|The Disneyland train station at the entrance to the park, with two tunnels to the left and right separating the real world from "the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy."|
The family and I are home from a trip to Disneyland and California Adventure (aka "the old parking lot"). No apologies for being a Disney fan. I understand how the world works: I realize I have been conditioned since birth to feel nostalgia for corporate properties designed to take my money in exchange for a warm fuzzy glow. I have no problem with that deal. Warm fuzzy glows are hard to come by and, in my opinion, Disney delivers them better than most.
We had a very nice time.
It had been eight years since our last visit, and both we and the parks have changed. They added some rides and rejiggered some lands, including the new Avengers Campus, a fairly sterile and unengaging chunk of California Adventure even for a lifelong Avengers fan like me; and Galaxy's Edge in the back corner of Disneyland, which everyone calls "Star Wars Land." The latter is a brilliant and immersive environment that I still think was put in the wrong park. But nobody asked me, so I'll enjoy it where it is.
I saw three neat innovations in ride technology. First, more sophisticated use of projectors in ways large and small, from giving characters completely animated faces to adding a bit of background visual interest to creating an entire universe (e.g., Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, which places riders into an animated world much like Toon Town in "Roger Rabbit").
Second, they've somehow figured out how to simulate a 3D environment without glasses. It's not quite full 3D but it's close: call it 2.5D, such that when you look out a spaceship window in Galaxy's Edge, you're not just watching a big TV screen. The other ships and planets and such have some dimension and distance from you. Kind of like those old lenticular bubble-gum cards? I don't know how they do it, but it's pretty keen.
Third and most impressive, they've got trackless ride vehicles that can travel anywhere within a space, giving each group of guests a unique experience. The tech was put to good use in both the Star Wars Rise of the Resistance ride, in which escape pods full of riders careen through an Imperial spaceship pursued by Kylo Ren, and Runaway Railway, in which what appears to be three linked train cars separate from the engine and cartoony hell breaks loose.
As I alluded to in my book "Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow," I think Disney is important. I don't think you can understand 20th century America without grappling with Disney, both good and bad: risk-taking entrepreneurship, technological innovation, evolving labor relations, the invention of the teenager, historical myth-making (pro and con), TV and film history, futurism, culture, entertainment, intellectual property law. All of that is distilled into a few square miles of Anaheim, California, the only Disney park with Walt's fingerprints all over it. Or you can just forget about that and ride "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Haunted Mansion," still delightful gems of peak 1960s Disney.
In addition, in our experience last week, Disney still earns its reputation for terrific customer service. Several cast members went above and beyond the call of duty to solve problems and make sure all our needs were met. There's a story that Walt Disney nearly fired an executive who told Walt he didn't need to pick up a piece of trash because a custodian would get around to it. Walt thought that park quality and guest experience were everyone's business. That work ethic and company culture still seems widespread.
Just a few representative photos that have no images of Karen, Robin or Laura because I think at least some of them would rather I left them out of it.
|The Matterhorn in the background, submarines (recently re-themed to a Little Nemo ride), and a Monorail track circling to the right.|
|For a few months around Halloween, the Haunted Mansion gets a "Nightmare Before Christmas" overlay. It's fun, but I still prefer the classic 99 Ghosts and Paul Frees narration.|
|Walking through a tunnel into the immersive Galaxy's Edge, a hive of scum and villainy. The full-size Millennium Falcon (not in this pic) is stunning.|