In Praise of. . .Disneyland?

It may not be the happiest place on Earth, but its damn close

I know this could make me persona non grata around the Weekly offices—not to mention among county hipsters in general—but I have always loved Disneyland. Show me somebody who could emerge unsatisfied from the Haunted Mansion or the Pirates of the Caribbean, and I'll show you a grade-A nabob who most likely is incapable of being satisfied by anything upon the globe. The level of invention and craft on display in these rides is as astonishing today as it must have been back in the misty days when they first opened, and the big ballroom full of waltzing ghosts in the Haunted Mansion is a miracle, pure and simple. I'll even admit to having been completely charmed by the psychotic delights of It's a Small World, along with that thing where you ride a boat through the mouth of Monstro the whale and emerge in a magical fairyland of little tiny models of Snow White's cottage and Sleeping Beauty's castle. Have I mentioned I'm heterosexual? For some strange reason, I feel compelled to mention that at this point.

But while Disneyland as envisioned by Uncle Walt is a very fine thing, the same cannot be said for the Disney corporation of recent decades or for the damage it has inflicted upon the park in a wretched attempt to "update" it. I had a genuinely transcendent experience at the park's wraparound-screen theater 10 years ago, when a magnificent '60s travelogue of China transported my soul to an ancient, emerald land as lovely as anything I've ever seen. I'm not a travelogue guy, and IMAX makes me ill, but this thing just about had me bawling by the end. I was heartsick a few years later when I returned to find the theater had been converted into a store (apparently, the park hadn't had enough places to sell things with Donald Duck's picture on them).

Remember the Adventures Through Innerspace ride, that thing where you went through the smallifying machine and ended up under a miscroscope with a horrifyingly colossal eye peering down at you? Long gone, replaced by some noisy Star Wars contraption (which is admittedly kinda cool in its own right, but damn it, that's beside the point). The unutterably fantastic submarine ride, the one with the mermaids and the squirmy octopuses? Closed for years, with nothing but a big soggy hole in its place. Gone as well are those hanging gondolas that once hauled guests from one end of the park to another on a precariously thin cable, while the meticulously detailed Swiss Family Robinson house has been made over into a shrine to Disney's flaccid Tarzan cartoon.

Several years ago, I heard from various sources that the Tiki Room had been given a truly evil makeover, with revised music (including rap) and Gilbert Gottfried's parrot character from The Lion King now the star of the show. The idea that the funky patter of my beloved parrot buddies had been ditched in favor of Gottfried's squawking sent me into a spiral of despair; for months afterward, I was even less fun to be around than usual. I thought I was finally over it a few years ago when I visited the park with a friend from out of town, but once there, I hurried past the Tiki Room with my eyes downcast and my soul aching, as if it were the site where I'd once witnessed the death of a loved one at the hands of drunken bikers.

But in researching this article, I have uncovered a wondrous thing: it seems my facts were in error, and it is in fact Orlando's Tiki Room that features the Gilbert Gottfried makeover. I pity the poor dopes in Florida, but for now, our own beloved Tiki Room is safe. I feel so happy I could sing! Join me, won't you?

Let's all sing like the birdies sing, tweet, tweet-tweet, tweet-tweet . . .

Yeah, well, screw you, too! You can cluck all you like, but at my next opportunity, I'm going to Disneyland. It may not actually be the Happiest Place on Earth, but it is a happy place, and this world could do with far more of those. Disneyland, 1313 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 781-4565.

 
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