In 2005, Disneyland celebrated its 50th anniversary with a worldwide event called, "The Happiest Celebration on Earth." Focused at the California park where it all began, the party spread to all Disney parks, including Disney World in Florida.
When the man best known for bringing the world Mickey Mouse and groundbreaking animated features first proposed building a grand-scale "family park where parents and children could have fun—together," critics lambasted his idea as "Disney's Folly." Indeed, when Disneyland first opened on July 17, 1955, it was something of a disaster. The landscaping was sparse, the asphalt wasn't completely cured, rides weren't functioning, and the buzz was fairly grim. But a determined Walt Disney learned from his mistakes and polished his beloved park until it became a lustrous gem (and wildly popular).
Fifty years later, Walt Disney's bold vision had more than withstood the test of time. Disneyland and the company's global chain of what are now known as theme parks are more than just vacation meccas; they're cultural landmarks, incubators for technological and industrial innovations, and trendsetters for everything from retail merchandising to hotel design. Firmly entrenched in our collective conscious, a trip to the Disney parks is a rite of passage for children and families. And they're places to which we return so that we can reconnect with our past and forge new memories.
It only made sense, then, that the company would have pulled out all the stops for a 50th anniversary blowout. In the wake of Walt Disney World's successful multi-month promotions built around the Florida resort's 25th anniversary, the millennium, and Walt Disney's 100th birthday, the company presented "The Happiest Celebration on Earth," an 18-month festival that kicked off on May 5, 2005.
The focus was on the California original of course (where the event was alternately known as the "Happiest Homecoming on Earth"), but the resorts in Florida, Japan, and France joined in the celebration as well in an unprecedented worldwide, multi-location fete-a-thon. As part of the festivities, all of the parks debuted new (and, in some cases, improved) attractions, shows, and features. And in the case of Hong Kong Disneyland, the company unveiled an entire new park.
The Happiest Celebration on Earth at Disneyland
Disneyland, the park where it all began, kicked off The Happiest Celebration on Earth with a host of new attractions and special events. Among the 18-month anniversary highlights:
- Remember...Dreams Come True
- An all-new nighttime fireworks spectacular in the spirit of Walt Disney World's lavish Illuminations and Wishes presentations. Like Wishes, Remember featured narration by Jiminy Cricket. Incorporating Walt Disney's own words, the show harked back to Disneyland's origins. Disney is the world's pyrotechnics master, and this production enhanced the company's reputation.
- Space Mountain
- The seminal indoor roller coaster already had an upgrade a few years prior to the anniversary that included the addition of onboard audio. Instead of the Dick Dale surf music that had been part of the attraction, the reconfigured coaster introduced a new "edgy" soundtrack. For the anniversary, the E-ticket attraction got a major overhaul, including new, smoother rocket coaster cars, a modified finale with a longer reentry tunnel, and a bunch of new special effects, including a near-encounter with a massive meteorite.
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
- A clone of the popular Tomorrowland attraction, Buzz Lightyear's Space Rangers Spin at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the interactive ride sends guests to infinity and beyond. Armed with laser guns and pivoting Star Cruiser vehicles, riders attempt to zap Emperor Zurg and his minions while racking up points. It is like a three-dimensional video game.
- Walt Disney's Parade of Dreams
- What would a Disney celebration be without a parade? With over 100 performers, floats that reached up to 20 feet tall, confetti blasts, classic Disney characters, and choreographed musical numbers, the anniversary parade was spectacular.
- Disneyland--The First 50 Years
- The Main Street USA attraction, presented in the Opera House, traced the evolution of the landmark theme park through a film and an exhibit of artifacts including concept artwork and attraction models. The film was hosted by Steve Martin (who worked in Main Street USA’s Magic Shop as a young SoCal man) and Donald Duck. A post-film exhibit hall showcased attractions and concepts that never made it from the drawing board to bricks and mortar.
In addition to the new attractions, Disneyland burnished its centerpiece Sleeping Beauty Castle with a fresh coat of paint, royal accoutrements, cutting-edge lighting, and other enhancements. Guests who sent in their Disney vacation snapshots were featured in The Happiest Faces on Earth...A Disney Family Album. Artists incorporated the small photos to create large photo collages of classic Disney attractions and characters. Sister park Disney's California Adventure introduced a Block Party Bash to commemorate the anniversary.
The Happiest Celebration on Earth at Disney World
Disneyland may be the park where it all began and the focal point of the 50th anniversary event, but Disney World joined the festivities with a slew of new attractions.
- Disney-MGM Studios: Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show
- Imported from Disneyland Paris, this ambitious stadium show focused on car and motorcycle stunts. It included copious explosions and death-defying moments. The show has since closed.
- Epcot: Soarin'
- Disney cloned its wonderful Soarin' Over California, which had been wowing audiences at Disney's California Adventure park, and built it in The Land pavilion. The attraction simulated hang gliding by lifting riders forty feet into the air on a motion base, with their feet dangling, and gently moving them in synch with projected images of famous California landmarks. It has since been updated to Soarin' Around the World.
- Epcot: Turtle Talk with Crush
- Although it debuted a few months before the Happiest Celebration and was not officially part of the 50th anniversary event, Turtle Talk with Crush, located inside The Living Seas pavilion, was (and remains) a must-see. In classic Disney fashion, its real-time animation is an astonishing breakthrough in Imagineering technology that is wrapped around an engaging, delightful story. Crush, the surfer-dude from "Finding Nemo," is utterly convincing as he interacts with audience members.
- The Magic Kingdom: Cinderellabration
- If the pumped-up mayhem of Lights, Motors, Action! was intended for boys (and men with the dominant let's-blow-something-up gene—which is to say all men), then girls got their sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-nice show with this stage presentation. Picking up where the 1950 film ended, the show featured Cinderella's coronation as an official princess. All together now: "Awwwwwwwww." On hand to cheer the newly crowned Cindy was other Disney royalty, including Snow White, Aurora ("Sleeping Beauty"), Belle ("Beauty and the Beast"), Jasmine ("Aladdin"), and, of course, one beaming fairy godmother. This show originated at Tokyo Disneyland.
- Disney's Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest
- Another mountain coaster came to Disney World for the celebration, and it remains one of the resort's most popular attractions. The E-ticket ride features an adventure through the Himalayan Mountains in pursuit of the elusive yeti. Like the Revenge of the Mummy coasters at the Universal parks, the trains on Expedition Everest reverse direction for parts of the ride.