Disneyland Canon: 1957

 Disneyland Canon: 1957
by Todd J. Pierce

Juice up your Delorean and set the dial for 1957.   10 cents for a trip down Main Street.   A helicopter gliding over the castle.  And wait, is that Aunt Jemima out by the Pancake House?

This video is taken from some 1957 pro-stock that I’ve owned for years.  The transfer was done on a Spirit DataCine (i.e. the same machine that Ken Burns uses to transfer historic footage for his PBS documentaries).  The entire reel is 20 minutes.  These are the best clips, none of which have ever been shown in public.  

Here are a few things that I’ve noticed:

* The color values here are so much brighter than those presently used in the park, leaning in places toward a florescent vibrancy.  (And yes, it does look like the film has a slight color shift in the reds, but overall, I think the colors are pretty spot on.)  During the early days of Disneyland Walt was often focused on color, particularly in Fantasyland and on Main Street.  As with his animated films, he saw color as a key element toward affecting a guest’s emotional experience.  Over the years, I’ve interviewed many of the original art directors for Disneyland, who have told different versions of this story, that Walt used to walk through the park, making notes to repaint various buildings with a slightly different hue, that Walt sent his animators and background painters (such as Ken Anderson) into the park specifically to review the park’s use of color.  Here, Fantasyland holds the dreamy qualities of a children’s storybook and Main Street is washed in tones that, for me, suggest nostalgia.  During Walt’s lifetime, Disneyland had many imitators, but none of the other parks understood how Walt controlled environment to create mood. 

* This film was shot the month Monsanto opened the House of the Future.  Look, there’s no line for the House, with only a few people wandering out its exit. 

* Up through 1958, the Omnibus travelled back to the Tomorrowland lagoon (future home of the Disneyland subs).  Here, you can see it roll past Holiday Hill (AKA Snow Mountain).

* There, in by the mule train, leaning over the fence, is Owen Pope, the man with the chocolate-brown pants.  Sure, it’s not the best shot of Owen Pope.  You can’t see his face, but that’s definitely the hat he most always wore for photographs.  He oversaw construction of the Disneyland stagecoaches and also managed the Disneyland stables.

* But my favorite sequence in the entire film occurs on the Mark Twain.  There, the Disneyland band director (Vesey Walker) conducts the band while talking to a park guest.  This reminds me of one of the things I most admire about the park as it existed 55 years ago: the park contained a unique type of open space that encouraged conversation.

Leave me some comments below about the video or those things you most admire about early Disneyland.  And swing by next Monday when I’ll post up a few photos.  About what?  I’m not yet sure.


  1. What a find—love the Aunt Jemima footage!

  2. That was fantastic! Thanks for making my Monday morning!

  3. Oh my goodness, watching this film not only brought tears to my eyes but put a huge lump in my throat. Is it because it reminds me of the pure innocence of my youth? Or the magical world that Walt created, unlike anything else in existence? Actually, it is both of those things and so much more. I watched this in wonder, transfixed on the images that I remembered and others that were new to me, seeing them truly for the first time rather than looking at a photograph. Thank you sooo much for posting this.

  4. This could have been a thirty minute video and I would have been glued to it the entire time. Awesome footage!

  5. Monstro the whale opening his eye used to scare the tuna fish out of me…

  6. Amazing photography and colors. So vivid. Brings back a lot of memories for me as this is the era I grew up around Disneyland, having first attended on July 18, 1955. So many things I see here that I miss. I have old footage my Dad took – one is from August of 1955 and the other is from the Summer of 1959. It’s the original 35 mm but he spliced the footage onto big reels with other trips we took. It’s sitting in a dark, cool cabinet but I was able to have it played at the last Home Movie Day in Hollywood this last Fall. I wish I knew what I could do to share it with others.

  7. Amazing, beautiful transfer of some wonderful footage! The colors, the movement, the lights, the overall pristine feeling of the park in its infancy is truly marvelous. I’m with Cyberdillo – I want more! (especially if it covered 1957 Tomorrowland)

  8. Hi Todd…Thank you so much for posting this online! This was such a treat that I hate to ask…did you crop the original footage on the top and bottom of the picture? If so, would it be possible to post this video (or all of the footage) in the original squarish aspect ratio? The quality of the transfer and film stock is so outstanding; I would just love to see it as originally filmed, and at a more leisurely pace.

  9. The helicopter seen in this footage is likely a Los Angeles Airways flight which offered flights via Sikorsky Helicopters between LAX and Disneyland around this time. Flights stopped after a couple of crashes and financial problems.

  10. great film – any chance the remaining footage might get posted?

  11. I love the footage in this video. There’s so much to see and so many details to take in. As soon as I can, I’m going to go back and watch this about a hundred more times.

  12. @ChrisN Excellent question. The original footage was transferred twice, once with the OAR, one with a tighter frame to create the 16X9. Both transfers are true 1080p files. There was more than enough image information to create the 16×9 version. So the image wasn’t cropped in FCP. It was framed during the transfer. The film was shot well–probably with the idea of a safety boarder–for possible TV broadcast, so there a good broadcast-safe border on most every shot. The framing didn’t loose anything that I would consider of great importance. I actually like the width in the image to create the feel of a landscape more than the height.


  13. Absolutely incredible. Is there more of this footage? The quality is spectacular and I thank you for posting it :)

  14. Would you identify the music used for the soundtrack?

  15. This is a wonderful look into the past! Makes me with I could time travel! Also, what is the song you used for the video?


  16. A piano/canon arrangement of two Beatles songs. I liked the musical idea of adding, Once there was a way to get back home, even if the music and the video were separated by a decade.

  17. I think it’s “Golden Slumber/You Never Give me Your Money” from the 1993 album Bach Meets the Beatles.

  18. Thanks.

  19. This video is much cleaner and certainly brighter than the complete tour of the park that you have on “The Original Disneyland: The 1950’s” DVD that you have on miceandmagic.com – The transfer is WONDERFUL!! I am looking forward to seeing the rest of this footage. Keep up the great work guys…

  20. Walt was and always will be the MAN. I’ve admired all the stories of his thorough vision, in touch with every detail, from the Sherman’s songs for Mary Poppins, the color control you mention here in the park, the tight story editing for things like Snow White…Walt knew what would work, and his genius is sometimes downplayed now that so many simply try to milk the cash cow. Walt’s creations had SOUL, unlike any other.
    The footage looks wonderful–thank you for posting it!

  21. I was struck at the young foliage. What a difference mature trees make!

  22. Terrific vid, Todd! Thanks for the little time capsule… Things often seem so furtive and fretful and hurried at the park today… almost forgotten what an oasis it was in the 50’s!

  23. awesome … has Tony Baxter seen it?

  24. Great stuff! Like others, I’d like to see more. My guess is that it was originally shot on Kodachrome film stock. It always seemed to give more vibrant colors, especially the reds, that other film stocks of the day.

  25. My family took my to Disneyland when I was five years old, the year after this was filmed. It looks very much like I remember.

    Thanks for posting it!

  26. Interesting how much things have changed, yet remain the same.
    I love the shot of the couple sitting on the grass. Can’t do that anymore!

  27. Amazing quality.Ddid you use a telecine service– or do you own the machine?
    Can you recommend a telecine service for film to digital conversion?

  28. JR,

    What size film do you want to convert?

  29. Great Movie. Thanks for sharing it. Lacking any present day experience of Disneyland, I wonder if it still features such a lot of live animals and musicians visibly well past their thirties?

  30. Thanks so much for the film!! My dad took me there from Louisiana when I was 12 in 1957, on the day of Disneyland’s 2nd anniversary. We also went back on its 4th anniversary—still have my souvenirs. I have only seen it a couple of time since then. My favorite thing there was the Monsanto House–and, I prefer Disneyland to Disneyworld because of its smaller size.

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