Largely due to the fact I’ve always lived in Virginia, I’ve spent many more leisure hours at Florida’s Walt Disney World than I have at California’s Disneyland. Orlando’s roughly 800 miles away, which means WDW isn’t exactly right around the corner, but it’s a lot better than the 3000 mile trek required to get to Anaheim. In addition, travel prices are much cheaper for us East Coast folks to head to Florida than to California. Heck, we can drive it in a reasonable amount of time if we want.
As such, I’ve been to WDW many times over the years, though admittedly my visits have favored recent days. I don’t remember it well, but I know my family took a trek there when I was about six or so, which would put the trip in roughly 1973. We didn’t return until my Dad and I made back-to-back June expeditions in 1980 and 1981, and the whole family also drove down for Christmas 1981.
After that, I didn’t return until adulthood, but I did so with a vengeance. I made my first trip to WDW in many years during the early part of 1996, and I was instantly smitten. Actually, I’d originally planned to go for 10 days during spring break 1996, but when I started to plan the trip in January, I got so excited that I couldn’t wait until April; I took a quick four-day-weekend romp over President’s Day.
With an annual pass in tow, I returned to WDW for another five days in January 1997, which meant I’d spent roughly two weeks at the parks over a one-year period; I also went to Universal and some other attractions while I was in Florida, but WDW was the main focal point. Actually, none of my days were full. Part of the appeal of the annual pass was that I didn’t care if I stopped at a park for only an hour or two; it was free, as far as I was concerned, so why not?
Anyway, my then-girlfriend accompanied me on the January 1997 trip, and though she was skeptical, she dug it as well. As such, WDW became our primary vacation destination. We both got annual passes for spring break 1998, and over the span of a year, we went for three extended trips; in addition to spring breaks 1998 and 1999, we went for 10 days over Thanksgiving 1998. Add to that a Florida trip I took to see the Stones in March 1999 - during which I packed in a couple of WDW days - and I think I spent between 25 and 30 more days at the parks over this one year.
I haven’t been back to WDW since 1999. The girlfriend and I split, and no relationships since then have become serious enough to get into that deep a trip. I have a prepaid annual pass waiting for another full year of fun, which I plan to use for the 2003/2004 spring breaks, with or without a significant other. (Our vacations coincide with Easter, and since Easter 2003 comes later in April than will Easter 2004, it means the pass will be good for both periods.)
I have a much more limited experience with Disneyland. As with WDW, I know I visited the park as a youngster, though I was even smaller when I first hit Disneyland; I believe we took a trip there when I was only three, and WDW didn’t exist yet. After that, I didn’t return to Disneyland until the summer after my high school graduation; I visited LA for about a week, and the park was one of my destinations. I wasn’t all that wild about it - Disneyland’s not that great a place for an 18-year-old guy on his own - but I guess I liked it okay, since I stopped by again during another LA trip in 1987.
Since then, however, I hadn’t seen the lights of Disneyland - not until a couple of weeks ago, at least. U2’s tour combined with cheap plane tickets conspired to send me out west, and I figured it’d be fun to see Disneyland while I was there. As such, I spent about five days in California, four of which were devoted to the park.
It was great to go, especially since I know the Florida attractions so well. This made it interesting to compare and contrast. Frankly, I prefer WDW, but Disneyland definitely has its charms.
Much of the California park’s appeal comes from the fact it was the only one to really have Walt’s touch attached to it. For certain, he was involved in the planning of WDW, but he died almost five years before it opened. Not so with Disneyland, which greeted the public in 1955. Walt survived more than a decade after this date, which meant he oversaw much of its early development.
Thanks to a Fifties TV show, we can take a glimpse into the park’s early development. Walt used the Disneyland program to promote and support the fledgling attraction. ABC invested in it and the shows helped inform the nation about this special new place, an idea that showed Walt was ahead of his time. Many thought this form of advertisement would hinder interest in Disneyland; they felt prospective visitors would not see the point in going someplace they saw on TV. However, the response was completely different, as the shows sparked even greater anticipation in Walt’s creation.
The four programs found on the Disneyland USA two-DVD set offer a nice overview of the series and its presentation of the park. First up on DVD One is the premiere episode. Aired on October 27, 1954, “The Disneyland Story” runs 54 minutes and essentially provides a teaser for both the attraction and the series. Walt introduces the destination and also relates that the upcoming Disneyland TV shows will all revolve around the four different lands of the park: Frontierland, illustrated with a song from Davy Crockett; Tomorrowland, demonstrated with a view of space exploration; Adventureland, depicted with some exotic images from foreign lands; and Fantasyland, accompanied by a mix of cartoons, most of which featured Mickey Mouse. In the latter category, we saw parts of 1928’s “Plane Crazy” - the first Mickey short created, but the third released - and 1939’s “The Pointer”, and we got complete versions of 1937’s “Lonesome Ghosts” and the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” bit from 1940’s Fantasia. In addition, we got a long excerpt from 1946’s Song of the South - too bad Disney refuse to release the whole thing.
While enjoyable, “The Disneyland Story” merits inclusion in this package largely due to its historic value. After all, it was the first program aired, which makes it worthwhile from that point of view. I also liked the early glimpses of the park that was still under construction, and despite the poor quality of the clips, it was good to see Song of the South and some of the Mickey bits. Note that “Lonesome Ghosts” made its third DVD appearance here; it also showed up on The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad as well as fellow “Disney Treasures” release Mickey Mouse In Living Color.
Other than these elements, “The Disneyland Story” was a bit dry and tedious at times. Its promotional roots shined through clearly, and emphasized future developments, that meant it didn’t have a lot of interesting unique content. Still, it was a good look at a landmark event.
The second show on DVD One marked another historic occasion: July 17, 1955, the opening of Disneyland. The program depicted the events of that day as hosted by Art Linkletter and other semi-notables of the period, including a washed-up actor named Reagan. Not sure whatever happened to that guy…
Anyway, the episode offered a promotional but still interesting look at that first day. Called “Dateline Disneyland”, this show ran longer than usual; with its commercials removed, the DVD’s version lasted 75 minutes. It featured a live broadcast that went around to different moments in each area of the park. That fact made this a very rough program, as technical problems popped up all over the place. Walt got a false start for an introduction, Linkletter interviewed Danny Thomas while different audio ran on top, and many other flubs and gaffes occurred. Heck, the timing went so badly that poor Adventureland got the shaft; after many minutes in the other areas, we barely saw any of that realm.
To say the least, “Dateline” was a mess, but it still offered compelling viewing for fans of Disneyland. After all, it did show us the events of that historic day, and where else can you see Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. drive tiny cars on the park’s Autopia? I would have liked a better overall look at Disneyland; this one dealt so much with celebrities and special happenings that we didn’t get that great a view of the location itself. Nonetheless, I liked “Dateline”, as it offered a very unique perspective on an important event. Early in the program co-host Bob Cummings related that years after the fact, folks would claim they attended that opening day, and he’s right; the show’s full of hyperbole, but in this case the statements weren’t exaggerations.
One area in which I really wish we’d seen more of the original park came from its depiction of Tomorrowland. We’re told that the realm offered a “scientifically-planned projection” of how we’d live in the distant future. The year shown? 1986! It would have been great to learn more to find out how far off the mark Walt and company were.
Trivia note: “Dateline” showed the lowering of the drawbridge in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Originally the edifice was designed without an operating drawbridge; it was planned to start down and stay there. However, at the last minute, Walt decided he wanted it to work normally, and Walt always got what he wanted. For the record, the bridge has been raised and lowered only twice in the history of the park: on opening day and in 1983 for the rededication of the refurbished Fantasyland.
While I enjoyed the two programs on DVD One, they still stood out mainly due to their historical value. The two shows found on DVD Two were much more compelling in and of themselves, as they offered more satisfying looks at Disneyland.
From April 15, 1962, “Disneyland After Dark” took us through the park past sundown. While I love the Disney resorts at any time of day, they unquestionably take on a special air when the lights go on; on many an occasion, I’ve been tired and ready to head to the hotel by sunset, but the beauty and spark added to the parks in the dark often kept me there much longer.
Another largely promotional program, “After Dark” gave us a somewhat deceptive view of what one could expect at night, but it was still very entertaining. The focus here was on live entertainment, not normal attractions. We got a glimpse of “Fantasy in the Sky”, the park’s nightly fireworks display, but otherwise we mainly watched musical performances. We heard from pop stars Annette Funicello - here simply billed as “Annette” - and Bobby Rydell, jazz legends Louis Armstrong and Monette Moore, the Osmond Brothers - pre-Donny - a Tahitian dance troupe and a few others. Clearly folks like Armstrong and then-popular singers Annette and Rydell didn’t play the park daily, so some may have gotten an erroneous impression of the caliber of performer available at Disneyland.
Despite that, I really liked this view of Disneyland at the best time of day. While the musical bits dominated, we still found a nice glimpse of the park and saw many of its attractions. Walt hosted the show in an odd fashion; we saw periodic “bumpers” in which a running gag had him constantly inundated by autograph seekers. Ironically, it seemed clear that these shots didn’t take place during normal business hours; the fans were obviously all staged, and it looked like they used rear projection to create the illusion Walt was at the park. Nonetheless, these segments were moderately humorous and charming, and they made the show flow smoothly.
To my surprise, my favorite part of “After Dark” highlighted the Tahitian dance group. Partly that’s because one of the female dancers - the one of the left - was really sexy, but I also enjoyed the glimpses of the insanely nerdy crowd. Early Sixties Americans had the worst fashion sense of any time in the nation’s history, and this program proved that. I especially loved the guy who leered as he chomped on some ribs.
Speaking of awkward Americans, check out the poor rhythm seen during the jazz pieces. As these folks tried to clap along with Moore’s singing, not a one of them could keep a beat! It’s embarrassing but hilarious.
Note that the Tahitian sequence featured an overly cautious alteration to the original material. One of the male dancers performed a Samoan Fire Dance and a fire walk. During each of these, we saw a disclaimer that read, “Professional Stunt Person - Do Not Attempt”. Thanks for that warning - I’m sure it’ll stop many boneheads who otherwise would have gone for the gusto. (I wonder if Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me will have a similar disclaimer?)
Disneyland USA saved the best for last, as we saw the finest glimpses of the park during the “Disneyland 10th Anniversary Show”. Actually, the program fell a few months short of the mark; with an airdate of January 1965, it was really the 9th-and-a-half Anniversary Show. However, they like their heavy promotion at Disney; the 25th anniversary celebration at WDW lasted about a year and a half, so we’ll spot Walt the six months here.
This program mainly featured Walt himself as he toured parts of the park with “Miss Disneyland Tencennial” Julie Reems. She was apparently chosen as the spokesbabe for the park’s anniversary, and she accompanied Walt as he related the location’s future growth.
“10th Anniversary” started with a walk through the Imagineers’ headquarters. There we met a number of workers, including Disney legends Mary Blair - who showed the design-in-progress for “It’s a Small World After All” - and Marc Davis. One of Walt’s famous “Nine Old Men”, Davis offered a glimpse of the upcoming Haunted Mansion attraction. Excellent material all, we learned a lot about a number of rides - including Pirates of the Caribbean - that remain exceedingly popular almost four decades later.
Once we finished at the studio, we headed to the park, where we found many fine looks at Disneyland circa 1965. We watched clips that demonstrated its history and growth, and even viewed some notables who went to Disneyland; there were shots of Richard Nixon, the Shah of Iran, and Jawaharlal Nehru. We also took a tour of some rides that cropped up over the prior decade and got decent glimpses of the Matterhorn, the Submarine Voyage, a mine train and the flying saucers. Of all of these, only the Matterhorn remains, and it received the best attention here as we took a first-person ride on it.
We also got a very long look at a then-new attraction called the Enchanted Tiki Room. This was the first Disneyland ride to use extensive audio-animatronic performers, and we got a nice look behind the scenes as well as a fairly long glimpse of the program itself. Although the WDW version of Tiki was radically updated a few years back, I believe the Disneyland version hasn’t changed a bit; what you’ll see today matches what you’ll watch in this program.
Overall, “10th Anniversary” was a genuine treat for Disneyland fans. It provided a simply terrific look at the park and was consistently entertaining. I could have lived without shots of the Mary Poppins production number staged in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, but even that offered a glimpse of the era, so it merited my time.
One oddity: at the very start of the program, we saw Walt and Julie talk about an aspect of the park. However, the conversation was truncated and awkward, and initially I thought this was a bad cut and we’d lost part of the program. However, this scene appeared in its entirety later; I guess the shortened shot was just a preview for those who tuned in to the show.
One trivia note: Julie Reems was a tour guide at Disneyland before appointed Miss Tencennial. She wore a riding outfit, and female tour guides at the park still wear the same clothes, as I discovered when I took the “Walking in Walt’s Footsteps” trek a few weeks ago. Actually, we had a male guide, but I saw the women who had on those same odd outfits.
Disneyland USA appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, single-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the programs on these discs cover a span of only a little more than 10 years, they varied radically in quality; my “C-“ was a generalization for all four, but the differences between each could be extreme.
Without question, the two programs on DVD One were the most problematic. Both were in black and white and showed many concerns. Of the two, “The Disneyland Story” looked best. Sharpness usually seemed solid. Occasionally it came across as a little soft and fuzzy, but for the most part, the program remained adequately focused and distinct. I saw few signs of moiré effects or jagged edges.
Black levels seemed somewhat mushy and muddy, but they generally appeared acceptable. Contrast was fine for the most part as well, and shadow detail looked fairly clear and visible. The show seemed a little washed-out at times, but these concerns were generally minor.
Not surprisingly, print flaws caused the highest level of concerns. I saw a mix of speckles, grit, grain, hairs, nicks, blotches, and general debris throughout the show. These never seemed terribly heavy, but they did crop up consistently and frequently. Overall, given the show’s age, I felt that on its own, “The Disneyland Story” earned about a “C-“
Much less successful was “Dateline Disney”, easily the ugliest of the four shows. I don’t know what the source of this program was, but it looked terrible. It replicated all of the flaws seen during “Story” and exacerbated them. Focus often seemed rather soft and vague; at times it looked adequately defined, but usually it appeared fuzzy and indistinct. Black levels were very bland and pale, and the entire picture seemed too bright and faded. Print flaws were a massive concern, as all of the same problems seen in “Story” came back with greater intensity.
Despite all of these concerns, I’m not displeased with “Dateline”. We’re probably lucky to have a copy of it at all. Unlike the other three shows, it wasn’t filmed; it went out live, and it’s a miracle someone had the foresight to capture it in this crude format. Nonetheless, objectively it offered a terrible picture that deserved no better than a “D-“, and an “F” might be more accurate.
Happily, the two color programs on DVD Two were much more attractive. Both of these shows were in color, and though they had some concerns, for the most part they seemed pretty appealing. Sharpness still could be a bit soft and tentative at times, but largely the images looked reasonably accurate and distinct. Some minor moiré effects and jagged edges appeared, and I also detected a little edge enhancement; check out the “After Dark” shots of Louis Armstrong to see what I mean.
Print flaws still occurred, but they were much less problematic. Some grain cropped up, and I also saw periodic examples of speckles and grit. Otherwise, these shows looked pretty clean and fresh; clearly they received better care over the years.
Colors weren’t fantastic, but they seemed fairly bright and vivid for the most part. They could appear slightly heavy at times, and some blotchiness also occurred, but I generally found the hues to seem satisfying and clean. Black levels also came across as nicely deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately dark but not too thick. Happily, none of the faded and washed-out look of the first two shows happened here.
Overall, “Disneyland After Dark” and “Disneyland 10th Anniversary Show” looked somewhat flawed but they were fairly satisfying. On their own, they merited “B-“ grades, so I felt the entire package should get a “C-“. To reiterate, though that isn’t a very good mark, I still feel satisfied with the visuals of Disneyland USA. One can’t expect old TV shows like this to appear as vivid and crisp as Disney’s animated films, and I was very happy simply to be able to see these programs at all. Some of the images were ugly, but that was a necessary evil in this case.
While not anything special, the monaural audio of Disneyland USA seemed more consistent than the visuals, though the two older programs still showed a few more flaws. “The Disneyland Story” sounded acceptably clear but was fairly flat. Dialogue appeared consistently intelligible and fairly distinct, but speech could sound somewhat thin and brittle. Similar tones affected music and effects, which showed no problematic distortion or outward flaws but which lacked much depth or distinction. The audio seemed more than acceptable considering the source, but it still was pretty bland.
Not surprisingly, “Dateline” demonstrated further concerns. The quality fell a bit as the audio sounded even thinner, and a number of source flaws entered the mix. I heard a variety of clicks and pops, and some hiss also appeared. The overall presentation seemed a little crackly and rough at times, but it remained acceptably clear and intelligible. To be certain, the audio was far superior to the picture.
Both “Disneyland After Dark” and “Disneyland 10th Anniversary Show” marked small improvements in their audio quality. They remained somewhat flat and bland, but they showed greater depth and distinction. The music particularly came across stronger for these shows, as the tunes demonstrated some decent dynamics; the bass stayed light, but at least a little low-end appeared. The shows lacked the background flaws that marred “Dateline”, and they offered generally clean and solid tracks for their era. As a whole, I thought the audio of Disneyland USA was perfectly average based on the age of the material, so it earned a “C”.
Disneyland USA doesn’t pack many extras, but what we get is interesting. For one, each of the four episodes starts with an introduction from film critic/historian Leonard Maltin. These snippets last a minute or two and they set up the following program. Maltin adds some nice perspective as he leads us into the shows.
The other supplements appear on DVD Two. First up is a deceptively titled featurette called The Magic Kingdom and the Magic of Television. Frankly, the show has virtually nothing to do with TV, but it does provide a nice overview of some of the park’s early years. We find out about some additional opening day problems, and we also hear Walt himself discuss the most famous non-visitor to Disneyland, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The nine-minute and 40-second piece is a pleasant though unremarkable program. (Note that this piece includes English subtitles.)
We also get a Gallery that will prove invaluable to Disneyland fans. Presented in thumbnail batches of 10 per screen, we find images of 39 posters for Disneyland attractions. These are the same pictures seen in the park’s entryway, and this collection covers a slew of them. I don’t know if it offers all of the ones that have appeared over the last few decades, but it’s a terrific compilation nonetheless. (By the way, Disneyland sells full-size replicas of some of these posters. They run $45 a pop, and only a few are available; apparently the selection changes from time to time, but they seem to have just four or five around for the most part. Anyway, if you’d like to order them, call the park’s DelivEARS service at 800-362-4533 and point out that you’re looking for posters found at the Disney Gallery.)
Overall, I was very pleased with Disneyland USA. As a huge fan of the Disney parks, I greatly enjoyed these glimpses of the original location and its various aspects. While not quite the documentary I’d really like, the shows still gave us a fine view of the original Disney destination, and they were consistently fun and entertaining. The DVD suffers from a variety of picture problems that seem inevitable for this material; the shows remain watchable nonetheless. Sound quality appears flat but improved, and a few decent extras round out the package. Because of its emphasis on the park, Disneyland USA may not have the broad appeal of other “Disney Treasures” like Mickey Mouse In Living Color or Silly Symphonies, but fans of Walt’s vacation destination will definitely want to grab this one.
Note: as with all four “Disney Treasures” releases, Disneyland USA is a limited edition package. With an overall run of 150,000 sets, it comes in a special numbered tin. Nicely, inside the tin the discs are housed in a normal 2-DVD alpha case with inserts and a fine cover. I liked this for it meant I could easily fit the set on the shelf along with other DVDs and it’d match. Anyway, be warned that this is a limited release. Since we’re discussing Disney, I wouldn’t rule out a later reissue, but such a possibility remains totally unknown.