Walt Disney Video
Available Dec. 11, List Price $32.99
TIME Archive: If Heaven Ain't a Lot Like Disney Theme Parks
After they've got the DVDs, fans of the High School Musical movies aren't done buying. An online store peddles alarm clocks, dolls, backpacks, bookmarks, napkins and plates, musical cake decorations, Sharpay pink sheets and, for $39.99, the Deluxe Troy Warm-Up Jersey. (Buy it for yourselves, girls. Zac would want you to wear it.)
All this huckstering is fully in the spirit of Walt Disney, who in the 30s and 40s popularized the notion of auxiliary merchandise the Mickey Mouse watch, the Dell comics of his cartoon characters, the Little Golden Books of the animated features to help publicize his movies and make a dollar or two on the side. Later this tactic was called synergy, a word popularized by the futurist Buckminster Fuller (whose geodesic dome is the dominant icon of Epcot Center in Walt Disney World). But Walt was synergizing before it was cool. He made sure that everything Disney was a commercial for everything else Disney.
His most ambitious scheme was Disneyland, a theme park (whatever that was) built on 240 acres of orange groves in Anaheim, Cal., at a cost that began at $3 million and soared to $17 million by opening day, July 17, 1955. Everything went famously wrong that day: the heat turned the roads into goop, gate crashers clogged the park, rides broke down; the Mickey Mouse figure was a busty, black-garbed woman in an ugly rodent head. Every humiliating moment of what Walt called "black Sunday" was captured on live TV. Maybe the bankers and backers he had approached were right: this notion would sink him. Walt had already mortgaged the film studio. Disneyland could take him and his company down.
Things turned out OK with Disneyland soon a dominant tourist attraction, and bigger parks in Orlando, Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong not least because Walt marketed the park wherever he could. He produced a Disneyland edition of the People and Places series that ran in theaters; at 42 mins. it was one of the longest shorts ever (and is included in this DVD package). But the genius part was to create two TV shows, Disneyland and The Mickey Mouse Club, that promoted the park with a relentless brilliance. These shows among the earliest infomercials, but disguised as entertainment aired on the ABC network, which at the time owned a third of the park. More synergy!
Disneyland: Secrets, Stories, & Magic (directed by Bob Garner, and produced by Garner and Jan C.J. Jones), is a 1hr.21min. tribute to the creation, birth and growth of the park. Celeb moguls are on hand, like George Lucas and Pixar poobah John Lasseter (who first job was as a park sweeper in 1977). But most of the tale is told through the memories of lesser-known legends in the park realm seriously: the company has a hall of fame called Disney Legends many of whom were there from the beginning, or before, such as Milt Albright, the park's first manager, and Charlie Ridgeway, who covered the park's opening for the Los Angeles Mirror-News and became a Disneyland publicist in 1963 and for four decades thereafter.
You'll hear from Wally Boag, star of the Golden Horseshoe Revue and mentor to a teenage Disneyland employee named Steve Martin. Herb Ryman, the Imagineer who sketched the original layout over a weekend, describes his inspiration to turn Sleeping Beauty Castle, the park's hub building, 180 degrees around so that, as you stroll up Main Street, you see the back of the castle. (Didn't know that, did you?) Dick Nunis, retired Chairman of Disney Resorts, recalled that before the opening there was a plumbers' strike, necessitating a stark decision: drinking fountains or toilets? "We've got to have rest rooms," Walt told Nunis. "People can drink Coke and Pepsi, but they can't pee in the street." (Tee hee, Walt said "pee.")
The DVD also has three episodes of the hour-long Disneyland show, some with commentary by Leonard Maltin and Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter, who in the 80s masterminded the Splash Mountain, Star Tours and Indiana Jones rides. And a trivia quiz that promises a prize at the end; the prize, which is in the boxed set, is a reproduction of the booklet of tickets you'd buy at the park to go on the attractions. (The phrase "E-ticket ride" started here.) Now the rides are free, but the one-day admission price has escalated just a bit, from 90 cents to $56 for kids aged three to nine, $66 for those older.
When it comes to Disney parks, there's not a huge Undecided contingent. People either hate them or love them. If you're in the last category, you'll want this stroll down Walt's fabricated Memory Lane. As the founder said on that chaotic opening day: "Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world." Hard facts are hard to come by in the Magic Kingdom, especially 52 years after its launch. Once nostalgic for an imaginary America, Disneyland is now nostalgic for itself. You can share that dewy feeling, for $32.99 (or for $10 less via Amazon.com).
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