Disney In Depth: Remembering Disneyland’s Best Commercials
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How do most of us find out about Disneyland for the first time? The television commercial, as antiquated as it may seem, represents an ideal vehicle for capturing its audience and compacting the most entertaining and persuasive content in 30 to 60 seconds.

As we recognize Disneyland’s 60th anniversary, we pay tribute to some of those commercials over the last many decades that prompted us to ask our families a simple question: “When can we go to Disneyland next?”

First airing around 2004, just prior to the park’s 50th anniversary, the “So This Is Love” commercials featured a hopeless romantic pooch fantasizing his adventures around Disneyland with a precious poodle. Set to the lush dance piece from Cinderella, the advertisement showcased many of the park’s signature attractions (Mad Tea Party, Autopia, and King Arthur Carrousel) enjoyed by these dating dogs. This piece compels viewers to want to visit the parks, as not only does everything appear pristine and quaint at night, but also because it is entirely empty.

Full of “wicked fun for everyone,” Disneyland plays host to very villainous and playful antics during September and October. Halloween Time is an annual tradition, modified to varying degrees, over the years at Disneyland. One constant appears on our television screens when commercials depict the Disney baddies riding the more chilling attractions. Hades lights up the fireworks and Maleficent frightens a Haunted Mansion personality. These advertisements are as funny as they are clever, such as when Captain Hook receives an on-ride picture from his flight aboard Space Mountain.

Reaching the half-century mark was a major deal for the happiest place on earth, as this was a homecoming event that encouraged anyone who has ever visited the park to “be there” for this once-in-a-lifetime celebration. Traveling to California from all corners of the world, Disney characters as varied as Iago and Genie in Egypt to Brother Bear‘s Rutt and Tuke shuffling along a sidewalk in a huge metropolis all have their sights set on one place: Disneyland. Kelsey Grammer’s unmistakably cool voice wonderfully complements the commercial’s tone. It is one of glee and warmth in returning home.

The opening of a new attraction may prompt Disneyland to dedicate an entire commercial surrounding its debut. Only a handful of attractions prior to Star Tours’ premiere in 1987 received that treatment, though now this is a more common practice. Emphasizing George Lucas’ involvement and putting on display the amazing visual effects of the attraction (for its time), this advertisement’s cool factor should explain why initial wait times for the thrill ride numbered in the several hours.

A nightly Disneyland spectacle for two decades concluded in 1996, though it would not go out without a bang. The Main Street Electrical Parade’s farewell season accounted for increased park attendance and heightened nostalgia for the millions of viewers who witnessed the showstopper “one last time.” The parade has since returned to various Disney parks, including California Adventure for several years, though this commercial encouraged guests to see it before it headed out forever. You have to love the ’90s-era cheesiness and the fictional father’s “elaborate display.”

Before the advent of the Internet, the television served as the main platform for people to discover new content. That meant those involved in creating commercials had no choice but to always deliver in messaging. In the case of Space Mountain, the point was clear. This Tomorrowland coaster, the first indoor thrill ride of its kind, save for its cousin in Florida, enticed those in the western United States to come to Disneyland. Its graphics, sounds, and little touches are reminiscent of the stellar era in which it existed.

No flashback to commercials of years past would be complete without revisiting how Disney promoted Disneyland’s sister park before its opening in February 2001. Disney’s California Adventure – as it was called back then, prior to the possessive in “Disney’s” being dropped from the park title – promised guests exciting new experiences. Buzz Lightyear first voyaged into the park and embarked on some crazy thrills of his own, as shown in this commercial. However, interest in California Adventure would be short-lived, as guests found the lack of attractions disappointing. Most fortunately, the park has reinvented itself in recent years and maintained much of the appealing character of its earliest days. My favorite line of the commercial: “A giant apparatus is lifting entire families.” Only Disney.

Speaking of Disneyland, the website of the upcoming PBS documentary that chronicles the life of Walt Disney has just launched. Below is a clever graphic, courtesy of PBS’ American Experience, depicting how park prices have evolved (and skyrocketed) over the past 60 years.

[PBS is currently updating the graphic; we will have a revised image soon.]

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.

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