During my last visit to Disneyland before the COVID-19 shutdown, I stumbled upon a display of the detailed history behind the King Arthur Carousel, which had been closed for refurbishment. You may fondly recall the scene from Saving Mr. Banks in which Walt Disney, played by the iconic Tom Hanks, takes the writer behind the Mary Poppins series (a delightfully prudish Emma Thompson) for a ride on the carousel.
The ride has been a staple for those of all ages since the parks debut in 1955. The display shows vintage photography and delves into the background behind the creation of the ride beloved by Walt Disney himself and its development over the years.
1955: "Created for the Young and Young-at-heart"
Walt Disney’s dreams for Disneyland began when he watched his daughters ride on the carousel in Griffith Park. So it came as no surprise that when Walt began his plans for Disneyland, he wanted a carousel in his park.
In 1964, Disney scouts located a vintage carousel in Toronto, Canada. The Carousel was dismantled and shipped to California, where skilled artisans carefully restored it.
At Walt’s request, workers removed giraffes, deer, and other animals and replaced them with hand-carved horses so that every guest could ride aboard a galloping steed. The horses were then painted tan, brown, gray, or brownish red and place beneath a tournament-style canopy.
Imagineers designed a tournament-style tent for the debut of the King Arthur Carousel in 1955.
The 72 carved horses were carefully restored at the Walt Disney Studios.
1975-1982: "...And They Rode Upon Prancing White Steeds"
In 1975, the 72 multi-colored, hand-carved horses on King Arthur Carousel were repainted white so that every guest could gallop upon a knight’s white steed. Bridles, saddles, and flowers were painted in custom-designed color schemes and adorned with decorative “jewels,” giving each horse a distinct personality.
Nine hand-painted panels depicting key moments from Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty were placed within the carousel, linking the attraction of the most famous landmark of Fantasyland – Sleeping Beauty Castle.
In 1983, the Carousel moved from its former location to a new park-like setting.
The hand-carved wooden ornamentation from the 1922 Carousel was refinished in gold leaf.
1983 to Today: "A New Generation Rides into Fantasy"
In 1983, the King Arthur Carousel was moved to its current location as part of the New Fantasyland. At the same time, “The Sword in the Stone” was added, giving children a chance to try their hand at freeing the legendary sword of King Arthur.
When Walt Disney created Disneyland in 1955, more than 4,000 carousels operated in the US. Today, fewer than 200 carousels exist. To ensure that the magic of this carousel will continue to enchant new generations, the King Arthur Carousel is currently undergoing refurbishment by skilled artisans. The carousel will reopen in Spring 2020.
If you’re like me, you probably haven’t been on a carousel since you were a kid and have probably forgotten all about them, but there’s nothing that can take away the wonder of such a simplistic ride that’s a classic Disneyland treasure for all ages.
We can’t wait to see the unveiling of the newly renovated King Arthur Carousel when Disneyland reopens.