There’s a story told about Walt Disney, though I’ve never been able to confirm it: Walt was in Tomorrowland when he saw a cast member from Frontierland in full cowboy costume — Stetson hat, six shooters, and jingling spurs. Clearly, cowboys from yesteryear are completely out of place in Tomorrowland.
So Walt made up his mind that his next magic kingdom — the one he planned to build in Florida — would have a system of underground tunnels so that the “show,” the fully immersive magical experience, would not be spoiled by anachronisms or out-of-place details.
Whether this incident happened or not, the story makes an important point: If you go to Disneyland, you’ll never see a cowboy in Tomorrowland. Why? Because Disneyland is more than a theme park. Disneyland is a show — and you, Walt’s guest, are both the star and the audience. Walt made sure you would never find a single false detail to spoil the illusion.
The experience begins as you approach Disneyland from the esplanade. Towering behind the turnstiles like a cinema marquee is the Main Street Train Station with its clock tower and a sign announcing, “DISNEYLAND — Population 650,000,000 — Elevation 138 Feet.”
You pass through the turnstile and into Disneyland’s forecourt, and there’s the Mickey Mouse floral display. Mickey is Walt’s trademark, like the studio logo at the beginning of a movie. That display declares that Disneyland is “A Walt Disney Production.” It consists of more than 30,000 individual plants which are changed eight times a year. It has been part of Disneyland since opening day.
Next, notice the red brick pavement. The forecourt is Walt’s red carpet, welcoming you to the movie experience of your choice. You are the celebrity. Choose your own adventure. Past, future, or realms of imagination — where do you want to go today?
The first choice to make: Left or right?
Two tunnels lead under the railroad tracks. Posters on the tunnel walls announce “coming attractions” in Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, and Adventureland.
Emerging from the tunnel, you see what the motion picture trade calls an “establishing shot” — a wide shot that tells you the time and setting you’re entering. Stepping out of the right-hand tunnel, you see the Town Square, the Disney Gallery, and the Main Street Opera House. From the left-hand tunnel, you see the City Hall, the Fire House, and The Emporium. Your immersion in Walt’s “movie” is subliminally reinforced by the aroma of buttered popcorn from a nearby vending cart.
You’ve just entered another time, another reality: Main Street USA, circa 1910, the idealized hometown of Walt’s childhood.
ABOUT JIM DENNEY AND WALT’S DISNEYLAND: Jim Denney has more than 120 books to his credit, and has co-written books with sports stars and Hollywood celebrities. His previous book on Walt Disney, How To Be Like Walt (co-written with Orlando Magic founder Pat Williams) has remained in print for a dozen years, and has garnered 4.8 out of 5 stars in 185 customer reviews on Amazon.com. Walt’s Disneyland: It’s Still There If You Know Where to Look by Jim Denney (Anaheim, CA: Writing in Overdrive Books, May 2017) is available at Amazon.com; Paperback $15.99; Ebook $5.99.
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