The “Disneyland U.S.A.” episode of the Disney series People & Places provides a glimpse of an early Disneyland Park, showing us the drastic differences and similarities to what we see today. The documentary is one segment found on the Walt Disney Treasures – Disneyland – Secrets, Stories and Magic collectors tin DVD.
This episode was released in December 1956, within 18 months of the opening of Walt’s park. This film unlike the black and white opening day presentation, “Dateline: Disneyland” is presented in color and Cinemascope. The film opens declaring of Disneyland that, “Its purpose is enlightenment. Its product, happiness.” And happy people, attired in fancy dresses and shirts with ties (not the shorts and tees of our day) is what we see as we tour around the park.
Main Street U.S.A.
· The shape of Main Street U.S.A. seems familiar to the modern guest and we see the Main Street Vehicles shuttling families down the street to the Hub.
· The Omnibus and other familiar vehicles make their way down the street. But unexpectedly we also see a western stage coach transporting guests.
· Additionally when we arrive at the Hub we do not see the familiar Partners Statue, which will not make its appearance for decades to come.
· The program focuses a lot on this area, and it makes sense as Tony Baxter mentions in the accompanying commentary that at the time Frontierland was 1/3rd of the park. In one key way Frontierland looks very different.
· It is alive, really alive. There are horses and mules everywhere giving you the impression that you were in the old west. The number of animals compared with today is staggering as guests ride or are pulled by non-Audio-Animatronic animals!
· A big highlight is the town of Rainbow Ridge, which we can still see riding Big Thunder Mountain, and a tour through the extinct Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland that was replaced by the current roller coaster.
· In Adventureland we find only one ride, but a ride we love in The Jungle Cruise.
· As they tour us down the rivers we see a lot of familiar sites including Schweitzer Falls and hippos with wiggly years. But as we listen to the skipper spiel, in a costume that matches the stripped canopies of the boat, we hear a serious examination of sites, not jokes about the backside of water.
· Like Adventureland, Tomorrowland appears sparse.
· You can see a lot of the Autopia track as there is little mature vegetation to frame the attraction. It is humorous to watch well dressed men in ties and formal hats drive the Bob Gurr designed cars. Cars whose modern equivalents are driven daily by young children.
· Fantasyland is the most familiar to the modern guest of the 1956 version of the park. Snow White, Mr. Toad, Peter Pan, Teacups, Casey Jr. Storybookland, Dumbo are all present as they tour through the area. They just have different looks after rehabs of the past.
· The most obvious extinct attraction is the Skyway to Tommorrowland crossing over the park. But I have to admit it would be fantastic if another extinct attraction ever returned to one of today’s Fantasylands, The Pirate Ship Restaurant. That return could eliminate the rule to never eat in Fantasyland.
“Disneyland U.S.A.” makes me nostalgic for that early Disneyland that I never experienced. It is a very different place, an outing for people living in a more formal society. It is clear that the guests are taking this as a day out with fancy dress. I personally don’t think I have ever seen a guest in a tie, unless they were planning on eating at Club 33, within the parks. One cannot help but feel good as you watch Walt Disney lead a circus parade down Main Street U.S.A., the architect enjoying his park, his stage, his playground. Tony Baxter mentions that he has used this program with Walt Disney Imagineering new hires. It is clear to see why as it shows a living, functioning park that brings joy to its guests. It shows a snapshot of the past, where the park has been and how it pleased visitors.