Back to the Land (Disneyland)

It’s weird for anyone to go back to his or her own work. It’s even weirder when that place of employment happens to be the Happiest Place on Earth. I wrote an article about working on the Jungle Cruise way back in Giant Robot 12, so I’m not going to rehash all the details about pretending to steer a boat into the heart of darkness three times an hour, six hours a day, six days a week. And hopefully not start unloading all those bad puns. But it’s hard not to think back and make comparisons once you enter the forced perspective on Main Street and inhale the smell of popcorn pumped out of the carts…

While Disneyland is more all-encompassing than ever with a widened footprint and resort plan that has replaced sleazy motels and greasy spoons with resort lodging and an entire new theme park, the fans actually exert more power than ever. The last couple of times I’ve gone have happened to be themed meet-up days–not the immensely popular doom-and-gloom Goth Day but the rainbow-hued Gay Day two years ago, and Sunday was Dapper Day, in which guests dress up as they might have in the ’50s. Fishnets, Pomade, tight wool, and hounds tooth.

Of course, nowadays every day is dress-up day for little girls (and some adults) who show up wearing Disney Princess gear the same way that otaku present themselves at Anime conventions around the world. The legend goes that a Disney exec saw a kid wearing homemade princess gear at an ice skating or dance recital and a light bulb went off. The company has made millions of the phenomenon since then–and the gender politics involved are questionable–but, holy crap, was my 5-year-old daughter amped when my party splurged on the “character dining” experience. Too cute for words.

There have been other advances in the park, as well, sometimes with circular logic such as when Johnny Depp is woven into the Pirates of The Caribbean attraction to match the popular movie franchise based on the ride. That’s actually not bad, and the seasonal sprucing of The Haunted Mansion with Tim Burton-approved modifications from Halloween to Christmas is impressive, too. But adding Finding Nemo characters to the submarine attraction and The Little Mermaid to It’s a Small World seems pretty half-ass to me.

I know I sound like a senior citizen to reminisce about things that were popular and perhaps even technologically advanced back in the day, but why exactly did they remove America Sings? To save money on Splash Mountain decor? To make way for a time-share presentation? Or to honor the guest who was smashed by the rotating room?

And then there’s Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. It is not only I who hopes that the success of the recent spate of movies about our 16th president brings back the dusty animatronic exhibit, but future generations of horny teens looking for a dark, empty place to make out.

Speaking of which, the new bobsleds on the Matterhorn are much smoother and probably safer than the old ones, but it makes date nights much less interesting when couples don’t sit against one another.

But I’m not a total Luddite. I can’t imagine a Disney-sanctioned gallery having a cool show with an indie artist like Sean Chao back in the day. And when Exodus, Anthrax, Municipal Waste, and High On Fire play the House of Blues in Downtown Disney in a couple of months, I reckon they won’t be turned away from the rides after sound check as The Boss was in the ’80s. (Wait, no Exodus in the lineup?!)

This was also the first time I’ve ever actually used the Fast Pass system of bypassing long lines–thanks to slow service at a restaurant, we got a stack of them–and it was pretty cool. Too bad next time I go everyone will be microchipped and everything will be totally different! See ya then.