Inside the magic of Disney Animation: Immersive Experience in Downtown Detroit

Inside Disney Animation: Immersive Experience at Lighthouse ArtSpace in Detroit. (Carmichael Cruz, WDIV)

DETROIT – If you have ever wanted to step into the world of Disney without having to purchase a plane ticket to Anaheim or Orlando, now is your chance.

A block away from Comerica Park is Lighthouse ArtSpace, the former Harmonie Club, home to several former attractions including Immersive Van Gogh, Immersive King Tut and Immersive Nutcracker. Lighthouse Immersive, the producers behind these exhibits, is now bringing the magic of Disney to Detroit.

Disney Animation: Immersive Experience takes the studio’s large library of animated films, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and combines them into a unique almost hour-long show where visitors are surrounded by the sights and sounds of the films that many families grew up with.

From Fantasia all the way to Encanto and the latest hit Strange World, guests can experience some of their favorite movies in a whole new way.

J. Miles Dale, the Oscar-winning producer of The Shape of Water and Nightmare Alley, led the creative team at Disney Animation to develop a program that would take the most iconic parts of familiar stories and turn them into a cohesive journey that made sense for multi-generational families.

“We tried to craft something that was really representative of a Disney story, the importance of wishes and dreams,” Dale said.

Dale and his team went through all 61 classic Disney Animated films, excluding Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and other franchises, picking songs and scenes that tugged on several emotions.

“The music is really a songbook of all our lives depending on when you were born and what your movies were,” he said. “For me, it’s 101 Dalmatians and Jungle Book, for my kids it’s The Lion King and Little Mermaid, and for their kids it’s Encanto.

Bubbles surround visitors at Disney Animation: Immersive Experience at Lighthouse ArtSpace in Detroit (WDIV)

While thousands of Detroiters have already experienced several of the past “Immersive” exhibits, Disney Animation: Immersive Experience pushes the boundaries with new technology that interacts with the surrounding animation. From bracelets that light up in sync with the visuals to floors that respond to movement using LIDAR technology, the immersion is taken to new heights, creating unique experiences that differ from person-to-person.

“I said, ‘Let’s take the best parts of the Van Gogh experience and take it to the next level” Dale said.

The experience goes beyond the digital projection room and adds elements that explains a bit about the process of classic animation. There are hand drawn sketches, animated backgrounds and storyboards. There’s even a multiplane display showing how each layer creates a single piece of animation. Visitors are also invited to create their own art with instructions on how to draw some of Disney’s classic characters.

“We’re producers, we’re problem-solvers,” Dale said. “How can we make this the best that it can be? How can we tailor it to this space? What are the opportunities for kids and adults to be doing more things?”

But the main draw continues to be the 50-minute show that was custom-made for the Detroit space. From “The Circle of Life” to “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” the music and scenery conjures up the nostalgia and the excitement of Disney, a journey meant for families of all ages.

“It’s a communal experience where people can come together in one place and experience something: where you can laugh together and cry together,” Dale said. “And you can leave feeling a little bit of that Disney magic.”

Disney Animation: Immersive Experience is now open and is located at Lighthouse ArtSpace at 311 E. Grand River, Detroit, MI 48226. Tickets start at $27.99. Visit for more information, schedule and tickets.

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