Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Disneyland is NOT a Museum!
How many times have you heard it?
Walt Disney’s famous quote: "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world."
…Or the oft-repeated WDI slogan: “Disneyland is not a museum.”
In any serious discussion of Disneyland’s preservation or restoration, it’s likely that one or both of these statements will crop-up as a conversation-stopper. These not-so-magic words are invoked to shutdown debate, often by those with a personal stake in the outcome.
Spouted as Gospel, such polarizing rhetoric implies that only the most stubbornly nostalgic, progress-resistant purist would dare to disagree.
Yet Walt invited each of us to feel an ownership of the park: “Disneyland is your land. Here, age relives fond memories of the past... and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.” So when those fond memories are tampered with, we take it personally.
From artists to everyday guests; the dreams and wishes of untold Disneylanders are all-too-easily dismissed by the ever-ready excuses.
These tired old warhorses are trotted out regularly for the press whenever there are controversial additions or subtractions in Anaheim, such as the political correction of Pirates of the Caribbean, the eviction of the Swiss Family Robinson, or the twilight of Tomorrowland.
"I'm as pure as Disneyland fanatics can get, “ Tony Baxter told The Los Angeles Times in 1995 as the park embarked on a fateful program of change, “When a new ride comes and an old one drops out, there are bound to be twinges. But it has to happen, or (Disneyland) becomes a museum and an arthritic collection of things people were attached to in the '60s."
"It's always been this way at Disneyland," added Marty Sklar, who began working for the company as park publicist before it opened in 1955, "It was like on opening day, the one real dynamic was change… Walt's famous quote was 'Disneyland will never be completed as long as there's imagination left in the world.' "
"Pirates of the Caribbean has become the standard by which our guests measure every other attraction,” Sklar offered in 1997, “But it's not a museum piece either. We want to keep adding to it and improving it like everything else."
As Tarzan’s Treehouse came online in 1999, so did a chat with Imagineers:
“Master_Gracey: Bruce: Pleeeeaaaase don't make any radical changes to Haunted Mansion or Pirates! I'm beggin' ya!
Bruce_Gordon: I was just using those as an example...
Bruce_Gordon: But you've prompted me to type out my "Disneyland is not a museum" speech.
Bruce_Gordon: The park needs to constantly change....
Bruce_Gordon: When Walt was around, attractions came and went like you wouldn't believe.
Bruce_Gordon: He put in the Viewliner train of the future in 1957 -- then tore it down in 1958 to make way for the monorail.
Bruce_Gordon: He's the one that said it would never be finished....”
But in the post-Walt era, is every change equal?
Are we to blindly accept all revisions to Disneyland, good or bad - - from the nifty New Fantasyland to the aesthetic assault of Winnie-the-Pooh and Tomorrowland ’98 - - as if each new scheme were preordained by Walt?
Surely sacrificing Mary Blair’s handcrafted tile murals for printed billboard wraps was not Walt’s treasured dream for the future. Nor do long-abandoned attractions in full-view of the paying public seem much like Progressland.
So who decides for all of us? Can anyone with a wrecking ball and a dream become the next Walt Disney?
What did the maestro really want? In various interviews, Walt expanded on his expansion theory:
“Disneyland is like a piece of clay, if there’s something I don’t like, I’m not stuck with it. I can reshape and revamp.”
“There are many ways that you can use those certain basic things and give them a new décor, a new treatment. I’ve been doing that with Disneyland. Some of my things I’ve redone as I’ve gone along. Reshaped them.”
“The way I see it, Disneyland will never be finished. It’s something we can keep developing and adding to. A motion picture is different. Once it’s wrapped up and sent out for processing, we’re through with it. If there are things that could be improved, we can’t do anything about them anymore. I’ve always wanted to work on something alive, something that keeps growing. We’ve got that in Disneyland.”
…So, Walt clearly expected his heirs to create thrilling new additions for Disneyland’s future and fix the problem areas.
But did he also intend that we turn our back on the past? Quite to the contrary, nostalgia was part of Disneyland’s very concept. After all, the great castles, parks, monuments and museums of European antiquity had inspired its design.
“I love the nostalgic myself. I hope we never lose some of the things of the past.”
“Disneyland will be the essence of America as we know it, the nostalgia of the past, with exciting glimpses into the future. It will give meaning to the pleasure of children – and pleasure to the experience of adults.”
“The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge. It will be a place for parents and children to share pleasant times in one another’s company; a place for teachers and pupils to discover greater ways of understanding and education. Here the older generation can recapture the nostalgia of days gone by, and the younger generation can savor the challenge of the future. Here will be the wonders of Nature and Man for all to see and understand. Disneyland will be based upon and dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and hard facts that have created America. And it will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts and send them forth as a source of courage and inspiration to all the world. Disneyland will be sometimes a fair, an exhibition, a playground, a community center, a museum of living facts, and a showplace of beauty and magic. It will be filled with accomplishments, the joys and hopes of the world we live in. And it will remind us and show us how to make these wonders part of our own lives.”
Hey - - Did Walt just say Disneyland was sometimes a museum?
“To co-ordinate the ‘Progressland’ project, General Electric assigned a vice-president whose previous expertise had been in heavy machinery,” Bob Thomas relates in Walt Disney: An American Original, “He listened impatiently as Walt outlined how the show would trace the American household from 1890 to the future. When Walt finished, the vice-president remarked, “Well, that’s not exactly what we had in mind. We’re in the business of selling progress. What do we want with all that nostalgia?”
“To the WED staff, the room temperature seemed to drop perceptibly. Walt replied with an edge to his voice, “Look, I built this studio on the basis of nostalgia, and we’ve been doing a pretty good job of selling it to the public all these years.” Afterward he was so incensed that he ordered the legal department to determine if the General Electric contract could be broken. When the G.E. president, Gerald Phillippi, visited the studio on a vacation two weeks later, Walt told him, “I’m having trouble with one of your vice presidents.” The man was instructed to stay out of Walt’s way.”
We all know the Old Man never intended the phrase "Disneyland will never be completed…" to mean "Disneyland must always change in the name of progress.”
Surely, Walt wanted the best of both worlds: to perpetuate the classic, ageless art of Disneyland to our kids and grandkids - - just as he had reintroduced his film library to sparkling new eyes every seven years - - while still adding startling new breakthroughs in technology and entertainment to keep the mix ever fresh.
It probably never occurred to him that executives would one day choose to downgrade extant facilities in the name of progress, and sometimes without a replacement on the horizon. After all, he was about building, adding, “plussing.”
"The fun is in always building something. After it's built, you play with it awhile and then you're through. You see, we never do the same thing twice around here. We're always opening up new doors."
There is no doubt Walt built things to last. Of the attractions designed for the New York World’s Fair, he said, "After the fair these attractions will all move to Disneyland, where they will find a permanent home."
“Disneyland is not just another amusement park. It’s unique and I want it kept that way. Besides, you don’t work for a dollar – you work to create and have fun.”
As Roy O. Disney confirmed in a tribute to his late brother, “Walt used to say that Disneyland would never be finished; that through his creations, future generations will continue to celebrate what he once described as "that precious, ageless something in every human being which makes us play with children's toys and laugh at silly things and sing in the bathtub and dream."
On this we all agree. While the new Walt Disney Museum prepares to open in San Francisco's Presidio under the watch of Diane Disney Miller, it's not enough. It will be a more typical museum, a collection of really cool things to observe under glass.
But Disneyland is the real deal. A physical, environmental creation of Walt's own making, a living museum of wonder. There, we can leave the real world behind and enter Walt's personal vision. It's a landmark shaped by the very hands of this remarkable artist and entrepreneur, a man who gathered some of the foremost talents and tastes of the 20th Century to create an amazing treasure park of art, color and beauty. What a shame it would be not to preserve and restore those precious ideas, artifacts, shapes and colors for our progeny. No matter what you want to call it.
“To Baxter,” The Los Angeles Times reported in 1995, “…it's the Tiki Room that is untouchable -- in contrast to his anti-museum stance.”
"It revolutionized the industry," he says. "It's the first time sound and movement have been sequenced to a three-dimensional performance. To me it's important. It should belong if only as an institution."
I guess sometimes Disneyland is a museum after all…