I think one reason fans of a certain age bristle at the overly-heavy “dreams” and “wishes” slant of modern Disney marketing is that we grew up in a much different age. In the 1980s and before, Disney certainly promoted its “magical” aspects, but it also focused heavily on the real-world wonders behind its films and theme parks. Television specials about the parks tended to boast less about the more fantastic elements of their offerings in lieu of underscoring the ruthless efficiency and technical wizardry with which they were presented.
It wasn’t all about childhood wishes and “limited time magic” before the kiddies grow up; it was about the marvels of Audio-Animatronics, or the wonders of a Swedish pneumatic trash removal system, or futuristic methods of transportation that were emission-free and used no moving parts. Disney relished showing off a highly efficient operation full of expertly-trained individuals who took pride in the elite quality of their offerings. Those smiling cast members didn’t happen by accident; they were the result of years of concerted effort in the science of play. And what happened behind the scenes was at least as extraordinary and impressive as what happened on-stage.
Another aspect of coverage in the 1980s especially was the unexpected and overwhelming flourishing of the Disney empire. Disney was growing by leaps and bounds, expanding its parks to an unprecedented degree, but it was also expanding wildly in the realms of animation, live-action film, television, and consumer products. It had also, at last, finally started to mine its vast archive of material, making long-unseen treasures available on the Disney Channel, network anthology programs, and syndicated broadcasts. It was a golden era for the Disney fan.
You can get a feel for this odd nexus in Disney history by watching this program from 1988. It aired on A&E, and judging from the video, that cable network was just about as different from today as Disney was. This video was an episode of the program Chronicle, a Boston-based newsmagazine that, amazingly, still seems to be in production today.
Take a look, and get a feel of what it was like back when you could just wander the park and have old ladies walk into frame:
Dick Nunis!! I totally let the Nunis part be a surprise. Didn’t want to spoil you. How casually he strides the park, descending stairs and avoiding old ladies!
There’s something quaint about the whole affair, from the vaguely uninformed news anchors to the weirdly inappropriate Oz intro. It certainly was a different era – one-day admission for two adults and one child was $61.50! That’s about 2/3rds of the current price for a single adult. And today you don’t even get old ladies wandering into frame. Another indicator of a bygone age: they actually admit that adults like to come into the park on their own!
There is some great behind-the-scenes footage in this, which you rarely see elsewhere. There’s a look inside the laundry, a brief clip of the pyrolysis energy plant, and a look inside the central shops where they were working on the Monorails. While these are Mark IV monorails we see, this was during a time when they were beginning to roll out the Mark VI trains at Walt Disney World. There’s no mention of the still-under-construction Disney-MGM Studios, and barely a mention of Epcot Center, although we do get the pleasure of a brief interview with Imagineer Kym Murphy!
What’s truly amazing is in the later part of the episode, when they discuss Disney’s move to exploit their back catalog through syndication and the long-beloved Sunday night anthology program. As a kid who grew up with the Disney Sunday Movie and, later, The Magical World of Disney, one can’t help but feel that this is an opportunity that the modern Disney company has failed to exploit. The same could be said for syndicated programming – after all, when a kid grows up watching an hour of vintage Disney programming every day at 5 as I did, it kind of worms its way into your brain after a while.
Not that it’s obvious in my case, I’m sure.