Barbie at Epcot: The Magical World of Barbie

In 1993 and 1994 Disney fans were given an unusual pairing of brands when Mattel and Disney teamed up to bring The Magical World of Barbie to Epcot 94′, of all places. Why Barbie, and why Epcot?

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📰Sources

The Orlando Sentinel
“Barbie, Ken dress up for big show” (8/15/93)
“Barbie packing her bags, checking out of Epcot show next month”

The Tampa Tribune
“It’s a Pink World After All” (1/31/94)
“Barbie, Ken to help bring light to Harbour Island’s Christmas tree” (11/25/93)
“In Search of the Real Barbie” (8/19/93)

Tampa Bay Times
“Taking the measure of a living doll” (1/28/94)

News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida)
“Barbie in Orlando” (11/7/93)

UPI (United Press International)
“Disney, Mattel expand alliance” (11/11/91)

The Sun-Sentinel
“Disney plans to update antiquated Epcot” (1/3/94)

The Tiara Talk Show
“Cast Member Corner – Interview with Beth McShane, Barbie in “The Magical World of Barbie”

Well surprisingly enough, for as odd of a match as it might seem, it kind of makes sense. Disney and Mattel actually have a relationship that goes way back. In fact, it goes all the way back to 1955, the same year Disneyland opened. Mattel was one of the first corporate sponsors for the original run of Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club which aired on ABC. However beyond just the normal sponsorship arrangement of accepting Mattel’s money in return for advertising time on the show, Disney also licensed out some of its rights to Mattel for Disney branded toys. It was a partnership that would prove mutually lucrative.

Fast forward thirty-six years and that partnership was still around.

The idea was to create a half hour stage show that celebrated Barbie and her legacy. It was called The Magical World of Barbie, and in all honesty if was set in Disney-MGM Studios it probably wouldn’t seem that out of place. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Muppets, Ninja Turtles. None of them were owned by Disney and yet they all had a presence in the parks. In that sense, Barbie would have fit right in. But… Epcot? It just didn’t really match. Well, as it turns out, that’s exactly why they put it there.

During that same time in the early 1990s, Disney was facing a problem: attendance at Epcot was on the decline. So Disney decided to try and win over new and younger audiences.

In an attempt to make the concept work, the show would be centered around the idea that Barbie had made all these friends all around the world over her 35 years, so it would only be natural that the show take place in World Showcase. Disney didn’t take the task lightly. They would end up holding auditions in six cities across the United States in search for the perfect actress to portray Barbie. As Disney’s casting director, Ron Rodriguez, would put it: “You can’t be flippant about the treatment of this character. This is Mattel’s Mickey Mouse.” After weeks on the road and after seeing over one thousand potential Barbies and Kens, Disney returned home empty handed. But as luck would have it, the casting team would tune into that year’s Miss America pageant, where they would find their perfect Barbie in third runner-up and Miss Oregon, Elizabeth Simmons.

The show itself was, well, pretty much what you’d expect a Barbie themed stage show to be. It had its target audience and it did well enough that it was performed throughout 1994. However it wasn’t creating the desired effect of getting audiences hyped up for World Showcase.

So in the spring of 1995 Disney and Mattel would announce that The Magical World of Barbie would be ending on May 11th, just seven months short of the initial two-year plan. There was some talk of Disney and Mattel working to bring the show to another park, but nothing would really come of it.

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