Would Walt Disney Recognize the Magic Kingdom?

The flagship park of the Walt Disney World Resort was ultimately pulled off in time for its October 1, 1971 opening by Roy Disney, Walt Disney’s brother who had taken over management of the project following his death to see his brother’s dream through. Walt passed away in 1966, just one year after the “Florida Project” was publicly announced, and as a result, he was never even able to see construction on the property, never mind the finished product, which has us wondering…Would Walt Disney recognize today’s Magic Kingdom? The short answer is yes and no, but the long answer is more complex….

Since the overarching concept and design of the Magic Kingdom takes so many of its cues from Disneyland Park, Walt would surely know what he is walking into if he were able to come back for a day and enter the park. The train station at the park entrance and beginning of Main Street U.S.A. would be very familiar, but also different, from the Disneyland he knew very well, but he would know the concept without a doubt. (The entrance of the park would be similar to how you might have perceived Main Street while visiting another Disney theme park outside of Walt Disney World, familiar, yet different.)

Before even arriving at the park entrance, however, he would likely be awe-struck by the Transportation and Ticket Center. One of Walt’s changes from the Disneyland model that he wanted to implement in Florida was the way that people arrived at the park. He felt that Disneyland’s parking lot was not a great start to an immersive experience as you could see other areas of Anaheim from there before entering the park. While he was never able to see it, Walt was excited that the Magic Kingdom’s plans separated the parking lot from the park and required Guests to take a monorail or boat to the entrance.

Credit: Disney

Another scene that would likely stop Walt in his tracks would be Cinderella Castle. While early designs were in the works for Cinderella Castle prior to his death, it wasn’t quite the focus of the project yet, and Walt likely never saw anything close to the finished product as the bulk of the work on the Castle was done in the 18 months prior to the summer of 1971. He might be taken aback by the Partners statue featuring him and Mickey Mouse, too.

The other areas of Walt Disney World that remained similar to Disneyland would certainly look familiar, especially Adventureland which is arguably the most similar-looking land to Disneyland’s at the Magic Kingdom (though he might be confused about the Magic Carpet attraction assuming our re-awakened Walt hasn’t caught up on Disney movies enough to have seen Aladdin (1992)! The Jungle Cruise was one of Disneyland’s original attractions, and a favorite of Walt’s, and we would be curious to see what he thinks of the newly updated scenes that were recently changed at Walt Disney World. Given that the Jungle Cruise was Walt’s alternative to having real animals in the park at a time when it wasn’t feasible to do so, I would love to see what he thinks of Animal Kingdom!

Credit: Disney

Frontierland would look very different to Walt as details for the land were not fully laid out before his death, and in comparison to Disneyland’s Frontierland pre-1966, the two are quite different. Albeit a controversial take, Walt would likely be impressed by Splash Mountain and thrilled to see Song of the South (1946) featured in the park, even without some of the film’s characters and with its most controversial moments entirely removed. Without taking a deep dive into our 2022 views of the problematic (read: racist) points in Song of the South, it is worth pointing out for the sake of this article that Walt thoroughly enjoyed the Uncle Remus stories and he was thrilled to create the film. Whatever your thoughts on the film and the attraction, we are led to believe that Walt would look fondly on Splash Mountain.

Liberty Square would be another interesting moment if we were somehow able to see Walt’s reaction to the land. The concept for Liberty Square was created by Walt himself for Disneyland as an offshoot of Main Street U.S.A. While Liberty Square looks different than Walt’s early concept art, there are a lot of details he would surely be impressed with. The Hall of Presidents for one would have to be fascinating to a man who only opened the Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln attraction focusing on a single president at Disneyland one year before his death. We can only imagine his response to seeing all of the US Presidents as Audio-Animatronics on one stage.

The Haunted Mansion is another Liberty Square attraction that would catch Walt’s attention. The attraction was in development for a number of years at Disneyland, so he was knowledgeable of the concept before his death, but since Disneyland’s version of the ride did not open until 1969, he was never able to experience the attraction himself.

Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom has an entirely different look than it does at Disneyland, but Walt would recognize it nonetheless. He would be familiar with many of the Disney animated films represented there. We would love to know what he would think of the Dumbo the Flying Elephant attraction and the rest of Storybook Circus given that he only knew the much more basic version of the attraction that existed early in Disneyland’s history. We think he would be especially pleased to see “it’s a small world.” This attraction was a hit at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and it only existed at Disneyland for a few months before Walt’s death.


New Fantasyland would be largely unrecognizable part of this Disney park to Walt as so much of the land is inspired by movies he would not know, like The Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991). He was incredibly fond of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), however, and hearing Walt’s thoughts on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (and the now-defunct Snow White’s Scary Adventures attraction) would be very interesting!

As for Tomorrowland, we believe Walt would be familiar with the concept, but there are lots of attractions here that would be totally unknown to him. Of course, without having seen Toy Story (1995) or Monsters Inc. (2001) attractions like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor would probably seem quite odd. The PeopleMover was his own concept and the Carousel of Progress existed to him only at the 1964 New York World’s Fair (it was moved to Disneyland in 1967). Space Mountain was likely not on Walt’s radar prior to his death, so this attraction would be an entirely new experience to him!

Everything we’ve touched on so far is only what Walt would see in a quick walk around the park- We haven’t even touched on the parades, shows, and nightly fireworks spectacular, or the changes to character costume designs, all of which would be impressive to someone waking up from the 60s. And that isn’t even adding in things like Park Hopper tickets, Disney Genie, the other theme parks, resorts, Disney Springs, and so much more. So would he recognize the Magic Kingdom? Yes, but also no…Mostly yes, but with a very stunned side of “No, is that the Haunted Mansion? Did you say ALL the Presidents?!”

About Brittany DiCologero

Brittany is a New England-based writer focused on the history of the Walt Disney World Resort. She is the author of "Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Reality of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort," and "Brittany Earns Her Ears."

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