The princess predicament is a problem as old as Disneyland.
Moms want a picture of their little girls with a Disney princess while Dads and their bored boys squirm at the very notion of waiting 45 minutes for a photo op.
Disneyland seems to have found a happy medium with the new Fantasy Faire, ushering the ladies through a conga line of princess meet-and-greets while the guys pass the time with a slapstick comedy designed to entertain the young and old.
Set to officially debut March 12, Fantasy Faire will serve as the permanent home of Disney’s princesses. During a media preview tour on Tuesday, I found the fancy new digs to be a vast improvement over the princesses’ former residence at the Fantasyland Theater, a slap-dash temporary hovel unsuitable for Disney royalty.
Located next to Sleeping Beauty Castle on the site of the former Carnation Plaza Gardens, Fantasy Faire will feature a Royal Hall where three princesses will greet visitors, a Royal Theatre presenting two alternating shows, a gift shop and a food cart.
The village of cottage-like buildings look like they’ve been a part of Disneyland from the start, which is probably the highest complement I can pay Walt Disney Imagineering. The orphaned and underused Carnation Gardens bandstand always seemed out of place in its primo location on the Disneyland hub.
The back story for the new Gothic-inspired village involves a traveling fair that has come to town with a theater troupe in tow, inspiring the princesses drop by to see what all the excitement is about.
Visitors to the Royal Hall will meet a rotating cast of three princesses listed on a board near the entrance.
During my visit, I watched as one little girl after another dressed in their favorite princess dresses stared wide-eyed with amazement as they met Cinderella, Aurora and Ariel. Every princess chatted briefly with each little girl before trying to coax a little brother clinging to a parent’s leg into the photo.
Naturally, visitors to the meet-and-greet attraction exit into a gift shop selling a wide selection of royal gowns for $65 - just in case your little princess happens to be improperly attired. Tiaras and glass slippers are sold separately.
Being a father of a now 12-year-old daughter who once had a closet full of princess dresses, I preferred the two comedic stage shows starring Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” and Rapunzel from “Tangled” over the Royal Hall meet-and-greet.
The princesses nominally play the lead roles in each of their stories with the comedic duo of Mr. Smythe and Mr. Jones serving as virtually the entire supporting cast.
In a style dubbed “Renaissance Vaudeville,” borrowing from Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello, the duo of Smythe and Jones tell the well-known stories at a breakneck pace complete with frequent costume changes, running gags, mad-cap dancing and comical fight scenes.
The quick-witted and action-oriented scenes kept the attention of the little ones seated up front with plenty of humor designed to literally go over the kids heads and reach the parents seated on the benches in the back of the theater. A slew of inside jokes referenced “Twilight Zone,” “Days of Our Lives,” “Wizard of Oz” and “Lion King” as well the Jungle Cruise and It’s a Small World rides.
Much of the snappy dialogue seems improvised although almost every line is scripted with very few opportunities for ad-libs. My favorite part of each performance was when the actors stopped the show to figure out how best to go on with the show, which was all part of the act.
Some of the funniest moments occurred when the narrators were forced to quickly condense long stretches of the stories into a few seconds of dialogue because of the brevity of the 20-minute shows.
I enjoyed both shows thoroughly but I’d have to say I found “Tangled” funnier and more manic than “Beauty and the Beast.”
Of course, not everything worked well. Attempts to get the kids to sing along with the “Beauty” finale fell flat despite the lyrics being spelled out on a royal tapestry. The little voices barely registered over the piano accompaniment and then there’s the fact that most 5-year-olds can’t read all that well.
I would have preferred to have seen Flynn Rider played by one of the thespians rather than a costumed performer, but I understand that Disneyland is trying to appeal to boys in the audience who might find Fantasy Faire already too girl heavy.
For parents taking in the show, I’d recommend sitting in one of the two side sections. A tent pole in the center of the theater makes watching the shows difficult from the middle section.
A similar Princess Fairytale Hall is expected to open later this year in the revamped Fantasyland section of the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. Shanghai Disneyland’s Storybook Castle will be home to the Once Upon a Time princess meet-and-greet attraction when the $3.7 billion Chinese theme park opens in late 2015 or early 2016.