Sunday, January 15, 2012

Don't Stay Up Too Late: Disneyland After Dark


Sometimes I pick stuff that isn’t British television. There, I said it! I have to admit that I am a big fan of the Walt Disney studio but let me clarify. I am primarily a fan the era of when Walt ran the company. Now I am not someone who believes Walt was a perfect person. He was an engaging creative man. He was not a racist nor did he have the largest porn collection in the world. I say that because I have heard people say that which is simply not true. There is a lot of misinformation out there but I am not going to get into it; that’s not what this article is about. People will believe whatever they want to believe. Apart from really liking the animated features and shorts that were released while he was in charge of the studio, I also have a keen fascination with the theme parks. In particular, the original Disneyland and Walt Disney World. It’s not that I think these places are “magical” or anything weird like that, I like how they were built, designed and how they are operated. I also am intrigued by the way that the parks continually change and evolve. For example, rides are removed or buildings are torn down to make way for new things. On the surface, Disneyland may look basically the same now as it did in 1962 (the year of the program I watched) but on closer inspection there are a lot of changes. That’s why I enjoy watching older programs about Disneyland. It is its own time capsule of how the park existed when Walt was running it.

Disneyland After Dark TX: April 15, 1962

Originally the series was called Disneyland and when it changed over to color, the name of the series changed to Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. The title change came in 1961. To me more precise, the series changed from Disneyland to Walt Disney Presents in 1958 and then to Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in 1961. It had also moved from ABC to NBC in that same year. Showcasing the theme park was very much integral to the series in the early days. In fact, it was the series and a loan by ABC which really help build Disneyland. There were quite a few times that the theme park would be featured in the program. Disneyland After Dark had been the first episode to do so in a while. Though I suppose to be pedantic, part of Disneyland was featured in every episode. Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is seen at the beginning of the episode and also at the end as the credits scroll over it. That particular shot of the castle always interested me as a kid and still does. I am not sure why. It’s not necessarily an inviting shot of the castle.  It is kind of dark and mysterious. It comes to life a little bit when Tinkerbell flies by and creates some fireworks. Unlike today where the castle is vibrant with colors and ordained with gold around it, for most of its life the castle’s colors were very dull. I have always wanted to go inside the castle to see what it is like in there. I know there is a Sleeping Beauty exhibit that recently re-opened but I would like to be in the top floor over the drawbridge where those big windows are. Is it storage? Has anyone ever been in there and they can say what it is? Does the Sleeping Beauty attraction go up there?


Although Disneyland After Dark is exactly what it says it is, I have to admit when I first saw this many years ago, I was a little disappointed though I should have expected it. My crazy imagination had me thinking that perhaps this was an episode that showed us cool things that happened in the park overnight to get it ready for operation the next day. It could show us people touching up paint on buildings or showing someone repairing a costume or even an Audio Animatronic. That wasn’t the episode and I should have known better. Disneyland After Dark really is about how the park comes alive when the sun goes down. To prove this, all sorts of “stars” come out to get things going.
This might be the first episode of this series where I really felt that the series perhaps over spun what happens at the park. Luckily for us, it was a few years before Mary Poppins came out or the episode would have been hosted by Julie Andrews and not Walt Disney.  I guess my point is that back when the series Disneyland started, these episodes were presented with no frills. It was all very factual and from the mouth of Walt Disney himself. Walt had a way of just doing some plain Midwest speaking to not only get the point across but making you want to hear more. Some of his narration could be monotone documentary style but it worked. He didn’t talk down to anyone. I can imagine kids would have watched the shows and not realize that they were watching an hour-long ad. It was informative and the episodes still stand up. I write all of this with the full knowledge that he had writers write his stuff. My Julie Andrews comment is not really against Julie Andrews but more of how we have to have spin when talking about the history of Disneyland. For example, as seen the special in Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic. It’s all very over the top and overly produced. What is funny is that as much as I complain about this style, it really did start with these Disneyland anthology episodes. It evolved. Not in a good way but it is an evolution.
Watching Walt Disney host a program to me is a treat for the reasons I mention above but the problem with Disneyland After Dark, he hosts it but is hardly in it. The premise is that we are going to accompany him around the park as he shows us different varieties of entertainment at the park at night. The problem is that whenever he has a chance to show us something, autograph seekers deluge him and he asks us, the viewer, to go on without him. There is one young lady who keeps showing up with hats because she wasn’t Disney to sign her hats plus she steals his popcorn once. She comes back with a second hat for him to sign while wearing the first hat he signed earlier. He looks at her and she says the second hat he will sign is for her sister. Disney replies, that’s good I thought you might have had two heads! There is some pretty funny, sophisticated humor in these programs and not quite as unfunny as I think they get. A great example of this, I think the Alice in Wonderland special, One Hour in Wonderland (1950), has some great lines in it and is worth checking out. Anyway, as this Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color episode takes place in Disneyland, it is painfully obvious that the scenes with Disney are actually shot in a studio with a rear projection of Disneyland giving the impression that this part was done at the park.
I am not a big fan of variety shows which this is exactly what it is. This series takes us from one act to another. It’s fine in a Disney sort of saccharine way. This is a different sort of Disney saccharine then what we have today. Every person we see in this is very clean cut and dressed very well for being at a theme park. Men tended to have crew cuts and women dressed sensibly even at a theme park. No one really had a personality, everything was stagey and an act. In this episode we were treated to the Osmond Brothers doing barbershop music, Annette Funicello and then heartthrob Bobby Rydell. Everyone looked very Disney-fied. It’s kind of corny but Walt never cared. He once responded to someone who thought some of his ideas were corny "There is nothing wrong with good schmaltz, nothing wrong with good heart... The critics think I'm kind of corny. Well, I am corny. As long as people respond to it, I'm okay." —Walt Disney. Corny or not, Walt knew his audience and how to be successful.


It was nice to see Louis Armstrong in this episode performing some great music. He sang and played that wonderful trumpet the only way he knew how on the Mark Twain Riverboat. I was annoyed at first as when I was watching the scene there were no black people in the audience. The only black people in that scene were playing the music or serving the drinks.  It was sending me a weird message but I know I was thinking too hard about it. There were black people in the audience but they were in the background.


I guess I never seen the whole episode through on the DVD set it is on because I was appalled by what I was about to see. There is a part of the episode where we see some tiki dancers. While they were dancing their heart out, the episode keeps cutting to this guy sitting at a table eating ribs. They do this multiple times for whatever reason but that is not what appalls me. They get to this firewalker. He is doing some impressively dangerous things. Suddenly a disclaimer comes up at the bottom of the screen saying “Professional Stunt – Do Not Attempt”. What makes this so shocking is that it is newly added disclaimer! It wasn’t there at the time of original broadcast! They added it to the episode for this release! Why did they need to do that? I want to see these episodes as they originally aired. Although it is possible for children to have this DVD set, my guess is that the audience for this is the collector who wants to see these episodes again. Plus, these episodes seem to have Leonard Maltin introducing them. He could have pointed out that there are scenes that are dangerous and executed by professionals. If you are watching with a child, please make sure you tell your child how dangerous it is. Perhaps this is around the time Jack Ass was still big and they didn’t want anyone to get any ideas but there had to be a better way to tell us than sticking a big ugly disclaimer on the episode? Why stop there, why not every time an animated character carries a gun, why not put a disclaimer on screen that guns are bad? Let’s go overboard!

One good thing about this episode is that we really see Disneyland for what it was back then. This was done in 1962 and just a few short years since the 1959 expansion which in my mind was the real modernization of the park which is the model it still lives by today. The episode starts with us taking a monorail ride from the Disneyland Hotel to Disneyland. Along the way we see things that don’t exist anymore. One of them is the parking lot.  It may sound silly to point this out but the parking lot really was just as big as the Magic Kingdom itself. So big, in fact, that in the late 1990s Disney (the company) realized that they were sitting on a huge piece of real estate that could be used to make money. This eventually became California Adventure and everyone had to park in these massive parking ramps! My only visit to Disneyland was when they were building all of this in the late 1990s. What a mess! Construction everywhere but these massive ramps were all set up. It took a long time to get into the park itself but I don’t think it is nearly as bad now but then it was a huge ordeal. I went there back when Space Mountain had the horrible repaint and it’s dome was that ugly copper-brown and not white as it should be. How was that ever a good idea? Speaking of Space Mountain, we get to see Tomorrow Land that is very different to what we have now. Back then it was still trying to show us what tomorrow is going to look like and now that land has been re-conformed to show us an way the future could look instead of having to continually update itself since tomorrow is always a day away. A smart move, really. We get to see the Skyway that was taken out years ago and also the Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship which was destroyed after it was realized that it couldn’t be moved like they originally planned. It was bulldozed in 1982. It had been at the park since it opened in 1955.
It was also interesting to see how the park characters in costumes have changed over the years. In this episode, Mickey’s head is huge compared to his body and looks odd. Just a few years later, the character designs evolved enough to be much closer to how they look in the park today.
I watched this episode from the Walt Disney Treasures Disneyland USA set. This was part of the first wave of DVDs released under this banner. These were very cool releases. First off, they celebrated the more obscure Disney programs and films focusing on the era that Walt Disney ran the company. It was a way to release the theatrical shorts of all of the Disney main characters from Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Silly Symphony, etc. We have Leonard Maltin to thank for these as he did an amazing job of working with Disney to get these gems released. The packaging was really cool too. They all came in film style tins. They were very collectable and if you literally did not get these the day they came out, you ran into a problem of possibly not getting them at all. The run was that limited. For some reason I did not get this set when it came out. For years I was kicking myself for not getting this. I did pick up another title in this wave when it came out, Mickey Mouse in Color Volume 1. It wasn’t until years later I ended up getting the re-issue of this release which did not come in the tin. Not that big of a deal, I ended up having to get a couple titles from that first wave after they disappeared and none of them have tins either. I do find it odd that the cover of this release has the famous picture of Walt Disney coming out the back of the Sleeping Beauty’s Castle but the castle is not all there as it goes upwards into the title and some of the spires disappear.


One last thing about this episode and the Walt Disney Treasures DVDs. As more and more of these episodes were released, a good effort was made in finding the best source materials and also possibly restoring them. Unfortunately that isn’t the case with this episode. The colors are crushed and it looks like it actually comes from a very poor positive viewing print and not a negative. It doesn’t even have the opening to Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. There should be a very corny song at the beginning of the episode. If that song did not show up until later in the series run, someone please let me know as it is weird that it was not a part of this episode. Sadly, the Walt Disney Treasures DVDs stopped coming out a few years ago. For years it was a highlight to wait to hear which new titles were being released and then wait with anticipation for the day I would go down to Best Buy and pick out the version that had the tin in the best possible condition.  I believe this would always happen every November. I miss those days and I really miss those releases. If you have been reading this blog long enough, you may remember the article I wrote to alert people in helping us save the range.

These episodes are simple and very straight forward. I may sound like at times I may be mocking them but please understand; I fully agreed with what this DVD range was called, to me, these are treasures.

If you like this sort of programming or any other vintage programs from Walt Disney that seem to be stuck in their vault, may I suggest you take a look at http://openvaultdisney.com. From their page they say:

"The aim of this Fan Page is to get people who love classic Disney films and shows to convince the Walt Disney Company to release these shows and films. Specifically for now, our aim is to get Disney to keep releasing the great Walt Disney Treasures line of DVD’s (or at least some kind of replacement to what has not been released yet) they have been releasing for the last decade as well as to continue the release of their classic Disney Afternoon shows and maybe even get them to release titles not released yet."

Seems like a good cause to me! Please got and check them out!


Next week: as a sort of tribute to the late Harry Fowler, I thought I would write about a couple episodes of the 1950s and 1960s comedy The Army Game. I will be watching The Doo-Gooders and The Marshall’s Baton. For me, I will be excited about a rare non-Doctor Who performance from William Hartnell who is one of the series stars!
 
Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at FTA13867@gmail.com

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Have a great week!

6 comments:

Dave G said...

While I have never been a huge Disney fan, I can certainly appreciate the talent and hard work that went into the productions. That being said, I do have fond memories of watching The Wonderful World of Disney with my family on (I belive) Sunday nights in the 70s.

Ahh, the good old days.

Michael Fett said...

I love Disney films especially the older ones. Some of the newer ones are not quite as good, but every once in awhile a gem like the Lion King comes out despite stealing direct scenes from Kimba the White Lion/Jungle Emperor Lio.

Greg said...

To be honest, I have pretty much given up on new Disney content since about 2000. I really love these old programs. It also holds a wave of nostalgia for me too.
I wrote an article a while back about a Disneyland episode that I will publish someday that goes into more detail why I like these Disneyland episodes. I seem to recall that these epiodes (or some of them) were syndicated in the early 1980s.

Dave G said...

From the Wikipedia article...

"Around the same time as the 1980s ABC and NBC incarnations aired, reruns of older Disney episodes, airing under the Wonderful World of Disney banner, were syndicated to local stations in the United States.

Reruns of the shows were a staple of The Disney Channel for several years under the title Walt Disney Presents (which used the same title sequence as the 1980s CBS incarnation), when it was an outlet for vintage Disney cartoons, TV shows and movies, basically serving the same function that the anthology series served in the days before cable."

Greg said...

Exactly. Something tells me I was watching the old Disneyland program in reruns on KMSP ch.9 on Saturdays.

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