A Musical History of Disneyland - 50th Anniversary Box Set CD Review
Running Time: 462 minutes (7 hours, 42 minutes) plus 35-minute 33 1/3 LP vinyl record
Release Date: May 3, 2005 (limited edition exclusively at Disneyland); September 20, 2005 (national retail version)
Suggested Retail Price: $125 (Disneyland limited edition); $99.98 (general retail version)
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As any self-respecting Disney fan already knows, Disneyland turned 50 in 2005. To help mark this noteworthy occasion, Walt Disney Records issued a handful of theme park-related CDs around the time that the golden anniversary festivities were kicking off last spring. To satisfy many, there was the 22-track Happiest Celebration on Earth, a re-release of the 1956 album Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland, and a Karaoke Series, each a regularly-priced standalone disc. But the serious Disney fan wanted more and even the parks-exclusive 2-disc Happiest Homecoming on Earth wasn't cutting it.
Fortunately, the company's music branch did not neglect this most enthusiastic fanbase; instead, it served them up A Musical History of Disneyland, a deluxe 6-CD box set celebrating past and present Disneyland attractions with the most exhaustive collection of theme park soundtracks ever officially released. For four and a half months, Musical History was only available at the resort whose anniversary it was celebrating. There, it sold for $125 and included a gold vinyl record of Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland and the 72-page hardcover book The Sounds of Disneyland. Last September, it reached general retail with a lower price tag ($99.98 SRP) and everything still in place aside from the record (which was dropped from the national version and became black vinyl rather than gold in Disney-owned outlets).
It might seem obvious for a multi-disc set devoted to Disneyland to assign a platter to each of the five original "lands" of the Anaheim park, but after a tiny bit of consideration, you'll realize that this is not an ideal method. For one thing, there are now (and have been for some time) three other designated park sections -- New Orleans Square, Critter Country, and Mickey's Toontown. For another, certain areas of the park lend themselves to a soundtrack more than others based on the nature and number of their attractions. So, while the lineup here is arranged by the different areas, there are instances of overlap on most discs. While this may prevent someone from bringing an individual CD for, say, "the complete Tomorrowland experience", it makes sense logistically. It also makes sense for us to proceed with our review on a disc by disc basis, which is precisely what we'll now do.
Disc 1 (1:19:53)
There's only one place that something billed as A Musical History of Disneyland can begin and that is at Walt Disney's brief opening day dedication speech. This gives way to assorted sounds from Main Street, U.S.A., the turn-of-the-20th-century-invoking area where all guests enter the park.
Adventureland logically opens with three tracks pertaining to Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room, which in 1963 became the first Audio-Animatronics attraction. The most important one is the show itself, which at 17½ minutes feels a bit more slow-moving without the vibrant visuals and air-conditioned refuge that normally come in tandem. Still, though many consider this dated, others can attest that there's enough nostalgic charm in the show to sustain it. While it might not merit listening beyond "The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room" on every replay, the full show's inclusion is a necessity and the vast soundfield in the presentation here aptly recreates the feeling of being in the middle of the serenading tropical birds. Rounding out the land are: the brief score to the invigorating Indiana Jones ride, which, without the scattered dialogue and thrills, feels a little slight,
Opening the New Orleans Square stretch is a jaunt across The Rivers of America on The Mark Twain, in which the southern guide makes amusing observations about your surroundings. Next, the comprehensive 16-minute ride-through of Pirates of the Caribbean is undoubtedly a highlight not just of Disc 1 but of the entire package. Its perfect fusion of music, dialogue, and sound effects make it the ideal track, much like the iconic boat ride is illustrative of the Disney dark ride at its finest. A violin-centric instrumental recording of Mary Poppins' "Feed the Birds" is supposed to represent Club 33, the area's "secret" exclusive club for fat cats, while an instrumental of Bambi's "Love is a Song" marks the gallery of park and movie artwork which sits atop Pirates.
In the track listings above, you'll notice italicized entries which begin with "Sounds of." As you might expect, these are quite literally some brief, transitional audio clips of recognizable park mainstays which deserve notice in such an expansive collection. Most of the time, however, the sound bites aren't enough to merit their own track, with the disc-closing 19th track (Sounds of the Frontierland Station) being an exception.
Disc 2 (1:13:33)
Two full Country Bear shows are next, though these are separated by a Splash Mountain ride-through for a change of pace. First is Country Bear Jamboree, the popular debut of the audio-animatronics attraction which opened in Walt Disney World in the fall of 1971 and came to Disneyland just five months later. This is set up by a bit of Rufus's snoring and the instrumental "Bearless Love." Skipping ahead, Country Bear Vacation Hoedown, which took over Anaheim in 1986, is also presented in full. Each of these two shows consists of a dozen or more short tunes performed by bears who engage in witty banter between numbers. Despite their apparent popularity, the Bears no longer have any presence at Disneyland, which makes these especially good for those who fondly remember the shows and don't venture to Disney World much. However, an attraction like this does rely heavily on the visual aspect to delight, which may not make them ideal full-length listens for those either unfamiliar with the attractions or, obviously, not a fan of the music.
On the other hand, Splash Mountain is just a very good time all around. While parts of the world have been told to forget Song of the South ever existed (much to the delight of prospering DVD bootleggers), neither Disney nor fans of their parks seem willing or able to do the same for the ride which came three years after the 1946 live action/animation hybrid's 40th anniversary theatrical reissue. The four songs run a gamut of emotion and the wet-and-wild nature of the log flume is maintained in aptly-timed sound effects. Finally, there is a charming instrumental of "The Rain, Rain, Rain Came Down, Down, Down" and a medley of this and other songs from the 1977 featurettes-turned-feature The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, as heard in the colorful little ride which supplanted the Country Bears in 2001. With these, the second disc's last two tracks, the set has almost eliminated the need for a soundtrack to Pooh's best outing.
Disc 3 (1:13:28)
For many people, the word "Frontierland" doesn't conjure up much aurally. As such, the section dedicated to this Disneyland area may not do much for even diehard fans of the park in its present form. The first two tracks offer instrumental background music to briefly set the old West theme; "A Cowboy Needs a Horse" stems from the 1956 short of the same name. Next is a seemingly complete soundtrack to Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland and the Rainbow Caverns, the attraction which Big Thunder Mountain Railroad replaced in the late '70s.
Another extinct attraction comprises the second major component of the disc, which feels like an album all to itself. The Golden Horseshoe Revue had its first performance four days before Disneyland's opening (at the 30th wedding anniversary of Walt and wife Lillian) and remained largely unchanged through 1986. The saloon which housed the act has since held three others, but none has come close to claiming the popularity or longevity of its predecessor. A full 31½-minute show of this Disneyland original in its prime is presented here and the appeal of the diverse offerings may elude those not looking for nostalgic value. There's '50s-style girls singing (their sound assimilating Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee, et. al.) from "saloon owner" Slue Foot Sue, a fair amount of vocal-less jazz, some enthusiastic crooning from an Irish tenor, comedy bits by Disney Legend Wally Boag, and a touch of harmonizing from barbershop quartet The Main Street Melodears. Despite the questionable entertainment value, the Revue's inclusion is indisputable from an historical perspective. Its presence here ensures that the park's past not be forgotten and helps recapture something that even those now in their 20s weren't around to see.
After Frontierland wraps up with a river ride on the Columbia, a distinct third and final portion of Disc 3 ensues. This takes us into Fantasyland, the most Disney film-oriented and untouched of the park's sections. Accordingly, music from early Disney films quickly becomes the order. Following what sounds like the original recording of Pinocchio's Oscar-winning "When You Wish Upon a Star" and a King Arthur Carrousel instrumental version of Sleeping Beauty's "Once Upon a Dream", brisk medleys from four of the land's brief but beloved dark rides (Pinocchio's Daring Journey, Peter Pan's Flight, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and Alice in Wonderland) come together for a highly pleasing 18-minute suite. The disc concludes with yodeling and sounds of the Matterhorn Bobsleds.
Disc 4 (1:19:32)
Disc 4 opens with Fantasyland's lone holdover - the indelible "It's a Small World", the first of the platter's three Sherman Brothers compositions. As can be expected, the boat ride for which Robert and Richard penned this tune (likely their greatest contribution to the parks) is given deluxe treatment.
Toontown, Disneyland's youngest land, gets covered in just over 5 minutes with assorted cartoon gag noises, the catchy tune from the opening of 1928's breakthrough short Steamboat Willie (which gets excerpted at Mickey's House), and the bouncy soundtrack to Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin providing nearly all the audio found in this limited area.
The Tomorrowland portion of the disc kicks off with music from Disney's 1954 adventure 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which would have accompanied the walkthrough attraction that for eleven years housed sets (and a giant squid) from the film. Another vanished attraction is given its due next: the late-'50s Circle-Vision 360° (originally Circarama, U.S.A.) film America the Beautiful which literally surrounded guests with scenic footage from around the nation. The soundtrack is appropriately patriotic and diverse plus plenty evocative, though one longs to somehow experience as intended the film itself, which was updated several times over the years, but last shown post-September 11, 2001. Sounds and music from the monorail follow.
A ride-through of the 18-year atomic shrink-down that was Adventure Thru Inner Space is next and it delivers more compelling Paul Frees narration (this time with a science-conscious, existential bend) before concluding with (in a separate track) "Miracle Through Molecules", a cheery, fraternal Sherman Brothers tune that further illustrates the ubiquitous nature of the pair in '60s Disney works. Then comes its still-standing 1987 replacement Star Tours in a brief track that begins with the music from one of the park's most pleasant queues before leaping into an overture of score from John Williams, which maintains the gusto of the music from the original Star Wars trilogy, with a few sound bites peppered in.
Closing out the disc is the longest track, a 19½-minute ride-through of the long-closed Carousel of Progress. This attraction, another which originated at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, charts over half a century of progress that eases life for an ordinary family that doesn't age. Along the way, the Brothers Sherman ditty "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" is repeatedly weaved in and there is many a reference to sponsor General Electric. Like the ride, the track is followed up by a discussion of Progress City, the ideal community that Walt Disney World's EPCOT was envisioned as.
Disc 5 (1:15:35)
Being a land of the future entails frequent updates, which explains why, as Tomorrowland spills over to Disc 5, extinct attractions are a recurring theme. The first four tracks here all fall into the "gone, but not forgotten" category. The PeopleMover, the constantly-in-motion (until 1995) transit system, is recalled in two minutes of instrumentation that matches yesteryear's notion of "futuristic." Long before Disney World's Mission: SPACE redefined "thrills" and Tom Morrow sounded like Nathan Lane, Disneyland promised NASA-like travel with an animatronic human Mr. Morrow as operations director of Flight to the Moon.
Track #3 is not just one of longest on the set, it is also the busiest. America Sings is a mostly fast-paced tour-de-force through popular American songs of the past. In it, a cast of audio-animatronic animals deliver a whopping 40 tunes, though most are sampled in only a handful of lines. A couple of others recur to signal transitions between the different time periods by which the songs are arranged. While this attraction, hosted by bald eagle Sam (the jolly Burl Ives), was doubtlessly out of place in Tomorrowland, the full performance offers fun in the vein of Country Bears (but with a usually better sound) which hasn't been experienced since 1988, when the show went dormant and most of its cast was reassigned to Splash Mountain. Next, Submarine Voyage Thru Liquid Space (currently being given a Finding Nemo-themed overhaul) offers a slightly drab narrated underwater tour which is hardly spiced up by fish talk, Atlantis ruins, or mention of mermaids.
The soundtrack for Space Mountain begins with understated atmosphere as procedural talk combines with discordant music to build a fair amount of suspense. The final 90 seconds, as you probably know, are a different story; once the dark roller coaster gets going, surf rock reveals the ride's late-'70s origins while maintaining an intergalactic feel. Closing out Tomorrowland are two tracks which bring a touch of Pixar to the proceedings. First, the opened-in-2005 Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters comes in a score which plays many variations upon Randy Newman's song "Strange Things" from Toy Story while adding plenty of whiz-bang sound effects. Then, there is a new daytime soundtrack from the reworked, reopened Space Mountain, which sounds like it could come from The Incredibles, with good reason: Michael Giacchino, composer of the 2004 blockbuster's score, is also responsible for this short but invigorating track.
The disc's final two listings comprise a section titled "50th Anniversary." First is the best standalone track of the whole set, the 17-minute soundtrack to the dazzling nightly fireworks show, "Remember...Dreams Come True." This retains a few elements from a previous show (Disney World's "Wishes") in its opening five minutes and a bit beyond. More satisfyingly, it pays tribute to the various sounds of Disneyland, most of which have been (or will be) heard at length on this very box set, if not experienced first-hand. While the inspired pyrotechnics which accompany each portion of the track are missed, they can be recalled purely from this complete and utterly pleasing track, which on its own makes a decent Disneyland soundtrack. I'm sure some wish there was an option to lose the stately, semi-sappy narration of 50th Anniversary "ambassador" Julie Andrews, which is only really present at the beginning and end. I'm not among them; I think its inclusion is welcome and deem this perfectly-paced and brilliantly-arranged track a real treat for any Disney fan. The disc closes with the park's closing announcement, which includes a "Mickey Mouse Club"-type sign-off from icons Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald.
Disc 6 (1:19:51)
The set goes out with a bang by offering five long tracks of special attractions -- three of which are actually "seasonal" like the heading calls them -- on the final disc. The Country Bears get their annual yuletide makeover and it suits them very well in Country Bear Christmas Special, which puts the gang's spin on well-known holiday tunes.
Just over two years ago, when I was still a Disney park virgin, I couldn't tell you that the groovy music from a certain Walt Disney Treasures DVD's bonus feature stemmed from The Main Street Electrical Parade. That will never happen again in my life, because I've since become quite fond of the one-time Disneyland summer staple and now year-round Disney's California Adventure fixture. It's evidently a product of the 1970s and easily the shortest selection on the disc, but those are the closest things to shortcomings I can point out. What makes this set's presentation stand out -- besides the totally awesome synthesized sound -- is that it includes dialogue from the characters who show up in the parade such as Alice and Pete of Pete's Dragon.
Finally, there is Fantasmic!, which many will call their favorite and almost all (myself included) will consider one of the album's ten best tracks. The passing of fourteen years since this show opened hasn't lessened the crowds at the Rivers of America, where each night magic, music, fireworks, and just plain fire captivate the masses. Nor has it rendered this spectacular act dated in the least. At the length of a sitcom without commercials, this concluding track musically conveys the big good-and-evil themes while at the same time sampling an array of songs and dialogue from memorable animated Disney movies. It's a splendid way to wrap up a splendid six-disc set.
Packaging and The Rest of the Set
A Musical History of Disneyland is housed in a nice and classy 13" x 13" red box. Its simple, tri-colored front cover artwork carries over to the first two items inside. "the Audio Library of Disneyland" is a black book which holds the six discs on two sides (when all in place, they form two Mickey head silhouettes). The hardcover book the Sounds of Disneyland is dressed in yellow, like the goldenrod ribbon which hangs out of the box and completes the ensemble. Then, there is the double-sided gold vinyl (or black vinyl in Disney's retail version) album Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland in the 33 rpm long-playing (LP) format. Quite frankly, I don't have a record player, so that makes this purely a prop. If you are the same way, then its absence from the nationwide retail versions won't affect you. Still, it's a nice-looking prop, since all of the album's original artwork and text is retained for the large scale,
As mentioned early on, the album -- the very first published by what is now known as Walt Disney Records -- was also reissued on CD last summer. This too kept the vintage-style packaging and enabled those without LP players to listen to Walt's narration and compare the Disneyland then with the Disneyland now. It wouldn't have been unwise to include a CD version of Disney Takes You to Disneyland here, as it is basically the 1956 equivalent of Musical History. For more on that CD, check out Renata's spot-on review of it in last summer's CD Roundup.
As for Sounds of Disneyland, it is a wonderful companion to the set. Written by Disneyland artist Stacia Martin, this expertly-researched resource boasts great artwork and terrific information on Anaheim attractions past and present. It's a book like this which makes you appreciate books; you can find plenty of things written about the various components of Disneyland throughout the vast Internet, but few e-sources are as thorough, reliable, and nicely-presented (some credit goes to Bruce Gordon's design) as this 72-page work. A majority of the attractions featured on the CDs are discussed at some length, with exclusive imagery (from concept artwork to vintage photos) complementing the abundant background information that delivers on the "History" promised. There are definitely some other great books about the theme parks, but this one makes a nice addition to any coffee table, and there is enough of a focus on the music (and musicians) to distinguish it from others.
Spending $100 on any single media purchase requires a devotion to a subject, a strong pre-existing interest, and a considerable financial commitment. If you are okay with those three requisites, then you will not be disappointed by A Musical History of Disneyland, a lush six-CD box set which is bound to satisfy as either your lone parks-related CD or the latest (and greatest) in a long line of theme park soundtracks. The closest thing to a complaint that one can muster is that there is simply so much audio here that it approaches overkill. This is not a complaint I can see being widespread, as: 1) a complete collection ought to be thorough, 2) CDs allow quick access abound, and 3) clearly, there is some level of selectivity and plenty of thought that went into the design. Each of the six discs offers several highlights and the set seems to get continuously stronger as you move from disc to disc.
With all that in mind, in case it's not completely obvious from the 29 paragraphs above, this set comes highly recommended for anyone who considers him/herself a Disneyland fan. After just one 5-day visit last July, I put myself into this class and treasure this immense collection.
UltimateDisney.com/DVDizzy.com Top Stories:
Disneyland 50th Anniversary Report: Part 1 - A Longtime Disney Fan's First Disneyland Trip (Park Report)
Summer 2005 CD Roundup (Nine album reviews, including 5 park-related releases)
Disneyland: Happiest Homecoming on Earth (Parks-Exclusive DVD Review)
Sing Along Songs: Disneyland Fun - It's a Small World (DVD Review of 1990 Program)
Walt Disney Treasures: Disneyland USA - Special Historical Broadcasts (Out-of-Print DVD Review)
Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic of the Happiest Place on Earth (Upcoming DVD Press Release)
Sing Along Songs: Happy Haunting - Party at Disneyland (Upcoming DVD Press Release)
Noteworthy Disney Books of 2005 and Essential Old Favorites (includes a review of Disneyland: Then, Now and Forever)
Disneyland 50th Anniversary DVDs (July 2005 DVDs' Press Release)
Modern Marvels: Walt Disney World (DVD Review of 2005 Program/2006 Release)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (3-Disc DVD Gift Set Review)
Walt Disney Treasures: Your Host, Walt Disney (DVD Review)
Disney: The Music Behind the Magic (2-Disc, 50-Track CD Review)
UltimateDisney.com/DVDizzy.com Top Stories:
Selected Other UltimateDisney.com Reports:
Walt Disney Records: Spring 2007 CD Roundup (10 album reviews)
From Mouseketeer to Musician: An Interview with Don Grady
A Report from the World Premiere of Disney/Pixar's Cars
Disney/Pixar's Cars Revs Up Stores: A Guide to Movie Tie-Ins
A Report from an Undisclosed Location: Touring the Disney Animation Research Library
Walt Disney Records: Spring 2006 CD Roundup (10 album reviews)
An Interview with Jim Brickman, The Disney Songbook pianist
An Interview with Leonard Maltin, host of the Walt Disney Treasures
A Chat with Cinderella: voice actress Ilene Woods and producer Don Hahn
Back on the Big Screen: Report from Dumbo's Opening Night at El Capitan
May 2006 DVD Roundup: Reviews of Six New Touchstone and Buena Vista Releases
Reviewed July 7, 2006.