In the Mood at Disneylandby Todd Pickering, contributing writer
I once visited Disneyland with my best friend Carolyn's family. We went one day with her mom while her father watched the dog. The next day the women went shopping while I took her father, Stan, into the park. At age 75, Stan had been suffering from severe arthritis since the age of 40 and was pretty hunched over. The tamer rides were in order, especially for nostalgia's sake.
Our goal was to do Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and then eat some food and listen to lots of music. He told me the best way to walk through Disneyland was to have me walk in front of him so he could follow my feet, making it easier to negotiate the morning crowds. When we arrived on the banks of the Rivers of America I stopped to check in with him.
"How are you doing Stan?" I asked.
"You know these people here at Disney sure do a mighty fine job," he said with his distinct Texas twang. "I mean Frontierland is the real deal, with horseshoes and wagon wheels and all sorts of boot prints everywhere. The attention to detail is amazing."
I said, "So far you've pretty much just seen the ground at Disneyland, haven't you?" Stan chirped, "Yup, that's pretty much all I've seen. And of course the amazing music I have been listening to changing from Ragtime on Main Street to good ol' western music."
That got me thinking that even the ground tells stories at Disneyland. It caused me to look and listen more, and of course we did a lot of resting in the parks that day to really soaked it all in. Walt Disney was in the business of making movies, and when he built his theme park he used lots of movie making techniques and set builders.
In scene design, particularly in theatre, there is something called sight lines. It is how designers deal with every seat in the house having a perfect view of the set so that all the actors can be seen at all times. Lighting is important because if the set and the actors are in place and you need to be able to see them. Lighting is also very important to set a mood.
Sound is the last element that is important. Music is obvious, but there are many sound effects and snippets of dialogue throughout the park if you stop and take a listen. Let's explore how in this age of sitting down and immediately checking your phone, you should try sitting down and using all your senses to experience some hidden gems at Disneyland.
Set Design: Frontierland
Even on very crowded days there is a great spot that really makes you feel like you are looking onto a set or even back in time. Instead of entering Frontierland through the main fort-like gates, enter through a path from the Princess Fantasy Faire by walking around the Royal Theatre. There are lots of benches there. They queue up here for the show at the Royal Theatre sometimes but other than that the benches are rarely full.
If you sit near the entrance to Frontierland and look in you feel like you are truly peering into an old Western town. You see a cannon and trees and a trading mercantile. The bustle of the people are seen more than heard and the music wafting through with an occasional bellow of the Mark Twain riverboat is haunting and beautiful. If you go at sunset the light is fantastic.
Lighting Design: Adventureland
One of the best moods for lighting is Adventureland, but with the Jungle Cruise taking up most of the real estate there is never any room to negotiate or sit down for some quiet time. This is a shame because the lighting here is phenomenal at night. If you get on any attraction in Frontierland or New Orleans Square directly at park closing and walk through Adventureland on your way out then you are in for a real treat. With the crowd gone, the flames cast beautiful shadows; the lamps are glowing and the buildings look amazing with the light being thrown on them. You can also hear the jungle noises and the gods of the Enchanted Tiki Room in the distance. Walk slowly and enjoy.
I highly recommend getting one of the boxed lunches at Aladdin's Oasis for another respite in Adventureland. This meal currently gets you a reserved seat for the Electrical Parade, and is well worth it. It is fantastic to take your box lunch back to your room or pool if everyone is on a different eating schedule, but if you dine in the Oasis, there are lots of tables. There is Middle Eastern style music with loads of trees above you, and the sound of the Jungle Cruise on the other side of the wall. The diffused lighting from all the trees and shade makes for a beautiful setting. Even on a busy day it is rarely crowded.
Sound Design: New Orleans Square
On Front Street, at the back of New Orleans Square as you exit the Disneyland Railroad Station, it's hard to resist the lure of beignets at the Mint Julep Bar. Buy a bag and sit along the wall; look up toward the balcony while you munch your treats. If it isn't too crowded you will most likely hear the sounds of noisemakers that the priestess is using to cast a spell on a gentleman.
There is an entire story going on that takes quite a while to hear, but if you are quiet, patient, and time it right you can hear the ending of the story. If you walk around through the shops you can see the other side of her apartment and hear the same sounds, but there is no place to sit and it is usually full of more people so harder to hear.
Over here you can hear the sound of parrots squawking from above the Blue Bayou accompanied by the Bootstrappers singing sea chanties. Or listen to the swinging sounds of Jambalaya Jazz along with the bellow of the riverboat and the whistle of the steam train. New Orleans Square is arguably the best place in the park for sound design.
There are so many nooks and crannies and great places to let your senses run wild. From the vanilla scents on Main Street, to the caterwauling of the seagulls' "Mine! Mine! Mine!" in the Submarine Lagoon, and on to the lights reflecting in the Rivers of America; I could go on and on and on. What are your favorite sights, sounds, and lights at Disneyland to get you in the mood?