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Fridays with Jim Korkis: Mickey’s PhilharMagic

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

Walt Disney Imagineering senior vice president and executive show director Rick Rothschild spent 41 years working in Imagineering before leaving the Walt Disney Company. Among other things, he worked on the Mickey’s PhilharMagic attraction at the Magic Kingdom.

(c) Disney

Mickey’s PhilharMagic is a 4D twelve minute long attraction in Fantasyland where Donald Duck travels through several different Disney animated feature films including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Peter Pan and The Lion King, to try to retrieve Mickey’s magic hat from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Before the attraction opened in October 2003, Rothschild shared the following with Walt Disney World cast members:

“The last 3-D film that I worked on was The Magic Lamp Theater at Tokyo DisneySea, which made extensive use of 3-D animation for the first time. Working on that gave us the notion that something like Mickey’s PhilharMagic was possible, so we laid the groundwork with Disney Feature Animation, and everybody got excited.

“What allows us to do this attraction is the whole advancement of computer animation and 3-D technology that has been part of advancements used by Pixar Animation Studios and our own work, as well as outside studios. We needed more power and tools that work faster, and now we have them. It’s helped us accomplish what we’ve talked about for years: creating 3-D classic character animation.

“The building has gone through some pretty dramatic changes. The main structure remained but the projection booth was enhanced and enlarged. We’ve made a lot of use of the walls and ceiling and reworked a lot of what’s inside the theater shell. The exterior façade, the marquee and the queue are all new.

“We are using a number of laptops to program the show. There’s no audio or videotape that we have to start and stop like we did long ago. Everything is now stored digitally – just a hard drive with all the video images stored as individual images. You can either play it back in real time or you can stop it and literally work on it frame by frame, so you can study it and work on it very accurately.

“That’s so important because everything we do in programming all the special effects, the lighting and everything else is tied to the idea that you should feel absolutely connected to the world you’re looking at on the screen.

“There’s a great deal of subtlety in what we’re working on to make seamless connections that will suspend your disbelief and let you fall into the 3-D world. A lot of lighting cues and other effects are not designed to draw attention to themselves so much as they supplement the environment that you’re looking at and make you really feel that it’s extending into the real world, or that you’re in that world.

“The film differs dramatically from the other shows in terms of the journey that you go on. In Honey, I Shrunk the Audience and It’s Tough To Be a Bug, you’re physically in a theater. It’s a stage presentation, and things happen as a result of what you’re watching.

“Mickey’s PhilharMagic takes you on this magical journey into the worlds of Disney music and classic characters. The guests’ journey will be much more immersive than an apparent theatrical presentation that uses 3-D as a way to convey special effects.

“Every sense is going to be happily massaged. Sight, sound, tactile….the film is very tactile in a gentle, romantic way. In every different scene, you’re sort of reminded of the environment you’re in and hopefully, you’ll lose the sense that you’re in a theater and get caught up in this physical journey.”

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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 new books Vault of Walt Volume 9: Halloween Edition, and Hidden Treasures of the Disney Cruise Line.


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