A lot (too much!) could be said about the iconic, heart-and-soul centerpiece of Disneyland. The story of Sleeping Beauty Castle is so important to not only Disneyland but the brand of Disney itself that I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Instead, we will focus more on its actual connection to the movie that inspired it... or, is it the other way around? It’s hard to say which exactly begat which since production on the 1959 film began as far back as 1953 while architects and designers began work on the actual castle itself in 1954, finishing that same year even ahead of the park’s 1955 opening. Even then, with the castle up and standing a full five years before the movie even hit theatres, you’d think the animators would’ve taken the opportunity of having a real-life, almost full-scale model to draw upon to really hammer the park-to-movie synergy home. The two castles are similar but are more cousins than siblings. Don’t get me wrong…. I really do love almost everything about the castle but as I longingly gaze at its pink and blue turrets and/or gallantly march over its moated drawbridge I have never really felt like I was being transported into the world of Sleeping Beauty. Really, the castle is more a product and representative of Disneyland itself rather than the film it supposedly belongs to.
Yes, I will freely and gladly admit that there are still plenty of details that are evocative of the movie like the underrated Castle Walk-Through that takes you up and into the castle byway of a series of stairwells, winding you through a re-telling of the story via a charming series of storybooks and dioramas. There are also a couple of large and fantastic looking murals (Phil fighting the Dragon and Phil kissing his Beauty, respectively) on each wall as you pass through the castle and into Fantasyland. There’s even a fancy looking water fountain featuring a bronzed statuette of a dancing Aurora and Prince Phillip. But my own personal favourite bits of theming are the squirrel gargoyles scampering down the front castle walls and the owl, rabbit and squirrel figures perched upon the stone pillars surrounding the castle. Also featured are the immaculately square-trimmed trees that adorn the castle’s landscape. Sleeping Beauty’s animation was the most unique and stylized of all the Disney movies up to this point and these minor little details do a yeoman’s job at capturing the spirit of the film without actually doing so.
It’s become clear that in giving his castle the Sleeping Beauty moniker, Walt was far more interested in marketing his latest movie through his theme park rather than actually bringing his film to life. How can you even blame him though? It totally worked! In the end, this beautiful, yet generic castle has completely transcended any connection to Sleeping Beauty and is much more synonymous with the brand of Disney itself. Aside from the silhouette of Mickey’s head, what’s more Disney than Sleeping Beauty’s Castle?
However, with that being said, I have an IDEA! And, while it would seem ridiculous and almost sacrilege to imagine things any other way than how they are, I almost wish Walt would’ve just named it “Walt Disney’s Castle” and just used it as a forever changing and evolving tapestry wherein new thematic elements from his movies would be seamlessly incorporated into the structure. With that in mind, why couldn’t we have a tower dedicated to Rapunzel’s hair, Quasimodo’s bells, Merlin’s crumbling guest room or all three?!?! We could even still throw Sleeping Beauty a bone with a dragon’s lair tucked beneath the castle (like in Disneyland Paris! – yes, I know Maleficent as dragon never lived under the castle but it’s still cool nonetheless). We already have a half-cocked clock tower above the Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique, why not a legit one befitting of the old “killjoy” to throw some love Cinderella’s way? In a sense, this sort of thematic mélange has already happened with Snow White’s Grotto essentially being a part of the castle and Pinocchio’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” serenading guests passing through it gates. It may sound like a crazy mess (it is) but this is what Fantasyland is all about! Just in the castle’s court, we seamlessly and tastefully transition from Pinocchio, to Snow White, to The Sword in the Stone, to Peter Pan, to Mr. Toad, to Dumbo and finally to Alice in Wonderland. Just think about it… and, how say you?
Rumoured to be because of concerns from 9/11, the Walk-Through was closed from 2001 until its 2008 reimagining.
With its brightly coloured tournament tents, banners and attraction facades, the theming of the castle courtyard was heavily inspired by early drawings from the movie. Of course, this all went by the wayside with the 1983 Bavarian themed remodel.
Lending credence to my theory that naming it Sleeping Beauty Castle was just a casual marketing ploy is the fact that Walt Disney once referred to it as “Snow White’s Castle” during one his television programs detailing the construction of the park. Or, the old man was just having a senior moment.
In the 90s, there were actually plans to create a Dragon’s Lair on the back end of the castle where the Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique now stands.
In 1965, the Disney family coat of arms was added above the castle archway.
The castle is only half as tall as the Matterhorn, two-thirds the size of Space Mountain and about the same height as Tarzan’s Treehouse.
The castle’s design was inspired by the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. And, apparently, that now famous Bavarian castle was relatively unknown at the time - the power of Disney!
There are conflicting stories as to whether it was intentional or by accident, but the top half of the castle was placed on its foundation backwards.
The castle was one of the first buildings finished during Disneyland’s construction to serve as an inspiration and reminder to the construction crews that “dreams really do come true.”