You know the story: Monstrous beast meets headstrong, brainy, yet beautiful girl; despite the odds, they fall in love; beast turns out to be handsome prince; they live happily ever after. The classic 1991 Disney animated film serves as the inspiration for a charming attraction in which guests interact with characters -- including astonishing animatronic renditions of Madame Wardrobe and Lumiere -- to help tell the "tale as old as time."
- Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): .5
The gentle presentation is intended for young children (and children of all ages), so nothing really registers on the thrill scale save for a brief moment toward the start of the attraction when the room darkens and a "magic mirror" comes to life (and even that is quite mild).
- Location: New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom, part of Disney World
- Reviewed in December 2012.
- Height requirement: Any height
- Fastpass: No
- Disney World Tickets- Learn more about ticket options and ways to purchase passes in advance in my overview of the Magic Your Way Ticket Program.
Instead of a ride, Enchanted Tales with Belle is a combination walk-through experience and sit-down show. Guests make their way to the attraction by walking along a path in Fantasyland Forest to Maurice's (the father of Belle) cottage. They enter a side door into the tinkerer's workshop, which is strewn with artifacts from his half-completed inventions. One item, a gold-framed mirror, is prominently located at the front of the room.
SPOILER ALERT: If you think that learning about details of the attraction could make the experience less than enchanting for you, you may want to stop reading now.
Still with me? Good. As you may suspect, the mirror plays an important role in the proceedings. Triggered by an incantation recited by the audience, it magically transforms into a door through which guests are transported to the Beast's castle. The effect is quite well done. The seemingly ordinary mirror grows, begins to glow, and displays an animated scene that ends with the castle doors opening. Magically, the mirror disappears, and guests are invited to walk through what is now an open door.
A cheery "Hello-ooooo!" is bellowed by Madame Wardrobe as the audience makes its way into the second of three rooms. The towering piece of furniture welcomes guests and sets the stage for the playacting that is about to unfold. With the help of cast members, she assigns roles, such as the Beast and Mrs. Potts the teapot, to volunteer budding thespians. Each actor is given a prop and is prepped to meet Belle and "surprise" her by helping her tell the story of when she and the Beast met.
With her expressive eyes and agile mouth, the animatronic character is beguiling. Belting out catchphrases (she is voiced by brassy comedian Jo Anne Worley, who also played her in the original film), Madame Wardrobe keeps the tone light. As is the case with many Imagineering achievements, young children seem to completely buy into the character, while adults are momentarily dumbfounded by the technology and artistry.
Alive with Emotion and Expressiveness
After the roles are assigned, Lumiere the candelabra, summons guests into the Beast's library. If the Wardrobe is a stunning example of animatronics, Lumiere is nearly jaw dropping. The tiny character's "arms" move with an amazing degree of dexterity, and his flame-lit face is alive with emotion and expressiveness. "Lumiere was quite a challenge," says Chris Beatty, creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering. "He has such a huge personality packed into such a teeny figure. He is so delicate, yet he is believable."
While the actors gather at the front of the library, the rest of the audience sits on benches to watch the show. Lumiere calls in (a human) Belle, and the brief play commences. Coached by Belle, Lumiere, and cast members, the guests are able to perform their roles.
The interactions between the animatronic characters and the audience members are fairly seamless, but given the many unknown variables that the guests bring to each show, there are bound to be some minor hiccups. Lumiere was briefly talking over some of the volunteer actors when I saw the attraction, for example, and the dialogue didn't always flow naturally. Still, it's a bold move to develop a presentation with so many moving parts, and the fact that it works so well is a testament to its creators.
Undeniably Charming (and Disney-esque)
I do wonder, however, whether some children (and adults?) who are not chosen to be part of the ensemble would be disappointed if they aren't able to meet Belle. All of the guest actors get a small gift and have their photo taken with the soon-to-be princess, but the rest of the audience can only watch from afar. The end of the show feels a bit rushed, as Belle says that she must go to the ball and meet the "real" Beast. No doubt, the performance must be tightly controlled to cycle the guests and keep the line moving.
That brings me to another concern. Each audience appears to have about 45 members. That makes the experience pleasingly intimate, but it might make for not-so-pleasing long lines. I believe that all audience members go through the first two rooms, while there are two library rooms available to accommodate audiences for the final, longer scene with Belle. By my rough calculations, the attraction is not moving a lot of people through each hour, and there could be huge bottlenecks during peak seasons.
That's assuming that there will be high demand for the Belle attraction. It is geared to small children, and perhaps even more narrowcast to princess-loving young girls. But it is undeniably charming (and undeniably Disney-esque) and should resonate on some level with nearly everyone.
Explaining the inspiration for Enchanted Tales, Beatty says that he and his team "wanted guests to go on a journey with animated characters. We wanted to break the plane of the screen." By developing some of Disney's most impressive animatronics to date and creating an attraction with a high degree of audience participation, the Imagineers have succeeded in crafting a highly immersive and emotionally engaging experience -- one that transcends age and gender.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.