On the rides in Fantasyland you can clearly see how the Disney ‘Imagineers’ (as Walt called them) have utilized the lessons they learned in animating film. Take, for example, ‘Peter Pan’s Flight’: boarding a model pirate-ship, I fly through the Darling children’s nursery, out of the window and into the night; dipping suddenly I find moonlit London spread out beneath me; then, swinging round and up, I see my destination, the Second Star to the Right; my ship rises above the clouds and then drifts down again towards the Never Land with its Indian encampment and its Mermaid Lagoon.
Every angle from which I view the story of Peter Pan, as it is told here, has been minutely planned; my response to every trick and device has been consciously determined. Yet all the while, I am unaware that anyone else is sharing my experience; oblivious to the fact that my pirate-ship is travelling along on what is really a never-ending conveyor-belt of pirate-ships. I am a child once more, sitting in a darkened cinema auditorium while huge, brightly-coloured images dance before my eyes.
Saying goodbye to Peter Pan, I go in search of more illusions. Soon I sin falling down Alice’s rabbit-hole, running scared through Snow White’s forest, or hurtling wildly along in one of Mr Toad’s vintage cars through villages and farms, inns and courthouses until I finally collide with an on-coming train and find myself in a comic-strip version of Dante’s Inferno.
Elsewhere in Disneyland, I sin similarly beguiled: among the cavorting ghosts and ghouls of the Haunted Mansion, in the echoing sea caves of Pirates of the Caribbean or peering through a port-hole in the submarine ride (in reality only a few feet below water) at wrecks, sea monsters and the ruins of Atlantis.
Each sequence of the Disneyland movie mixes and dissolves into another, the editing apparently effortless: the luxuriant jungle and grass-roofed bazaars of Adventure-land merging into the stained-glass and fretted iron-work of New Orlean’s Square and then into Frontierland with its stockades, log-cabins and runaway mountain-trains.
So skilfully is my disbelief suspended, that I scarcely notice the incongruity of passing from the twirling pink and purple tea-cups of Fantasyland to the Fifties futurism of Tomorrowland with its clean-cut buildings and gleaming aluminium.
The overall unifying factor, of course, is Disney. Everything in Disneyland is stamped with his personal hallmark; just as, in his films, he took a diversity of subjects and made them – whether Brer Rabbit or Mary Poppins – completely and uniquely his own. There is nothing odd about encountering a pair of battling dinosaurs in Disneyland only a few hundred yards from the rocket-ride through Space Mountain, because they, like everything else here are a part of the Disney oeuvre. Touring Disneyland is like wandering through the pages of a Disney 111-mography, the references are everywhere: Davy Crockett, Pollyanna, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantasia and Mars and Beyond…
Dusk falls. I pass Monstro the Whale, waiting with open jaws to swallow up the last boat-load of visitors to Storybook Land. Just time for a quick ride on a flying Dumbo, and then I cross the drawbridge of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle once more and make my way back down Main Street, the heart-line of Disneyland, now a mass of twinkling lights.
As the film reaches its finale, I turn and look back to where the castle rises against the night sky. Fireworks burst in chrysanthemum explosions.
Disneyland is the ultimate experiment in the mass-communication of fantasy by a film-maker who so developed the skill and artistry of animation that the biggest movie-screen wasn’t big enough to contain all his ideas, and who took the rules of animation – storyboarding, colour-styling, character design and editing -and used them to build a modern Xanadu.
The last few feet of film whiz through the projector and I turn my reluctant steps towards the turnstiles.
THE END. Roll Credits…
© 1986 Brian Sibley
Brian Sibley visited Disneyland as the guest of Pan Am and Walt Disney Productions.
All illustrations in this article copyright © MCMLXXXV Walt Disney Productions.
Printed in Animator Issue 15 (Spring 1986)