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A behindtheears look at Disneyland
|Golden Dreams: A 50th Wish List|
Three short years from today Disneyland will mark its 50th anniversary. Any special promotions could be unveiled as early as 12 months beforehand -- to coincide with the start of the park’s 50th year. If Disney is serious about putting together an eye-popping, jaw-dropping celebration, time is running out.
Certainly the much-rumored upgrades of classic attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean would be a nice anniversary present, but I don’t foresee millions of new visitors squeezing through the Main Gate because a handful of decades-old attractions got a good scrubbing and a few new special effects.
Worse would be a cheesy, superficial promotion marketed at 6-year-olds, a la Disney World’s 25th anniversary fiasco. Remember Cinderella’s Castle defaced like a gaudy birthday cake? Disneyland needs more than streamers and a silly slogan like "50 Years of Magic!™"
A theme park’s Golden Anniversary is a once-in-a-lifetime promotional event. Tenth, 20th, 25th, not that monumental. Anything more than 50 -- 75th, 100th -- sounds ancient. I envision the characters ambling around on walkers.
No, the 50th provides is the perfect opportunity to please Disneyland fans like never before, to pack them into both parks in record numbers, and make them happy to fork over record amounts of cash.
Remember, the job of not each cast member but also of Disneyland itself is to "create happiness." Disney merely needs to rediscover why people love to come to Disneyland in the first place -- and why many return year after year. Guests want to be part of the magic, to walk around in wide-eyed wonder and misty-eyed nostalgia, and to be a kid again. The 50th shouldn’t be sugary fluff and, worse, it shouldn’t be a boring history lesson. Keep reading to the minimum. Disneyland is, and always has been, a place to have fun. Let’s celebrate that.
It worked before. Disneyland’s best year for attendance -- 1996 -- was the farewell season of the Electrical Parade. For one final evening, 30-year-old parents step back in time and relive their childhood -- and take their own toddlers with them, sharing the same sight and sounds.
The second best year for attendance? 1995, with the opening of the last of the E-tickets, the Indiana Jones Adventure. What many might forget was gate counts were padded that year because of a decent 40 Years of Adventure promotion, featuring a clever giveaway that kept people returning to the park for 40 consecutive days to collect a different trading card. For the 50th, why not give out reproductions of old postcards?
Better yet, Disneyland must figure out a way to package that Farewell Season nostalgia. Maybe a "Parade of Decades," with floats and performers from processions of the past, such as America on Parade, Party Gras, and the Lion King Celebration.
Devote any unsponsored acreage in Innoventions to recreating segments of long-gone attractions. Step into a room of the House of the Future, rest your rear on an inflatable seat from Mission to Mars, or take a peek in disbelief at the Crane Bathroom of Tomorrow.
Whatever it is, make it fun. No need to get too cute or too clever. And, keep speeches and back-patting to a minimum.
That doesn’t mean hard-core Disneyland fans can’t be given an immersive experience, if we’re willing to pay for it. I want to truly step back in time at Disneyland and visit the Disneyland of my childhood -- and the Disneyland that came and went before I was born. My idea: during the fall of 2004, close the park one particular night a week at 6 p.m., clear out all the day guests, and reopen from 8 p.m. till 1 a.m. for another $50 bucks a head to allow guests to step back into Yesterdayland.
Limit attendance for each "Flashback Friday" or "Throwback Thursday" to, say, 10,000 people so everyone can enjoy everything without spending the whole night waiting in line. To control operating costs, run just eight or 10 rides, ones that can be affordably resuscitated or redressed to their original glory. Overlays also must be modest enough that they can be installed during the hour or two between the regular park closing and the event’s opening.
Guests at the event ride an old yellow-and-blue parking lot tram to the entrance, passing old signs for the Donald and King Louie sections. At the Main Gate, your A through E replica ticket is swiped by a friendly ticket taker who, like all other cast members that night, is dressed in a vintage costume.
Main Street USA could, more of less, be left as is. Perhaps revive the old silent films with the Keystone Kops, Williams S. Hart and Gertie the Dinosaur at the Main Street Cinema.
Main Street would also be used as a staging ground to display requisite limited edition merchandise. But to minimize everyone’s enjoyment, no standing in line. Shoppers, at their leisure, could view samples of each piece, then fill out a form noting what they want, along with credit card and shipping info. Edition sizes would be large enough that every attendee could get at least one of any item. These nights would be more for those who collect memories than merchandise.
Turning left to Adventureland, you’d hear the barker bird that greeted bypassers during the early days of the Tiki Room. At the Jungle Cruise, skippers in period costume would deliver the overly dramatic spiel of 1955, guns once again blazing. The "Swisskapolka" would blare from the Treehouse.
In Frontierland, guests could enjoy a gun battle between Black Bart and Sheriff Lucky, a restaging of the original Wally Boag-led Golden Horseshoe Revue, a trip on a recommissioned Keel Boat, and jazz onboard the Mark Twain inspired by the moonlight Dixieland cruises of the Sixties.
Visitors to Tomorrowland would be greeted by the Spaceman and Spacegirl and wave to live mermaids in the Submarine Lagoon. A Sixties rock band would perform at the Tomorrowland Terrace. Hostesses in 1967 polyester would welcome guests to a 360-degree film in the Circlevision/Circarama Theater, the 3-D "Magic Journeys" in the Magic Eye Theater, or aboard the resurrected People Mover.
In addition to a reborn Motor Boat Cruise, Fantasyland would offer photo ops in vintage vehicles (such as a two seater Mr. Toad car or a Skyway "cage" from the late Fifties) or with characters in primitive costumes. Care to pose with the 1955 Mickey Mouse clad in black tights, the two-person Pluto costume, or the old, giant rubberheaded Mad Hatter or Winnie the Pooh?
Of course, the small details would make an evening like this. Unalterable areas could be left in darkness. Stick recreations of the old pre-grand opening signs on the gates to the Haunted Mansion and Mickey’s ToonTown.
Imagine the publicity such events would generate for the more mainstream-oriented 50th anniversary promotion that could start in January 2005. Some of the props, costumes or attractions could even be reused in the general festivities -- and when they’re over, send everything to California Adventure for an exhibit on Disneyland, a "true California classic."
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.
You can contact David here.
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