Fabulous at 50:
Disneyland at the Half-Century

by Laura Gilbreath and Lee Zimmerman, ALL EARS® Guest Columnists

Feature Article

This article appeared in the May 17, 2005, Issue #295 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

"To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here, age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. 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." -- Walt Disney, July 17, 1955

Disneyland launched its 18-month long 50th anniversary celebration on May 5, 2005. 05/05/05 -- that's 50/50/50 backwards. To get ready for "The Happiest Homecoming on Earth" the park has been undergoing preparations for months, including an extensive refurbishment that has Disneyland looking better than ever. A number of new attractions have opened or will be opening, and there have been additions and upgrades to some existing attractions, also.

The focus on the 50th anniversary begins at the entrance to the park -- the 50th anniversary logo, Mickey ears with a big 50 in the center, is arranged in a colorful floral display in front of the train station. This logo is also displayed as a series of "Hidden Mickeys" throughout the park -- there are 50 of them placed on various buildings and attractions, all appropriately themed. Some of them are fairly easy to spot, like the logo on the clock tower of the train station and the one on Main Street's City Hall, but some of them are much more subtle -- such as the 50 in the spider web in front of the Haunted Mansion, or the Mickey head asteroid circling with the other planets on Tomorrowland's Astro Orbitor.

There's a new attraction in the Main Street Opera House: Disneyland -- The First 50 Magical Years. The exhibit portion features concept drawings, posters, photographs and other artwork, as well as a scale model of the park on opening day. Other exhibits include a collection of Disneyland ticket media through the years and tributes to Cast Members and Imagineers. Inside the theater is a movie hosted by Steve Martin, who worked at Disneyland in 1960 in the Magic Shop -- he demonstrates a little sleight-of-hand to prove he hasn't lost his touch. Donald Duck serves as self-appointed (i.e., uninvited) co-host. The movie includes interviews with Walt Disney and a time-lapse sequence of the park's construction. There are also some entertaining excerpts from the live broadcast of Disneyland's Opening Day ceremonies -- illustrating some of the flubs and follies of live TV. It's an interesting look at the early years of the park.

Another new attraction is located in Tomorrowland: Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. Though based on the popular attraction in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, there have been a few changes: the "ion cannons" are removable, making them easier to aim, and the targets have different shapes -- giving the "space ranger" some idea of which ones are worth the most points. The targets also light up and flash when hit. This is a Fastpass attraction, but the standby line moves pretty quickly.

Though not a "new" attraction, Space Mountain has been undergoing a complete rehab, including an entirely new track, and will re-launch on July 15.

Many other areas and attractions in the park have been specially decorated for the 50th anniversary. The Mark Twain paddlewheeler is festooned with blue and gold garlands, with a big "Happiest Celebration on Earth" banner across the top. The trains on the Disneyland Railroad have been polished until they gleam, and the brass is almost blindingly bright. All of the Main Street vehicles have received similar treatment. In Tomorrowland on the Innoventions building a series of hanging banners feature some attractions of the past like the Flying Saucers and Adventure through Inner Space.

A new exhibit called "Disneyland: A Magical Canvas - 50 Artists Celebrate 50 Years" has opened in The Disney Gallery. It includes displays of concept art, paintings, and drawings. The Gallery has a "Print on Demand" system, and some of the artwork is available in this form.

In Adventureland the Enchanted Tiki Room has just come out of rehab and looks like new -- the colors are vibrant and all of the audio-animatronics are in working order again. And one of Disneyland's original attractions, the Jungle Cruise, has a few new surprises.

Another extensive rehab was performed on Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. Though it can't compete with the castles of the other "Disneylands" in terms of size, it has a lovely fairy-tale quality to it. The colors are beautiful and golden accents abound -- from the golden banners draped from the parapets to the golden crowns surrounding the turrets.

Speaking of gold, it's prominently featured throughout Disneyland. The lampposts on Main Street are now gold, with a golden Mickey logo and a golden Tinker Bell on top. "it's a small world" has been repainted white and gold, and many of the buildings on Main Street feature gleaming golden trim. Cast Members are wearing new golden 50th anniversary nametags, which proudly state their hiring date with "Class of xx." Perhaps the most interesting use of gold is on some of the ride vehicles. A number of the original attractions from 1955 have had one golden vehicle placed in them. These include, among others, a golden horseless carriage, a golden teacup, a golden Dumbo, a golden carousel horse, and even a golden Jungle Cruise boat. Some locations received two golden vehicles, and the second one is available outside the attraction for photos.

And speaking of photos... last year Disney invited the public to submit their photos of "The Happiest Place on Earth" for a project called "The Happiest Faces on Earth." The photos have been used in a collection of photomosaics that are on display all over the park. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of photos included in each photomosaic. A few examples are Winnie-the-Pooh floating in air in Critter Country, a depiction of Walt Disney and Sorcerer Mickey in the Opera House, the three Hitchhiking Ghosts in front of Haunted Mansion, and Baloo and Mowgli near Tarzan's Treehouse. Some of the mosaics have been placed over in Disney's California Adventure as well, and there are portraits of The Incredibles, Mike and Sulley, Nemo, and Flik in Sunshine Plaza.

What would a big celebration be without a new parade? Walt Disney's Parade of Dreams features characters, dancers, stilt-walkers and acrobats -- even trampoline artists. The floats are very detailed and most pertain to a particular Disney movie, such as Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast. Many of the floats include some very large animatronics like Ursula and Geppetto. Especially impressive is Simba on the Lion King float, who is able to move both of his front paws as well as his head, giving him a much more life-like appearance. Several of the "face" characters, like Ariel, Alice, and the Mad Hatter, are miked, and able to talk to the parade audience.

And of course a big celebration also requires a new fireworks show -- Remember... Dreams Come True. Narrated by Julie Andrews, Jiminy Cricket, and Walt Disney, this fireworks spectacular includes lasers, projections on the castle and the Matterhorn, a dazzling array of fireworks, and, of course, Tinker Bell in flight.

Disneyland's younger sibling, Disney's California Adventure, hasn't been left out of all the 50th anniversary fun. It also has a new parade -- the Block Party Bash. This high-energy celebration features characters and floats from several Pixar films: Toy Story, The Incredibles, A Bug's Life, and Monsters, Inc. In addition to the characters there are dancers, bikers, and trampoline artists. The parade stops in several different "Block Party Zones," and then it's the guests' turn to join in the jumping, dancing, games, and other fun. This summer "Turtle Talk with Crush" will be coming to DCA's Animation Building, and in January a "dark ride" with a Monsters, Inc. theme called "Mike and Sulley to the Rescue" will go into the area formerly occupied by Superstar Limo.

At 50, most of us are starting to show our age -- but not Disneyland. The park has undergone considerable maintenance and cleanup to prepare for the anniversary celebration. That, in addition to the new attractions and the anniversary decorations, have Disneyland looking better than the day it opened -- plus the drinking fountains work, the asphalt is not sticky and there are many more attractions. For Disneyland, it's safe to say that "you're not getting older, you're getting better."

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Laura Gilbreath and Lee Zimmerman live in southern California where they are Disneyland Annual Passholders -- but they actually spend more days per year at Walt Disney World, where they also hold Annual Passes. They enjoy traveling with their faithful companions Tigger and Stitch and maintain a website of their adventures, Disney and otherwise, at http://www.travelswithtigger.com.

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Related Links:

Photos: http://allears.net/dlr/news/50th10.htm

Official Press Release: http://allears.net/dlr/news/50th1.htm


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.