” has a troubled history stretching back more than a decade to the cursed debut of the 45-foot-tall audio-animatronic beast nicknamed after Murphy’s Law.

The “Fantasmic” dragon that caught fire during a performance of the nighttime spectacular over the weekend was an embarrassing no-show throughout summer 2009 when the fire-breathing Maleficent was the centerpiece of the Summer Nightastic promotion at the Anaheim theme park.

Murphy — as fans mockingly nicknamed the mechanical dragon — seemed to embody the Murphy’s Law adage of “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” The “Fantasmic” star didn’t make an appearance until September 2009 when kids were back in school and the Summer Nightastic promotion was over.

Published reports at the time blamed Maleficent’s delayed debut on the dragon’s head falling off during rehearsals. Disneyland officials never confirmed the reports, saying only there had been “mechanical trouble.”

The massive high-tech 2009 robotic dragon from “Sleeping Beauty” replaced a low-tech “Fantasmic” prop that seemed rudimentary by comparison. Since the show’s 1992 debut, Maleficent’s transformation had been recreated nightly using a mechanical dragon’s head mounted atop a cherry picker boom lift with wings that were flapped manually using poles.

The technically impressive yet perpetually temperamental 18,000-pound dragon with glowing eyes broke down again mid-show in summer 2010 — forcing a cancellation. The dragon collapsed during the show and face planted into the stage. Disneyland employees asked visitors to not take photos of the incapacitated dragon — her snout resting on the stage with her mouth slightly agape.

A day later, Disney show technicians had been unable to return the dragon to her lair under the Tom Sawyer Island stage. Disneyland officials issued a statement blaming a “technical issue.”

“We are working to fix the problem,” Disneyland officials said in 2010. “At this time we are not able to determine when the dragon will reappear in the show.”

“Fantasmic” returned with the animatronic dragon replaced by an actor playing the role of Maleficent — minus the towering height and fire-breathing abilities. The animatronic dragon eventually returned to the show in late 2010.

The popular nighttime spectacular now in its fourth decade has undergone extensive refurbishments over the years — but Murphy has never shaken her cursed debut. Every night, Disneylanders wonder if anything will go wrong with Murphy’s show-stopping moment.

The latest incarnation of “Fantasmic” returned in May 2022 after a two-year pandemic absence. Disneyland has the ability to run a projection version of the dragon scene whenever Murphy is having issues — an option that will likely become the temporary default when the show eventually returns.

There are no “Fantasmic” shows scheduled at Disneyland until May 5, according to the park’s website. The return date for “Fantasmic” could change as Disneyland crews continue to assess the damage to the dragon and the show infrastructure.

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