Scan of The Disney Mountains book cover Yesterland


Walt Disney Treasures
Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic

Reviewed by
Werner Weiss
Dec. 15, 2007

Would you like a time machine that can take you back throughout Disneyland’s history, and even to when Disneyland was under construction? Would you like the insights and wisdom of people who designed the park and people who worked with Walt Disney (or, in some cases, who did both)? There’s a small metal container at your video store or online merchant that contains such a time machine.

Walt Disney Treasures - Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic is one of three new Walt Disney Treasures DVD sets released this week. Unlike Disney’s typical mass-market DVDs that aim to sell millions of copies, each Walt Disney Treasures DVD set is a limited edition. In the case, the edition is just 50,000 copies.

There are two discs in the set, with a total running time of 5 hours and 32 minutes! Let’s see what’s on the two discs...

Scan of Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic, disc 1
Disc 1

Title Feature: Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic Of The Happiest Place On Earth

The film from which this DVD set takes its name is a feature-length (1 hour and 21 minutes) documentary originally slated for a 2005 release as part of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Disneyland. Julie Andrews provides the film’s opening and closing remarks in her role as Ambassador of the 50th Anniversary Celebration. For some reason, Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic was held back until now. It appears that it’s been updated a bit, but not very much.

John Lasseter
John Lasseter is one of many Disneyland experts on Secrets, Stories & Magic.

I’m glad this documentary is finally available. Using short interview clips and historic footage, the film covers many subjects—including early pessimism about Disneyland (which didn’t stop Walt Disney), the challenges in building Disneyland in less than a year from ground-breaking to opening; reminiscences about old attractions such as the Flying Saucers, House of the Future, and Viewliner; the addition of new attractions such as the massive 1959 expansion; the death of Walt Disney; WED Enterprises; the connection between Disneyland and movies; Disneyland attractions that were never built; the importance of cast members; how small details add so much to Disneyland; and plenty of tributes to the genius of Walt Disney.

Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic doesn’t try to be hip or artsy. It keeps sugar-coated sentimentality to a reasonable level. The film keeps moving with quick edits, short sound bites, and plenty of interesting scenes.

DVD Game: Wonderful World of Disneyland Trivia Game

This trivia quiz, which offers beginner and advanced modes, is the weakest item on the DVD set. The announcer promises a “nifty prize“ when you correctly answer one trivia question about each land. The actual trivia questions can be fun (and sometimes quite challenging in advanced mode). However, before seeing each question, there’s a little introductory film about the land, lasting less than a minute. Although the films are supposed to be mini-documentaries, they come across more like television commercials or Disney vacation planning video scenes. The “nifty prize“ turns out to be the opportunity to select more mini-documentaries. If you want to play again (and it’s not the same DVD session), you’re subjected to the little introductory films again—and they get more annoying each time.

1956 “People and Places” film: Disneyland, U.S.A.

In 1956, Walt Disney Productions released a featurette called Disneyland, U.S.A. in movie theaters, as part of People And Places, a series of films about geographic places. It’s essentially a 42-minute commercial for Disneyland. Now, a half century later, it’s a fascinating look at what Disneyland was like in 1956.

Disneyland U.S.A. title
The 1956 film Disneyland, U.S.A. uses a widescreen CinemaScope format.

This was only Disney’s third CinemaScope movie. Because this movie was made to look great on a 50-foot-wide movie screen, it looks great on today’s widescreen HDTVs. The film begins with a helicopter flyover of the whole park, which is amazing.

Flyover of Frontierland from the DVD
This view of Frontierland’s Living Desert is part of a flight over Disneyland.

There are three audio options for Disneyland, U.S.A..

The first is the original theatrical soundtrack, enhanced to provide 5.1 surround sound. Winston Hibler is the narrator; his voice is familiar from Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventures nature film series. The musical score by Oliver Wallace is wonderful.

The second option is an audio commentary by Leonard Maltin and Tony Baxter. Don’t miss this commentary (after you’ve first viewed the film with the original soundtrack). Tony Baxter recounts all sorts of stories that he learned over his long (and still active) career with Walt Disney Imagineering.

The third option is music-only. It’s a way to enjoy the widescreen visuals and the 5.1 surround-sound Oliver Wallace score—without anyone talking over that score.

For anyone who cares about the history and development of Disneyland, don’t miss Disneyland, U.S.A..

Scan of Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic, disc 2
Disc 2

Private ABC Film: Operation Disneyland

Operation Disneyland wasn’t meant to be seen by the public. The ABC television network filmed this documentary about the preparation for Disneyland’s opening day broadcast for an audience of ABC affiliates. It was shown to them over closed circuit (not broadcast) television. Now the public can see it as part of this DVD set. It’s fun to see how primitive television technology was in 1955, and how ABC and Disney managed the ambitious live broadcast of July 17, 1955.

Television Episode: The Golden Horseshoe Revue

Originally broadcast on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color on NBC on September 23, 1962, this show is an expanded version of Disneyland’s long-running The Golden Horseshoe Revue in Frontierland. For the Revue’s 10,000th performance, regular performers Wally Boag and Betty Taylor are joined by guest stars, including Mouseketeer star Annette Funicello and comics Ed Wynn and Gene Sheldon. It’s a fun show, and the guest stars are entertaining. But I wish a regular performance were on the DVD—such as the 9,999th performance.

Television Episode: Disneyland Goes to the World’s Fair

This memorable episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was originally broadcast by NBC on May 17, 1964. Most Disneyland enthusiasts know about the pavilions that Walt Disney developed for Ford, General Electric, Pepsi-Cola, and the State of Illinois. Walt Disney is the host for this look at the exhibits that eventually came to Disneyland.

Television Episode: Disneyland Around the Seasons

This December 18, 1966, episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was originally broadcast just three days after Walt Disney died.

DVD Bonus Feature: Building Walt’s Dream: Disneyland Under Construction

When Disneyland was under construction, stop motion cameras captured the work at several locations throughout the park. You’ve probably seen a few clips of the hyper-speedy construction, but there’s a lot more here—over a half hour. Tony Baxter is the prime commentator, and, as he did on the Disneyland, U.S.A. commentary track, he provides real insight. I thoroughly enjoyed this Bonus Feature.

DVD Bonus Feature: Art Gallery

You can view around sixty Imagineering renderings and designs, primarily from the 1950s. Most of these images have been published previously in books, and the particular selection of images and their order seems haphazard. But it’s worth clicking through the images if you enjoy Imagineering art.

Scan of collectable art in DVD package
In the tradition of other Walt Disney Treasures, there’s a collectable art item enclosed.

The title feature, Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic, is very good. Most of the other parts of this two-disc set are as good or better! I spent so much time enjoying the contents of the two DVDs that I didn’t start writing this review until way too late. So, in a reminder of what life was like when I was in college a few decades ago, I will end up getting (at most) one hour of sleep tonight. I guess that’s a testament to the quantity and quality of Walt Disney Treasures - Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic.

Ticket book reproduction in DVD package
The package also contains a reproduction of a Disneyland ticket book from 1959.

Walt Disney Treasures - Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic was a limited edition DVD. It sold out quickly. It is now usually only available at collectors’ prices.

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© 2007-2022 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated October 14, 2022

Scans of Disneyland: Secrets, Stories & Magic DVD packaging, discs, screen captures, and collectables: © 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc.