Disneyland’s modern balloons are quite different from the ones that floated above children’s heads as they toddled around the Magic Kingdom in the ’80s.
When I worked in Outdoor Vending back in ’83 or so, balloons were the simple ones Alice is passing out here. Five colors. Two ears. One dollar. Now, you might as well be at Six Flags. Even the strings were simpler. Plain red cords, not rainbow ribbons. They were just strings, after all.
The balloons those strings held were likewise just balloons. Even so, they were more fun, more innovative, more Disneyland than anyone else’s balloons. Carnival barkers and amusement parks hawk the kinds of balloons Disney now sells. None of them have the simplicity that made the old balloons—and the Park they complemented—such a joyful expression of good design.
Among all the Magic Kingdom’s forced perspectives and thematic facades, you used to be able to find a feeling of honest quality. The old balloons had that, and so did just about everything else. Even though it took tremendous effort and nonstop discipline to keep the Show on the road, Disneyland didn’t try too hard the way it does now. It didn’t layer everything with gimmicks over glam coated with hype.
Now that the Park is a Resort, the balloons are shiny mylar or worse. I don’t know what Mickey’s marketeers thought that trapping him inside a hamster ball added to the Show. Maybe once the new guy from Bolt starts rolling along during parades, somebody will connect the two and decide to let the Mouse out.
In my view, these things represent everything that separates what Disneyland used to be from the place it is now. Just look at this bunch of inflated noise. Cars, Incredibles, Nemo, and mylar Mickey. It’s like a helium multiplex, a collision at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, or Tomorrowland.
See how the simple silhouette mouse stands apart, even surrounded by its bizarre bubble? That’s a glimpse of the uncomplicated magic upon which Disneyland rose before Disney popped its balloon.