At 8:06 a.m. on Friday, April 30th, a cheer erupted at the Harbor Boulevard entrance to the Disneyland Resort. The gates of the theme park were not yet in sight for anyone in this line, where tall hedges brush up against Anaheim sidewalks, but a team of park staffers, armed with digital thermometers, had begun the temperature-taking process.
While no one was, of course, applauding the concept of a fever check, the claps and jubilant shouts made it clear that everyone knew what it represented. Amid our new reality in which the somewhat unpredictable threat of a virus may wane or rage with the seasons, at least one aspect of pre-pandemic Southern California was about to return: our desire to go to a place that encourages us to dream.
On April 30, after just over 13 months of closure, Disneyland celebrated its second proper grand opening since July of 1955, having closed only rarely and sporadically — and never for any extended period — in the prior 65-plus years. If there was one consistency Southern Californians could count on, it was that Disneyland’s Anaheim gates would open every morning. While the park shifts with the decades, it has also doubled down on its desire for cross-generational appeal, making it a place that for so many is one of habit and tradition.
At just after 8:30 a.m. I walked under the archway that hoists up the Disneyland Railroad and, like pretty much everyone who surrounded me as Main Street came into view, I began to cry. The next 11 hours would make clear that any pandemic regulations — masking, social distancing, a bounty of hand sanitizers — would do nothing to diminish the spell of an architectural design steeped in magical realism. Outside Disneyland’s gates lie chaos, obligations and anxiety, and anyone rushing back to Disneyland in its opening week can overlook potential annoyances — the price, the strollers, the lines — to find a place that doesn’t reject our reality so much as seek to make it more harmonious, more pleasingly surreal.
Disneyland was Walt Disney’s most ambitious project, a physical bookend to 1940’s animated work “Fantasia” in that it sought to juxtapose the worlds of high and low art, the wild and the tamed. Disneyland took amusement park pleasantries and turned them into sculptures, and while the park worships nature, it focuses on humanity’s ability — or stubbornness — to think we can beautify it.
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