Veronica Marie’s last day at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., had already been memorable. Her 21 family members — a troop of kids and adults — had somehow managed to assemble for a birthday dinner celebrating Marie’s father. After dinner, her group gathered to watch the park’s long-running “Fantasmic!” show before the park closed that night. A Disney employee even ushered the family to a VIP section.
Disneyland’s fire-breathing Maleficent dragon catches fire mid-show
Marie, 23, couldn’t wait to watch “Fantasmic!” for the first time. But those hopes quickly went up in flames — literally.
Mickey Mouse, dressed in a red cloak and sorcerer’s hat, was in the midst of conjuring a kaleidoscope of lights, water and fog to defeat an evil 45-foot-tall mechanic dragon. The talking mouse defiantly declared “This is my dream!” when the fire-breathing beast suddenly burst into flames.
“I just remember looking up at Maleficent and thinking, ‘That’s not right,’” Marie said. “Like, it’s the cool part of the show, but that just doesn’t look right. And then I went, ‘Oh, nope, that’s definitely on fire and it’s not intended.”
Mickey slowly made his way out of the amphitheater, prompting Marie to do the same: “I took a good look at the dragon and I went, ‘Well, if Mickey’s leaving, I think I’m going to, too.’”
What caused the fire at approximately 11 p.m. local time “remains under investigation,” Disney said in a statement. A spokesperson for Anaheim Fire and Rescue, which responded to the incident, said at least six Disneyland employees were treated for smoke inhalation, but no one was seriously harmed.
Disney said it would temporarily suspend fire effects from “select shows and entertainment experiences globally out of an abundance of caution.”
“The continued safety of our cast and guests is of the utmost importance,” Disney officials said.
The dragon contraption inspired by Maleficent, the evil fairy turned dragon in “Sleeping Beauty,” has a history of technical problems, which delayed its 2009 debut, the Orange County Register reported.
Another Maleficent animatronic has also burst into flames. In 2018, the head of the fire-spitting dragon float began to burn while parading through Magic Kingdom in Florida’s Disney World.
This time, though, the dragon’s beady eyes started to glow against the dark sky — and, in an instant, Marie said, its head turned into a “ball of fire” that quickly began spreading through the machine’s body.
As soon as it became clear that the blaze was not the intended special effect, a chorus of “Oh my god!” rang out among the crowd. The music stopped, and employees began asking people to clear the area. Some, though, set up their tripods to take photos in front of the fire, Marie said — and it caused a bit of a backstop as hordes of people evacuated.
“I remember passing a few and just looking at them and thinking, ‘If Disney burns down, it will be your fault,’” she said.
Nearby, friends Jonathan Dailey and Brandy Bautista were celebrating their last ride on Splash Mountain before it closes May 31 for renovations. But as the hollowed-out log they were sitting on inched closer to the 52-foot plunge, the two caught a glimpse of Maleficent on fire and the heavy column of smoke emanating from it.
For Dailey, watching the famous dragon engulfed in flames felt like riding a roller coaster of emotions — all while he was physically on a thrill ride.
“It was happening all at once,” Dailey said. “Going down a fun drop and watching this dragon that has been part of our childhoods burning. It’s just shock, but you’re also sad and also kind of laughing because you’re like, ‘Oh, my god, is this actually happening?’”
When it was over, the two friends called it a day and headed out of the park after a 14-hour visit.
“It was a wild ride!” Dailey said, adding that he has a message for Disneyland officials: “We definitely want a new dragon.”
“Wild” was the same word Marie used to describe her family’s last day at Disneyland.
“Well, at least I got a first-class seat to history, or at least Disney history,” she said. “And a truly memorable trip I won’t ever forget.”