Monday, July 17, marks the 62 nd birthday of Disneyland, the worlds first theme park. More than an amusement park, Disneyland is a work of art Walts hundred-acre masterpiece.
Walt Disney was an unpretentious everyman, a farm son from Missouri who happened to attain motion pictures. His common touch enabled him to reach a broad cross-section of the American populace. I dont pretend to know anything about art, he once said. I build paintings for entertainment, and then the profs tell me what they mean.
Though humble and unassuming, Walt was a creative genius. The Disney Studio was a vibrant community of artists who elevated animated cartoons to astounding heights of artistry. Walt himself was the direct, driving force behind every cartoon and animated feature. His art was pure, free of pretense and arrogance. He aimed his creations at the public , not the critics.
Fantasy writer Ray Bradbury says that the genius of Disneyland is its ability to attain the surreal real. “I shall be indebted to Walt, ” he once told, “for his ability to let me fly over midnight London in his Peter Pan ride.”
Yet the critics and the international arts community applauded his run during the course of its 1930 s and early 40 s. In 1937, surrealist painter Salvador Dali journeyed to California, then wrote to his friend, poet Andre Breton, I have come to Hollywood and am in contact with the three great American surrealists the Marx Friend, Cecil B. DeMille, and Walt Disney.
After “Fantasia” and “Pinocchio” lost money in 1940, Walt lost his appetite for risk-taking. By the late 1940 s, he was creating movies built on safe, proven formulas animated anthology movies like “The Three Caballeros”( 1945) and “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad”( 1949 ), and hybrid animation-and-live-action cinemas like “Song of the South”( 1946 ). The arts community turned away from Walt, believing he had sold out to build kiddie films.
But Walt hadnt sold out. Since the early 1930 s, hed been planning his boldest project of all. He was moving beyond the ink and paint of animation to a new medium of expres. On July 17, 1955, Walt unveiled an innovative sort of three-dimensional art. Today, we call it a theme park, but its so much more than that.
Disneyland is a full-immersion multimedia experience blending motion, voice, music, sunlight, color, fact, fiction, and more. On opening day in 1955, Disneyland was the worlds largest art object, consisting of 85 acres of attractions, landscaping, and backstage regions.( When Star Wars Land opens in 2019, Disneyland will expand to 100 acres .) Disneyland is art that engulf you, surrounds you, and transports you into the past, future, or realms of pure imagination.
Fantasy writer Ray Bradbury says that the genius of Disneyland is its they are able to attain the surreal real. I shall be indebted to Walt, he once said, for his ability to let me fly over midnight London in his Peter Pan ride.
Most reviewers panned Disneylands opening day. Merely one reviewer, Will Jones of the Minneapolis Tribune, understood what Walt had achieved. He wrote, If its an amusement park, its the gosh-darnedest, most happily-inspired, most carefully-planned, most adventure-filled park ever conceived. The millions who streamed through Disneylands gates fell in love with everything Walt loved steam trains and fantasy palaces, riverboats and rocket ships.
During Disneylands early years, sharp-eyed guests often spotted Walt on a park bench, eating a hot dog, or riding the attractions so he could hear peoples commentaries for himself. Walts defined decorator, Emile Kuri, who worked on “Mary Poppins” and ” 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, ” liked to hang out with Walt at Disneyland. He and Walt would sit on the porch at City Hall and watch people entering the park.
One time, Walt and Emile assured a pair of nuns leading a group of more than twenty orphan children into the park. Walt jumped up and rushed over to them.
Im Walt Disney, he told the astounded nuns. Wait here! He left them, then returned a few minutes later, his hands filled with cash. Heres your money back, he told. And here are tickets for the attractions. Enjoy yourselves. Ive induced lunch reservations at the Plaza Inn free hot dogs and hamburgers and apple pie for all of you.
Walt was an artist and a humanitarian. He loved using his park to make people happy.
Today, there are six Disney theme parks around the world, but Disneyland is the only park that literally has Walt Disneys fingerprints on it. Its his masterpiece, yet it remains unfinished. Disneyland will never be completed, he said. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.
Jim Denney is the author of “Walts Disneyland: Its Still There if You Know Where to Seem“, a guidebook to Walt Disneys theme park legacy. He blogs at WaltsDisneyland.Wordpress.com.
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