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Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, editor

The Disneyland Forever Story

December 5, 2000
by Jason Schultz, contributing writer

A Disneyland Forever CD - cover art © Disney
A Disneyland Forever CD - cover art © Disney

When it was introduced on May 22, 1998, the Disneyland Forever "make your own CD" kiosk system was perhaps one of the must futuristic and popular parts of the new Tomorrowland. For the first time Guests were able to purchase music and narration from their favorite Disney attraction – sounds actually used in the Park, unlike the selections normally found on the "Official Albums" of Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

But this holy grail of sorts for Disneyland audiophiles like ourselves almost never came to be. It is a story of luck, persistence and a little bit of ignorance. The timing was about as perfect as it could be – everything just seemed to fall into place quite nicely.

Tony Baxter speaks at the dedication of the Main Street 20th Century Music Company shop
Tony Baxter speaks at the dedication of the Main Street 20th Century Music Company shop

One of the sparks came when senior Imagineer Tony Baxter was visiting a consumer electronics trade show and came upon a system known as Personics. This system would have allowed a customer to pick the songs they want and have them recorded onto audiotapes. Baxter's mind was sparked to how this could be related to Disney – he began to ponder the feasibility of releasing old Studio music that had never seen the light of day. These recordings would never have made money as general releases but could have been workable as "one- off" pieces that could be made on demand. As anyone who's ever been in the music business knows, it's incredibly difficult to license music, and so Tony's idea died – for the time being.

On another – unrelated – front, in 1996 Scott L Jordan was working at Hollywood Records and pitched the idea of releasing a series of CDs featuring 50s and 60s Disneyland music done in lounge style (without knowledge of Eddie's earlier idea). Dutch Cramblitt, head of Hollywood Records sales at the time, was all for the idea. As a joke, Scott L gave it the working title of "Disneyland Forever" – a name that eventually stuck, much to his chagrin. He kept pushing it and pushing it and eventually someone suggested that it might be better suited for Walt Disney Records. At the time, the two record labels were completely separate entities, and miscommunication eventually doomed the project. (The two eventually merged in 1998.)

Also at this time, a friend of Scott L's by the name of Bob Baranick became an Art Director for Disneyland. He asked Scott L if he would like to come over and be a design coordinator for him. Scott L gratefully agreed.

At his new office in the Disneyland Design Studios backstage, Scott L had hung up some of the gold records he had accrued from his work at Hollywood Records. One day Scott L was in his office when Tony Baxter was walking by; Tony noticed the gold records and poked his head in the door, striking up a conversation regarding them. The conversation soon shifted to Tony's idea of selling previously unreleased music from the Disney Studios – Tony asked Scott L if he would be interested in the project and wheels soon started rolling. But the concept with the Studio music would never get off the ground – Walt Disney Records had first right of refusal and they weren't interested in having anyone do the project.

Theme park music, on the other hand, was a different matter. While film music was the domain of Walt Disney Records, Walt Disney Imagineering and the Parks owned attraction music. Back in the 1950s theme park recordings were covered under the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists – a lucky fluke that allowed the project to even get off the ground. The 1950s contract stipulated that the sounds were recorded as if they were to be released, even though it wasn't; this ease of clearance for the sounds became important later on as the most important issue in getting any track onto the Disneyland Forever system is ease of clearance for use.

To get the technical aspect of the project moving, the creators looked to Digital On- Demand (DOD), then NewLeaf Entertainment. The company had been formed in the early 1990s as a joint venture between IBM and Blockbuster, but the technology was still too young and not quite up to the task. The company was scoffed at when it went to record companies and asked for millions of dollars to get a system up and running. When Viacom bought Blockbuster, it began to sell off non- revenue producing patents, including those of DOD. Bruce Gordon had done some research into the company and it was from this basis that Scott L began really looking into them in- depth.

The phone number Bruce gave Scott L turned out to be that of a Blockbuster video rental store in Ohio. Soon, however, Scott L soon found himself in touch with a man by the name of Tom Szabo who was with DOD and could give a demonstration of the technology. Now, at this point Scott L had only been with Imagineering for a week and had no idea that he needed a charge number for the project. Quite by chance Disneyland Forever was actually gaining momentum – under the radar. When Scott L informed Tony of the progress he had made, Tony replied, "YouČll never get this made–a lot of people have tried."

It was at this point that Scott L asked Michael Volchok to become involved with the project. Michael, also at the Design Studio, had been with Disneyland for years, knew the ins and outs of the Disneyland political system and was a great business guy. While Scott L knew what the project was supposed to be and how to get it done from the music and creative side, the Disneyland maze was much more than he could navigate. Michael and Scott L were determined to make Disneyland Forever happen.

Two of the next steps in the chain were contacting Disney Legal and Walt Disney Music Publishing. A misstep at any one of the points in the project could have spelled disaster, but things just kept falling into place. DOD was anxious to get a system up and running – especially one as high profile as one in a Disney theme park would be. DOD had to invest a huge amount of capital into setting up a prototype, but they then had a product they could show to companies interested in having this technology installed in their stores.

In the meantime, Scott L, Digital On- Demand and the Disneyland Design Studio began designing the interface for the system. A system was mocked- up around March of 1998 to show to merchandise executives... who promptly expressed their dislike for the project. They felt it would cannibalize sales of other music. To get the project moving again, Tony had to convince then- Disneyland President Paul Pressler to go for it – which he really did. Paul then had to convince then- merchandising head Ann Dale that it would be a good idea, which was a very difficult task indeed because of her strong opposition to the idea. Thankfully, the project didn't die.

Now that Disneyland Forever had the go- ahead from merchandising, it was time to gather material. Scott L trekked up to the Imagineering Sound Library and found Glenn Barker and Russell Brower excited about the project. Unfortunately, the library was in the process of revamping the organization of their collection – with time ticking down to the new Tomorrowland opening, Scott L simply grabbed what he could find. Not everything he was able to acquire could be sold on the kiosks, however – some copyright and contractual issues prevented the sale of certain tracks and will prevent their future release (Captain EO, for instance).

"Location, location, location" is obviously a big determinant in the success of any merchandise. Disneyland Forever was originally intended for Innoventions... until it was realized the flawed reasoning that would place merchandise inside an attraction. Who wants to wait in line for an attraction just to get in to buy merchandise? It was decided to move it to the Premiere Shop, though this shop's space had been cut considerably when NASA was promised space for their exhibit about... well... space!

When it debuted, the system definitely wasn't free from flaws. Sounds weren't leveled properly. Some tracks should never have appeared on the kiosks because of copyright issues. And at the first ever test of Disneyland Forever – at the Imagineering Preview Party for the new Tomorrowland – the system crashed. But despite its problems, the concept of the system was successful.

It opened to rave reviews from Park Guests who were finally able to own soundtracks of their favorite attractions. The albums were dedicated to Jack Wagner, who for many years was known as the "Voice of Disneyland." Jack's son, Mike, provides the instructions on how to make selections and purchase the CDs. The number of sounds has hovered roughly around 150, though there are those that were removed quickly – notably most of the Club 33 and Space Mountain Concourse music loops.

The project turned out to be so successful, in fact, that Walt Disney World decided they wanted their own system. Scott L went back up to the Imagineering Sound Library to pull our more audio. "From the beginning, it was a much more complete project," Scott L admitted. But the Florida resort was missing 16 years of classic – sometimes cheesy – Disney music. It didn't have as much nostalgic value for those who grew up with Disneyland, the original.

By this time, Scott L had left Disney to work for Digital On- Demand and was responsible for all audio and visuals of the system- in- the- making. "The cool thing about the interface is that it is supposed to be layers of paper that you rip away to reveal the layer below," Scott L said. "The buttons are all in the shape of Disney nametags. We won a Microsoft award for that interface. It was hell to do because we thought someone else was doing the style guide and then at the last minute we had to do everything."

Walt Disney World Forever opened in four locations in January 1999 with a wide variety of sounds. Because the Florida merchandise people had actually paid money for release rights, selections like the full America on Parade and Enchanted Tiki Room – which also played at Disneyland but weren't available on Disneyland Forever – were on the kiosks and able to be purchased.

Back in California, there were great things in store for Disneyland's system. Because of a lack of frequent updates, the Disneyland Forever system was beginning to stagnate slightly. In a meeting held to generate ideas to boost sales – attended by Tony, Bruce, Scott L and Michael, among others – someone pitched the idea to make detailed attraction albums. Since there was an upcoming merchandise event celebrating the Haunted Mansion's 30th Anniversary, it was a no- brainer to tie it in and make it the first such CD released.

The dedication of the Main Street 20th Century Music Company shop
The dedication of the Main Street 20th Century Music Company shop

Meanwhile, Main Street's Great American Pastime sports shop was being transformed into the 20th Century Music Company – which of course featured additional Disneyland Forever kiosks. Plans for the Haunted Mansion CD were first unveiled at the shop's opening on June 20, 1999.

When the album first came out a week later, it sold 3,000 units in one location in one day (at the 20th Century Music Company). "It was the system as the system should be used," Scott L commented.

The tradition of single- attraction CDs was continued with the release of the Pirates of the Caribbean album on May 20, 2000 – again tied to a merchandise event. Disneyland had learned its lesson with the 999 Haunted Mansion LE CDs and this time upped the edition size to 2500. The jewel case booklet is extensively detailed and – in the limited edition ones – autographed by Sam McKim. The CD itself contains a completely new stereo mix of the attraction, as well as several isolated tracks, recording sessions and never- used dialogue.

Disneyland President Cynthia Harriss at the dedication of the Main Street 20th Century Music Company shop
Disneyland President Cynthia Harriss at the dedication of the Main Street 20th Century Music Company shop

So what does the future hold for the "Forever" systems? Video is a very definite possibility. TheyČre also working on something known as "Circle-Vision" – can't wait to see what they have in store with that! In the meantime, arrangements are now being made to install the systems in Disney Stores. The plan is to distribute older albums through the system, theme park ones among them.

There are also more attraction albums to come in the future. One persistent rumor has been that a World's Fair CD is in the planning stages. While a final choice hasn't been made for what to work on next, a World's Fair album is definitely a possibility.

Also, the kiosk locations have just been retrofitted with full- color printers that will allow the Parks to print special jewel case covers and artwork on the CDs just for special events and the like. RedDotNet is also working on giving customers a choice of covers for the CDs, rather than just having the nostalgic shopping bag pattern (in Tomorrowland) or the patriotic cover (on Main Street).


Adrienne's Note: I really want to thank Jason for writing not only this article, but also compiling the annotations for the individual tracks available through the Disneyland Forever CD system. (and available at this LINK) Those of you who would like to purchase these CDs now have a definitive resource for making your selections - much better than the plain track list we've offered until now. 

As Jason said, the Disneyland Forever CD system is always changing. Who knows what the New Year may hold? If you have not yet finished your collection of personal CDs, now is a really good time to do it. It has been several months since an update was made to the system. You don't want to find that the song you've been waiting for is suddenly removed from the system! You can find Jason's Annotation list at this LINK, and order your CDs right on line at MouseShoppe.


ALSO

Jason Schultz has also complied a complete listing of the tracks available on the Disneyland Forever system HERE


ABOUT THE EDITOR

Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix is the super-shopper behind MouseShoppe, your personal and unofficial shopping service for the Disneyland Resort, and the owner of CharmingShoppe, a Disney collectibles store located in Anaheim.

In addition to scouring the park to find you the latest and greatest merchandise, she keeps you updated on all of the merchandise events happening in the parks.

If you want to talk to her about this column, merchandise, or events, contact her here.

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