September 23, 2008

A smile big as the (silver and) blue

It was 1980, three years before I would step onstage with a part instead of a passport. I was sixteen, and Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom was twenty-five.

Disneyland shimmered in its anniversary attire. Silver and blue. Simple and sophisticated. A family reunion. And, for me, the pinnacle of what the Park was and should be always.

In 1980, there was a connection to Walt’s ideas and ideals, not a statue to his memory. There was no second gate and just one hotel. There were no fast passes or maintenance slowdowns.

Of course, it was just as true then that “Disneyland will never be finished.” For those folks who know only the Disneyland Resort, I’m sure that it’s at least something special to you, if not something wonderful. But I think that when Walt called Disneyland “something we can keep developing and adding to,” he never meant it to become something other than what it was created to be.

“A family park where parents and children could have fun together.”

“A fair, an exhibition, a playground, a community center, a museum of living facts, and a showplace of beauty and magic.”

In 1980, it served as all of those things superbly, and that was all Disneyland ever needed to do to succeed. At the 25th-year family reunion, families were welcomed with warmth, not prizes or gimmicks. The Magic Kingdom expressed its gratitude not with gewgaws or garishness, but by graciously being its absolute best, as only it could.

There wasn’t a burnt-out bulb on Main Street.

Nothing needed repainting, because it was repainted every night. Painters worked alongside pressure washers, gum scrapers, and brass polishers.

The focus wasn’t on marketing, but on presenting the Park as it was meant to be, and thereby celebrating all it had become in the quarter-century since its dedication.

The twenty-fifth birthday parade might have been the touchstone for what one youtube poster called “the era where parades at Disneyland were classics.” It featured simple floats, one for each land. Polynesian dancers. Golden Horseshoe girls. A host of characters, including Cinderella in a crystal coach pulled by a team of gleaming white horses in polished harnesses. A choreographed group of upbeat roller skaters. And a train of long, blue platforms, each topped by shining mirrored letters spelling out the name of the Happiest Place on Earth.

The music tracked each land as its float passed, shifting as the letters approached to a tune that defines Disneyland as I recall it most fondly:

Now you’ve seen
our land of dreams.
A kingdom full of magical things,
where love and laughter come to stay,
here and each and every day

Twenty-five is not so long.
With Mickey Mouse, you can’t go wrong.
Come on, my friends, let’s sing along.
Disneyland is your land.

It’s a magical kingdom.
Where every wish
will come true.
Everything you ever do
brings a smile
big as the blue.
And we’re so glad to see you passing through.

A family world.
For every boy and every girl.
A happy-ever-after world.
Disneyland is your land.

If you weren’t sixteen, or even six, in 1980, I’m glad to see you passing through now. And if you were part of Disneyland all those years ago, welcome to this family reunion.

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