Archives » May 15th, 2004

May 15, 2004

The Happiest Celebration on Earth

On July 17th, 1955, Walt Disney opened his Disneyland park in Anaheim California. It was a huge risk at the time, not only because it was so far away from Los Angeles but also because it was such a big departure away from the film industry that Disney had done so well in. What did a cartoon company know about running a carnival anyway? Well, not much, but in a good way. That is to say, Disney knew what was wrong with the carnivals of the day, and set out to remedy the problems. So Disneyland was no carnival. It was a new type of experience, taking old carnival concepts that had been around since the days of Coney Island, but melding them with the fresh new perspective of the film industry. The rides at Disneyland were not only intended to thrill, but to tell a story, to take visitors to a different world. It was the right idea at the right time and place, and it proved a success in the end, setting a new standard for immersive entertainment and founding an industry that still continues to grow every year. Disney has since gone on to build nineten other parks across the street and around the world, but the original park in Anaheim is coming up on its 50th birthday party, a milestone that many critics in 1955 didn’t think the park would ever reach.

For a long time now speculation has been flying about what Disneyland is going to do for their fiftieth. They usually have some kind of big extravaganza for the milestone dates. For their 30th in 1985, they had a huge cash and prizes giveaway. For their 40th in 1995, they unveiled Indiana Jones, one of the largest and most complex rides ever built. So what could they possibly have up their sleeve for the 50th? Rumors have been flying back and forth for years about what the Imagineers were working on. Ideas for dozens of new rides have leaked out. Budgets have fluctuated, priorities have changed, and pretty much every rumor has changed or been proven wrong over the last couple of years. And now that the anniversary is drawing close, it was time for some official announcements.

On May 5th, the official announcements came. And they turned out to be a little underwhelming. Out of all the the rumors that were flying around, here’s the breakdown of what’s actually going on:

  • Castle redo

    The castle is getting a facelift. Supposedly it’s all temporary, and it will come down at the end of the celebration.
  • New parade
    Meh. Who cares.
  • New fireworks
    Meh. Who cares.
  • History exhibit
    For a while they kicked around the idea of gutting part of Innoventions, that constantly-outdated corporate showcase that went inside the old Carousel theater in Tomorrowland, for this. They would have filled the bottom floor with exhibits about Disneyland’s history, looking back on rides and shows that are now long gone. Instead of bumping out Innoventions, though, this display is going to bump Honest Abe out of the Opera House. So the history exhibit has been scaled down, and will now be one of the first things folks walk by when they enter the park, and also one of the first things they ignore.
  • Space Mountain
    This one has been going on for a year, so it’s really only part of the 50th by default. It won’t even open until late summer 2005, so it will miss most of the celebration. But what they’ve done is gutted Space Mountain, right down to the dirt, and they’re rebuilding it from scratch with all new materials. The track layout is supposed to be exactly the same as before, but the vehicles and the scenery and the queue and the technology that it all runs on will be completely new.
  • Buzz Lightyear
    Out of all the dozens of ideas that were kicked around for new rides, this is the one they went with. The old Circle Vision theater has been sitting empty ever since the Rocket Rods went belly up, and there’s a bit of space inside that building, so they decided to build a clone of the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster ride from DisneyWorld. It’s basically an OmniMover ride, like the Haunted Mansion. Each car has a laser gun mounted on it, and as you go through the ride you shoot at targets on the scenery. You rack up points for every target you hit. At the end of the ride you’re given your total score, and you can ride again to try to beat it. Fun for video game phreaks maybe, but probably not a lot of re-ride value for the rest of us.

That’s it. That’s the big announcement for Disneyland’s 50th birthday party. Kind of disappointing, but not a surprise given how small budgets have been lately. Hopefully everyone will realize the value of the parks in time for the 60th anniversary, and get some new rides in to replace everything that’s been closed over the last decade.