Disney knows how to celebrate its anniversaries. Remember the pop culture phenomenon that was Disneyland‘s 50th? That more-than-yearlong event a decade ago was one of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts’ most major milestones to date.
Ten years later we honor the park’s 60th. While not as noteworthy as the previous one, longtime Disney fans will be delighted by the array of new entertainment and “enhanced” features within attractions. Let’s dive right in!
“Welcome, foolish mortals” are the immortal words of The Haunted Mansion’s Ghost Host. This Disneyland staple holds a collection of beloved characters, from psychic Madame Leota to the Hitchhiking Ghosts. Yet one legendary face, who only resided at Disneyland’s dark ride for a short period during its introduction, has had somewhat of a ghost story himself. The Hatbox Ghost, known by his ghoulish grin, hunch and hat, returns to the Mansion after more than four decades! Perhaps Disney D23 Expo 2013 hinted at his homecoming a couple of years ago, based on his appearance in the theme parks exhibit. Nevertheless, Disney aficionados greatly anticipate “meeting” him this summer — in fact, there very well may be a handful of guests who might remember seeing Hatbox Ghost from more than 40 years ago.
Other popular Disneyland attractions will also see some special touches. If you know Harold, the Matterhorn Bobsleds’ Abominable Snowman, he was a sensation upon his debut in the late 1970s. But the Matterhorn can always use some updating. Maintenance on the coaster is a constant reality. This Audio-Animatronics figure, who appears on several occasions during the ride, also needed some TLC. Some new special effects will accompany Harold when the attraction reopens in May 2015.
Fantasyland, the park’s most charming and detailed atmosphere, was one area that Disneyland executives wanted to refresh for this celebration. Last summer, the Alice in Wonderland dark ride, which had looked like a visual mess on the outside following the installment of tacky-looking safety rails on the outdoor track, reopened after a solid refurbishment. Imagineers instituted digital projections, new effects, and updated figures within the show building, while the outdoor portion saw a more appropriately themed railing. Nearby, Peter Pan’s Flight has been closed in recent months and will reopen at the start of the celebration, complete with an effects-laden nursery scene and some additional — at this time, unannounced — changes.
These rather inexpensive, but valuable pieces of “fan appreciation” updates characterize Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration. The price tag on this event was undeniably reduced due to budget issues. After all, the 50th at least boasted a new attraction: Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters in Tomorrowland. This time around, no such thing. Rumors persist that Star Wars Land is coming — maybe to replace Mickey’s Toontown entirely — toward the back of the park. The Big Thunder Ranch area also represents a huge piece of real estate that has only been utilized as a dining and entertainment venue. Two minor, albeit likely cool, new experiences will “land” in Tomorrowland this summer. A preview of the forthcoming Tomorrowland film arrives in the renamed Tomorrowland Theater (former home of Captain EO and Honey, I Shrunk The Audience) this month, along with an exhibit in the Starcade area featuring artwork and props from the Brad Bird feature. Meanwhile, Innoventions recently closed shop in order for a massive, though probably temporary, renovation rumored to feature a Disneyland 60th Anniversary exhibition.
Those seeking new nighttime entertainment are in luck, as Disneyland Resort’s 60th features not one, not two, but rather three special shows in different places: the water; the streets; and the sky. Head over to Disney California Adventure Park for a re-themed World of Color show called Celebrate that honors Disneyland’s history and, most of all, its founder. The narrator is none other than Oscars host Neil Patrick Harris, a huge Disney fanboy himself. Harris, who voices the launch portion of roller coaster California Screamin’ over in Paradise Pier, lends his vocal talents to the sensational water show that has been wowing guests for five years.
Moving across the promenade to Disneyland, Walt’s original park hosts a new fireworks show and a “new” parade — or, more appropriately, a clone of a successful entity at Hong Kong Disneyland. Disneyland Forever, which light up the space above Sleeping Beauty Castle and its vicinity, takes its cues from other recent productions. Complete with a soundtrack full of various Disney tunes and projections of characters displayed on the buildings of Main Street, U.S.A. and other structures. Even Disney songwriter extraordinaire Richard Sherman enters this amazing picture, as he contributes an original song to the musical arrangement. Paint The Night, a night show akin to the Main Street Electrical Parade, hits the Disneyland parade route. This dazzling experience debuted in Hong Kong Disneyland last September to much acclaim. Now the California park gets a somewhat modified clone of its Hong Kong counterpart. Expect the likes of Woody, Sulley, and Ariel to join in on the bright and colorful fun, which will boast dozens of performers and more music to get ingrained in your head.
If you return to Disneyland in the daytime, just make sure to have your sunglasses on hand when walking around the bedazzled Sleeping Beauty Castle. This is a “Diamond Celebration” after all, so Disneyland designers have embedded innumerable diamonds to the park icon. Those jewels sparkle brighter than the eyes of guests entering Disneyland for the first time. The structure looks tasteful — much more so than how the Magic Kingdom commemorated its 25th with the “birthday cake,” as it is now called — but some have argued it appears cheap. Opponents exist everywhere, but I would contend that the castle upholds its class and natural beauty with this enhancement. Strolling around the park will also bring additional new street entertainment musical performances and tasty treats at some of Disneyland’s dining venues.
Of course, since this is a must-see event, hundreds of new pieces of merchandise will hit the stores of the Disneyland Resort. Autograph books, T-shirts, mugs, toys and Mouse Ears represent just a few categories that will feature any combination of the 60th logo, characters in festive costumes and diamond imagery. A wise guest would purchase two of any limited edition items, as some of these pieces may skyrocket in value in the years following the celebration. See it as buying an item for oneself and another to eventually sell on eBay.
My take on the Disneyland Resort Diamond Celebration? It possesses all of the elements that comprise a momentous occasion — ride enhancements, shows, and merchandise — but lacks something many of us would hope for that I already referenced: a new attraction. The last true E-ticket to come to Disneyland was for its 40th. Indiana Jones Adventure premiered in 1995, but since that point, we have only seen several D-tickets (Buzz Lightyear and Winnie the Pooh), as well as updates to many of the classics (Star Tours and the Submarine Voyage). But big, new experiences are in the works. We simply have to wait. Disney fans are betting that this August’s D23 Expo will bring substantial announcements, and I guess that a new ride (or maybe a few of them) will be revealed at that event. In the meantime, let us cherish the gifts that keep on coming for Disneyland’s 60th! The celebration officially kicks off on May 22.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.