Television Reviews

DVD Review: Walt Disney Treasures: Disneyland USA – Good and Disappointing at the Same Time

I can remember when I made my first trip to Disney World in Florida as an adult videotaping just about everything I did. When I came home, I showed the hours of footage I had shot to my mother, who is of the mindset with Disney World that she saw it once and doesn’t have to see it again. She sat and watched it with me, but was probably bored to tears. Unfortunately, that is the memory that this DVD collection in the Walt Disney Treasures line brings out in me.

When Walt Disney wanted to build a theme park in Southern California, he turned to fledgling television network ABC for financing. This need forced Walt to cut a deal. Previously, he had rejected television as an outlet for the productions of his Walt Disney Studios. This deal bound him contractually to produce the series Disneyland for the ABC network.

As part of that program, there were several episodes aired which had to do with the construction of the first Disneyland Park in Southern California. Leonard Maltin once again hosts and gives introductions to each of the selections on this two-disc collection.

Listening to Walt extol his grand vision in the first selection, The Disneyland Story is really something to see. It first aired on television on October 27, 1954. It is in black and white, of course, and shows the early drawings and models of what the Disneyland Park would look like. Walt himself discusses the inspiration for the themes in the park. This served to greatly build up interest and anticipation in the park. It isn’t too heavy on the promotion of the park, with lots of footage of animals, far-off worlds (in that time anyway), television productions, and Disney productions. There’s a precious glimpse at Song of the South, a production the Disney Studios has been afraid to release in this country due to “politically-correct” backlash. Although this entire production is in black and white, I enjoyed it, especially for this last sequence. It’s interesting to note that Walt puts the themes of Song of the South in Fantasyland, while Splash Mountain, the ride which is based on it, has been placed in Frontierland.

July 17, 1955, is the opening date of Disneyland Park. The opening was broadcast live, and 90,000,000 people were tuned in – just about everyone who watched television was watching it. It is shown again here in Dateline Disneyland. Leonard Maltin’s introduction gives a good perspective on what it took to take on a live production of such magnitude. I felt like I was looking for glimpses of the park and had to wade through celebrity narration and interviews, speeches, dedications, and performances. What’s interesting watching this is that although it’s been restored, some of the problems inherent with broadcast television remain as the focus goes off at times and the picture descends into snow. Ronald Reagan is also here much younger, for fans of his. It’s interesting to see that Tomorrowland was a look at what they dreamed the world would be like in 1986 – who was the President then? Don’t miss Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra with Frank Sinatra Jr. on the Autopia!

Disneyland After Dark aired on April 15, 1962. It’s more notable for the stars who are on it, such as Louis Armstrong and the debut of the Osmond Brothers on television than its actual look at Disneyland itself. However, from a historical perspective for people like me who are major fans of all things Disney, there’s a glimpse of the original monorail cars as well as a terrific look at scenes from the park in color and at night.

Disneyland 10th Anniversary Show is probably the best offering of the bunch. Aired on January 3, 1965, it gives a real good (and colorful) look at the attractions in the park. Since Walt was already turning his eye toward Florida, he probably was trying to drive up interest in having a theme park accessible to those of us in the Eastern half of the country. We see the conceptual designs for some of the attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion as well as Walt’s vision for bringing the World’s Fair attraction It’s A Small World to the California Park. It’s great to see footage of attractions that have since been retired as well as some of the live productions within Disneyland. There’s a great Mary Poppins number shown as part of the 10th anniversary live show. It’s also marred by some celebrity cameos taking precedence over the rides, but not as terrible as in some of the earlier broadcasts. Seeing the (former) Shah of Iran riding the Matterhorn was… interesting.

There are two “Bonus Features” on the second disc. These are a short featurette with Leonard Maltin on the Disneyland television show and a gallery of poster art of the Disneyland rides.

The two-disc set comes in a collectible, numbered tin with a paper band around the outside. Inside is a postcard size version of one of the ride posters seen in the gallery in the Bonus Features. The transfer is very good and has been restored quite nicely with a few flaws. My main gripe is that this is by no means a comprehensive collection of the television shows aired about Disneyland Park. There have been other shows I’ve seen aired on The Disney Channel which showcase the park and in some cases do a better job of it. Other than the Disneyland 10th Anniversary Show, I found the collection to really be lacking when it comes to footage that highlights the park and its attractions. I recommend it only for real fans who want to see the historical footage from that perspective, not for its entertainment value.