STUDIO: Walt Disney Video
MSRP: $22.99
RATED: NR (Family)
• People and Places: Disneyland, USA
• Operation: Disneyland
• The Golden Horseshoe Revue
• Disneyland Goes to the World’s Fair
• Disneyland Around the Seasons
• Interactive Disney Trivia Game
• Photo Galleries
• Time lapse videos of ride construction

The Pitch

We’re asking people to pay for a 400-minute long advertisement for Disneyland. I dare the chumps over at Universal Studios to pull off something that ballsy.

The Humans

Leonard Maltin, Richard Sherman, Herb Lyman, Walt Disney, Jack Lindquist, Julie Andrews

SECRET!: Leonard Maltin’s most prized possession? Siskel’s bones.

The Nutshell

Disneyland: Secrets, Stories, and Magic is a detailed, multi-faceted look at Walt Disney’s Disneyland Theme park, featuring an 80-minute documentary narrated by Leonard Maltin and Julie Andrews. This "flagship documentary" takes a look back at the design and implementation of the California park, including interviews from engineers and Disney staffers who helped open Disneyland in 1955. It includes a behind-the-scenes look at daily operations of the park, a look at "The Disneyland that never was", and a dramatic account of the park’s problematic beginnings.

Other features include a duo of "Disney’s Wonderful World of Color" featurettes about the park, a brain-smashingly difficult Trivia Game, a recording of the live TV feed of the behind-the-scenes opening of the park, and a showing of Disneyland’s popular "Golden Horseshoe Revue."

The Lowdown

Here’s the immediate lowdown for Disneyland: Secrets, Stories, and Magic (Henceforth referred to as Magic so as not to take up an entire line of text each time I type it): If you’ve been to the Disney theme parks and enjoy them, you’ll probably like this DVD. If not, you’ll be bored to tears, since Magic relies so heavily on its viewers’ pre-installed love for the Disney parks.

Watching Magic is a little like stumbling across an old box in the attic of your childhood home. The box is filled with pictures, knick-knacks, the occasional dead roach, pamphlets, and other various items collected from your childhood. If you’re a sentimental or reminiscent type, you’ve just hit a bonanza, but many of us might be bored by these relics and move on to the real reason we were in our parents’ attic in the first place: finding your hidden childhood stash of nudie magazines. Parenthetically, I never did anything like that as a child.

SECRET!: One of Disneyland’s original attractions was the ill-fated "Nemo’s Challenge." Young female participants were outfitted with mermaid flippers and poison-tipped spears and were encouraged to fight to the death in a water arena.

Magic is a mixed package of odds and ends. It’s all generally related to Disneyland, but it almost seems like someone plunged their hands into a grab bag o’ footage and sprinkled the clips onto the disc by the fistful. Surprisingly, the featured documentary isn’t as good as I’d hoped. There are a few great anecdotes here and there (we get to hear about "The Disneyland that never was", which details several of the attractions that never made the leap from blueprints to reality), but there’s far too much padding. Long stretches of it feel like a Disney infomercial, and there’s a constant undercurrent of back-patting and self-congratulating that could have been either trimmed or replaced with more interesting anecdotes. I’m not so much interested in how groundbreaking or wonderful Disneyland was when it opened. I’m more curious about the interesting stories about the rides themselves; for example, we learn that The Haunted Mansion was originally intended to be a walkthrough attraction called The Museum of the Weird and Wonderful, which actually looked more gruesome and interesting than the completed Mansion. Check out the last screencap for some great concept art from imagineer Rolly Crump’s "Museum."

Unfortunately, great tidbits like that are few and far between, although it’s funny to hear George Lucas compare himself to Walt Disney, as he says something along the lines of "Creative types like us always have to deal with everyone else standing in our way, because nobody ever understands our vision." Poo Doo.

SECRET!: Disney employees are called "Cast Members". Also, if they’re found breaking company rules, they are stripped naked, strung up, ritualistically murdered, and are surreptitiously fed back to visitors in the form of burgers and meat pies.

However, Magic is packed with other more interesting and valuable features. For example: after watching the feature documentary, my wife and I decided to test out the "Interactive Trivia Game" bonus feature. Interactive DVD features are usually awful, so we didn’t expect too much, but we were both pleasantly surprised. The game has both beginner and advanced modes of difficulty, and they’re both insanely difficult- there are questions like "What was the name of the man who voiced Harry P. Bear-Nuts in the Shoop-De-Doo Hootenanny Show?" They’re frustratingly tough, and in true Disney fashion, you’re actually punished for selecting wrong answers. Sons of bitches! What’s great about this feature is that if you win the game (which took us around 25 minutes), you get to pick from a list of prizes, which include ride-throughs of some of the famous park attractions and behind-the-scenes footage. The ride-throughs are genuinely interesting to me, so it’s cool that there’s a viable "carrot" dangling in front of the player as an incentive to play through the game. Here’s the catch- after you win, you can watch your prize video once, but you can’t unlock it. There are apparently dozens of prizes, so watching them all means multiple play-throughs of the trivia game. I can’t decide if that’s genius or madness, but I can say this: it was the first interactive feature to ever get a reaction out of me.

The "Wonderful World of Color" features are also pretty great, as they’re a fascinating slice of Disney entertainment and marketing genius. One feature is an hour-long tour (read: advertisement) for the park, and the other’s a look at Disney’s 1964 World’s Fair presence. What I love about the latter is that a good twenty minutes of it is one long, slow ride through the "It’s a Small World" attraction. I can’t imagine many modern-day viewers having the patience to sit through that segment. Times sure have changed, Walt.

The "Golden Horseshoe Revue" was a filmed performance of the famous Disneyland show featuring some of its veteran performers. SECRET!: I fast forwarded through this. Other bonus features include time-lapsed construction footage of most of the park’s major attractions. It’s incredible fun to watch someone carve out the Jungle Cruise ride and populate it with rocks and mechanical animals over the course of a minute or two. There’s also an "Operation: Disneyland" feature, which is a replay of the live opening day feed sent to broadcasters in 1955. It’s fun in small doses, and it’s interesting to watch everyone scramble to get everything set up for the grand opening. We’re also given photo galleries from Disneyland’s early days.

As I said before, the bottom line is this: If you’re a big fan of Disneyland, you’ll get many hours of enjoyment out of this, keeping in mind that a fair amount of it is promotional material. If you’re not interested in the Disney parks, then steer clear of this at all costs.

SECRET!: The Star Wars ride just isn’t very good. Sorry, everybody.

The Package

Magics package is extensive, and was discussed above, since it’s all on equal footing with the feature. It’s a huge collection of features which fans will have fun rooting through.

My main gripe about Magic? The video quality. I can understand why some of the older footage doesn’t look good, but it would have been nice if the newer footage looked better. It’s all standard TV-quality stuff, and it could have used a lot of cleaning up.

The audio’s also unimpressive, as it’s a vanilla Dolby 2/0.

The box is great. It’s surrounded by an aluminum case, and it holds a sturdy reference booklet and a book of Disneyland E-Ticket replicas.

SECRET!: In his original vision, Walt Disney intended Mickey to be a shrieking wax freak rather than a mouse.

7.5 out of 10