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Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, editor
Celebrating Walt?
Have you ever been invited to a party where the host never shows up, the food runs out too quickly and you're sent home early without a goody bag? I hadn't, until I attended Walt Disney's 100th Birthday party at Disneyland on Wednesday. A day later, I'm still having difficulty putting my disappointment into words.

Before you say, "Oh, here comes another negative column", let me tell you what went right yesterday. If you are so inclined, you can read just the first section, and avoid the rest. Because Disneyland did put on a nice little ceremony yesterday, and I want to give them full marks for that effort.

Happy Birthday, Walt
Happy Birthday, Walt

When Disneyland opened at 10 AM, those visitors who were inside the park were surprised to hear Walt's voice, as a recording of his opening day speech played up and down Main Street. This seemed to be a good omen of the day to come. It was a beautiful day, "Walt Weather", as some would call it. The threat of rain had seemingly blown away, leaving a clear blue sky. Every 20 minutes or so, a recording played over the park speakers and invited people to gather at the hub for a ceremony to celebrate Walt's 100th Birthday. A stage erected in front of the Partners statue was set with a piano and a podium.

The stage was set

The stage was set

The stage was set

A few moments before 11:30 AM, Disneyland Ambassador Doina Roman- Osborne took the stage and welcomed the crowd. She then introduced Disneyland Resort President Cynthia Harriss.

In her opening remarks, Harriss said that Disneyland was joining the rest of the Disney company in a yearlong celebration of Walt's life and accomplishments. She invited attendees to visit Disney's California Adventure, to see the new film, Walt: One Man's Dream, which is now showing in the Animation Building. Harriss then introduced Richard Sherman, one of the famous Sherman Brothers who wrote songs for dozens of Disney films and projects.

Cynthia Harriss introduces Richard Sherman
Cynthia Harriss introduces Richard Sherman

Richard Sherman took a seat behind the piano, and started to talk a bit about the Walt he knew. Mr. Sherman related several stories about the making of Mary Poppins. He said that one decision that Walt made, to replace live human waiters with animated penguins, was an example of how Walt made everything extraordinary. Sherman said that, over the years, he and his brother would visit Walt's office each Friday to talk about what they were currently working on. Walt would ask them to play "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins, and then send them on their way for the weekend.

Richard Sherman talks about Walt
Richard Sherman talks about Walt

After Walt passed away, Sherman said while fighting off tears, he would still visit Walt's office on Fridays to play the song for him. And, saying "I'm playing it for you again, Walt", he launched into Walt's favorite song. While he played, a single pigeon landed near the piano, and, by the end of the song, more than one person was reaching for tissue. Blowing a kiss to the statue of Walt, Sherman wished his old friend a happy birthday and left the stage.

Imagineer John Hench
Imagineer John Hench

Harriss then took the stage, and spoke a bit about the Partners statue. Calling it one of the most photographed icons at Disneyland, she said it was being joined by replicas at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland. She then went on to introduce one of the men who created the statue, Imagineer John Hench.

Hench made a few brief comments about his career working with Walt, and then Harriss asked Sherman to come on stage again to help rededicate the statue. The trio were joined by Mickey Mouse, who helped them to remove the covering from the dedication plaque. Harriss read the dedication aloud for the benefit of the entire crowd:

In celebration
of the 100th anniversary
of his birth, the statue "Partners"
is dedicated as a tribute to
the Dreams, Creativity and Vision of
whose legacy reaches into a new century
around the world here,
"Where the Magic Began"

The birds are loose, the party must be over
The birds are loose, the party must be over

Harriss thanked the guests, and the trio returned to their seats as a performer sang "When You Wish Upon a Star". Several other characters joined Mickey, and a flock of white birds were released from behind the statue. After the ceremony, Harriss, Sherman and Hench posed for photos with the new dedication sign. It was a Disneyland moment.

Mickey Mouse, Richard Sherman, John Hench and Cynthia Harriss
Mickey Mouse, Richard Sherman, John Hench and Cynthia Harriss

Unfortunately, it was a moment without meaning. Everyone I spoke with left saying, "It was a lovely ceremony", reminding me of funerals I have attended. I believe the formula for all Disneyland special events reads something like this: "Doina introduces Cynthia, who introduces one or two other speakers, who talk until the singer comes on stage, and the whole thing ends with a bird release"

I was left totally perplexed. Why was Walt's birthday celebrated by rededicating a statue that has already been at the park for eight years? Why were none of the Disney family in attendance? Why was Cynthia Harriss the highest ranking Disney representative at the ceremony? I think Harriss make a perfectly wonderful hostess, but doesn't Walt's park deserve some corporate recognition? Surely Walt Disney World didn't need Paul Pressler, Michael Eisner and Roy Disney to unveil their knockoff statue. And why was I surprised that Disneyland had been so obviously overlooked on this momentous occasion?

Hearing Sherman relate his stories about Walt was the best part of the ceremony. I could have spent the whole day listening to those types of accounts. This is what I had hoped the ceremony would be about. But sadly, like many Disney productions of late, this was a pretty confection of a ceremony, with no substance. All icing, and no cake.

Which pretty much sums up the rest of my "Walt Day" at Disneyland. No Cake.

Eating dessert first - the individual birthday cakes were sold out before lunchtime
Eating dessert first - the individual birthday cakes were sold out before lunchtime

Trying to avoid the merchandise hype of the day, I had avoided standing in any of the 4 different lines available to visitors that morning. By the time the ceremony had ended, there wasn't much point in standing in any of them.

The Blue Ribbon Bakery was offering an individual birthday cake, with button, for $7 (shown above). These came in their own little pink cake box, and were sealed with one of the park "Happy Birthday" stickers. By 11 AM, they had already sold out, leaving customers who had waited in line over 45 minutes empty- handed.

Estimates on the number of cakes produced for the day range from 500 to 1,000, but there were nowhere near enough for everyone who wanted one. I talked with more disappointed people who didn't get a cake than I did with people who had been lucky, so obviously someone really underestimated the demand for these little treats.

The black-and-white collection features photos of Walt at Disneyland
The black-and-white collection features photos of Walt at Disneyland

The watch shop did a brisk business selling the first of their Walt watches, and many people had reserved the entire set. Across the way, the line at Disneyana was no longer out the door, because much of the merchandise had already sold out.

The Disneyana Shop line, which disappeared when they ran out of merchandise
The Disneyana Shop line, which disappeared when they ran out of merchandise

Mind you, this is not Limited Edition merchandise. Most of this collection is considered to be "core" product, available for the duration of the celebration. Yet the black and white poster, postcards and mugs were already gone, and it was pretty tough to find a T-shirt in the correct size.

Some of the Character Logo merchandise for the 100th Birthday Celebration
Some of the Character Logo merchandise for the 100th Birthday Celebration

Some of the items scheduled for release that day had not arrived yet. Worse, others were found to have been delivered to the wrong store. Late Wednesday afternoon, when the crowds had begun to leave for the day, Disneyana received a refill shipment of posters and mugs that had mistakenly ended up at the World of Disney store.

The line just to get a voucher to buy pins.
The line just to get a voucher to buy pins.

But none of this matches the horror of trying to get a pin. So that guests could attend the rededication ceremony, CMs handed out "vouchers" for the two pins being released that day. The catch was you had to buy your pins by 2:00, or they would be sold to people without vouchers. The line just to get a voucher stretched from the Showcase, all the way around Town Plaza, past City Hall and down toward the Emporium. It took some people almost an hour just to get a voucher. People wishing to actually buy their pins after the ceremony got to wait another hour or more.

Rather than deal with that mess, we joined our fellow MousePlanet staff and readers at the hub at 1 PM, and helped sing Happy Birthday to Walt. Someone brought party hats and noisemakers, which were the subject of great envy by a guest passing by the gathering. In true Walt spirit, the visitor was given a hat, and she went happily on her way. Someone had hung a "Happy Birthday, Walt" banner from a nearby rail, and other visitors were looking for a place to leave the birthday cards they had brought for Walt.

An impromptu shrine had been created in the flower bed behind the statue by visitors, "so as not to interfere with pictures of the statue" Unfortunately, everything had been removed by Disneyland sweepers by the time we walked through the hub a few hours later.

Disneyland restaurants will be featuring Walt's favorite menu items all year
Disneyland restaurants will be featuring Walt's favorite menu items all year

After the meet, we bit the bullet and went to redeem our pin vouchers just before the 2 PM cutoff. Then we met up with everyone for the Walk in Walt's Footsteps tour. I think the fact that our little 15 person tour ended up having 27 participants says a great deal about people's desires for the day. Most people were not there for a pin, or a poster, or to see a statue rededicated. They just wanted to celebrate Walt's life at his park.

We started our tour in the Tour Guide Gardens, where Walt would meet with his staff for coffee before walking the park each morning. As we made our way around the park, we heard stories about his life, and some of the more unusual history of Disneyland.

All too soon it was over, and the tour group scattered to finish their Walt day. Some headed over to DCA to see the new movie, others went in search of grilled cheese sandwiches, one of Walt's favorite foods. With the park closing in a few hours, I decided to see what merchandise was still available in the stores. Disneyana had just received the misrouted merchandise back from the World of Disney, so I was able to pick up a few pieces. But there really wasn't anything happening at the park to make me want to stay. I had done most of the Walt attractions I wanted to, except the Jungle Cruise, which was still closed for rehab, and the Mark Twain, which was not running that day and so was not available for an evening cruise.

Most of the park restaurants were closing, and I couldn't face another line at the remaining venues. Worse, the park was closing at 8 PM for a private party. I figured that the Disney studios had booked the park for an evening event, or that it was another Cast Member holiday party. How neat for them to be able to celebrate on Walt's birthday. I was so disappointed to find that it was a Vons employee night. Disneyland was rented out on Walt's Birthday for a VONS night?

And that is when it all hit me. I had been at Disneyland for ten hours, trying to get in the spirit of the day.

Disneyland, which is apparently so low on the corporate totem pole that the company couldn't spare one representative to come show support for Cynthia Harriss during the rededication ceremony.

Disneyland, where the souvenirs of the day were available only by waiting in endless line after endless line.

Disneyland, the park that used to stuff you full of free birthday cake just 6 years ago, and now won't even make enough to sell.

Disneyland, where the visitors put more meaning into the day than does the company.

Disneyland, which was closing so that the employees of another company could spend the evening in blissful ignorance of the importance of this day in Disney history.

I'm sorry Walt, but I realized that I spent the day trying to celebrate your life in a park where you've been turned into a marketing gimmick.

Saddened, I headed home. A friend called and asked how the day went, and I really didn't know what to tell her. How silly does it sound to say that your day was ruined because they ran out of birthday cake? But the more I talked about it, the more I realized that it wasn't the cake, and it wasn't the lines, and it wasn't the ceremony. What bothered me most was that the park blew it again. I want to go to just one event at this park where they "get it".

When I was on the Disneyland Creative Advisory Council, I tried to convey my sense of how important this day was to me as a lifelong Disney fan. Everyone else in the room felt the same, and it was no surprise to me to see how of the council members took the day off from work to be there yesterday. And, while I know that we all did our best, it still didn't matter. No matter what we wanted, no matter what the merchants and event planners wanted, the accountaneers won this battle and we got only what the park could profit from.

Look at the celebration events held in Marceline this summer, and the event held at the Academy last Wednesday night, and compare those to the Disney company events. It's pretty clear what was done for love, and what was done for money. Breaking even isn't even an option for them any more.

Finding this Disneyland / Walt poster for sale was tough
Finding this Disneyland / Walt poster for sale was tough

And yet, as a money making event, the birthday was a mess too. How much money left the park unspent because there wasn't enough merchandise in the right stores when people wanted it? A reader wrote me Thursday to say that he missed out on getting a poster. I haven't the heart to tell him he left an hour too early.

There is a lovely silver charm bracelet which was intended to be released for the birthday, but it arrived a day late. How many will remain unsold because of that, and will this hurt the chances of designing more charms for it?

And, not to harp on the cake, but how many people went home with an extra $7 because they didn't bake enough? And this at a time the Disney company is supposed to be hurting fiscally?

Looking forward to the next great Disneyland event, the park's 50th Anniversary Celebration, I can't even imagine what we'll end up with. I hope we get a celebration worthy of that amazing milestone. I hope we get new rides and I hope we get new entertainment. Heck, I hope we get paint and maintenance and badly needed repairs. The way things are going, we'll be lucky to even get cake.

I better go get in line now.


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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