November 1955 – September 1956
Fantasyland & Holidayland – The Mickey Mouse Club Circus combined a parade with a traditional tent circus show. The festivities began on Main Street, with grand marshals leading the parade around the hub, while the main event took place at the end of the parade route, in Fantasyland. Today, the circus tent’s location is used by the Matterhorn.
When Walt began designing Disneyland, he wanted to incorporate as many of his passions as he could into his magical park. These included trains, antique vehicles, and his very own circus. The Mickey Mouse Club Circus wasn’t part of the original Opening Day lineup, but planning for the big event began long before the park opened its gates.
After a few months of operation, Walt was ready to add a circus into the park, and the Disney dream created a show that combined the Mickey Mouse Club, a holiday theme, and the traditional circus tent. The show opened in November 1955, just in time for the park’s first holiday season.
The Mickey Mouse Club Circus performed twice per day. Each show began as a parade on Main Street USA, with acrobats, animals, and clowns strolling around the street and into the grand circus tent. Once seated, guests enjoyed a classic circus show, with the flying trapeze, daredevil stunts, and jungle animals. The beloved Mouseketeers accompanied the performers and animals, marching in the parade and appearing throughout the tent show.
Disney Parks Blog managed to find footage of one of the performances! You can watch it here.
Mickey Mouse Club Circus was one of Disneyland’s first complete and utter disasters. The live animals used in the tent performances were unruly, with llamas escaping down Main Street and predatory animals getting into fights in their cages. The human performers didn’t fare much better, with an infamous incident involving a wardrobe malfunction on the trapeze. In short, the show was not up to the “Disney standard” of perfection.
But show quality didn’t ultimately crash the circus. The truth was, guests couldn’t have cared less about it. Disneyland visitors came for brand new, unique experiences; they could go to a traditional circus in Orange County anytime. With so many magical attractions nearby, the MMC Circus never stood a chance.
The tent moved from Fantasyland to Holidayland in January 1956, just six weeks after the first show. But the move didn’t drum up new interest, and the Circus disappeared permanently the following September.
Walt was said to be extremely unhappy with the circus performers’ behavior behind the scenes. They drank, gambled, and swore heavily in between shows, which didn’t exactly match the sweet demeanor of the Mouseketeers.
The 3-ring circus tent measured 150 feet tall, with the center ring measuring 50 feet in diameter (30 feet for each of the outer rings). The tent hosted enough seats for 2,500 guests per show, though less than a quarter of those seats typically filled up.