Editor's Note: Kevin submitted this piece well in advance of
the California Adventure (DCA) overhaul announcement last week which
includes plans for a new 1920's-era entry street and a Walt Disney
museum/attraction. I'm sure he will follow up his thoughts here in a future
article when he gets a chance. - Al
One early concept for the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland was a 'Museum of the
Weird', portions of which still exist scattered among the ghosts in the attraction even today. But the
museum concept as a wider phenomenon is better known to the Disney fan community
via a debate: just how much should Disney parks themselves be a museum?
Nostalgia was important to Walt Disney - witness the theming and tone of
Frontierland and Main Street - but the kind of nostalgia invoked today has more
to do with theme park goers and what rides they remember from their youth. By
now, we're on the second or third generation, in some cases, of people visiting
Disneyland. The issue will grow in importance in Florida too, as the parks age
The oldest WDW park, the Magic Kingdom, is particularly vulnerable to the 'museumification'
concept, partly because it's the oldest, but mostly because park managers have
until recently been content to let the park simply continue to offer the same
show, without upgrades. The park felt stale because attractions have not been
refreshed much. The Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, until very
recently, both had 1970s-era audio and special effects in an unchanged show.
The Country Bears even were wickedly parodied
in The Goofy Movie.
Ditto the Country Bear Jamboree, which doesn't show the newer Vacation Hoedown,
and in 2006 and now 2007, doesn't show the Christmas version of the show either.
It just plays the same old material, with no upgrades. How long has it been
since the Carousel of Progress has been updated? Fort Langhorn on Tom Sawyer
In many ways, the Magic Kingdom is exactly what some Disneyland fans hunger
for in online discussion forums: a museum of Disneyland rides. It already
exists, and in fact it's the number one visited park in the country!
A museum can be, almost by definition, stale and unchanging. These are good
arguments in that long debate about whether Disneyland should (or should not) be
a museum. By and large, the pendulum of opinion agrees that change should be
Even Florida's MK has seen change. It's not a complete museum! But it's a bit
disheartening to tally up what changes have occurred:
Toad Hall gave way to the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The Tiki Room is now Under New Management
Stitch has invaded Tomorrowland
Buzz Lightyear has invaded Tomorrowland
An attraction badly in need of old management:
the newer Orlando show
plays to empty houses while the original Anaheim production has
seen increased attendance after a much delayed overhaul.
Actually, pause right there. It's about time they just renamed this land
'Futuristic Cartoon Land' (FCL), because that's all it is. The TTA isn't about a
future of moving people around, it's about aliens and hovercrafts parked in
no-hover zones. Even Space Mountain isn't about futurism; just look at the icon
these days, which implies comedy and whimsical alien contact. The Fed-Ex
post-show helps with that perception too.
Most recently, though, there have been encouraging signs. The upgrades to
Pirates and the Mansion were well-executed and have been well-received. This is
one museum that is beginning to revive out of its staleness.
And yet, there's a part of me that understands the desire for a real
Disneyland museum. I can see the role of nostalgia in looking at a theme park.
It made the Remember fireworks at Disneyland, at least for me, an immensely,
intensely emotional experience, one I'm not sure they'll ever be able to top.
Nostalgia speaks to us on some primal level.
We can all envision an honest to goodness museum of Disneyland somewhere,
right? Old ride vehicles, displays and signs, props and parade floats. Wouldn't
that be something to visit? People might well flock to a place like that. But on
the whole, I agree a museum for Disneyland shouldn't actually *be* Disneyland,
and probably shouldn't actually be physically located at Disneyland either. Some
place off site might be plausible, in a big warehouse somewhere. That would do
the trick nicely. They could charge a nominal admission and it would be
Now is the time for a great big beautiful
It shouldn't be at Disneyland because the theme park experience should be
profoundly different from the museum experience. Nostalgia has a place in our
hearts, but only in the right context. Change, then, is mostly to be seen as a
positive thing. Especially when it's done well. Even the Magic Kingdom in WDW,
held up here as sometimes functioning like a museum, has had good change over
the years. Since its inception, they've added Space Mountain, Big Thunder, and
Splash Mountain. More recently, Philharmagic has charmed countless millions. So
change has occurred, and perhaps it's most fair to say the track record has been
It's not just the parks that have changed. The clientele has too. Think back
to the 1950s, or even the 1970s. If your memory doesn't go back that far, have a
look at photographs of Main Street from that era. (Yesterland even ran a recent
feature on this, available
at this link.)
The well-dressed Lennon Sisters posing in
front of City Hall.
Courtesy of Werner Weiss at
Notice anything? I see two
prominent differences: first, people are dressed up to visit the park and it's a
fair bet the corollary is that they were more respectful as a result; and
second, people are walking on the sidewalk only, avoiding the street, even when
there are no horse-drawn trolleys or horseless carriages around. It's no major
stretch to say there's been a culture shift from that era to today.
What we may be seeing today is somewhat more akin to entitlement. People have an
attitude that they are allowed to dress and behave however they might like, and
everyone else's opinion be damned. This is a fundamentally different way to view
society and the fellow human beings around you, yet it's increasingly what we
see today. I've previously argued that the Disneyland annual passport program,
which lures locals so successfully, has as one by-product cultivated a
sub-culture of uber-entitled visitors (please note: this is a minority of the AP
population I'm referring to, not the majority).
Have you seen Disney visitors wearing inappropriate clothing, or perhaps with
shocking language on their t-shirts? With the attitude of entitlement and
'me-first' comes a corresponding lack of respect for private property, increased
graffiti, and heightened incivility between people, especially in lines or
crowded situations (the incessant creep of people inching closer to you while
holding a spot at Disneyland's Fantasmic leaps to mind).
"Cha-cha-cha-changes" David Bowie once
Here's my question, and it's one I don't have an answer to: how much of this,
if any, is Disney's problem? How should Disney react? Should they 'shift' with
the culture too? It's no major announcement to claim that when it comes to Cast
Member standards, they HAVE shifted already. Appearance guidelines in the 1980s
looked Pollyanna-like for the simple reason that these were essentially the same
guidelines in place in the 1950s. Men's hair had to be above the ear at all
times, and an inch above the collar in the back. Sunglasses that prevented a
clear view of the eyeball were prohibited. Only one ring per hand. Women could
only wear stud earrings, and they had to be dime-sized or smaller. No streaks or
hair colorations were allowed. I don't know about your experiences, but I no
longer see every CM conforming to the standards listed above.
I've seen Disney 'shift' with the times in other ways. They used to prevent
people from entering the main gate if inappropriate clothing was worn, but these
days it's quite hit or miss. And speaking of Main Gate, they used to be quite
strict about 'no outside food or drinks', but that too has gone by the wayside
more or less. Here at WDW, I see people with entire coolers sometimes.
There are times I wonder if Disney might want to 'hold the line' and not
shift with the times for thematic reasons. If you think about it, Disneyland
offers a vision of exotic environments as seen through the lens of the 1950s.
It's the 1950s version of turn of the century America, the 1950s vision of the
future, the 1950s vision of Africa, and the 1950s vision of Twain's Mississippi.
To modern visitors, the holdovers from that 1950s vision make for a kind of
nostalgia. This is a different kind of nostalgia than was invoked at the start
of this article. Rather than nostalgia for old Disneyland rides, this is instead
a nostalgia for a bygone era entirely.
Hmmm. Maybe Disneyland *is* a museum after all. Just not the way we thought