In the first year of Disneyland’s existence, fireworks at the park did not exist. Walt Disney and his team quickly realized that they had to come up with something that would make park guests stay in the park longer and into the evening.
With an original price tag of 17 million in 1955 (equating to approximately a couple hundred million today), Walt gambled everything he had to build the park, and since every dollar was needed to recoup that investment, Disney had to come up with ideas to keep the dollars flowing in. The team knew that the longer guests stayed in the park, the more they would spend.
The typical family at the time went to Disneyland, paid for individual rides that appealed to their kids, and once everyone felt satisfied/tired, they all went home. During that first year after opening, very few families stayed until closing time. When people saw others leaving, they simply followed the “herd” by thinking it was time to go home. It was this herd mentality that really hurt Disney’s bank account. When the park was open (with the cost of cast member wages, electricity expenses, & other overhead costs), Disney needed to find a way to give visitors a reason to stay to the very end of the park day. Convincing the majority of park guests to all leave at closing time was something that Disney had to figure out, and some type of nighttime show sounded like a good idea (with fireworks seeming like the logical choice).
The potential for smoke in the park and creating an overall nuisance for surrounding park neighbors was a real concern for Disney, and tests had to be run. An outside fireworks consultant with limited experience named Harold ‘Mickey’ Aronson (pictured below) was brought in to run testing (he was later brought in as a full-time employee). The very first tests happened in Disneyland’s parking lot after closing time, and then they moved into the park for further testing.
The tests consisted of Mickey Aronson sprinting between rockets to light fuses by hand, while cast members were stationed at various locations around the park to see how it looked. After observing it all, Walt Disney gave it the thumbs up and said, “Let’s give it a try”. In the summer of 1956, Disneyland’s fireworks were born with the original show called “Fantasy In The Sky”.
Just like the tests, Fantasy In The Sky wasn’t anything elaborate, and it didn’t involve any technological breakthroughs . . . it was just Mickey Aronson running around and lighting fireworks by hand (and trying not to leave any long, awkward gaps between explosions). As time went on, the quality of the show improved, and Aronson had trained others to help with the set-up and execution of the fireworks.
Just like their animation movies, Disney started to storyboard the event to properly choreograph and improve on it. One of the fireworks storyboard artists was none other than Roy ‘Big Mooseketeer’ Williams from “The Mickey Mouse Club.”
After the Matterhorn was built in 1959, Disney saw an opportunity to add a spectacular element to the show, and in 1961, Walt began a search for a flying Tinker Bell to wow the guests. A cable was connected between the castle and the Matterhorn, and Walt hired a 71-year-old circus performer named Helen ‘Tiny’ Kline to glide down the cable dressed as Tinkerbell.
It was not until the late 1960s that Disneyland Entertainment developed a system for firing the shells electronically and then synchronized them to a musical soundtrack. The first soundtrack included “Whistle While You Work”, “You Can Fly”, & “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo”.
New versions of “Fantasy In The Sky” were presented to guests during its long run during the 1970s, 80s & 90s, and it was duplicated for Walt Disney World as well. The show was retired at Disneyland in 1996 and at Walt Disney World in 2003.
Disney’s original pyrotechnician, Harold ‘Mickey’ Aronson ended up working for Disneyland Resort Entertainment for more than 50 years and can truly be considered the father of fireworks at the Disney parks!
Over the years, nighttime shows at Disney parks have evolved into much more than just fireworks and music. Lights, lasers, and more recently, projection mapping on the castles and buildings have made the nighttime shows the highlight of any Disney vacation!!
What is your favorite Disney nighttime show, and/or what is your favorite thing about it? 🧨 🎇