August 9, 2009

Paper's ghost

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion is forty today. It's an attraction that both preceded and survived the years in which I grew up in the Magic Kingdom. I'm thrilled that it remains today in almost the same condition as it did when I first stepped into the portrait gallery.

When the "paintings of some of our guests as they appeared in their corruptible mortal state" begin "actually stretching," I'm still willing to believe it. I think such simple illusions—transformed by Imagineering into thematically perfect spectacles—are still the greatest magic shows ever presented. For me, Disneyland is always at its best in the uncomplicated form that stretching portraits, singing busts, and endless hallways illustrate. It doesn't matter if you realize that the gallery is really an elevator. It makes no difference that the banquet scene is not a hologram.

In some ways, it's kind of more fun when the illusions aren't complex. Long before Pixar and CGI, special effects like those in the Mansion were just as special. I think that somehow they're more fun than a perfectly rendered scene, even if it's an amazing work in its own right. They create the sense that maybe you, too, can do magic.

When I was a kid, Disneyland sold this little instruction book on how you might get started. During the era when Disneyland merchandise included "your personal tombstone," you could transform a dollar into this delight at Merlin's or Main Street Magic. Written by one "Phinneas J. Pock," the venerable tome presented simple tabletop tricks and gave instructions on how to throw your voice. It was all done in a sort of "poor man's Marc Davis" style with illustrations inspired by the Mansion's various effects. I remember well practicing all of the little sleights of hand. The book sat on my shelf right beside my Secret Panel Chest for years.

But there's a little matter I forgot to mention. You can still enjoy Magic from the Haunted Mansion today! Blogger The Haunted Closet has made images of it reappear. The secrets have properly been concealed. Head over and have a look, and a ghost from Disneyland's past will follow you home.

1 comment:

mollymouse said...

Okay, I know I shouldn't ask this but I have to know! I heard that in the dining room scene the ghosts aren't actually holograms (which you just mentioned) but rather reflections! Like, there are actual animatronics under the balcony of each ghost. That's what I heard, but I don't know how it would work...