One of the joys of the Internet age for theme park fans is having so much history at our fingertips. This is especially true with Disneyland’s early days, where so many areas were different than today. Walt was a master at marketing Disneyland through his weekly TV series, and those episodes often gave a close look at the latest offerings there. A perfect example is “Disneyland Around the Seasons”, which aired on December 18, 1966. It chronicles the first year in the park’s second decade and includes a lot of attraction footage. Airing just three days after Walt’s death, the episode depicts a tired guy that was still excited about his work.
What makes this episode so entertaining is the way it takes its time with each attraction. These aren’t two-minute promotional clips with a few shots of guests loving the rides. Walt takes us through much of It’s a Small World, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and the Primeval World. While there is some overlap with the World’s Fair episode in the first two cases, it’s still refreshing to spend that much time with these ‘60s attractions. There have been changes to both in more recent years, yet they still retain much of the original charm. Hearing about them from the master himself is a real treat because there’s considerable footage of each one.
A Celebratory Atmosphere
After a brief introduction from Walt, we quickly shift to New Year’s festivities at Disneyland. The shot of guests holding sparklers at night on the Mark Twain is stunning. There’s also a cool image of the Skyway gliding by with the fireworks in the background. It’s a striking way to showcase the park and the fun of being there. Switching to daytime, we even catch a glimpse of the Flying Saucers close to the end of their five-year run. A guy also flies a jetpack over Tomorrowland, and there’s energy everywhere we go. Disney knew how to make the park look fun, and this montage does a great job conveying that feeling.
Walt’s segments generally take place in the model shop, and the scale model of the clock from It’s a Small World that he presents is remarkable. An effective transition moves us to the opening ceremonies for the attraction. Walt brings a canteen and joins kids pouting water from all over the world into the waterway. Doves and balloons add to the festive environment; this is a lot more than a generic ribbon-cutting ceremony. Viewers that hadn’t seen footage of It’s a Small World were in for a real treat, and the show builds the anticipation so well.
The shots from the boat ride offer an up-close view of the animatronics, perhaps a little too close. Even so, it’s hard to complain about all that time inside the attraction. Our next stop inside Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln also provides a lengthy stay. Given the technology of the time, the Lincoln animatronic was an impressive feat. After that quiet pause, we’re back to the party at New Orleans Square. The vibrant atmosphere of that land remains in place today. It doesn’t really feel that different from the modern version, except the fashions from the guests. Pirates of the Caribbean wouldn’t open until 1967, so the shops and entertainment were the draw.
Fantasy on Parade!
After an impressive look at the Primeval World on the Disneyland Santa Fe Railroad, it’s time for the episode’s surprise highlight. It’s worth your time to seek out “Disneyland Around the Seasons” just for the Fantasy on Parade segment. It’s technically a Christmas parade, but the only parts relating to that holiday are the reindeer and Santa Claus at the end. The rest is an odd mix of familiar characters and random participants. This parade ran for years during the holidays, but I suspect it changed quite a bit from this early version. The motion frequently stops to give the performers a chance to interact directly with guests along the way.
Fantasy on Parade is quite different from the high-tech shows that we see at the parks today. The performers are solid, but they don’t seem just a few steps away from Broadway. There’s less structure, and the characters don’t seem “on” at every moment. Even the famous routine from Mary Poppins with the chimney sweeps isn’t that sharp. I don’t mean this as a criticism; this less-formal vibe fits the way the park functioned.
There are many surprises that you might not expect from a Disney parade, including “harem girls” in the Arabian Nights segment. Winnie the Pooh arrives with a large honey tree, plus a queen bee along for the ride. Kanga’s costume includes a hilarious Roo puppet that is not that believable. There’s even a rare appearance from The Reluctant Dragon, which is mostly lost to history. Goofy does a full-on slapstick routine with Minnie riding in his beat-up car. Some creepy chickens even appear to dive bomb the camera. It’s truly something to see!
A Sad Finale
The final scene of “Disneyland Around the Seasons” shows Walt as he tells us to stay tuned for info on the next program. Viewing this episode a short time after his death must have been a sad experience. Walt still has the glint in his eye when discussing the attractions, but his voice lacks the same vigor. He also looks uncomfortable standing up during the live segments. Following the parade, we see a large choir singing carols for the holidays. A remarkable shot reveals Main Street at night with singers positioned at the end of the street. It’s a beautiful look at what Walt created and helped expand right up to his final days on this Earth.
It’s easy to find “Disneyland Around the Seasons” online; here’s one good example. You can also pick up a copy of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD release Disneyland – Secrets, Stories, & Magic; which includes this and other gems.