Inspired by the recent brouhaha over a 40+ year old attraction in Fantasyland, I am taking on a topic that ires many Disneyland fanswho use the phrase, “Walt would NEVER have done that…” as their line of defense. Call it mythbusters if you like, or just a little stirring of the pot. This articleis meant to inform, amuse, and lightly poke fun at those who believe they have an inside track to the mind of a genius who passed on some 40 years ago.
Today I address the topic of shamelessly plugging the Disney product. Debate began to swell when Disney released movies based on two of their most popular attractions, The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, both in 2003.
Things REALLY started to heat up when the sacred Pirates attraction itself was tweaked to incorporate characters from the movie. Even before the new changes debuted, chat boards lit up like a Christmas tree, with outraged fans stating that Walt’s memory was being desecrated with this blatant commercialism.
Flash forward to Tom Sawyer Island’s transformation into Pirate’s Lair…the cries of “sell-out” got even louder.
Pixar’s product was also well represented in Anaheim: Buzz Lightyear’s Astroblasters (2006), the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (2007), and Toy Story Midway Mania (coming soon in June 2008), and the recently debuted DCA Pixar Parade. Fans moaned that they were tired of all the new attractions being based on movies and that there was no originality being shown. According to many fan-based chat rooms, the Disney Corporation was an evil money-grubbing conglomerate out to make a fast buck and nothing else; they had bled the coffers of originality dry and the only thing left that they turned to for new attractions were the mega-hit Pixar films & lucrative “POTC” franchise. Step into my Disneyland time machine andturn the dial backto…
Fantasyland, July 17, 1955:
Let’s take a look at the attractions available to guests on opening day.
Fantasyland Carrousel Although “The Sword in the Stone” would not be released until 1963, Disney probably already owned the rights to the 1938 T.H.White book that it was based on.Titled “King Arthur Carousel” (later an extra “r” was added) in the Bank of America 1955 brochure, it was most likely in anticipation of the upcoming film release that would have been in development.Tie-in or original attraction? I could go either way on this one…
Casey Jr. Train
This whimsical looking circus train is based on the train from the animated classic “Dumbo” (1941). Although it was open on the 17th, it quickly shut down because of technical difficulties and didn’t re-open until July 31st. DEFINITE tie-in.
Canal Boats of the World
One of the first bombs at Disneyland. Imagine riding a 16′ boat through a canal ofmud. Yup. Mud. When it was really hot, it was just plain dirt. It didn’t take long for this one to shut-down and get re-themed with miniature buildings from Disney animated films. Could go either way, although as a technicality, it falls to an original.
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Obviously, this popular attraction was based on the previously mentioned 1941 film, and although a favorite with the kiddies, it is probably one of the more traditional and least imaginative attractions. The one innovative idea of having the ears move up and down was quickly halted due to mechanical errors. Slam-dunk for a tie-in.
Mad Hatter Tea Cup Ride
Still at the park today, this attraction guaranteed-to-make-you-dizzy was themed to the 1951 Disney animated film “Alice in Wonderland.” Ironically, one of Walt’s least favorite animated films eventually earned TWO attractions in Fantasyland. Non negotiable; it’s a tie-in.
Mickey Mouse Club Cartoon Theater
This one is extremely interesting, if not a little convoluted. The Mickey Mouse Club debuted at Disneyland on opening day, followed by the theater in August, and then the popular TV series in October. Call it a pre-tie-in!
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
One of the most popular dark rides with somewhat of a cult following, this one was based on the 1949 Disney film “The Wind in the Willows.” The outcry from fans of the Florida version was astounding, and hopefully has contributed to the Anaheim version still being around. 100% tie-in.
Peter Pan Ride
Just to be consistent, I’ll go ahead and spell out the connection for this one, too: 1953 animated classic, based on the play by J. M. Barrie. Interestingly enough, it has been said that Tinkerbell became the mascot for Disneyland because Walt didn’t want Mickey tied to a failure in case it flopped. Tie-in? Are you kidding me?
Snow White Adventures Ride
How could our gal Snow not have her own ride at the park?!? For those who have been hiding for the last 70 years or so, this one came from the 1937 animated classic that pretty much put Walt in the big leagues. Tie-in, baby!
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle
The crowning glory of pre-sell is the centerpiece of the park, named for Princess Aurora’s home. The Disney animated classic still had another 4 years to go until its release, but shrewd Walt knew that a little publicity ahead of time wouldn’t hurt. Rack up another pre-tie-in.
OK readers…let’s do the math. A total of 10 attractions on July 17, 1955 with only two designations being somewhat debatable as tie-ins. Overall, you’re looking at between 80-100% of the opening day attractions under Walt’s personal supervision being based on a Disney film. Walt used both recognition of established films and promotion of future ones in creating Fantasyland, the land that Disneyland is predominantly known for. At one point, the famous Oz stories from L. Frank Baum were considered for inclusion in Storybook Land. When the film/TV show that Disney had in development didn’t pan out, the inclusion at the park also eventually fizzled. So why all the hulaboo these days about the “crass” commercialism of having attractions based on movies when Walt Disney did it himself? Times were simpler in the 1950′s, and people were less cynical. Walt’s homespun introductions on his TV show made him a trusted family friend to homes all over America. Few people then or even today would question the motives of Uncle Walt. Today, there really is no replacement for him. Although Bob Iger has generally gotten favorable press, he has not attempted to make himself a household name or let America know much about him. In this fast-paced 21st Century, we often are on the lookout for those trying to snooker us and rip a hard-earned buck out of our wallets. Whether it be Bob Iger or Michael Eisner, the heads of the Disney Corporation are mainly viewed as just that: people in charge of a corporation and not someone we would welcome into our home for dinner, or even ask for an autograph. And we know how evil corporations are…egads!
Maybe instead of questioning the motive of why an attraction is installed at the park, we should ask ourselves the very simple question, “Did I enjoy it?” Because at the end of the day, if you had a good time and it made you smile, youdon’t care one iota whether it was based on a Disney/Pixar film or not. Base your experience on the fun factor instead, and then if you don’t like it, don’t ride it! And maybe even let City Hall hear about it on the way out of Main Street. Isn’t that what Democracy is all about? I am sure that’s what Walt would have wanted! Until next time – Dave
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Spanning the entire history of the park, from its founding more than 50 years ago to the present, this fascinating book profiles 500 attractions, restaurants, stores, events, and significant people from the history of Disneyland®. Each of the main entries in the book examines in detail the history of a Disneyland® landmark, including how many of the most popular attractions went through several incarnations before becoming what they are todayTomorrowland’s Hall of Chemistry and Hall of
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