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The Disneyland That Might Have Been: Mickey Mouse Club, Treasure Island & Lilliputian Land

Jim Hill

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The Disneyland That Might Have Been: Mickey Mouse Club, Treasure Island & Lilliputian Land

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Given that Disneyland Park kicked off its 60th anniversary celebration last month, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some aspects of the Happiest Place on Earth that didn't make it off the drawing boarding. Take -- for example -- the Mickey Mouse Club.

1953 site plan for Disneyland Park, showing Walt originally envisioned all of
the "lands"  at his theme park being placed. Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

According to the "Inside Disneyland" document that Roy made available to various television executives back in September of 1953 as Walt's brother tried to persuade CBS, NBC and ABC to come underwrite the cost of building the world's first theme park ...

Herb Ryman's drawing of Disneyland's Treasure Island and the giant hollow tree
that was to have served as Mickey Mouse Club headquarters. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"Mickey Mouse, the best known personality in the world has his MICKEY MOUSE CLUB headquarters in Disneyland. Located on Treasure Island, in the middle of the (Rivers of America), a fantastic hollow tree and treehouse serves at the Club Meeting place. The hollow tree is several stories high, with interesting rooms and lookout spots for club members. There is a Pirate cove and buried treasure on the Island ... and direct from this location the Club presents THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB TELEVISION SHOW."

The cast of the Mickey Mouse Club marches up Main Street, U.S.A. as part of
Disneyland's opening day parade. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

And as the above photo demonstrates, while the Mouseketeers were on hand for Disneyland's grand opening on July 17, 1955, they didn't actually shoot the "Mickey Mouse Club" TV inside the Park. Not on a regular basis, that is. More to the point, when the island in the middle of the Rivers of America became a place that Disneyland Guests could actually visit in June of 1956, it wasn't called Treasure Island. But -- rather -- Tom Sawyer Island.

Explorer's Map for Tom Sawyer Island. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Meanwhile over between Fantasyland and what was then known as "The World of Tomorrow," Walt wanted to build Lilliputian Land. Which -- according to this project's description -- was supposed to have been " ... A Land of Little Things."

Site plan for Lilliputian Land at Disneyland Park. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

This proposed Disneyland "land" was to have featured " ... a miniature Americana village inhabited by mechanical people nine inches high who sing and dance and talk to you as you peek through the windows of their tiny ships and homes."

The little mechanical figure at the heart of Walt's
"Dancing Man" project. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And how exactly was Walt going to pull off that effect?," you ask. Well, this is an aspect of Disneyland that Walt devoted a lot of time to in the late 1940s / early 1950s. He even brought in Buddy Ebsen to choreograph a simple eccentric dance that these tiny mechanical figures could possibly perform.

Walt helps Buddy rehearse. Please note the mirror & grid pattern behind Mr.
Ebsen. This was to help WED personnel help replicate Buddy's distinctive
dance moves when it finally came time to program this tiny mechanical
figure. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

In the end, the technology just wasn't there in the late 1940s / early 1950s to properly program these tiny mechanical figures. But on the other hand, there were aspects of Lilliputian Land that were very doable 60+ years ago. These included " ... an Erie Canal barge (boat ride) that takes you through the famous canal boats of the world, where you visit the scenic wonders of the world in miniature."

Please note the tiny canal boats that's about to pass under that railroad bridge
in the center left of the above piece of concept art. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Perhaps the thing that would have been easiest for Walt to pull off at Disneyland Park had he actually gone ahead with construction of Lilliputian Land would have been that " ... little diamond-stack locomotive 17 inches high (which) steams into a tiny railroad station. You sit atop of a Pullman coaches like Gulliver, and the little 9 engineer pulls back the throttle taking you on the biggest little-ride in the land."

Herb Ryman's rough sketch of a handful of Disneyland Guests riding a 17-inch
high  locomotive through Lilliputian Land. Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

For those of you who know your Disney family history, this miniature railroad that Walt wanted to build at Disneyland sounds a lot like the teeny-tiny steam train that he used to operate in the backyard of his Holmby Hills home.

Walt takes his daughters Diane & Sharon (plus some lucky Guests) rolling past
Lily's flower beds. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

As I understand it, it was the one-two punch of these miniature trains having an understandably low hourly ride capacity as well as Disney's lawyer being afraid that some child being scalded by live steam that ultimately prevented this particular ride from being installed at Disneyland.

Fantasyland's "Canal Boats of the World" ride floats past bare dirt banks
on Disneyland's opening day. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Ironically, one aspect of Lilliputian Land did actually make it through to Disneyland's Opening Day. Sadly, the "Canal Boats of the World" ride ultimately proved to be one of the least popular attractions at the Happiest Place on Earth. Which is why -- as part of a $2 million expansion of Disneyland Park -- the "Canal Boats" were closed down in January of 1956. And after six months of toil & effort, this Fantasyland attraction re-opened as ...

Disneyland postcard from the late 1950s shows Storybook Land Canal Boats
in all their glory. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... the Storybook Land Canal Boats ride. Mind you, if it were up to me, I would have abandoned the "Canal Boat" idea entirely and -- instead -- gone ahead with the restaurant ideas that Walt had come up with for Lilliputian Land. Where "little people with little appetites" would have been able to " ... get miniature ice-cream comes" ...

... " ... or the world's smallest hot-dog on a tiny bun."

But what do you folks think? Would you have preferred it if -- 60+ years ago -- Walt had actually found a way to get Mickey Mouse Club / Treasure Island and/or Lilliputian Land built at Disneyland Park?

Your thoughts?

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  • We visited Disneyland last year, and I have to say I enjoyed the canal boats... Don't think I ever rode them in previous visits, but I liked the detail and the idea of a simpler, less frantic ride.

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