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Magic Kingdom: The Happiest Celebration on Earth DVD Review

Magic Kingdom
DVD Details

Running Time: 28 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated
1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Studio: Walt Disney Parks & Resorts
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Retail Price: $19.95
Black Keepcase


Review by Aaron Wallace

While animated and live action classics are increasingly available in stellar DVD sets, one aspect of the Walt Disney Company that has seen little representation in the world of DVD is its Theme Park & Resorts division. The Disney theme parks are marvels themselves and boast massive fan bases and chart-topping status in terms of visitors. To be sure, there's plenty worth highlighting in home video form. For some time, aside from fan-made productions, very few products geared toward enthusiasts of both Disney parks and DVDs were available. December 2001's Walt Disney Treasures: Disneyland USA, a limited edition set that looked at Walt Disney's "Disneyland" television series, often featuring milestone footage from the parks, appeased this eager audience for a while, but left them clamoring for more. Disneyland lovers were thrilled by the announcement of Secrets, Stories & Magic of the Happiest Place on Earth, originally slated for summer of this year, only to have it abruptly pulled from the release schedule with no replacement date or explanation. Fortunately, while the wait for that is on, there's a lesser-known DVD all about Disney's other Magic Kingdom, the one in Orlando's Walt Disney World, that's available right now.

Unlike the in-depth documentary promised by the mysteriously postponed Disneyland disc, Magic Kingdom is designed for the departing park guest intent on reminsicence rather than the collector intent on appreciating the ins and outs of its history. That doesn't stop Disney from including a few bonuses for their dedicated fans, particularly in the audio/video treatment and supplements, all of which will be addressed later in this review.

Mickey directs the Main Street crew prior to opening. Cinderella's castle

Mickey serves as your host for the program, which begins with the head honcho himself awaking in his Toontown home. He's soon joined by some of his Magic Kingdom friends (Minnie, Chip, Dale, Captain Hook, and Aladdin, just to name a few), as they oversee Disney World crew and make ready the park for opening.
When the ropes finally drop, guests file into the first of the Kingdom's seven themed "lands" -- Main Street, USA -- and journey toward their favorite attractions. The cameras set off on a journey of their own, beginning with the first land to the left, Adventureland, home to classic attractions like Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Chip 'n Dale's apparent favorite, The Swiss Family Treehouse, all of which are highlighted, along with others from the area.

A park tour ensues, following the clockwise rotation of the Walt Disney World Railroad that travels the park's perimeter and makes three stops. The first is at the next land, Frontierland, which boasts two of Disney's most famous summits, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, followed by Liberty Square's Haunted Mansion and Hall of Presidents. The pace slows a bit when it comes time for Fantasyland and the grandeur of the Magic Kingdom's centerpiece, Cinderella's castle. After a blurb on the history of the story and the interior stained glass mosaic that illustrates it, the tour enters Fantasyland itself, arguably the most "Disney-esque" of them all. Highlighted attractions here of course include Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Peter Pan's Flight, and the intoxicating It's A Small World.

The second leg of the excursion visits the railroad's second stop, Mickey's Toontown. If you've visited Walt Disney World before, you might have guessed that this stop is a brief one, and if so, then you were right, because there simply isn't much to show. The same can't be said, however, for the seventh and final land, and a true fan favorite, Tomorrowland. The futuristic and the other-worldly are the subject matter of this area's attractions, most notably embodied by Space Mountain. After wrapping things up there, Mickey and Minnie beckon viewers to join them back on Main Street in the enchanting twilight as the evening parade, SpectroMagic rolls out in preparation for the fireworks show that brings the evening (and the feature) to a close.

Regular park guests will recognize this cast member as the man born to be Peter Pan. This shot of the Liberty Belle and Big Thunder Mountain is one of the disc's best.

Filled with some great footage and set to beautiful music, Magic Kingdom succeeds as a visual keepsake for warm reflections on the park to which many are strongly affectionate. At only around a half-hour, though, it isn't much more than that. A lot of ground is covered in a short amount of time, allowing for more comprehension but far less detail. There's also a little camp to it, as the characters serve as host and some of the interactions are well-staged, but obviously staged nonetheless. And even if you've visited Walt Disney World in the dead of autumn, you haven't seen crowds this small. These more-than-idealistic conditions don't impede on the video's ability to conjure a little nostalgia, fortunately, which is really its primary purpose. Not only is it highly rewatchable, but it even manages to capture just a little of the park's magic.

Magic Kingdom is currently packaged as part of the Happiest Celebration on Earth, with menus to match. It was previously released in 2004 as Where Magic Lives - Magic Kingdom (not to be confused with the souvenir Where Magic Lives or vacation-planning Walt Disney World: Where Magic Lives DVDs). The two editions are identical with the exception of cover art and, I would presume without having seen its first incarnation, some of the opening menu animation. Therefore, nothing in the actual feature is related to the global celebration of Disneyland's 50th anniversary. Three similar DVDs followed, each profiling one of the resort's other theme parks.

Chip 'n Dale aren't brothers or cousins -- just best friends. SpectroMagic has been around for a while, but it's still one of Disney's best parades.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Video quality is a mixed bag on this DVD, due to varied source material. Some of the footage is either very recent or created specifically for this DVD. Other portions, on the other hand, look as though they came from the park's opening, while others look like they originated somewhere in between. Obviously, the newest footage looks the best. It isn't flawless -- those viewing it on large displays will detect some softness, but it's mostly clear and shouldn't elicit any complaints. Reception of the older footage quality will be largely dependent on the viewer and his or her take on it.
On the one hand, it can be criticized as inexcusable laziness that detracts from a modern day viewing experience. On the other, one may cherish the sense of nostalgia these segments carry, especially viewers who can recall promotional park footage of the past. The entire video is presented in 16x9 widescreen, which may or may not be true to some of the older footage. As it is never used for long at once, this therefore isn't much of a detriment in any event. For the wide area shots in the newer footage, it works well.

Audio comes by way of a 5.1 surround sound track. The sound, comprised almost entirely of instrumental background music and character voice-overs, along with the occasional excerpt from attractions, resonates with unexpected clarity. Channel mixing is extremely well-done here. The sound really fills a room and bass is certainly adequate, making for one of the most enveloping aural experiences presented on a Disney DVD. That's certainly fortunate, given that the music is really the kind to be enjoyed in a 5.1 environment. A 2.0 surround track is also made available and is likewise sufficient, albeit less dynamic, and only of interest to those without a surround sound set-up.

Walt Disney breaks down the "Florida Project." Walt describes his admiration for President Abraham Lincoln.

BONUS FEATURES

A wealth of wonderful bonus material accompanies the feature itself, most notably two pop-up informational tracks. The first, "Trivia Track," displays informative and relevant nuggets of knowledge pertaining to the Magic Kingdom that range from the obvious to the impressive but forgettable to the downright fascinating. The text is nicely displayed and unobtrusive, but appear less frequently than desired.

The second track, "Disney Details," displays a golden silhouette of Mickey in the corner of the screen throughout the program. Pressing the "enter" button on the remote will pause the video to access text, images, or video that enhance whatever portion of the park the video is addressing. While the material itself is not to be missed,
having to repeatedly use the remote and leave the video quickly grows tiresome and is an impediment to viewing. Some of the golden Mickeys lead to the same bonus materials that are accessible by themselves. Ideally, these would have been left out of the track and the rest of the material would have been presented in a stand-alone art and video gallery.

The rest of the features can be found in a section titled The Scenic Route. Six bonuses are found here, three of which are brief featurettes. "Project Florida" (2:52) takes place inside a golden frame with text along the bottom. The video chronicles the acquisition of the Floridian property, with comments from Walt and Roy Disney. At times, the audio and video fall out of synch with one another. "Marceline" (1:07), again inside that golden frame, is a very short black and white look at Walt and Roy's celebratory return to the town they once called home. Here, the narrating facts at the bottom take the place of any audio aside from an instrumental backdrop. The other featurette is entitled "Abraham Lincoln" (0:57), after the nation's 16th President and Walt's personal hero. A clip of Walt discussing Disneyland's Abraham Lincoln animatronic is juxtaposed with a look at Disney World's Hall of Presidents (in which another Lincoln animatronic is used), an inaccurate but harmless application of his commentary.

This is the view the Main Street trolley ride-through provides. Mickey's glove indicates that this ride-through of the Walt Disney World Railroad has multiple angles available.

Three "ride-throughs" (video footage capturing one run of an attraction) round out this section, all putting in the spotlight modes of Magic Kingdom transportation. "Horse Trolley" (7:48) travels with that Main Street vehicle from its entrance place, through its entire run around the fore-castle hub (in its older, more congested form), and back to where it began. Set to some very "Main Street" music, the video is a treat, but the multi-angle feature found on the next two ride-throughs would have been especially valuable here.

"Walt Disney World Railroad" (5:52) employs camera work that is a little shaky and is positioned too close to the front of the vehicle and the conductors' heads, inhibiting sideways views and resulting in an occasional glare, but still manages to capture the attraction's feel. That's aided by the availability of angle changes that even allow a backwards view that one might not normally think to experience while actually on the train. The train doesn't make its normal stops, but the video abruptly and inexplicably ends at the Toontown train station, omitting the final leg of the journey.

"Rivers of America" (6:18) naturally takes viewers aboard the Liberty Belle Riverboat, where four angle options (forward, leftward, rightward, and looking towards the boat from afar) make for perhaps the best of the bunch. "Walt Disney World Railroad" mysteriously left out the audio track that plays aboard the train, and the Liberty's Mark Twain audio track being absent here is an even greater loss. Also disappointing is that this video, too, suddenly ends without warning or explanation a little more than half-way through.

The main menu sports the gold-trimmed Cinderella's Castle. The scene selection screen shows off.

MENUS and DESIGN

The menus bear an illustration of Cinderella's Castle in its golden Happiest Celebration on Earth apparel. They all look very nice, especially the 27 scene selections that show a scene-specific imagine inside a castle silhouette. They aren't the easiest to navigate, however. The button needed to get from "a" to "b" may not be the one it seems like it should be. Each menu transition is accompanied by dialogue from a Disney character and some music and animation. However, these transitions themselves are bookended by transitions of dark silence, which is rapidly frustrating. The main menu is actually the simplest of them all, presenting only the option to play or to access the special features, where playback options and chapter menus are found.

ACCESSIBILITY

Magic Kingdom is sold exclusively at Disney theme parks (and perhaps only on Walt Disney World Resort property, although I'm not confident that it can't be found at Disneyland too). For those wanting a keepsake on their last night at the resort, that's perfect, but for the rest of the review-reading audience, it poses an obstacle. Fortunately, there are ways to secure yourself a copy (legally) without actually trekking to Disney World (although if you want to use that as an excuse to pay it another visit, feel free). Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Merchandise runs a mail-order service, which will gladly ship this DVD for the $19.95 park retail price plus an $8.00 shipping charge. To increase that value, Disney can add just about any other item sold on Disney World property for no additional shipping charge. To contact the mail-order service, call (407) 363-6200, fax (407) 352-6369, or email wdw.mail.order@disneyworld.com.

For the international park guest or Disney fans without a Magic Kingdom of their own nearby, the disc is helpfully Region 0 encoded, meaning that the same disc should play in any functioning DVD player in the world, regardless of its geographical location.

Mickey and Minnie prepare for Main Street's evening festivities. Main Street at its best.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The considerable effort that went into producing this DVD is apparent. The bonus features, though flawed by literal shortcomings, are outstanding and a Disney park fan's dream. Of course it's no secret that DVDs showcasing park footage can readily be obtained for free and with little hassle by just ordering vacation planning kits from the official websites. The question most will want answered is, then, is this DVD worth $19.95 in comparison? Whether you're leaving the resort as a delighted first-time guest or are a Disney World fanatic, the answer is yes. Whereas the free videos are trendy and useful but highly commercial, this disc falls closer to a documentary. Still, it isn't quite that either. With only 4.22 gigs being used, more could certainly have been included. And at only a half hour, it merely skims the surface of park information and should be taken as an aptly-executed overview of the Magic Kingdom. So long as expectations are more in line with that sort of presentation rather than an in-depth exploration, it's highly unlikely that any Magic Kingdom fan will dislike this release.

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Reviewed October 25, 2005.

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