Disneyland's reopening: Why it matters and what to pay attention to when you return

Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Hobbs says there are a dozen or more shades of white or off-white, all based on some of the original designs by John Hench, one of Disney’s animators-turned-theme-park architects who spent more than 60 years with the company.

Fantasyland’s ‘Snow White"-themed attraction has also received a refresh, which will be instantly apparent from the outside, where darker grays have been replaced with lighter shades of blue and purple.

For longtime fans who may lament the removal of the attraction’s more foreboding atmosphere, it’s worth pointing out that some of the original concept art of the exterior, dreamed up by artist Eyvind Earle, was brash in its use of color, placing the attraction in the context of the fantastical castle next door. All of it is a reminder that Disneyland itself is a stage, where theater envelopes us rather than performs for us.

Walt Disney Imagineering — the arm of the company devoted to theme park experiences — likes to trot out the line that the park is not a museum whenever a change occurs to a longstanding attraction. This is false. Disneyland is very much a museum, a living art gallery dedicated to the evolution of American Pop Art. The whole thing would fall apart if this lesson is ever forgotten.

Change, of course, should be embraced, and the company has recently embarked on much-needed cultural updates to the Jungle Cruise and Splash Mountain, the latter of which will soon be re-themed to “The Princess and the Frog.” And yet the park still stands as a dedication to the evolution of American cinema, from the Western (Frontierland) to the space Western (Galaxy’s Edge, appropriately connected to Frontierland). Even as attractions change, they are still born of a time.

It’s a Small World, steeped in the whimsical, approachable art of Mary Blair, opened at Disneyland in 1966, arriving at the park after debuting at the 1964 World’s Fair. Parents may groan at the seemingly endless song from the Sherman brothers that soundtracks the ride, but It’s a Small World references another time, when Disneyland showcased artists rather than intellectual property.


Consider how Blair’s lightheartedness clashed with the circus-like whimsy of Rolly Crump to result in the whimsically twisted façade for the attraction — and also more overtly responded to what was happening outside the gates. Arriving when it did in the 1960s — a period of war, social upheaval and a broader understanding of America’s role in the world — It’s a Small World is, depending on your perspective, a goofy ride with singing children or the byproduct of increased globalization.

The latter concept hasn’t really changed.

Galaxy’s Edge, as much as it is a “Star Wars” product, is very much a work fit for 2021, with its stark delineations between the haves and have-nots, a world in which the biggest villains have the most wealth or, in this case, the biggest starships. An overly academic reading, perhaps, but the American theme park as defined by Disneyland is only six decades old, and our understanding of physical spaces as storytelling mediums is still evolving.

Besides, what, after all, is a wish upon a star if not a reflection of our innermost thoughts?

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