Disney’s Failed State Fair

When Walt Disney set out to create Disneyland, he wanted to build a park that both children and adults could enjoy. He looked to state fairs and carnivals, not as models to be emulated, but as examples to be avoided. So it seemed a little odd when in 1996 The Walt Disney Company decided “Hey, let’s try our hand at this whole state fair thing.”

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📰Sources

📰LA Times
“It Didn’t Play in Puyallup, so Disney Tries Singapore” (Aug 28 1997)

🔗D23
“Disney Fair”

📰Orlando Business Journal
“The Disney Fair to tour America with elaborate show” (Aug 19 1996)

📰Arizona Republic
“State Fair gets Goofy” (Oct 17 1996)
“It certainly is an Air-itation” (Oct 22 1996)

📰Arizona Daily Star
“Meet me at the fair but be sure to bring a full wallet” (Oct 22 1996)

📰Walla Walla Union Bulletin
“Mouse Mouse is moving on down the road” (Sep 10 1996)

📰Kitsap Sun
“Stage hands picket hiring at Disney Fair” (Sep 15 1996)

According to Walt Disney Entertainment Senior VP Ron Logan, the idea of the Disney Fair was born from discussions at the company regarding what they could do to put their collection of over 300 inflatable Disney characters to use. But it was more than just that. According to the Orlando Sentinel, over 158 million people were attending state fairs every year in the United States. That was a big market, and Disney was interested in getting a slice of that pie. And with that, Disney’s Fun Fair Extraodrinair was born.

The premise of the fair was that rather than traveling the country as its own standalone show, it would travel to pre-established state fairs and set itself up as an additional amusement. The plan called for visiting 12-13 state fairs over the course of a year, but before they’d do that, Disney aimed to run a test at a couple of fairs in the fall of 1996.

Disney’s Fun Fair Extraordinair premiered at the Washington State Fair in September of 1996 and just a month later it made its way to the State Fair of Arizona. Then, it all stopped. Why? Well, the show ran into a few problems, and as it would turn out, it was also just a fundamentally flawed concept. It was a state fair show that was approached with a scope and level of quality that Disney was known for, and unfortunately that resulted in a pretty expensive endeavor.

Disney would either never have a chance of breaking even, or they’d have to jack up their prices to cover all these costs. By the time Disney’s Fun Fair Extraordinair made its way to Arizona, tickets for adults ranged between $16 an $21, while tickets for children ranged between $10 and $16. Those prices depended on which seat section you chose. The three tiers were called “value”, “fun”, and “real fun”. Now today those prices don’t sound too crazy, but for comparison, a normal admission ticket to the State Fair of Arizona that year was $6.50 for adults and $3.50 for children. And that was for the whole fair the whole day. Disney was essentially asking for over three times as much money for what amounted to a two hour experience. It’s also worth noting that this year’s past state fair in Arizona had an adult admission price of $10. So it’s still less than half of what Disney was asking for over twenty years ago.

So I guess this next part isn’t much of a surprise, but attendance wasn’t really what Disney was hoping it would be, and ultimately it was decided that the project wasn’t worth continuing… at least not here. The fair would eventually be retooled into a fair called Disney Fest, which would be brought over to Asia and premiered in Singapore in 1997. It, too, wouldn’t last very long, making it another short-lived piece of #DisneyHistory

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