Details on Disneyland's plans for its Golden Anniversary have been trickling out for the last three years. And with each successive leak, the more dispassionate I become.
Marvel at the thrilling spectacles that await us at this once-in-a-lifetime experience: A new cloned ride. An old rebuilt ride. A new fireworks show. Two parades. Display cases with old photos and drawings. And a lot of gold paint.
So this past weekend, when I was able to hear a little bit more and view concept art on all the new offerings, I was genuinely unimpressedwith the exception of one element. It's something that I originally had no interest in, but now sounds like it might make the whole celebration worthwhile.
Let's look over the lineup:
One. Shiny plaques There are already commemorative signs in front of the King Arthur's Carrousel, the Disneyland Monorail, and other historical attractions. Next up: the Disneyland Railroad.
As a park spokeswoman explained, railroad buffs have long insisted that old trains typically have a plaque on the back to note their origins. Consequently, she related, for years guests have been begging Disneyland to put plaques on their trains. So, due to overwhelming guest demand, the park is installing plaques on the backs of their trains
Now I don't know about you, but I've heard a lot of guests complaining about an empty sub lagoon and harping about faded paint in Toontown. But I've completely missed out on the Put a Plaque on the Train campaign. Perhaps we should enlist those train buffs to petition for looser tea cups.
Two. Gold paint Lots of it. Everywhere. There are now five gold crowns on the turrets of Sleeping Beauty Castle, one for each of its decades. They're painting the lampposts on Main Street gold. Curbs and steps have been colorized.
Plus, there's the eagerly awaited Golden Vehicles Program, in which one vehicle from each remaining attraction from 1955 will be repainted. In all, 12 vehicles will be given the gold treatment, ranging from repainting an entire vehicle (like a tea cup, a Jungle Cruise boat, or a car from Autopia and the original Fantasyland dark rides) to, where more practical, adding gold accents (such as on a streetcar and the Mark Twain).
I can only imagine the fistfights that will break out as children race to reserve the gold Dumbo.
Three. Picture murals Happiest Faces on Earth murals will be installed around the park that, from a distance, appear to be a photo of Disney characters. Upon closer inspection, they reveal themselves to be comprised of thousands of tiny photos submitted by guests.
There will be a mural of Pinocchio and Figaro in front of Pinocchio's Daring Journey, the three hitchhiking ghosts in front of Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear above the entrance to Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, Malificent on the back of the castle, Alice alongside Alice in Wonderland attraction, and so on. One montage will include only cast member photos, while another will include only photos of Anaheim residents.
Unfortunately, it may prove difficult to spot your own family's snapshot, since Disneyland says it has collected 160,000 photos for the project.
Four. Old stuff The historical exhibit Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years is taking over the Main Street Opera House. Among the more interesting artifacts showcased will be the first map ever drawn of Disneylandthe weekend sketch worked up by Herb Ryman with Walt at his side in September of 1953.
Five. New stuff Starting May 5, cast members will begin wearing new gold nametags that note when they joined the company (e.g., Class of 1984). The same day, a truckload of 50th-anniversary-themed merchandise and food packaging will be unveiled. Napkin collectors, rejoice.
Six. The new Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters ride The storyline sounds mundane (guests help Buzz quash the evil emperor Zurg's quest to conquer all the toys by stealing their batteries), but the ride is a proven winner in Florida. It's also ahead of schedule. Cast member previews start in two weeks, soft openings should begin well before the official opening May 5, and people will be able to participate online starting in June.
Seven. The return of Space Mountain Although the track layout is the same, there is the new power launch, new sleds, and snazzier special effects including a three-dimensional meteor the size of a bus with seven sub-meteors revolving around it.
The ride was originally expected to reopen in November, but Disney has moved up the official relaunch date to September. Contractors are working overtime to open it even sooner. In fact, the park spokeswoman shared that Space Mountain would be relaunching some time this summer.
Eight. New tickets Each day from May 5 through July 17, admission tickets will feature the image of a different original ride poster. While the tickets would make great collectiblesin the vein of the trading cards issued for the 40th anniversaryyou have to buy a day pass to the park to get one, meaning annual passholders and most others in a position to visit on a daily basis are out of luck.
Nine. A character parade A new parade is nice, but with performers on bungee cords and trampolines and animatronic Lion King characters, this one does not sound all that new. (As the park spokeswoman asked, What's a parade without The Lion King?) Plus, with more than 50 characters, Walt Disney's Parade of Dreams is being billed as containing the most characters ever for a Disney parade. Last time I heard that promise was Light Magic.
Ten. A new fireworks show, hosted by Julie Andrews Maybe I'm just getting old, but all these fancy new fireworks shows are starting to look the same to me. That's why Disneyland: Remember Dreams Come True sounded to me at least like the biggest yawner.
After seeing the concept art, I am convinced I was wrong. It's not so much because of Tinker Bell's new flight path, sweeping up, back and around the top of the castle. Remember appears to be as much a fireworks show as Fantasmic is a water show. It will pay tribute to the attractions of Disneyland, using music, sound effects and dialogue from the rides. Trick fireworks will form shapes such as hearts and flowers for Alice in Wonderland, an eye for Indiana Jones, and a duck target for the Shooting Gallery. Lasers will shoot out of the castle for Star Tours.
Color and images will be projected onto the face of the castle, like a canvas. Pyro will be launched from various areas of the park to create action and vary the points of focus.
In what should be the highlight, a skull and crossbones will be projected onto the Matterhorn as shells are fired between the Matterhorn and the castle, re-creating the cannon fight from Pirates of the Caribbean.
Done properly, this show might achieve the one thing I most wanted out of the 50th celebrationthe opportunity to see and hear and feel a lifetime of Disneyland.
The main problem will be that now, more than ever before, the castle will serve as the integral centerpiece of the show. Expect guests to begin staking out their viewing spots in the Central Plaza hub by mid-morning.
Eleven. Finally, Disneyland's kid brother, Disney's California Adventure, has not been completely forgotten.
The Block Party Bash parade is more of a rolling show. Floats are themed to each of the different Pixar features and periodically stop to engage the audience. For instance, hula hoop dancers accompanying the Toy Story float will coax children to join them. Performers on the Monsters, Inc. float will toss into the crowd beach balls that look like eye balls.
As well, in the spring of 2006, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror will be reprogrammed.
All in all, a little more encouraging.
(Send an email to David Koenig)
David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.
After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999) (All titles published by Bonaventure Press).
He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.