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Wednesdays with Wade: The Disneyland Concept

Wednesdays with Wade: The Disneyland Concept

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A lot of people, including cast members, are confused about the "Happiest Celebration on Earth." If it is supposed to be a celebration of Disneyland's birthday, then why did it start May 5th rather than July 17th and why are the other parks being spotlighted? If it is Disneyland's birthday, why am I being urged to visit Walt Disney World instead? Regis and Kelly only spent two days at Disneyland but three days at Walt Disney World.

The bottom line, of course, is that Disneyland couldn't physically hold the number of visitors who would want to come to the celebration and in addition, there just aren't enough new things at Disneyland to justify a full-fledged celebration. So by spreading the celebration out around to the other parks, it makes it look like there is more going on than there actually is.

To justify all of this, Disney claims that the celebration is not just for Disneyland but the "Disneyland Concept" and that basically translates into Walt's vision of an entertainment venue for the entire family.

Fortunately, there is a clip of Walt explaining the origin of Disneyland and of course, that choice bit of oral history wasn't created for the Disney Company.

The majority of Walt Disney's introductions for his popular television show were done on a studio film set created to resemble his personal formal office. The various awards and mementoes were real because Walt felt more comfortable when he was surrounded by these familiar items. After filming, they were returned to his real office. Walt would film several introductions in a day and often have a scratchy throat by the end of the day.

However, a special CBC show was also filmed on this set.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation introduced a program entitled "Telescope" in 1963 and it ran for about a half dozen years. The purpose of the program was to "examine, reflect, and project the Canadian image" and during its run, the show covered a wide range of subjects pertaining to Canadians. Generally, it was a personality profile of a Canadian, either a national figure or an international celebrity or a notable unknown citizen.

Since Walt's father, Elias, was born in Canada, it seemed a good choice to interview Walt.

The host of the show was Fletcher Markle. He was a writer, director and producer of films. In fact, in 1963 he directed the Disney film "The Incredible Journey" about a trio of pets trying to get back to their home. It was filmed in Calgary, Canada. Obviously, this connection probably encouraged Walt to participate in the interview for the "Telescope" show where he revealed the origins of Disneyland.

This clip has been trotted out almost as often as Walt's Opening Day declaration: "Welcome...Disneyland is your land..." Here is a transcript of Walt's response to the creation of Disneyland from that interview:

"Well, it came about when my daughters were very young and Saturday was always Daddy's day with the two daughters. So we'd start out and try to go someplace, and I'd take them to the merry-go-round and I took them different places and as I'd sit while they rode the merry-go-round and did all these things, I felt that there should be something built...some kind of amusement enterprise built where the parents and the children could have fun together. So that's how Disneyland started. Well, it took a period of maybe fifteen years developing. I started with many ideas, threw them away, started all over again. And eventually, it evolved into what you see today at Disneyland. But it all started from a Daddy with two daughters wondering where he could take them where he could have a little fun with them too."

The "Disneyland Concept" was to utilize the elements of filmmaking in a three-dimensional, interactive amusement enterprise. The four most popular movie genres of the mid-1950s served as the inspiration for the four major lands: Tomorrowland was inspired by the science-fiction films that had begun to appear and the interest in UFOs, Frontierland was inspired by the audience's interest in Westerns (in 1955, over sixteen hours of television time was devoted to Westerns and it was the first year that "Gunsmoke" appeared on television), Adventureland was inspired not so much by Walt's True-Life Adventure films but by the popular jungle dramas ("Sheena, Queen of the Jungle", "Ramar of the Jungle", "Jungle Jim", "Tarzan", etc.) appearing on television and the movies, Fantasyland was inspired by animated cartoons.

Walt's concept was that the guests would become part of the story that was being told just like actors on a movie set.
Here is another "lost" quote from Imagineer John Hench:

"When we began designing Disneyland, we looked at it just as we do a motion picture. We had to tell a story...or in this case, a series of stories. In filmmaking, we develop a logical flow of events or 'scenes' that will take our audience from point-to-point through the story.

If we were to 'leapfrog' from scene one to scene three, leaving out scene two, it would be like sending the entire audience out to the lobby for popcorn in the middle of the film. When they came back, how could we expect them to understand what's happening in the film?

There was also another thing we had to keep in mind, in further developing our Disneyland 'story.' In filmmaking, although we can control the sequence of events, the viewer might walk in late and through no fault of ours, miss scene one and never catch up to the story. But in Disneyland, we had more control...we designed the entire park in such a way that the guest couldn't miss scenes one or two, etc...from the minute he entered our 'theater', that is, our front gate, 'scene one' would begin for him."

Many film designers like Emile Kuri and animators like Ken Anderson applied their craft to the creation of Disneyland. In later years, John Hench liked to tell people that Disneyland is designed with long shots, medium shots and close-ups and that helps tell the story.

And how was this "movie" laid out? Walt didn't want guests to be just observers of all this wonderful work but to be participants. Just like a movie or stage set, the place shouldn't look complete until there are actors there. Walt Disney himself described the original lands while Disneyland was being built and look how often he uses the theme of participating to describe how the guests were to experience his park:

MAIN STREET: "Many of us fondly remember our 'small home town' and its friendly way of life at the turn of the century. To me, this era represents an important part of our nation's heritage. On Main Street we have endeavored to recapture those by-gone days. Here is America in 1890-1910, at the crossroads of an era. Here the gas lamp is giving way to the electric lamp, and a newcomer, the sputtering horseless carriage, has challenged Old Dobbin to the streetcar right-of-way. America was in transition; the discoveries of the late 19th Century were changing our way of life. For those of us who remember those carefree times it recreates, Main Street will bring back happy memories. For younger visitors, it is an adventure in turning back the calendar to the days of grandfather's youth."

ADVENTURELAND: "The spirit of adventure is often linked with exotic tropic places. Many of us dream of traveling to these mysterious, far-off regions of the world. To create a land which would make this dream a reality, we picture ourselves far from civilization, in the remote jungles of Asia and Africa. The result is Adventureland, 'the wonderland of nature's own design'."

FRONTIERLAND: "All of us have cause to be proud of our country's history, shaped by the pioneering spirit of our forefathers. It is to those hardy pioneers, men of vision, faith and courage, that we have dedicated Frontierland. Here you can return to frontier America, from the Revolutionary War era to the final taming of the great Southwest. Our adventures are designed to give you the feeling of having lived, even for a short while, during our country's pioneer days."

FANTASYLAND: "When we were planning Fantasyland, we recalled the lyrics of the song, 'When You Wish Upon A Star'. The words of that melody, from our picture, 'Pinocchio', inspired us to create a land where dreams come true. What youngster, listening to parents or grandparents read aloud, has not dreamed of flying with Peter Pan over moonlit London or tumbling into Alice's nonsensical Wonderland? In Fantasyland, these classic stories of everyone's youth have become actual realities for youngsters-of all ages-to participate in."

TOMORROWLAND: "Tomorrow can be a wonderful age. Our scientists today are opening the doors of the Space Age to achievements which will benefit our children and generations to come. In Tomorrowland, we've arranged a preview of some of the wonderful developments the future holds in store. You will actually experience what many of America's foremost men of science and industry predict for the world of tomorrow. The Tomorrowland attractions, and many others, have been designed to give you an opportunity to participate in adventures which are a living blueprint of our future."

Literally, books have been written trying to explain the "Disneyland Concept" but my favorite quote is when a guest looked at Main Street and gushed to Walt that "it's exactly as it was!" Walt smiled and replied, "No, it's the way it should have been."

And a final "lost" quote from John Hench:

"The individual things we do in Disneyland don't have to stand as separate business entities like in other companies. We tell outsiders this and they think we're crazy, but that's the real secret to how it all works. We're looking for the total effect on the guest. That's the payoff. There's not one thing that could be placed on the outside and stay in business. Not the Jungle Cruise...not the Liberty Tree Tavern...and not even our popcorn machines. They are all too costly and complex. But when you put everything together, and mix in the employees, the whole effect becomes something that creates the 'Disney Experience'. Everything draws strength from other parts. It's a curious, in fact, downright incredible phenomena."

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  • I have read many other articles about the same topic, but your article convinced me! I hope you continue to have high quality articles like this to share with veryone!

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