Disney fans tend to equate the name Walt Disney with excellence. The company has experienced unprecedented levels of innovation and success over the last 90 years, from cartoons to live-action films and television to theme parks. However, occasionally, even Disney projects backfire. Some films were outright bombs, while others simply did not go according to plan. One event from the early days of Disneyland proves that not everything Walt Disney touched turned to gold — despite his and the company’s best intentions.
Bob Thomas sets up the story of the Mickey Mouse Club Circus (or Disneyland Circus, as it was alternately known) in his biography of Roy Disney, Building A Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire:
Roy’s check writing would never be over. Walt was constantly “plussing” Disneyland, making improvements and additions, all of them with a price tag. When attendance fell during the first winter, Walt decided he wanted a circus. He had been fascinated with circuses since his boyhood in Kansas City. Now he could run a circus all his own.
As with any Disney project, Walt and the Imagineers meticulously planned out every detail:
When The Mickey Mouse Club wrapped up filming of the first season, the Mouseketeers remaining with the show were sent to perform in 2 huge circus tents (costing $48,000) on the fringe of Fantasyland (approximately where the Matterhorn currently exists). Bruce Bushman, Dick Irvine, and George Whitney were the lead Imagineers on this project, creating storyboards for the show and overseeing the design of signage and midway booths. Antique circus wagons were located and restored: 9 from the Bradley and Kaye Amusement Park in Los Angeles and another 5 were found in Venice, California. A 1907 20-whistle steam calliope (built for the Mugivan and Bowers show) was also purchased and tested right on the Disney Studio lot in Burbank.
Bob Thomas continues the story, along with the first hint of trouble:
Walt had gathered some good circus acts and impressive animals and had enlisted his vastly popular Mousketeers of The Mickey Mouse Club to be acrobats and other performers. The Mouseketeers were no problem; the mothers were, constantly complaining about how their children were treated and seeking better roles for them.
Walt quelled many of those complaints by inviting the Mousketeers’ mothers to perform in the circus alongside their kids.