Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.
BE OUR GUEST IN FANTASYLAND
By Jim Korkis
The Be Our Guest Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom that opened in December 2012 was part of the larger New Fantasyland expansion and renovation of that area of the park.
When it opened, it was the only publicly accessible Magic Kingdom venue to serve wine and beer–until December 23, 2016, when other Magic Kingdom restaurants started offering the same options.
The goal in Be Our Guest was to capture the elegance and fairytale charm of Disney’s popular 1991 animated feature film Beauty and the Beast. The entrance with its cold hard stone, metal, and desaturated tones of crumbling architecture juxtaposed against beautiful landscaping, hints that this might be a time before the curse was broken as guests walk through the gates and across a stone bridge.
The lion-like figures flanking the entrance door were referred to by the Imagineer designers as “golions” referencing that they were a combination of goat and lion. The figures above the entrance door that resemble eagles with snake tails were called “sneagles”. The six stone gargoyle figures on the bridge leading to the castle were simply all given the name “Frank” in order to better identify them.
“This is a whole new level of theming for a Disney restaurant,” said Maribeth Bisienere, vice president of Food & Beverage and Merchandise for The Walt Disney Company. “More than ever, we’re using storytelling and creativity. From the moment they cross the bridge into the castle, it’s all about immersing our guests in the dining experience. Every detail is part of the story.”
Three distinctive dining areas are located within the castle: an elegant ballroom setting, the mysterious West Wing of the Beast’s castle with the enchanted rose under a glass bell jar using the Pepper’s Ghost illusion for its falling petals, and the stunning Rose Gallery with a seven foot tall wooden music box with a depiction of Belle and Beast dancing on top of it, while overhead is a dome that is an exact replica from the chapel de Saint Chapelle, the cathedral next to Notre Dame in Paris.
The centerpiece golden chandelier in the ballroom measures more than 12 feet tall and 11 feet wide. It boasts more than 84 candles and more than 100 jewels that hang down to give it added shine. The area is defined by a 20-foot high coffered ceiling painted with clouds and cherubs depicting the faces some of the Imagineers who worked on the project and a terrazzo floor. Beyond 18-foot-tall windows is the French countryside where snow falls gently against a starry night sky.
The Rose Gallery is adorned with paintings that celebrate the characters from the film, and with four tapestries inspired by background art from the film. Carved roses are featured throughout the room, along with other rose accents including the intricate tile mosaics on the floor.
The West Wing includes, over the fireplace, a portrait of the young prince in human form that has been slashed by the beast’s claws. With periodic flashes of lightning, the image in the portrait transforms from prince to Beast.
Music was integral to adding to the overall ambience. For the Ballroom, a 50-piece orchestra recorded the music from the film. In the adjacent Rose Gallery, special music box arrangements were recorded of the same pieces heard in the Ballroom, in perfect synchrony, so that guests moving from room to room hear the same tune transformed from one style to another. In the West Wing, a somber, melancholy arrangement creates a forbidding mood.
For four years, the Disney Food & Beverage team worked at creating a menu to match the environment. A team of Disney chefs, including longtime Disney Chef Roland Muller, a native of Alsace, France, developed the French-inspired dishes, creating both a quick-service menu for lunch and more elegant table-service menu for dinner.
“Our role was to finish the story,” said Walt Disney World Executive Chef Lenny DeGeorge.
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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!
In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.