As a companion to Podcast Episode 13 and the release of our restored version of The Magic of Walt Disney World we present a special guest author this month, Foxxy (@MKPony). She has put together a fantastic annotation of the film as well as some interesting back stories, new findings and some surprises along the way!
When I was younger, the Disney Channel offered a fairly steady stream of vintage Disney programming: old episodes of Disneyland, especially any that showed the park, were rare treats for me. Years before I would ever step foot near Sleeping Beauty Castle, I knew it through episodes of Wonderful World of Color, and contemporary Disney Channel programming like Inside Out. This instilled in me a healthy respect for Walt’s vision for Disneyland - Walt’s marketing is as savvy now as it was then - yet I was not wholly satisfied. Where were my parks, the ones I grew up with?
It wasn’t until college that I was passed a bootleg VHS of a handful of promotional obscurities taped off the Disney Channel that I found my valhalla, my perfect, ideal park film. I had no idea what to expect, but from the moment the Walt Disney World “globe D” rushed towards the screen and Buddy Baker’s Vacation Kingdom theme welled on the soundtrack, I knew I had found it. I’ve seen it hundreds of times since then, but nothing makes me happier than The Magic of Walt Disney World. Between it and the excellent VHS souvenir tape A Dream Called Walt Disney World, it’s possible to capture some of the feel of a special time at Walt Disney World. Disneyland’s peak years were somewhat after Walt Disney had died, and as such didn’t quite get the through documentation Walt Disney World was afforded. As a visual keepsake, as a piece of promotion, and as just plain a pleasureful film, The Magic of Walt Disney World is marvelous.
As such it was a delight to be involved in any small way with Retro Disney World’s restoration of this film. Even allowing for the limitations of an old 16mm source and a damage line on the left of the screen, you’ll find that this copy of The Magic of Walt Disney World is sharper and clearer than any that has been previously available. It’s also presented in its original 24 frames per second projection speed, which makes the film look a great deal more dynamic and cinematic in motion than the old TV-broadcast 29.97 frames per second versions did.
I’m not sure how many readers of this article have yet to be charmed by this film and how many have seen it before, but when I was a asked to write something about the restored film, I was so staggered by the sharpness of the restoration that I found myself seeing new things in the film I had never seen before, and I thought it could be fun to point out some details, offer some commentary, and put together some annotations for The Magic of Walt Disney World, so no matter if this was your first time or your hundred-and-first, we could find some new details together.
I won’t spoil all of the surprises, I promise, because there’s a lot to see in this film, but think of this as a primer, a brief overview of this overstuffed cave of wonders.
00:00 - the film starts, as we must too, with the voice of Steve Forrest. An actor not especially associated with the Walt Disney Company, Forrest was a television actor in westerns through the 60s before he made a few films with Disney, and his distinctive voice lends an unusual tone to this film. Admirers of his voice work here should go directly to the 1969 Disney production Rascal, where Forrest gives a very good performance as an absent father in an essentially serious coming of age drama. There’s also a raccoon. It’s worth your time.
01:00 - The Magic of Walt Disney World kicks off with some remarkable aerial photography probably taken in early 1972, allowing us to see, directly to the left of the castle in this first shot, a rare view of the spot which would one day house a structure variously known as the Plaza Pavilion, Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station, or Tomorrowland Terrace. Back then the path from Main Street to Tomorrowland was alongside a plain wall with a landscaped lawn sloping away towards the moat. This lasted for such a brief period of time that it’s noteworthy by itself simply to have a clear view of it.
From this view it’s also possible to see that the show building for The Walt Disney Story, today the Meet Mickey attraction in Town Square, had not yet been constructed. The building it was added to was originally intended to be a functioning hotel, and the lobby was actually designed by Dorthea Redmond. It opened as the Gulf Hospitality House before the Walt Disney Story theaters were built behind the original Hospitality House foyer in 1972.
03:11 - a Mariachi band may seem to be hilariously unexpected at the Contemporary, but the hotel had a Southwest theme until the early 1990s and the mariachi band was a fixture, serenading diners in the Grand Canyon Terrace gourmet restaurant below.
03:44 - pause this frame, please, to enjoy not only the Contemporary’s brilliantly named liquor store - The Spirit World - but the fact that this transfer is clear enough to see into the Spirit World and actually make out boxes of Citrus stacked inside, each branded with the 1971 “Vacation Kingdom” logo. Disney actually did sell and ship boxes of citrus from this shop, just one more service that guests would never have leave Disney to perform. This is the same reason white sand beaches and palm trees are planted liberally around the Seven Seas Lagoon - one less reason to take the trip to Daytona Beach, or Cocoa Beach.
Here’s a flier from 1972 for Disney’s “Citrus Gifts” program, provided by Disney Worldian extraordinaire Jerry Klatt.
05:07 - a view of West Center Street probably taken in September 1971 during the park’s personnel preview. Many early postcards, promotional photographs, and film clips were shot during this first month before the park was technically finished. The easy way to spot these is to look for photos with a bunch of people in the foreground and nobody in the background, or for shops without installed signage. Here, notice that the famous Center Street Flower Market has not yet been installed.
05:18 - another detail I’d never seen on the VHS transfer of this film - the permanent railing alongside the Refreshment Corner patio has not yet been installed, and the planter here is protected only by a temporary rope and garden stakes! I’m fairly sure this is another September 71 shot.
06:55 - notice here what appears to be two parrarel lines of floats in the castle moat leading towards a dock and boat on the Tomorrowland side of the Hub, outside the Ice Cream Parlor. This dock, and the shade structure over it, was intended to be the
loading point for the Plaza Swan Boats, which operated here temporarily before being moved north to the Hub Rose Garden area in 1973. I’ve written extensively about the mysterious early days of the Plaza Swan Boats here. [LINK TO: http://passport2dreams.blogspot.com/2013/03/snapshot-plaza-ice-cream-boat-shuffle.html]
Which still doesn’t explain what these floats are. An early attempt at a guidance system? A planning visual aid? We’ll probably never know.
07:20 - this group was called Dallas Sound Track, and they’re something of Disney’s in-house idea of what a rock band was like.
08:10 - at the top of this frame is the clearest view I know of showing Tomorrowland’s original outdoor snack bar. Before the rest of the land was built, the entire stretch from If You Had Wings to the Skyway Station was one long open walk alongside a brightly painted construction wall. By 1972, Disney had added a temporary stage and bleacher seating, to the far right of this shot, and the distinctive blue snack bar, top center. So far as I know it dispensed individual slices of pizza.
10:36 - recent Magic Kingdom visitors may be shocked to learn that sleepy Liberty Square was once the park’s most popular land, and that the central Hall of Presidents attraction commanded wait times of an hour or more. This busy street scene may not be proof, exactly, but it is a symptom of America’s “Bicentennial Fever”. It was a different time. People made Bicentennial window curtains.
10:50 - the popular “Colonial Stockade” photo opportunity did not open with the park - if you check out The Grand Opening of Walt Disney World television special from 1971 (you have to be brave to do so), you’ll see Glen Campbell standing right at this spot and the holes in the stockade are not large enough to pass hands or head through. Since this footage seems to have been shot in Summer 1972, then the “stockade” holes were widened to accommodate vacationers sometime in the park’s first few months of operation. I bet there’s a story there.
15:21 - while enjoying the “lusty atmosphere” of Frontierland, notice not just the lack of a boardwalk along the river, but the absence of any fence at all. Frontierland’s pathways were originally outlined in simple stones, with nary a split rail fence between you and a dip in the Rivers of America.
Also notice, again, that this transfer is so clear that you can see the track for the Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat below the surface of the water.
18:35 - notice not only this terrific view of the extended queue in front of Country Bear Jamboree, which was wildly popular through the 70s, and the empty expanse of Frontierland beyond, but a rare view of the original pass-through between Frontierland and Adventureland. As you can see, it was just a big old open space.
In late 1973, traffic was routed through the new Caribbean Plaza and past Pirates of the Caribbean, and this space was walled up and became expanded covered queuing for Country Bear Jamboree. The walls were not removed and the current ramp installed until the early 90s, as part of the general sprucing-up of Magic Kingdom crowd flow patterns ahead of the opening of Splash Mountain.
22:48 - I’ve always suspected that this fellow here was Park Operations President Dick Nunis, and this clearer copy has done nothing to abate my suspicion. Nunis was a former football player and surf enthusiast, and this is the sort of thing he’d probably do for the camera.
23:45 - this is an unusually clear view of what was then officially known as Blackbeard’s Island, but which more or less was still Riles Island, in the middle of Bay Lake. By late 1972 Disney had stripped nearly the entire original island bare, to re-sculpt the land and rebuild it into tropical lagoons for Treasure Island, which opened in 1973. Since it’s basically abandoned these days, it’s pretty much gone back to being Riles Island, although a house (with the original dock seen here) was present on Riles Island when Disney bought it.
25:56 - here begins what is probably my favorite segment of this restoration. Video copies blurred and crunched the “twilight” shots into a muddy mess. Every one of these shots could be hung on your wall.
26:45 - these three natural cypress trees were planted - probably by Bill Evans - expressly to provide some compositional balance to the view of the Magic Kingdom from the boat dock at the Transportation and Ticket Center. They didn’t survive into the 1990s, although you may still observe their stumps poking above the water line from the Magic Kingdom Ferry. They were just off the east side of the largest island in the Seven Seas Lagoon.
27:42 - when the elevator doors open into the Top of the World, the seats we can see directly facing the elevators on the Magic Kingdom side are actually the adjoining Lounge, sometimes called the Mesa Grande Lounge. The camera then exits the elevator, still facing the lounge. The stage seen in the next shot would be off to the left of this shot, on the side of the Top of the World facing the Ticket Center.
The group seen here, by the way, seems to be a Disney fabrication. Top of the World hosted name performers in a “Supper Club” pay-one-price jacket-required dinner. Presumably these folks stepped in for the promotional film shoot.
The Magic of Walt Disney World was released in theaters in December 1972 as a double feature with Snowball Express, Disney’s Dean Jones comedy for 1972. They make a good double feature, one you can enjoy yourself with Snowball Express on DVD. In 1974, The Magic of Walt Disney World was refurbished and expanded, with a new narration, extended coverage of The Haunted Mansion, and footage of Pirates of the Caribbean, Tom Sawyer Island, Treasure Island, and more. I have only an audio recording of this version, taped off TV by Jerry Klatt in the days before VHS, and as far as I know has never been shown anywhere since.
And then, the film vanished. It wasn’t until late night television broadcasts of the 1972 version brought it back onto the radars of fans, thanks to attentive archivists like Mike Lee at Widen Your World. Thanks to this new restoration, crowdfunded by readers of this website, it’s been returned to us all, and in better quality than ever. At the distance of 43 years, it’s easier to see this as more than just a blip in Disney’s promotional machine - like Disney Goes to the World’s Fair, like Disneyland Showtime, like Dateline Disneyland, it’s a top rank classic of its kind, an enduring record of a place long gone.
I love it, and I’m glad it’s here, to be seen more more fans than ever before. Savor it.