30 Years of Disneyland Fun: a Retrospective

Confession time: I grew up not really knowing Disney parks existed.

No, really. I was raised in New Hampshire, about as far away as you can get from Anaheim and Lake Buena Vista. We couldn’t really afford trips much further beyond the boundaries of New England, not to mention my family was never real keen on Disney or theme parks. As much as I loved my Disney cartoons, I had no real exposure to the parks, except through one particular VHS: a Disney Sing-Along called “Disneyland Fun”.

From 1986 to 2006, Disney released VHS cassettes and DVDs celebrating their greatest songs in their canon. Long before YouTube videos or looking up lyrics online, this was your best shot at learning your favorite Disney songs. It was basically karaoke for kids, though I question the rationale of a video basically meant to keep your kids occupied for a half hour, but its intent was to get kids singing, quietly and on-key optional.

And now, this video, originally released in 1990, has come to my attention yet again. After spending seven years in Walt Disney World as a cast member, I’ve decided to take a glance at it, review it, snark on it, and offer a little insight. Shall we?

If you so desire, watch the whole thing here! Watch it first, then come right back here. You’ll be glad you did.

Whistle While you Work

In the opening segment, we see our friends Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Chip, Dale, And Roger Rabbit all getting park ready. Mostly this involves dusting a dry rag on random surfaces or pushing a broom without actually sweeping up stuff. Although Goofy doesn’t help anything by yanking scarves out of a hat outside the magic shop.

The first thing I always notice is the presence of Roger. People forget he was the hottest Disney thing for a while after his movie came out in 1988. In fact, despite being released in 1990, you won’t find Ariel anywhere in this video, even though her movie came out in ’89.

I get a kick out of seeing the White Rabbit rushing in to provide his usual gimmick: announce lateness. Then the tempo picks up, and everyone starts hustling…except Donald, who just throws Mickey plushes all over the floor to set up Donald plushes. I’m pretty sure that’s not on the checklist, Donald.

Holy cow, those strollers look super uncomfortable.

Step in Time

Next is the rope drop. The parks open partway and have a rope set up to stop guests from going onto the rides before the park’s official opening time. Here, we see Chip and Dale (And zero children flocking to get their attention) at rope-holding duty. Mickey, of course, welcomes the guests, the rope goes down and away they go.

Now, the up-tempo Mary Poppins song is a fantastic choice for this part of the day. It’s madcap, chaotic, fast-paced, and playful (Makes sense, the song was based off a raucous pub song). But rope drop can also be intense, heart-pounding, and a little bloodthirsty. Everyone at that time of day is desperate to be first in line, or at least want to wait no more than five minutes, for Space Mountain. Scooters, wheelchairs, and strollers are unleashed, much to the terror of ankles everywhere.

I’m not going to lie, this one pulls the heartstrings hard for me, and I don’t know why.

I’m Walking Right Down the Middle of Main Street U.S.A.

Ah yes, Main Street U.S.A.. the entryway to the Magic Kingdom. The idyllic charm of a bygone century, deep in the heart of America. Americans at its finest, representing the Midwest values with…Mary Poppins and Alice?

I love this one for its jaunty energy. It’s downright infectious. Despite the infusion of the British characters (And Roger Rabbit dressed as a Fire Chief), there definitely is a reflection of the past in a romanticized era, much like Main Street itself.

Follow the Leader

When I was a Jungle Cruise skipper, I would pull up to the dock to load, often singing over the mike:

“We’re off to see the tigers

The tigers, the tigers,

We’re off to see the tigers,

And this is what we’ll do:

We may bring a million

A trillion, a zillion,

We may bring back a million,

Or maybe one or two.”

This was in direct homage to Disneyland Fun, singing the beloved Peter Pan song as Donald Duck led a troop of eager kids skipping through Adventureland. He brings them aboard the Ganges Gertie and the kids get to gawk at all the animals along the riverbank. It fits so well, considering the jungles the Darling boys and the Lost Boys patrolled. My main observations are as such:

1. This kid is WAY too old to be skipping through Disneyland in a bout of “Follow the leader” with a cartoon duck.

2. There’s a part late in the song where you can see the kids way off on the left side of the screen near Swiss Family Treehouse, and you can see Donald painstakingly rushing to get to the front.

3. In the final scene, we finally see everyone skipping by a sizable throng of parkgoers. I just know there’s at least one parent screaming at some poor cast member, demanding to know why their child wasn’t asked to be involved.

The Great Outdoors

If I grew up not knowing much about the Disney parks, but knowing most every character in their movies, imagine my confusion with these three:

That’s Liver Lips McGrowl, Wendell, Shaker, just three of the many ursines that headline the Country Bear Jamboree. The attraction opened in Disneyland in 1972, opening up Bear Country. In 1986, the original show was replaced with the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown, where the bears sing about the joys of summer, starting things off with this ditty. When I went to Walt Disney World in 2003, thinking of this song, I was surprised the song was not on the playlist. Apparently, the Hoedown only played in Florida until 1992, whereas Disneyland kept it going until 2001, when Winnie the Pooh took over.

The bears and the kids run all over Tom Sawyer’s Island, in a very playful, kid-friendly way. It’s nothing special, but I do love how Liver Lips and Shaker have those massive cowls hanging off their chests and bizarre, light-colored mesh circles in their necks. The song itself is corny, energetic, and fun. It’s a great addition on my iPod.

Also, I worked piloting the rafts to Tom Sawyer Island back in my college program days, and the Country Bears was also in the rotation. And because the song in this video kicks off with a shot of a raft launching, I would always sing this song to guests as I shuttled them to the Island. A gondolier from Venice, I am not. I am also not sorry.

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah

Roger Rabbit, Chip, And Dale return to the forefront to showcase the park’s best-loved feature: the thrill rides. Particularly Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Star Tours, and the Matterhorn.

I like the OG song fine, but I’ve overheard it so many times. This one infused some great eighties music and energy. Now every time I take a spin on Big Thunder Mountain, I belt out exactly this version. If that weren’t enough to get you hyped, how about an interlude on Splash Mountain, based on Song of the South, with the whitest rap ever conceived? Make of that what you will.

Another great aspect is this segment is a great spectacle of the attractions of yesteryear. Star Jets? Check. Peoplemover? Check. Harold the Yeti? Check. The Submarine Voyage, pre-Nemo? Check! The Skyway? Oh, not just the skyway, the skyway when it used to go through the Matterhorn! With Roger Rabbit!

For me, this segment is the most iconic of the Sing Along. It was even my introduction to Star Wars, though I had no idea what it was nor any desire to learn more about it.

Rumbly in my Tumbly

I adore this segment because this is their most blatant plug. If “Zip-a-dee-doo-dahwas to show off the thrill rides, “Rumbly in my Tumbly” is to show off the food. And who better to sing for their supper than Winnie the Pooh?

If Pooh looks slightly off with his dark muzzle, wide eyes, large ears, and his name lovingly stitched on his shirt, it’s because this costume for Pooh Bear was used in the parks from 1989 to 1999. Disney Dan goes over the progression of the evolution of Pooh’s costume in this video.

Whoa, whoa, whoa…hold the phone. Are you telling me not only will Tigger NOT honor a free popcorn refill he JUST SAW his best friend Pooh spill accidentally, but that popcorn in Disneyland in 1989 was HOW MUCH?!

Uh-huh…and how much is popcorn at Disneyland in 2019?

Oh…that’s not cool…

Anyway, Pooh wanders (Or stalks, depending on how you look at it.), following kids, looking for something to eat, often trying to silently beg for food, not unlike that look your dog gives you when you’re having dinner. If it weren’t our favorite tubby little cubby, this’d be kind of creepy.

Of course, like Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, And 2011’s Winnie the Pooh, there’s only one way to end this: get Pooh his smooing honey.

And now I really want some of those Mickey-shaped nachos.

It’s a Small World (After All)

I know this song is often seen as the worst-ever song Disney made. Even die-hard Disneyland fanatic Tony Goldmark aka “Some Jerk with a Camera” did a massive three-part review of the ride, but railed the song, composers Robert and Richard Sherman, and Disney for creating such an obnoxious tune. Me, personally, I like it fine. This cover was my first exposure to it.I neither love it nor hate it, but I understand its importance in Disneyland history. Here, the music video is treated as a best hits of Fantasyland, Sleeping Beauty Castle, King Arthur’s Carrousel, the Mad Tea Party, It’s a Small World, Casey Junior Circus Train, Storybook Canal Boats, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, even the Sword in the Stone ceremony.

But I gotta tell ya, the characters never go on the rides unless it’s for promotional bits like this. Don’t be disheartened next time you ride and the characters aren’t riding right next to you, even though it’s in most all promo materials.

Makin’ Memories

In 1982, Epcot opened an attraction at the Imagination pavilion (Home to Captain EO, Honey, I shrunk the Audience, Captain EO again, and now the Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival) called Magic Journeys. The 3D film was sponsored by Kodak and about “The world through the eyes of a child” (Translation: if you were high as a kite.). But arguably its greatest legacy was its preceding preshow, which featured this song, written by the Sherman Brothers. So is it any surprise the attraction sponsored by the then-biggest name in photography had a song celebrating the joys of taking photos?

The song structure is weird here, excising the stanzas about how fun the roaring twenties were from the original song, yet added one slow-paced bridge that breaks up the upbeat tempo and adds very little.

But in terms of the clips, this is arguably the cutest section, with multiple “Aw, shucks” moments: kids sleeping, kids hugging and dancing with characters, sweet moments, and…this…

I just love just how completely befuddled that kid is. That look just screams “I was put in this stupid outfit and nobody told me anything and this just happened. This is my life now, apparently.”

Every parent ever knows this kid will value that leaf FAR more than any expensive souvenir they’ll buy at the Emporium.

What also disrupts the mood is this clip here:

I’m no lip reader, but that man clearly is not happy, snapping “stop!” at Chip, who’s only trying to help him cool down in the blistering Anaheim heat. His wife, however, seems to be enjoying it a lot.

Grim Grinning Ghosts

Two kids stumble upon the Haunted Mansion, and Danielle seems unsettled by the manor before them. Odd, considering that despite it being arguably the most beloved haunted house ride in existence, its exterior has always been kept clean and bright. Still, she falls into some trance and imagines what happens at night, kicking off the song. A slower, more measured version of the attraction’s classic tune is at play here, with what sounds like the great Thurl Ravenscroft doing the lead vocals. Also, trees with eyes sure do some nice choreography.

We get to see Snow White‘s crone, the Big Bad Wolf, Captain Hook, and Maleficent all prance about on the front lawn, and the costumes look so goofy. Hook’s pupils are massively dilated, Maleficent has glitter on her face, the makeup on the witch is overdone, the wolf’s fur is maroon instead of black, and that one ghost…

…is apparently Donald Duck.

Plus, there is hardly a better indicator of the time period than this. After this VHS came out, villains like Ursula, Jafar, Gaston, Scar, Frollo, and Hades had yet to appear. As such, their usual rogues gallery was pretty limited, particularly for humanoid characters as character costumes.

The Character Parade

…Um…I got nothing on this one. This song has befuddled me since day one.

From what I can tell, this song was used “in the 1970s and 80s”, according to Disney Wiki, and its biggest claim to fame is, well, being on this Sing Along. And that there’s a ton more lyrics excised from the video.

Parts of it are fun and lyrical, sure, but I can never remember the lyrics beyond “Line up at the curb”. The floats are cool, as are some of the costumes, but if they needed more park songs after Small World and Grim Grinning Ghosts, how the smoo did this beat out Yo ho, A Pirates Life for Me??

This video makes the 3:00 parades look like kinetic, insane affairs like Carnival, where it’s a free-for-all with no rhyme or reason. Plus, with the mashup of multiple parades going on, there’s little cohesiveness, so I have no idea what a giant caterpillar, King Louie with a bowl cut, Goofy the flamenco dancer, massive balloons, a dancing crab, and a sun with a bouncy nose all have to do with a Disneyland parade. Especially since the song literally called “The character parade” has no lyrics about the characters. No wonder this one baffled me as a kid.

When you Wish Upon a Star

At last, the day comes to an end. The characters gather in front of Sleeping Beauty castle and have one last bout of dancing, licking, kissing, and…rock, paper, scissors before they have to say good night.

It’s sweet, it’s gentle, and it’s perfectly symbolic of the idealistically end to a day of Disneyland, rather than the reality: everyone’s sweaty, exhausted, feet hurt, kids screaming, yet you still have fight through the crowds to get to the parking garage and wriggle your way to Harbor Boulevard.

Still, it’s done well. You see everyone say goodbye, the characters walk off to the castle, and Mickey and Minnie share a kiss. Mickey shoots sparklers out his fingers and thus the fireworks kaboom overheard. Despite its sappy nature, it never quite hit me as some of these other songs did. But it doesn’t need to, because like a day at Disneyland, the rest of the day made it all worth it.

And so, that concludes my look back at the corny, dated, yet hopelessly endearing Disneyland Fun Sing Along video. I hope you enjoyed it and maybe I’ll catch you there someday. I’ll be the guy trying to remake it shot-for-shot.

A massive thank you to Disney Dan for uploading the whole video in HD! Check out his YouTube channel here!

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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