Looking to the future from the top of Disneyland's castle

May 18, 2019, 10:00 AM · Countless millions of theme park fans have visited Sleeping Beauty Castle since it opened with Disneyland in 1955. Many take the walking tour through the castle, which retells the story of Princess Aurora, Maleficent, and Prince Phillip through a series of dioramas. But only a select few visitors from outside The Walt Disney Company ever get the chance to go up on to this landmark.

Yeah, I'm bragging now. Thursday morning, the four other writers who have been covering Disneyland's "Project Stardust" and I were invited to join Imagineer Kim Irvine for a tour of the newly renovated Sleeping Beauty Castle, including a scaffolding walk across its new roof.

Disneyland this morning took down the last of the scaffolding surrounding the castle during this most recent refurbishment, revealing more of the work that several dozen cast members and contractors have been doing for these past few months. The "pixie dust" stars upon the cedar shakes atop the castle's main section have been getting the most attention, but Irvine said that the work involved much more than that.

Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle
Photo courtesy Disneyland

Despite Disney's current project to expand Sleeping Beauty Castle's twin at Hong Kong Disneyland, Irvine said that such work never was considered for Disneyland.

"She's Walt's castle," Irvine said. "She's perfect the way she is."

But Irvine did say that Walt's castle needed some improvement in her mid-60s. In addition to replacing the castle's roof, Irvine said that the design team took the opportunity to "push the color more... and add a little pixie dust."

"Colors fade over time," she said. "And people get used to seeing it faded."

Irvine said that the colors of the new cedar shakes atop the castle are inspired by the cobalt blue atop the castle that appears in Disney's most recent animated production logo, the one that appears in front of Disney movies.

Designers employed atmospheric perspective — changing the color shading on the castle to emphasize its forced perspective. Colors farther away take on a blueish tone, thanks to the presence of more atmosphere between the subject and the viewer, Irvine explained. For castle, that meant warmer shades, including pink, at the lower levels of the castle, giving way to more lavender and that crowing blue at the top. Together, the illusions suggests a structure taller than the castle's actual 70 feet.

The forced perspective amplifies the feeling of intimacy when you see the castle from its roof. You are supposed to look upon this facade from far away, and even then it is designed to appear farther still. But standing just feet from its turrets reveals the castle's details to you consciously. It's like leaning into an impressionist painting to decode its splats and dots, only to discover that each one is its own little work of art.

Jim Slagle, Director Facility Asset Management for the Disneyland Resort, said that all 18 turrets on the castle were digitally scanned, allowing crews to replace them without changing the structural look of the castle. Atop the castle, you notice the different shapes of the cedar shakes and turret caps that Disneyland's show shows have created for this refurbishment. You see the subtle changes in individual colors on the roof that help create engaging tone and texture for the structure when seen from ground level.

Current events conspired to empower them moment with extra emotion as well as understanding. The final destination on our tour was the section of the castle that Imagineers call "The Chapel," standing to the right of the main spire as you look at the castle from Main Street USA.

But this is no run-of-the-mill chapel atop Sleeping Beauty Castle. Disneyland's "Chapel" is a reproduction of the now-destroyed roof of Notre Dame de Paris. French officials are soliciting designs for the cathedral's new roof, and architects around the world are stepping forth with designs that might take the ancient cathedral in new aesthetic directions.

Standing less than 10 feet away from Disney's scale reproduction of the Viollet-le-Duc flèche, you see its gradient shifting from deep green to copper to gold. You notice the separation of the buttresses from the chapel itself, detail that can be lost among all else that the castle shows those looking at it from the ground. Here, focusing on the chapel itself, you see nothing but that this is a smaller, scaled, and wonderful recreation of something now lost.

Of course it is not lost here. For as Disney tweaks this castle every decade or so, "pushing" its colors and adorning its edges, Sleeping Beauty Castle remains much as it was when it opened in 1955 — the unmistakable icon of Disneyland. With its new roof and repairs, Sleeping Beauty Castle remains prepared to endure for many more decades into its future.

The final construction walls come down and Sleeping Beauty Castle reopens to the public this Friday, May 24.

Replies (6)

May 18, 2019 at 11:31 AM

I like the look of the new castle, except maybe the roofs are too dark, but as Kim Irvine said, the colors will fade over time.

But what puzzles me is that the main roof is much darker that two little roofs on each side. I understand that they wanted to make the colors darker at the bottom and lighter at the top, but this seems inconsistent.

I do like the cooler stone colors, the original colors were also cool, but they made them brownish I think in the 90s, I think they were trying to make the colors richer, but it looked kind of muddy. Now it's overall a vast improvement.

I didn't know the chapel was recreating the roof of Notre Dame. Although the Notre Dame roof doesn't have the zigzag pattern.

I really don't know how they're going to make the Hong Kong castle bigger, the concept art looks like they're building on the existing structure, but in order to make it so tall, I think they would have to expand the footprint, which means expanding the building into the rear courtyard. Interesting to see what they will do.

Each Disney park should have its own distinct castle, so I'm not bothered that they're changing the Hong Kong castle. It's too bad that the WDW and Tokyo castles are the same, though beautiful.

May 18, 2019 at 12:07 PM

Another thing that Kim mentioned was that they had to work only with colors that would be compatible with the projection mapping that Disneyland now does upon the castle for pretty much all its fireworks shows. Certain colors that would distort the projections are off the palette for castle use. That constraint influenced the castle's new color design, she said.

May 18, 2019 at 2:04 PM

One of the things that I love is that you can walk through the castle at Disneyland. It is a very simple attraction, and many people probably skip it, but I find it as essential as Pirates, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain. The older I get, the more I think that DL is a far superior theme park to WDW. I used to think they were equivalent, but I can't say that anymore, especially with FP+. I am scared to think what GE will do to the park, but I suppose we will see.

May 18, 2019 at 8:35 PM

Still prefer Cinderella's Castle at Magic Kingdom (and it's twin at Tokyo Disneyland) to Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland- though my favorite Disney theme park castle is Chateau de la Belle Dubois Dormant at Disneyland Paris, and it's sleepy dragon:) Love what was done inside Shanghai Disneyland's castle but find the monolithic look of that structure too "Kremlin" for my tastes- though it themes well with being a socialist home for all Disney Princesses;) Have hopes that the Hong Kong Disneyland castle expansion will be worthy. Surprised Disney+ streaming won't get a Disney Princess version of Fix or Flip...

May 19, 2019 at 9:25 AM

I'm so glad you brought up the projection shows Robert. I love the deep rich blue in use on the roof now, but my first thought was about how well it would work with projected images. I felt sure it was a consideration, but it still looks very dark to serve well as a screen.

May 20, 2019 at 10:49 AM

What an incredible opportunity!

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