Disneyland Secrets, Stories and Magic appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Note that some shots – such as many of the modern interviews - come in the 1.78:1 ratio. Since so much of the archival footage was shot 1.33:1, though, I’m glad that the presentation was left non-anamorphic to better fit those elements.
A hodgepodge of recent interviews and archival footage, Secrets presented the material in an acceptable but unspectacular fashion. In general, the modern interview shots looked somewhat soft much of the time. Sharpness generally was acceptable, but it tended toward the fuzzy side of the street and rarely developed a very crisp and detailed impression. Some jagged edges and moiré effects occurred, and I also detected mild haloes at times. The image yielded some video artifacts as well; these occasionally gave the program a moderately grainy appearance.
Colors looked acceptably accurate and realistic, but they suffered from the vaguely drab tone of the program. The hues came across as somewhat flat and lackluster, though they didn’t seem runny and significantly problematic; they just lacked much vibrancy. Black levels appeared similarly bland, and low-light sequences seemed a bit muddy and murky.
Unsurprisingly, the archival clips were erratic. They came with a mix of problems like iffy definition, source flaws, and lackluster colors. However, I thought they held up fine given the various periods covered. We got a lot of old material, and we couldn’t expect these snippets to arrive without problems. Ultimately, Magic was watchable but not much more than that.
It should come as no surprise that the Dolby Stereo 2.0 soundtrack of Disneyland Secrets, Stories and Magic presented a pretty subdued affair. The major material from the side speakers concentrated on music, as the low-key score offered gentle stereo imaging. Otherwise, the mix usually seemed focused on the center. Occasionally some park effects blossomed in the front side speakers, but those occasions didn’t come frequently. The surrounds remained essentially inactive, as they offered little information.
Audio quality appeared perfectly acceptable most of the time. Speech was acceptably natural and distinctive. The music seemed clear and well reproduced, as the tunes appeared warm and vivid. The effects were a smaller part of the mix. Still, they came across as clean and fairly accurate. Nothing special occurred here, but the audio of Magic was fine for this sort of program.
When we head to the extras, the main attraction comes from People and Places: Disneyland USA. This 41-minute and 49-second film from 1956 comes to us with anamorphic 2.35:1 visuals and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. While clearly intended as a promotional piece 50 years ago, it now acts as an invaluable way for us to see Disneyland in its very early days.
In that regard, it succeeds to a spectacular degree. With its lush CinemaScope photography and deliberate pacing, we get a thorough and fascinating view of Disneyland circa 1956. This is the kind of material that really appeals to Disney buffs; indeed, the film is much more compelling than the Magic feature itself.
Two alternate audio tracks accompany “USA”. We can watch the film with an audio commentary from film historian Leonard Maltin and Imagineer Tony Baxter. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific track. They provide a lot of Disneyland history and put much of what we see into the context of its era. Of course, they indulge in some gushing nostalgia for the Disneyland of their youths, but they give us more than enough good info about the park of the 1950s and later to make this a valuable chat.
In addition, we can view “USA” with a music-only track. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, this allows fans to get a better listen to the score. It doesn’t do much for me, but I’m happy it’s here.
DVD One concludes with a Wonderful World of Disneyland Trivia Game. This comes with both “Beginner” and “Advanced” levels. For each, you must answer one question for each of the park’s lands. If you respond incorrectly, you head to Main Street to reply to an item there. Once you get it right, you head back to another land to try again. Get through all of them and you receive a reward.
In terms of difficulty, the “Beginner” items are definitely easier than the “Advanced” questions, but neither area consists of “gimmes”; you need to know Disneyland moderately well – or be able to guess logically – to progress. As for the rewards, they’re not bad. They give us video glimpses of many Disney attractions.
Unfortunately, you can only see one per time through the game, and that makes it a serious pain to access all of them. This is a terrible way to grant access to some fun clips. I don’t have the patience to work through the game multiple times, and I think the DVD should give us an alternate way to get to these interesting snippets.
As with all the “Walt Disney Treasures”, Magic comes with a Leonard Maltin Introduction. On DVD One, the film historian offers a two-minute and 12-second chat in which he gives us an overview of what to expect on the discs as well as a little Disneyland info. It’s a nice opening to the set.
One ad opens the set. We get a Preview for the Pixar Short Films Collection.
Onto DVD Two and its components we go. For a look behind the scenes of the preparation for a live TV broadcast, we check out Operation Disneyland. This 14-minute program examines all the work that went into the show aired live from Disneyland’s opening day. Much of the time it comes across like a modern featurette designed more to impress than inform us about the “engineering miracle”, but it still has its good moments. It provides a nice glimpse of all the challenges that occurred on that day.
After this we find three episodes of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. These include “The Golden Horseshoe Revue” (1962, 49:20), “Disneyland Goes to the World’s Fair” (1964, 50:00) and “Disneyland Around the Seasons” (1966, 50:04). “Revue” takes us to that show’s 10,000th performance, and it boasts special guests like Ed Wynn and Annette. “Fair” shows us the attractions Disney created for that event, and “Seasons” looks at different Disneyland activities through the span of a year.
Funny how one era’s cheap glorified commercial becomes another’s valuable archival footage. “Revue” is the worst offender in terms of the advertising quotient, as it really exists for no reason other than to entice us to visit Disneyland. And it borders on false advertising; no, it doesn’t promise that we’ll ever find such an elaborate “Revue” if we actually visit Disneyland, but I’m sure more than a few viewers headed there with the belief that they’d find Annette in attendance. “Venue” is good to have as a glimpse of Disneyland’s shows circa 1962, I don’t think it entertains.
At least the other two prove more useful. I could live without the history of fairs in “Fair”, but once we get to 1964, we find nice information about Disney’s involvement in that year’s World’s Fair. Those segments take us behind the scenes to glimpse the creation of animatronics and other technical pieces, and we get some good stuff.
Finally, “Seasons” takes us through a year at Disneyland. We start on New Year’s Eve and go through Christmas. This acts as absolutely nothing more than an excuse to show us attractions and parades at the park. And that’s fine with me. Like I mentioned earlier, this was nothing more than a long ad 40 years ago, but now it provides a valuable look at a long-gone era. Even though it repeats some material from “Fair”, it’s a good view of Disneyland in the mid-Sixties.
Two more elements appear under “Bonus Features”, Building Walt’s Dream: Disneyland Under Construction offers a collection of featurettes that run 37 minutes, 43 seconds total. These examine the different “lands” of Disneyland such as Frontierland and Fantasyland. It presents archival footage of Disneyland along with narration from Tony Baxter and Studio Inventory Group’s Ed Hobelman and Walter Magnuson. Along with some other shots, we see time-lapse footage of the building of various parts of the park as the speakers give us insights into Disneyland and what we’re seeing. This is really great visual material, and this turns into a valuable extra.
A Gallery comes next. It includes 58 stills as we look at conceptual art, design sketches and other pieces of planning for the park. I like what we see, but the collection feels a little short, as I’m sure it could’ve presented many more images.
DVD Two presents another Leonard Maltin Introduction. During this three-minute and 28-second clip, he provides another overview of the disc’s contents. Those elements are fine, but I prefer his brief reminiscences about his childhood longing to visit Disneyland.
We finish the set with some non-disc-based materials. A booklet provides a few notes about the release and Disneyland, and we also get a card with Concept Art that shows Herb Ryman’s design for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Finally, we find a reproduction of a Disneyland ticket book circa the Fifties. All three elements add to the package’s value.
Sometimes a DVD provides great extras and a mediocre main program. That occurs with Disneyland Secrets, Stories and Magic. The titular documentary is fluffy and frustrating, with average picture and audio quality. However, we get lots of fine supplements here, as we discover loads of fascinating archival elements. Those make this a worthwhile collection for Disney fans – just don’t expect much from the package’s main show.