Disney has suspended the use of certain fire effects at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and its international parks following Fantasmic’s Maleficent dragon erupting into flames over the weekend. This post covers what’s being changed, what happened to the beloved Murphy Audio Animatronics, and how this likely impacts entertainment going forward.
We’ll start with a quick Disneyland history lesson, as you might be wondering why so many Disneyland diehards are saying “RIP Murphy” on social media. The now-beloved dragon was dubbed Murphy by the online fandom in the nascent years of social media not out of love, but of infamy. The name is a reference to Murphy’s Law, and the next-generation Maleficent that was set to debut as part of enhancements to Fantasmic for Summer Nightastic. As the name suggests, pretty much everything went wrong with Murphy during Summer Nightastic.
Disneyland fans repeatedly camped out for hours to see the new dragon that had been hyped up in advertisements and publicity materials, and repeatedly went home disappointed. Imagine if Walt Disney World hyped up the replacement/repair of Disco Yeti and you waited in line 180 minutes to see it, only to see the disco version. Similar idea, played out over the course of the entire Summer Nightastic promo.
Fast-forward four months or so, and Murphy the Dragon finally debuted just in time for the start of the September off-season. Whether it lived up to the hype probably depended upon how many times you had camped out along the Rivers of America for hours hoping to catch a glimpse; the first time we saw Murphy, we were absolutely blown away. It was a night and day difference as compared to the Maleficent on a stick at Walt Disney World.
Even after making her appearance, it wasn’t smooth sailing for Murphy. She had intermittent issues, and a year later malfunctioned and had another multi-month absence. Accordingly, the name Murphy stuck around in fan circles, even if that became a confusing moniker for Maleficent. It made sense to the diehards, and became more of a loving nickname over time as the problems were further in the rearview mirror.
The nickname Murphy also became at least somewhat forgotten, as a whole new generation of fans only ever knew the modern Maleficent, which mostly worked fine. All of these issues occurred over a decade ago, and Murphy/Maleficent haven’t really had any problems since. (Well, until April 22, 2023!)
If you want to read a more thorough version of events–the backstory of Murphy is actually quite fascinating–this history on Reddit is a great place to start. To my recollection, the only sites thoroughly reporting contemporaneous updates were Micechat and Mouseplanet, and I’m not sure whether those articles still exist in their archives.
As for what happened to Murphy in April 2023, well, take a look for yourself:
The Maleficent dragon caught fire during the second showing of Fantasmic! at Disneyland Park on Saturday night.
It happened when Mickey shoots sparks at the giant dragon’s head. The Anaheim Fire Department responded to the scene.
— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) April 23, 2023
The Maleficent dragon caught fire during the second showing of Fantasmic at Disneyland late last night. The fire erupted when Mickey Mouse shot sparks at the giant dragon’s head to defeat it in the storyline of the show.
The Anaheim Fire Department responded to the scene, but didn’t arrive until after Murphy had been burning for a while and had sustained significant damage (if not complete destruction). Below is a photo of the aftermath:
I’m heart broken 😭 pic.twitter.com/19zIcqevU7
— jonathan (@jaysquivel) April 23, 2023
Disney officials also released the following statement:
During the final showing of Fantasmic at Disneyland Park on Saturday evening, the dragon prop caught fire. Anaheim Fire & Rescue quickly responded, and the fire was extinguished. All cast members were safely evacuated from Tom Sawyer Island. Due to smoke and wind, attractions near the island were safely evacuated of any guests, and the cause of the fire remains under investigation at this time.
We are temporarily suspending fire effects similar to those used at Disneyland park’s Fantasmic at select shows and entertainment experiences globally out of an abundance of caution following the Fantasmic prop fire at Disneyland park. The continued safety of our cast and guests is of the utmost importance. (h/t Scott Gustin)
While the cause remains under investigation, photos and video on social media show Maleficent leaking fluid before Mickey Mouse was set to defeat her with his spark-shooting sword. Between that and the fact that Maleficent breathes fire, it stands to reason that the combination of the leak plus the sparks were the cause. It would seem that Mickey Mouse defeated Maleficent once and for all–or at least for a while–last night. Thankfully, Mickey and everyone else is safe.
In any case, Disneyland has removed Fantasmic from the schedule between today and April 27, 2023. It’s important to stress that this is entirely tentative at this point. Fantasmic could return earlier or later depending upon how the safety inspections goes and how quickly interim replacements for the damaged showpieces can be prepared. Judging by the nature and extent of the fire damage, it’s likely that the Audio Animatronics figure of Maleficent will be missing for far longer.
Ironically, this is not the first time that a fire-breathing Maleficent has caught on fire during live entertainment at one of the Disney parks. Back in 2018, the Maleficent float in Festival of Fantasy parade at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World caught on fire, in circumstances that were somewhat similar.
That Maleficent float ended up disappearing from the parade for about 8 months at Walt Disney World. The damage to that dragon didn’t appear as bad, but it’s also possible the safety system was updated since Festival of Fantasy’s Maleficent is in the vicinity of guests right along the parade route in Magic Kingdom.
At this point, it’s impossible to predict how long it’ll take for Disneyland to repair or rebuild the Murphy AA. On the one hand, the damage looks far worse here than it did with the Walt Disney World parade float. On the other hand, the Murphy AA is much more integral to the plot of Fantasmic than the float is/was to a parade. Festival of Fantasy is simply a series of loosely-connected floats without a narrative. Fantasmic does have some semblance of a story, so there will likely be an added incentive for Disneyland to move faster on their Maleficent.
Our hope is that Disneyland turns this into an opportunity, and creates another next-gen Maleficent Audio Animatronics figure for Fantasmic. Imagineering and Disney Entertainment have likely learned a lot since Murphy debuted in 2009; between that and the incredibly well-received updates to the DHS Fantasmic last year, it wouldn’t surprise us if Disneyland does another marketable update to its Fantasmic.
While Disneyland repairs or replaces Maleficent, it’s likely that a simpler backup dragon will appear in the interim so that the show can resume for the summer tourist season. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Disneyland Fantasmic in B-Mode, but our expectation is that the immediate replacement is a mist screen, with a “dragon on a stick” fabricated and appearing alongside Mickey Mouse in the coming weeks. (Unless Disneyland still has its older dragon on a stick, which is a possibility; we have no clue.)
The point is that it could still take months before an advanced, fire-breathing Maleficent Audio Animatronics figure returns to Fantasmic at Disneyland. Given the extent of the damage, I’d be surprised to see one before 2024. Hopefully the new one gets as cool of a nickname as Murphy, but for totally different reasons. Some examples of nicknames I don’t want to see are Chapek (for obvious reasons), Finagle (similar to Murphy), or even Figment. As objectively great of a name as that last one is, it’s also for an imaginary dragon…so let’s not have that.
In the meantime, Walt Disney World has confirmed that the only impact at the Florida parks will be the temporary suspension of fire effects on the Maleficent float in the Festival of Fantasy Parade at Magic Kingdom. Again, this is out of an abundance of caution, and not due to any presumed deficiencies or defects with that dragon.
There are no planned temporary changes to Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios as a result of the incident. The new Fantasmic at DHS is truly incredible, and arguably a better overall show than its counterpart at Disneyland (words we never would’ve written prior to its big update last year).
However, the DHS dragon is entirely different, less complex, and otherwise inferior. It’s one of 3 ‘wow moments’ in Fantasmic that Disneyland definitely does better. The Maleficent infrastructure at Disney’s Hollywood Studios uses a different fire effect, operates in a completely different way, and is not impacted by the temporary pause.
At Disneyland Resort, it’s unclear what else will be impacted. Since this happened at those parks and California has its own safety standards, we wouldn’t be surprised to see flame effects removed from World of Color – ONE and Wondrous Journeys for the next few days. That’s a total guess, though. It’s also possible that the only things impacted anywhere will be the Maleficent dragon parade floats in Orlando and Paris.
Unfortunately, this will also likely become fodder for the ongoing battle between DeSantis and Iger. Just last week, Florida’s governor announced new legislation targeted at Walt Disney World that would give the state oversight of theme park safety. This incident will likely add (figurative) fuel to the fire on that initiative…and embolden him on who knows what else.
In the meantime, our Viewing Guide for Fantasmic at Disneyland will still apply once the nighttime spectacular returns, as does our effusive praise for Fantasmic. Although Mickey Mouse defeating Maleficent is the climactic scene and the highlight of the nighttime spectacular, Fantasmic as a whole is still amazing, and a 10/10 production even with that removed or heavily modified.
In addition, we would highly recommend making a point of seeing the new Wondrous Journeys fireworks from the front of the park if at all possible. See our Disneyland Fireworks Viewing Guide for the best and worst locations–the recommendations here simply cover the easiest way for seeing both Fantasmic and the fireworks in the same night, but Wondrous Journeys is such an excellent nighttime spectacular that it deserves to be seen up close from its intended viewing angle. This new fireworks show is on par with Happily Ever After, arguably the best fireworks show ever to be done by Disney.
Ultimately, it’s obviously unfortunate that this occurred and sad to see the dragon destroyed. It’s also more than a little concerning that this is the second such incident with one of the Maleficents at Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Seeing videos of both fires and the responses to them makes me question the fire suppression systems and contingency plans, but I also realize that it’s incredibly easy to critique and criticize after the fact. Even with the best measures and plans, things happen–especially in the heat of the moment during unprecedented situations.
Above all else, the most important thing is safety. All Cast Members and guests were safely evacuated from the area and there were no serious injuries reported as a result of the incident. Hopefully Disney’s teams working on this will be able to quickly create something as impressive as Murphy, but with failsafes or suppression systems in place that prevent this from happening again.
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Thoughts on the fire during Fantasmic at Disneyland? Do you expect Murphy to be rebuilt or replaced by a different dragon? Think this type of fire effect is gone for good during entertainment at Walt Disney World or Disneyland? Expect different fire suppression systems to be implemented? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!