Walt Disney Treasures (Disney-2001)
The Disney Company, in all its market-hogging magic, can trace its TV legacy back to the medium’s inception, in 1954. It was that year in which the fledgling, struggling ABC network invested millions of dollars in the construction of the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California. In return, Walt Disney was forced to host a weekly children’s program called Disneyland.
This devil’s bargain turned out to be a boon for both parties. ABC’s ratings skyrocketed like the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom in the opening credits. As well, Walt Disney discovered that cross-marketing his 160-acre theme park to millions of baby boomers on television was as easy as stealing candy from a baby.
Long before the Six Flags Company or even Disney World itself, Disneyland became the destination of choice for breeders of all shades of Caucasian. Week to week, Disney is able to build anticipation for the coming super park, in between screenings of “slice-of-life” films of exotic, faraway places (i.e., Third World countries), a boring song warbled by Fess Parker, and dry explanations of what the future holds (by scientists who Walt hurriedly calls “sinus”).
The show is anal-retentively divided into categories that copy the eventual layout of the park (Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and Adventureland) – one category is featured on the show per episode. You are stone out of luck if one week you tune in with a jones for Adventure but all you are served is a dish of Tomorrow.
The series reaches its scary apex only a year later, when the Disneyland park officially opens its gates on a Sunday afternoon. A whopping 90 million viewers tune in to watch the festivities, recorded by 29 cameras, reported by 1,000 “newspapermen,” and attended by the governor of California, the mayor of Anaheim, and a token priest, minister and rabbi (the minister’s blessing: “To all who come to this happy place, welcome. Laughter for the children, memories for the mature.”).
As well, there are 15,000 “especially invited guests” (by sheer coincidence, all Caucasian!). The event is hosted by California smoothies Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings and Ronald Reagan. Their enthusiastic Stepford-like families serve as window dressing, who ooh and aah on cue. One of Linkletters’ brats demands to see Davy Crockett, and Linkletter does all he humanly can to keep from bopping him on the head with his microphone.
“[This is] one of the most exciting moments of my life,” gushes Bob Cummings, who likens the event to the opening of the Eiffel Tower. Linkletter kisses Disney’s ass more successfully when he exclaims, “Walt, you’ve made a bum out of Barnum today!” And special guest Danny Thomas, who annoyingly keeps popping up with his family at just about every occurrence, claims he is “flabbergasted.”
In this era of Communist witch hunts, it is important to state that the park is “all built by American labor and American capital.” Meanwhile, in an insurance-policy nightmare, hundreds of young children, unaccompanied by adults, stampede in a free for all toward the opening of the Magic Kingdom’s gates and try to stifle their vomit while riding the spinning tea cups.
A pre-Jed-Clampett Buddy Ebsen explains his late arrival to Frontierland by stating “them redskins was just itchin’ to lift our scalps,” while Aunt Jemima struts out and does a carefree Negro dance.
Perhaps the most interesting neighborhood in the Kingdom is the well-meaning Tomorrowland, in which Walt mistakenly assumes that American ingenuity (and not Japan’s) will solely be responsible for a better world.
In the fifties, America was very impressed with pushing buttons, and nobody pushed our buttons better than Disney himself. In his glimpse of the world of 1986 (strangely without Don Johnson, Wang Chung, and moussed hair), Disney dreams of an atomic-powered Autotopia in which go-carts travel by computer. We see Frank Sinatra riding an example of this contraption with his unhappy-looking son, who proceeds to get rear-ended by none other than Sammy Davis, Jr. What an honor.
An über-boring explanation of atomic power by a shady German scientist leads him to warn America’s youth, “What you have seen here with the mousetraps and the ping-pong balls is part of your future. Use it wisely.”
By the early 60s, the company is at the vanguard once again with its new series, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Though the majority of Americans will not own a color television set until later in the decade, Disney is already singing the praises of this exciting new technology with gorgeous, vivid films of nature and animation.
Its most interesting episode is broadcast on April 15, 1962, called “Disneyland After Dark.” Aimed primarily to sell tickets to more teens and adults, it is a filmed travelogue of the theme park and its attractions after the sun goes down and the Magic Kingdom lights up.
What is most fascinating is not the scheduled talent (like Annette Funicello rocking out with, “let in the cat, let out the squares”) but the throngs of ordinary tourists strolling leisurely in their bouffant hairdos, crew cuts, madras shirts, Capri pants and cat glasses. It’s very rare to see ordinary people of this era being ordinary in living color.
Walt Disney himself hosts the extravaganza, voyeuristically claiming, “I have fun watching others have fun.” While being bombarded by autograph hounds, he introduces acts like the very young Osmond Brothers, who do their barbershop quartet shtick (watch closely: you’ll see a real-life bohemian hipster beatnik in the audience, with a goatee and longish blonde hair, his jaw dropped in disbelief and apparently stoned out of his mind as he tries to make sense of the Osmonds – something the rest of America will do ten years later. Do not miss this. I repeat. Do not miss this.).
Louis Armstrong, doing his benign trumpet act for whitey, is an easy pleaser, while the crowd strains its neck to get a glimpse of Bobby Rydell, who is actually a well-known star for fifteen minutes in 1962. And nobody Tony Paris (whose claim to fame is that he sang with the Ray Conniff orchestra) leads the obliging crowd in a rousing rendition of “Twilight Time” and “Yakety Yak.”
Disney, in his determination to lure more adults, exhibits Tahitian women swiveling their hips in an approximation of the sex act. Leering, middle-class men look on as their frumpy wives blush. And because the early sixties was a time when it was okay to fast-dance (even men were allowed to twist without having their sexuality questioned), the entire tourist crowd performs the Mexican Hat Dance to a fever pitch, without shame or even an ounce of self-consciousness.
The weakest addition to this collection is the tenth anniversary celebration of Disneyland, which was broadcast in color on January 3, 1965. Walt Disney introduces an intensely sixties Miss Julie Green, who is dubiously crowned Miss Disneyland Tencennial (“My, what a pretty dress, Julie,” Uncle Walt leers). Though she is attractive enough, she is lacking in the charisma department, and is as stiff as Disney himself will soon be in his frozen cyber chamber. Equally strange is Julie’s getup, which consists of a horse-riding costume and a wicked riding crop. Don’t ask.
Disney drags Julie around to meet his hard-working, subservient staff, and they all hop to it as he firmly asks them to explain everything from animation to costume design. We also get to meet “the newest member of our Disney family,” Mary Poppins, who from that point on will fly in to every Disneyland parade holding an umbrella and then proceed to dance with chimney sweeps, whether you like it or not.
DVD host and happy-go-lucky movie critic Leonard Maltin calls Disneyland “a tribute to Americana and the embodiment of the American Dream,” and dang-darnit if he isn’t right. It’s just the scary perfection and the in-your-face marketing of this glorified commercial that underlines the statement.
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 20, 2005.