My recent trip to Disneyland revealed a park vastly different from the one I knew as a child. The Mickey’s Hernia Operation ride is new, for example, as is Tigger’s Crack House.
I kid the multi-national conglomerate, but Disney really has changed. As a tyke, and even into my ragamuffin years, one of my favorite attractions was the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. I liked that it was a thing you could actually stop and LOOK at, instead of rocketing past it at 100 mph. And it was built like the treehouse actually lived in by the Robinson family and that crazy transvestite they picked up. (Remember that? And remember how the older Robinson sons, the tough one and the gay one, both wanted him/her? That was one trippy movie.)
But now the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse is called Tarzan’s Treehouse. Why? Because kids don’t remember “The Swiss Family Robinson” (nor should they, really, especially with all those transvestites in it). Does it matter that Tarzan didn’t live in a treehouse in the 1999 Disney cartoon? Does it matter that the only time a treehouse is even shown is when Tarzan’s parents are killed in one by a jungle cat? Does it matter that, because of that tragedy, even SEEING a treehouse is probably very traumatic for Tarzan? No. The general theme of Tarzan’s Treehouse is: “Tarzan” is now available on video and DVD.
Just across from Tarzan’s Treehouse is the relatively new Indiana Jones ride. What connection Disney thinks it has to Indiana Jones is beyond me, but it’s a pretty fun ride, with an audio-animatronic Harrison Ford who speaks with more inflection than the real Harrison Ford.
One thing that has not changed about Disneyland is that it still leads the world in the production of comical robots who make bad puns. No matter how genuinely thrilling a ride may be, you can rest assured it will have at least one expressionless, wise-cracking android. If there were a Disneyland ride that actually made it possible to travel through time, winning the praise and accolades of scientists, theologians, and philosophers as the most daring invention in all of recorded history, it would have a talking monkey as a tour guide, and he would say things like, “We’re in the Paleolithic Era now — and boy, did someone ever make those dinos sore!” (The monkey’s voice would be provided by Nathan Lane.)
But back to my point: “The Swiss Family Robinson” had a cast full of transvestites. No, sorry, my point is that the changes at Disneyland reflect the changes in the Disney company in general. In the old days, you got the feeling Disney actually existed just to make kids happy. Even the Disney films that were awful at least were quiet about it. They weren’t over-hyped, big-budget monstrosities like today’s “102 Dalmatians,” “Dinosaur” and “Pocahontas.” They had stories — dumb stories, sometimes, based on absurd premises like donkeys kicking field goals or Kurt Russell being funny, but stories nonetheless. “102 Dalmatians,” in contrast, was just 90 minutes of dogs sniffing each other.
And so the park is different, too. The old rides, like Snow White’s Stupid Adventures and Mr. Toad’s Boring Ride, were centered around entertaining kids, without regard for craftsmanship or originality. But the new rides are so intent on competing with Six Flags and other vomit-oriented amusement parks that they’re too boisterous and crazy for kids to even go near. Surely the frozen corpse of Walt Disney is spinning in its cryogenics chamber. Which would be kind of a fun ride in itself.
Three friends and I went to Disneyland (and the new California Adventure) for a few days, hence the new ruminations on the place. I hadn't been there for several years, so many changes were indeed surprising.
The running transvestite joke -- by which I mean the running joke about transvestites, not a joke about running transvestites -- was an accident, and it reflects how these columns often develop. First I just said what I had to say, which was that the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse is now Tarzan's Treehouse. Then I added the detail about the "Swiss Family Robinson" movie and how it had a woman dressed as a man. Then came the parenthetical comment about it, out of fear people wouldn't remember that part of the movie without me saying, "Remember?" (or "'member?," as I would say in real life). The additional references to transvestites emerged when the opportunities presented themselves, without my even having to look very hard. I mean, you can see how a column about Disneyland would just naturally lend itself to talk of cross-dressing.