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The Disneyland Story (1954)

Back in December TCM announced Treasures From the Disney Vault, a regular series and collaboration with the Walt Disney Company blending Disney and classic films into each company’s respective wheelhouse. Long-time readers of the site know my affinity for all things Disney – if you don’t, read all the entries in my Journeys in the Disney Vault series – so Treasures From the Disney Vault is the one thing that could make TCM even better than it already is. With that, I sat down to watch both the inaugural foray into the Vault, as well as the first episode in what would become Walt Disney’s long-running series, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. The Disneyland Story acts as a promotional and marketing tool, as well as a leisurely stroll into the mind of the man who’d brought light and laughter into audience’s lives.

The pilot episode introduces the basic format of the show, wherein Walt and crew visit various “lands” of his developing Disneyland theme park, as well as explore things like the natural world and the upcoming movies the studio was working on.

There isn’t a conventional plot, per se – this is a TV show pilot after all – but what’s contained within is entertaining and cheerful. You can’t help but wonder how audiences of 1954, many still flummoxed by the advent of television, responded to Walt Disney’s grand dreams of creating a land all his own. You know a few had to believe he was crazy.

The pilot uses the series as a launchpad for exploring the various lands, stopping off in various locations mildly associated with the five lands of the Disney parks (Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Main Street, and Adventureland). The inaugural episode thus blends documentary of lands afar, with the tinier abode of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, all in about fifty minutes. It’s all promotional material with “Disney” practically rubberstamped on every sequence, but if you’ve ever been swept up in the Disney magic, it’ll touch you.

The highlight for me is the animation sequences and watching a real working movie studio. Much of this was done better in The Reluctant Dragon, but this benefits from the warm presence of Uncle Walt himself. Walt’s become a mythic figure to fans today, many of whom only grew up with his legacy and never his presence, so it’s nice watching the show as a testament to his love and devotion for the things he created. Walt was a shrewd businessman, make no mistake about that, but he never comes off as overtly advertising; he’s sharing his passion for creation and magic with the countless viewers tuning in. The show plays the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene from Fantasia, as well as showing footage from Alice in Wonderland, both in various states of production, lending a feeling of in-the-moment filmmaking that’s thrilling, especially for movies most audiences have had on various media formats for years.

The Disneyland Story is a marketing tool, but an effective marketing tool for 1954 turns into an entertaining piece of nostalgia for audiences in 2014. Here’s hoping TCM will show the rest of the Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, as I’d love to see where the series went from here.

Considering this is a television episode and not a full film I’m excluding it from being rated. 

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

5 thoughts on “The Disneyland Story (1954) Leave a comment

  1. I also enjoyed The Disneyland Story, especially that large model of Main Street (wow!). I did wish for more about Disneyland, but I realize this was really about introducing the TV show. What really struck me watching this episode was just how good Walt was at marketing the product. It never feels like he’s just selling us, but the episode is really an ad for future shows like Davy Crockett, Disney films, and Disneyland. The fact that it’s so entertaining shows how far ahead of his time he was on the marketing side.

    • The Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco has a model similar to the one Walt has. It’s gorgeous! Yes, he definitely wanted to give off the “Uncle Walt” vibe, being accessible and welcoming which I think he succeeded in.

  2. “The show plays the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene from Fantasia, as well as showing footage from Alice in Wonderland, both in various states of production…..” Neither of these films was in production at this time. Fantasia is from 1940 and Alice from 1951. The Fantasia clip was part of a history of Mickey Mouse towards the end of the show and left us with the thought it was “all started by a mouse”.

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