Why I Love Disneyland

FeaturedWhy I Love Disneyland

Why do I love Disneyland so much?

This is a question that i’ve been asked many times during my tenure as a Disney blogger, both in the context of mocking and legitimate inquiry, and It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

So, why do I love ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’? It seems like a simple question on the surface, but any Disneyland fan will tell you that it really isn’t. It’s so hard to put into words why a single place makes you feel so happy and how memories made in that place could bring you so much joy years after the fact. But I thought about it long and hard, and I can finally narrow it down to one core idea.

It feels like coming home.

Whenever I walk through those gates, no matter how many times I’ve been there before, I always feel a deep sense of longing and belonging. It’s a similar feeling to seeing your hometown for the first time in 15 years, or that inexplicable warmth that washes over you during Christmastime. Some people chock it up to mere nostalgia, and while that’s partially true, I feel like that limits the full breadth of emotions present in the experience.

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My Brother, Sister, and I in 2007

Yes, I have nostalgia for Disneyland. After all, I had my first visit there before I was even a year old, and I’ve been going with my family ever since. But that’s not the only thing that stirs up this feeling of home in me. It can’t be. How could it explain the hundreds of people who have never been to Disneyland before, that weep at their first time going as an adult? No, there’s something far more… dare I say…magical about the happiest place on earth.

I never get tired of Disneyland either, and as anyone knows nostalgia can only go so far…can only last so long. If the age of reboots and sequels hasn’t proven that, I don’t know what will. No, my joy in Disneyland goes deeper than that!

As a child, I adored Disneyland, and while my childhood visits were comparatively few and far between, every single one of them was an event to remember. It was a real treat, and an extremely special occasion, for me to go to Disneyland. My love for Disneyland only grew with each consecutive visit.

So naturally, when I became an adult, I would want to save my own money to keep going to the the place which had brought so much joy to my childhood years. I saved every nickel, and eventually was blessed with the chance to buy an annual pass. This allowed me to go to Disneyland more often than I had ever been before. Everyone warned me that I would get tired of Disneyland if I went too much. They said that it would stop being special to me and that I would get bored with it eventually.

They were all wrong.

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Me Circa 2010

Now I adore Disneyland more than I ever have before! Sometimes, I don’t even ride any rides, and simply go in the park to window shop or sit down on a bench to eat. It’s no longer a trip every few years, but a place I visit on the regular. In light of this fact, nostalgia seems like an underwhelming explanation for my love of Disneyland. Due to this continuing enjoyment, I often struggle to find and adequate explanation for the experience.

So, I keep on coming back to this concept of coming home. They say home is where the heart is, and that is indeed true for the happiest place on earth! I may call the place where I live home, but Disneyland definitely feels like a second one. Every time I walk down Main Street U.S.A, sit down in the view of the castle, or ride the Disneyland Railroad, I’m hit with an overwhelming sense of peace and calm. No matter how rough the outside world might be, no matter how stressed I might feel, as soon as I walk through those turnstiles, it’s very hard to remember those things. Instead, all of my senses are flooded with creativity and imagination.

Suddenly, I smell the popcorn, I feel the brickwork underneath my feet, I see beautiful works of immersive art in every direction, and I even hear the music and sounds of a fantasy world come to life. It’s by no means perfect, but it does give you a sense of safety and freedom. It may all just be pretend, but sometimes it’s fun to let go and pretend. Too many people expect perfection from Disneyland, or are too eager to fulfill their plans like a checklist, that they miss the magic that happens right under their very noses. You don’t happen to Disneyland, Disneyland has to happen to you! And once you get into that frame of mind, if you let yourself be immersed in the world that Disneyland tries to create for you, and resist the temptation to act like an adult, you might just find yourself having that same feeling of home.

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Disney trip 2012

It’s that feeling of being a kid again and playing in a world of your own imagination. It’s that sense of escapism that comes with visiting a place from your favorite book. It’s the feeling of adventure that comes with fantasizing about the past or dreaming about the future. It’s the feeling of your dreams coming true. Like a warm fire on a cold winter night, Disneyland is a comfort for those that let their inner child reign.

If you let it, Disneyland can be like coming home to the innocence of youth.

That is why I love Disneyland. Why do you?

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DCA/Disneyland Esplanade 2010

Swinging Wake: The History of The Haunted Mansion Part 2

FeaturedSwinging Wake: The History of The Haunted Mansion Part 2

Read Part 1 HERE!

The year is 1966. A thrilling adventure on the high seas has just been added to Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. But there is something else that grabs the attention of guests in the area. Something new and mysterious. Wide-eyed children look through a pair wrought-iron gates at a strange building…an opulent mansion. No one knows what will be inside, and the only hint of what’s to come is a sign that reads:

“Notice! All ghosts and restless spirits. Post lifetime leases are now available in this Haunted Mansion”

It’s followed by a description of the mansion’s offerings for retired haunts and ends with the phrase:

“For reservations send resume of past experience to: Ghost Relations Dept., Disneyland. Please! Do not apply in person.”

This sign is all guests would get about the Haunted Mansion for several years. However, instead of disappointing them, it only raises their expectations to a whole new level.

Fast-forward to early 1969…All who visited Disneyland were eagerly awaiting the future attraction; none of them even realizing the development nightmare that had been going on behind the scenes for nearly half a decade.

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They could have never known that in 1964 work on the mansion (which had already been in development for 10 years) came to a screeching halt when Walt Disney diverted all of his attention to the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. Everyone who was anyone at Disneyland was sent to work on the extensive lineup of attractions that would debut at the fair, and no one was left over for work on any of the ongoing home-projects at Disneyland. The Haunted Mansion would have to wait for a while.

However, fate was on the Haunted Mansion’s side, because the World’s Fair actually provided several technological breakthroughs that effectively solved any future storytelling problems that the Mansion’s had! You see, the story that the Imagineers could tell In the haunted mansion was limited by the technology of the times. The World’s Fair provided an unprecedented stroke of luck that greatly broadened these borders to previously unimagined horizons. The first of these lucky breakthroughs, and arguably the most famous, was the “perfection” of Disney’s Audio Animatronic technology; which had first debuted in the Enchanted Tiki Room in 1963. With the technological innovation of the photo-realistic Mr. Lincoln at the World’s Fair, it was finally possible to populate the Mansion with a believable cast of characters in movement, rather than in static scenes, allowing the story to be told in a much more efficient manner.

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Abraham Lincoln Figure Made for the World’s Fair

The second breakthrough, and probably the most important for the future of the Mansion, was the advent of the Omnimover Ride System. This ingenious vehicle design was an evolution of the PeopleMover system developed for the Ford’s Magic Skyway attraction at the World’s Fair. In essence, this system was a chain of individual swiveling vehicles that ran on a hidden track underneath the ground moving at a constant speed, so that passengers could be unloaded and loaded in an efficient manner and at consistent rate.

The reason why this second innovation proved such a game-changer was the fact that, up until that point, the Haunted Mansion was supposed to be walkthrough exhibit. The Omnimover system allowed the attraction to become a continuous ride-through experience; raising its hourly capacity tremendously. It also allowed Imagineers to control what riders would see, by preplanning the track layout and the programming of the individual cars to swivel or turn; effectively controlling the audience’s view of the story and special effects just like a camera lens does in a feature film.

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Omnimover System Patent

Now with the technology to tell an effective story, Disney simply needed storytellers that could execute these tools correctly. Luckily, after the World’s Fair ended, two of Walt’s greatest storytellers were now available for the mansion. Marc Davis, known for his brilliant animation of Cinderella, Maleficent, Cruella De Vil, Tinker Bell, and more, was brought onto the project for design, especially in regards to the characters. After his concepts for Pirates of the Caribbean proved so crucial to its success, Walt wanted him to help guide this new masterpiece. At the same time, Claude Coats, a Disney background painter who was known for designing many of Fantasyland’s famous storybook rides and providing the layout for Pirates of the Caribbean, was brought in for his familiarity with the spookier aspects of fairy tales.

However, there was one problem with this dynamic duo; both had completely different ideas for what the Haunted Mansion’s tone should be. Marc wanted the mansion to be funny and lighthearted, believing that a real haunted house would be too scary for a family establishment like Disneyland. On the other hand, Claude Coats believed that you shouldn’t even make a “haunted house” attraction in the first place without making it scary. The two conflicting ideologies became a temporary problem, so much so that Walt was forced to bring in a third party to reconcile the two of them.

Walt knew exactly who to call; good ol’ X!

Xavier ‘X’ Atencio was an animator at the studio in whom Walt saw something very special. Even though Atencio had never written a script before, Walt thought he would be good at it, and had him assigned as the lead writer on Pirates of the Caribbean. Walt’s insight would prove prophetic as that ride became what many consider to be the greatest ride in theme park history, and Atencio’s lyrics for “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me” would be sung around the world; remembered by thousands to this day! Walt thought Atencio might be able to pull it off again with the Haunted Mansion.

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X Atencio at work on a Winnie the Pooh feature

Again, Walt Disney was right! Atencio managed to somehow juggle Claude Coats dark tones with Marc Davis’s silly characters and create a script that balanced the macabre with the satirical. After a few drafts, a final story focusing on that “retirement home for happy haunts” was approved. This final draft would tie together separate side-stories based on Marc Davis’s unforgettable characters under one sinister-looking roof of Claude Coat’s design. Finally, the Haunted Mansion had the story it deserved, and although Walt never got to see the finished product due to his untimely passing in late 1966, the ride would have made him proud. The Haunted Mansion opened to critical acclaim in 1969 and has been entertaining guests for 50 years!

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It may have taken over 15 years to create, but it was worth it! And with 999 happy haunts to visit, you’ll want to hurry back again and again! After all, there’s room for a thousand… Any volunteers?

WANT MORE DISNEY HISTORY?:

Peter Pan

EPCOT

Splash Mountain

It’s A Small World

Alice in Wonderland

Welcome, Foolish Mortals: The History of the Haunted Mansion

Welcome, Foolish Mortals: The History of the Haunted Mansion

It had been sitting, seemingly abandoned, for years…

The mysterious building in the far corner of New Orleans Square towered above the land in opulent style, causing all guests to wonder at what could be taking place inside it. But they would not wonder for long. Finally, the mansion’s gates were opening, and its secrets were available to the public. Even though its visionary founder, Walt Disney, had been gone for 3 years, the Imagineers were still able to finish the dream. The long-awaited happy haunts were assembling for a swinging wake.

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But how did the Haunted Mansion get its start? What made it become one of the most famous attractions in theme park history? The answer to that question is found in the mansion’s origin, way back in time; at the beginning. The very beginning…

In 1951 Walt Disney began brainstorming what would become one of his most important achievements: a Disney theme park. Walt had been frustrated with local parks where kids and adults had so little that they could do together, so he made up his mind to create a theme park where families could do everything together. At the time, this concept was referred to as Mickey Mouse Park and would be located across the street from the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank, California.

This was where the idea for the Haunted Mansion was born.

Legendary artist Harper Goff was called upon to conceptualize ideas for concepts that might be found in the park. One of these concepts, was a drawing of a graveyard path, leading to a crumbling Victorian mansion off on a distant hill. This would be the first ever mention of a haunted house attraction for a Disney park.

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Harper Goff Concept

Eventually, the concept for Mickey Mouse Park grew into something much more than a small diversion, and it became abundantly clear that the 11-acre lot across from Disney’s Burbank studio would not be enough space to contain the rapidly growing plans for Walt’s theme park idea. So, a new location was found in Anaheim, and the park was renamed Disneyland.

However, during this time, there were so many concepts for the new park, that they could not all make the final cut. Many ideas were inevitably put on hold, and when the park opened in 1955, many of the attractions that had been created for Disneyland were set aside for future expansions. Harper Goff’s haunting concepts happened to be one of these delayed ideas. Luckily, Disneyland became a smash hit, and many of the delayed concepts were resurrected to accommodate the public’s seemingly never-ending appetite for themed Disney entertainment.

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Disneyland Opening Day

In 1957, Walt brought out the haunted house concept as a possible element of an upcoming expansion to Disneyland. He was planning on opening a brand-new land on the far corner of Frontierland, and he needed new attractions for the area. It would be called New Orleans Square, and would also be home to plundering pirates…but that’s a story we’ll cover later. Walt went live on BBC stating that he planned on building a “retirement home” for happy haunts who no longer had a place to live because their original homes had been destroyed over time.

“The nature of being a ghost is that they have to perform, and therefore they need an audience.”-Walt Disney

The haunted house would be a premier New Orleans Square attraction, and Disney had something extra special in mind for its debut. Being the master storytellers that they were, Disneyland’s “Imagineers” wanted to craft an immersive experience. None of them were content with throwing together a bunch of haphazard spooky carnival ideas and calling it a day. Walt especially wanted a real story, something to provide consistency and quality; elevating his haunted house above the generic ones you’d find at the town fair. To this end, he tasked Imagineer Ken Anderson with brainstorming a story and a possible layout for the haunted attraction.

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New Orleans Square Concept

Ken Anderson had been a Disney animator for many classic films,  and he had also previously worked on Fantasyland’s famous “dark-rides”, (like Snow White’s Scary Adventures). And although the Fantasyland rides weren’t meant to be too scary, he knew a thing or two about playful spookiness…and he also knew how to tell a good story. Walt was famous for family entertainment, and it was almost certain that he wanted the haunted house to be much more lighthearted than other haunted attractions found across the country; making Ken Anderson a logical choice for lead designer.

Still, early concepts for the ride tended towards the scarier side of things, and although some ideas stuck, the story would go through several unused iterations before Walt Disney would even begin considering construction. We’ll cover these unused concepts in a future article, but it’s important to know that they ranged anywhere from a concept based on an evil sea captain and his unsuspecting bride, to an idea revolving around an entire family dying mysterious and sudden deaths. There was even a concept based on a never-ending ghostly wedding feast! You can see why Disney didn’t want to use some of these creepier concepts for his family park!

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Ken Anderson

But since he had announced it already, Walt couldn’t delay the project for too long. He had to come up with something concrete to show the public. At the same time, he strove for quality and never wanted to rush anything. So he came up with a clever compromise.

They would begin construction on the facade that guests would see when they visited the park, but take more time to perfect the attraction behind the scenes. So, even though the inside of the mansion was facing major story delays and roadblocks, the outside would soon come along rather nicely. In 1958, Ken Anderson had drafted a pencil sketch inspired by a Victorian-era antebellum mansion. The drawing had a decaying, run-down, and creepy look, which artist Sam McKim made into an official display painting. Walt liked the look of the house, but not the state of repair that it was in. He didn’t want a ramshackle, rotting house to be a visual blight in his pristine and clean Disneyland. So, he told his Imagineers to make the outside look nicer, saying:

“We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside.”

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At around the same time, Walt brought on Imagineers Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump to design the special effects that would be placed into the ride. Both Gracey and Crump had made a name for themselves at Disney for their technical wizardry and mastery of imaginative special effects. Walt had them spend a huge amount of time perfecting the tricks that would sell the story of a ghostly retirement home. They tinkered away, day and night, crafting the greatest illusions and special effects of their entire careers. In fact, the special effects created by Gracey and Crump for the Haunted Mansion deserve their own article, but suffice it to say that they were so numerous and well-made, that they earned the pair a prestigious new title: “Illusioneers”! This is a nickname which is still used today for Disney special effects artists!

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Yale Gracey

Despite these breakthroughs, the development of the story was not going well. To the untrained eye, it would have seemed like everything was coming together nicely, but in actuality the project was dangerously behind schedule, and the attempts to come up with a satisfying story had so far met with disaster. The Haunted Mansion was slowly dying, and it would take more than a nice façade or state-of-the-art special effects to save it…

Read Part 2 HERE!