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Hidden Art History at Disneyland

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There are some who think Disneyland is a gimmicky, corporate-sponsored-money-suck … and it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the Happiest Place on EARTH!

July 17th will be the 60th Anniversary of Disneyland’s Opening Day! As a kid, I loved going to Disneyland to meet my favorite princesses (Jasmine, duh), watch fireworks and eat giant turkey legs (seriously, where do they get all those turkeys?), and as I got older I learned to appreciate its finer aspects.

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Mostly it was the fact that all of the employees are still happy while working retail, there isn’t any gum on the streets to step in (thanks, Walt!), and that the Disney Imagineers pay attention to every single detail of the park. A very short list of said details include things like having the pavement and garbage cans change to match the era of the different lands, general theming of each attraction, and secret or not so secret touches the Imagineers added to amuse themselves like adding famous works of art to attractions.  

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A theme park where all of the employees are helpful and there isn’t trash on the ground? That definitely sounds like a fantasy to me!

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In Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, perhaps the scariest ride ever created by Disney, you adventure through the streets of London before being run over by a train and getting sent to Hell. 

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At the exit, you met Mr. Toad all dressed up with nowhere to go

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Turns out he is dressed exactly like Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy

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Blue Boy’s likeness was painted by Philip Dagort during the 1982 remodel of the ride and later released as limited-edition Disney souvenirs, because how else would they make money? At the Huntington, Blue Boy is hung adjacent to the Sir Thomas Lawrence painting Pinkie leading Disney to create a match set; they can be found on eBay for upwards of $300. 

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Located directly across the path is Pinocchio’s Daring Journey and it holds our next art reference. It’s kind of cheating since this scene is taken straight from the movie rather than Imagineers getting creative, but no matter they managed to put in a very not Disney-esque reference. 

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Check out the Mona Lisa on the evil Coachman’s Pleasure Island … except, what’s this? The one on the ride has been defaced with a mustache! Was Marcel Duchamp here? 

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For those of you who aren’t caught up on your art history, in 1919, Duchamp drew a mustache and goatee on a Mona Lisa postcard and titled it L.H.O.O.Q. that when quickly read out loud in French sounds like “Elle a chaud au cul,” which translates to “She has a hot ass.” 

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Oh my, what would Walt say? 

Walt did add a gleaming Easter egg to Sleeping Beauty's Castle for all of you architecture buffs! 

Many already know that the sparkling gold decorations are covered in actual 22-karat gold, which Walt had to implement while his brother Roy was out of town as Roy felt real gold was a costly extravagance. Originally inspired by the 19th Century Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, the glittering gold spire on the right hand side is just a little different. Called the Viollet-le-Duc Spire, it's a copy of the Gothic revival spire conceived by Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc for the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in 1844.

Author Ray Bradbury noticed this unusual feature and in a conversation with Imagineer John Hench confirmed that it was Walt Disney who added the spire simply because he loved it. Bradbury replied:  ‘Ah! That’s why I love Walt Disney. It cost a hundred thousand dollars to build a spire you didn’t need, eh?’ The secret of Disney is doing things you don’t need and doing them well, and then you realize you needed them all along.”

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We’re following the leader over to California Adventures and are venturing under the sea to Ariel’s treasure trove. 

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Seen here on The Little Mermaid ride is The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame by Georges de La Tour at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It’s a direct reference to the film when Ariel doesn’t know how fire works. Too bad Disneyland decided to make this decently sized painting tiny even though it’s fairly accurately portrayed in the movie. 

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Need more art history references? Take a trip over to Disneyworld for more!

Sources

Sources

  1. Walt's Disneyland: It's Still There If You Know Where to Look by Jim Denney https://www.amazon.com/dp/1545195560/
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Lauren Dare

Sr. Editor

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