Toon Talk: Walt Disney Treasures: Disneyland USA
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Walt Disney Treasures
The Happiest Place on Earth
The second volume of Walt Disney Treasures focuses on the early years of the very first theme park, Disneyland. The creation of the park was a unique one, as it was extensively documented and presented to the public as part of the Disneyland television show every Wendesday night on ABC. Included in this two-DVD set are four episodes from that series, all never before seen on home video, with the best tour guide you could ask for: Walt Disney himself.
At the advent of television in the early 1950s, most motion picture companies would have nothing to do with the new medium, for fear of it eroding their audiences. Who would go pay for a movie when they could sit at home for free? But ever the innovator, Walt saw that television could not only be used to promote his films, but also help him realize his dream of an amusement park for the whole family.
In an agreement with the ABC Television Network, they helped finance the park in exchange for a weekly television program from Disney. The infamous Disney synergy was born: Walt could talk about the upcoming theme park on the show, as well as present programming, both old and new, inspired by the different "lands" the park would feature. Once the park opened, guests could walk through locations they saw on the show, from Davy Crockett's old West to the fantasy worlds of such animated favorites as Snow White, Dumbo and, of course, Mickey Mouse.
Eventually, Disney bought out ABC in their co-ownership of Disneyland. Ironically, the Disney Company would later buy the ABC network in 1995.
But it is the early years of Disneyland that are covered here, from before it was open to it's 10th birthday. Watching these historical programs will take you back in time, when cars had fins, Annette was America's sweetheart and everyone couldn't wait for Walt Disney's Disneyland to open.
In addition to a general overview at the start of disc 1, Leonard Maltin introduces each program with historical context.
The Disneyland Story
This, the premiere episode of the Disneyland television series, aired on October 27, 1954 on ABC in glorious black and white. Tinker Bell begins her second career as the Disney television hostess, showing us the four lands that make up Disneyland the show and Disneyland the park: Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland and Fantasyland.
We begin on the bustling lot of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. Screen stars Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre and James Mason are working on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Animators are busy using a life model to assist in the animation of Sleeping Beauty's Briar Rose. But the biggest excitement is in the "Plans Room", where we meet Walt Disney, who introduces to us the concept of Disneyland. Through large maps and models, he sets the stage for what is to come in the first season of the show and what to expect from the anxiously awaited new theme park.
From Frontierland, Walt introduces us to Norman Foster, the director of what would become the biggest Disney television hit, Davy Crockett. Davy himself, Fess Parker, is on hand to sing the first public performance of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett".
Next is Adventureland, where True Life Adventures producer Ben Sharpsteen takes us on a global journey of all the exotic lands and cultures that will be presented on the show, from the marine iguanas of Galapagos Island to the reindeers of Lapland to the fearless bull-fighters of Portugal.
On to Tomorrowland, where famed Disney animator Ward Kimball pontificates on the wonders of space and how man will journey to the Moon and beyond through the advent of exciting new technologies.
Walt himself presents Fantasyland, home to Peter Pan's Neverland, Alice's Wonderland and a whole new "world of imagination".
Describing Disneyland, as Uncle Remus would say, as everyone's "laughing place", Walt leads us into the "Ev'rybody's Got a Laughin' Place" sequence from Song of the South, and then concludes the program with a retrospective of Mickey Mouse's career, for "it all started with a mouse" you know.
Included are clips of Mickey and his famous pals, including Minnie Mouse in Plane Crazy, Pluto in The Pointer, and Donald Duck and Goofy in Lonesome Ghosts (shown in it's entirety). Mickey takes center stage in his most famous role as The Sorcerer's Apprentice from Fantasia, also shown in full.
An immense undertaking at the time, the grand opening festivities for the "eighth wonder of the world" on July 17, 1955 were aired live on ABC, again in black and white. Walt is joined by popular Hollywood personalities Art Linklater, Bob Cummings and Ronald Reagan as hosts.
What could have been an outright disaster runs pretty smoothly, even with a couple miscues and missing microphones. Twenty-four cameras and a staff of hundreds helped pull off the broadcast, which netted over 90 million viewers. Which means that practically everyone in the country that had a TV set at that time was watching this program broadcast from a former orange grove in the then unknown city of Anaheim, California.
Curiosities abound in the program for hard core Disney fans and novices alike, most notably how barren most of the property looks. The show begins in a pressroom filled with cigarette puffing reporters (this being the 1950s after all). Fess Parker returns, with Davy Crockett co-star Buddy Ebsen, to sing another song, this one about his rifle "Old Betsy". Actress Irene Dunne christens the Mark Twain Steamboat. The Firehouse Five Plus Two make an appearance in what would later become New Orleans Square. The "fabulous world of Tomorrowland" is set in the far flung future of ... 1986 (well, Michael Jackson did do a moon walk then ... ). Rat-packers Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. ride the Autopia. Disney stars Jerry Colonna (voice of the March Hare in Alice in Wonderland) and Bobby Driscoll (star of Song of the South and Treasure Island) are spotted in Fantasyland. And that Danny Thomas is everywhere.
Shaky camerawork aside, this program is an invaluable document of a historic day in Disney, and American, history.