We are welcoming back Anthony once again with his latest contribution to Walt Wednesday! Be sure to check out his blog if you haven’t already: Moved by the Mouse. It’s the best (and features a new Date Night focusing on 101 Dalmations!)
Lately, I have had one album in constant rotation on my iPod. It is called Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland and I’m more than a wee bit obsessed with it. It was originally released in 1956 as one of the first records on the newly formed Disneyland Records label, which was born when the studio realized that it was losing money by letting other labels release their music rather than keeping it all in the family, so to speak.
The premise of the album is simple. Walt provides a bit of narration describing the sights that we will see in the various lands of the park while a full orchestra provides underscoring that matches the area that we’re in. After Walt is finished speaking, the music takes over and, if you use your imagination, you are right there in Disneyland. As magical as it feels to me to listen now, I can only imagine what it must have been like for young ears over fifty years ago. It was a thirty minute long trip to the brand new park whenever you could get your hands on the record player long enough to play the LP.
The music is wonderful. Each “cardinal realm” of the park is given its own suite of music assembled by some of Disney’s finest musical talent — Tutti Camarta (the main music director and producer for the Disneyland label), Oliver Wallace (Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp, and Peter Pan, among others), and George Bruns (Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” and the theme songs for both Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion). I am especially partial to Wallace’s Main Street music, which is also heard in the classic People and Places: Disneyland, U.S.A. film, released in 1956 to create buzz around the burgeoning theme park.
I’ve also been enamored with the five-CD Walt Disney and the 1964 World’s Fair set. I have listened to the whole set, comprised of recordings related to attractions that Walt and his Imagineering team took to the New York World’s Fair in the mid-sixties, many times over. The recording of the Magic Skyway ride-through with Walt narrating a trip through time behind the wheel of a Ford while George Bruns’ terrific score swells beneath it has quickly shot into my most played list.
Now, I am much too young to have grown up watching Walt on TV, so I’m not drawn to these albums by a longing for my own past. Until quite recently, when my love of all things Disney deepened from passing appreciation to devout fandom, I felt very little connection to Walt Disney the man. Yet here I was, spinning his tracks with the same frequency that most of my peers were listening to the new Rihanna single. I couldn’t help but wonder why that was.
In the end, I think that it all boils down to Walt’s effortless, everyman charm. He is not a polished, shiny Hollywood product, but a regular ole Joe like you and me. He has an accent that feels free of regional affectation, though it still sounds born and bred somewhere rural. He has a funny way of pronouncing certain words, like reptile, or as Walt says “rep-tull”. One of my favorite tracks on the World’s Fair set is a track of Walt in the studio recording dialogue. He flubs lines and tries to find the rhythm, coming across as wonderfully human.
When I listen to these CDs and watch old episodes of Walt hosting his television programs, it’s very easy for me to see why the country collectively saw him as their Uncle Walt. There is something extremely comforting about his easy but awkward, clever but sometimes inarticulate, warm but vaguely uncertain demeanor. He is like that relative everyone has who may not be your closest, but you’re always glad to see him when he drops by. Even generations after his passing, his presence signals a nostalgia that you can wrap yourself up in like a blanket.
I am grateful to have discovered Walt in my thirties. I don’t know what I would do without the joy of watching him and Julie Reihm celebrate Disneyland’s Tencennial with Walt describing pirates sacking towns and things. Or the pleasure of listening to his opening day speech at Disneyland, clearly anchoring his legacy in the reach towards the future while keeping the past alive. Or the fascination that I am inevitably filled with as he excitedly pitches his EPCOT project on celluloid.
As my passion for Disney has moved beyond fairy tales and princesses, my love and appreciation for Walt and the scope of what he built has grown. I think that he would be proud that decades after his death that not only his park, but he himself would be “a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” He has certainly been to this guy in particular. So, I thank you, Walt. Can’t wait for our next trip to Disneyland together. You’re the best guest jockey there is.