Walt Disney’s “obsession with vintage locomotives” inspired his vision for Disneyland, reports Will Friedwald in The Wall Street Journal (7/15/15). Walt “conceived the whole place as the miniature railway layout of the gods.” The impetus was fan mail from Disney “moviegoers of all ages, some of whom wanted to see how cartoons were produced, but many more who wanted to visit Mickey Mouse and Cinderella where they actually lived.” The execution, at first, was far from perfect, however.
When Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, “difficulties with both the plumbing system and the labor unions made it impossible for anyone to get a drink.” Only a few rides were open, and “most of those were continually breaking down and closing.” The temperature on opening day was 101, and “all the asphalt — poured only a few hours earlier” — stuck to to the shoes of the 28,000 visitors. Disneyland would not be fully operational for another three years, but in true Disney fashion, it was driven by Walt’s “desire to tell stories in a way that necessitated the creation of new media and entire artistic disciplines to go with them.”
Disneyland triumphed by taking “the concept of narrative to the extreme,” immersing visitors “in the story itself … You didn’t just ride a roller coaster — you became Snow White being chased through the forest.” The rides “were as painstakingly conceived as any feature film (or any blockbuster video game today),” complete with “full-scale soundtracks that included original songs.” Meanwhile, Walt struck an innovative media deal with ABC-TV, under which Disney produced a TV show that cross-promoted both the park and its movies in return for ABC helping “to underwrite the park’s construction.”