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Disneyland Is Golden as Thousands Mark the Park’s 50th Anniversary

Times Staff Writers

Beneath drizzling skies that even Walt couldn’t have controlled, Disneyland launched its 50th anniversary celebration Thursday, drawing a crush of fans and underscoring the enduring magic of the cultural landmark.

Some camped overnight in their cars. Thousands had lined up by the time the park opened at 8:30 a.m. Youngsters pressed their faces against the wrought-iron gates to steal glimpses inside.

For the record:

12:00 AM, May. 13, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 13, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Disneyland anniversary -- An article in the May 6 California section about Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration incorrectly identified a Disney character who arrived on a camel during the celebration as Aladdin. It was the Genie.

Once inside, children -- and grown men grinning like children -- swarmed through a park decked out with celebratory gold-colored accents on lampposts, mouse ears, ride vehicles and five crowns atop Sleeping Beauty Castle.

“It’s a moment in history,” said Adam Connie, 23, of Pomona. “I wanted to be here for the beginning of it. This is like our opening day.”

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Within hours, the Anaheim park was so packed that Disney officials considered turning people away, although some visitors were already fleeing the madness.

Long lines swiftly formed for collectible merchandise. Others rushed to see Sleeping Beauty Castle, which had been transformed overnight with crowns, jewel-like stones and gold bunting. More people crammed into the park in the first three hours -- by some estimates about 35,000 -- than on Disneyland’s opening day, July 17, 1955.

The castle served as the quintessential backdrop for ceremonies co-hosted by Art Linkletter, who emceed Disneyland’s opening day. Julie Andrews, who played Disney nanny Mary Poppins in the film of the same name, paid tribute to Walt Disney as a “visionary man with pixie dust in his pocket.”

“No matter how old you are or what language you speak,” Andrews said, “Disneyland is and always will be a place where imagination comes alive, the impossible seems real, the feelings indescribable.”

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Indeed. Yamamoto Takuya, 38, who lives five minutes from Tokyo Disney, tried his best in English to describe what Disneyland means to him, but the words wouldn’t come. Instead, his eyes welled up with tears.

Fans have been anticipating the 18-month celebration for more than a year, waiting for the aging park’s makeover with fresh paint and new rides like Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. Some of the classic attractions also received overhauls: The Jungle Cruise has more flora and new effects, and a rejuvenated Space Mountain will reopen July 15, after having been shut down for two years. And at a celebrity party Wednesday evening, the park debuted a new parade and new fireworks.

Those who were able to catch a glimpse of the castle ceremony -- no easy feat, given Main Street gridlock -- saw LeAnn Rimes perform a song written for Thursday’s event and former Mouseketeer Christina Aguilera sing the classic Disney tune “When You Wish Upon a Star.” A 70-piece orchestra heralded the arrival of Disney characters.

Disney chief Michael Eisner called the park “an American original” that would “forever endure as our flagship park and our original Magic Kingdom.”

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During the 30-minute ceremony, Eisner also drew attention to the company’s other 10 parks, including the soon-to-open Hong Kong Disneyland, which bring in a combined $7.75 billion in annual revenue.

Although Disneyland is the original, it is dwarfed by Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., in size and profits. And some fans have been grousing that Orlando was getting more new attractions than Anaheim to celebrate Disneyland’s 50th.

But Thursday, the focus was on Disneyland, where 1,200 media personnel covered the likes of Aladdin arriving on a camel, Stitch being escorted by Anaheim motorcycle officers, and Goofy and Mickey driving up in Herbie the Love Bug.

The fan outpouring appeared to take Disney executives a little by surprise.

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Spokesman Rob Doughty, who has worked for such companies as United Airlines and PepsiCo, said, “I’ve never seen this kind of loyalty and passion to a brand.”

And Disneyland Resort President Matt Ouimet said, “It’s kind of cool that something that was created 50 years ago still resonates today.”

For some visitors, though, a few hours was all they could handle. Just before noon, Evonne Rader, 32, and her family fled Disneyland for the nearby California Adventure.

“We figured it would be busy, but this is really bad,” said Rader, visiting from San Ramon, Calif.

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