Disneyland always throws a good party. So when the 50th anniversary arrived, guests couldn’t wait to see the park pull out all the stops. This massive celebration, known as the “Happiest Homecoming On Earth”, set a precedent for over-the-top anniversaries in the park, a tradition carried on for the Diamond Jubilee in 2015.
PREPARING THE CELEBRATION
All the attractions had to be in tip-top shape for the 50th, with special attention paid to the classics. The Enchanted Tiki Room, Jungle Cruise, and Space Mountain went through extensive refurbishments, and virtually every ride got at least a fresh coat of paint and some sprucing up. Disneyland also launched a brand new fireworks show: “Remember, Dreams Come True”.
Refurbishments for the celebration began in 2004, a full year before the actual anniversary. Though they weren’t technically open until 2006, Disneyland also debuted new Pixar attractions as part of the celebration: Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and the Block Party Bash. Tomorrowland returned to its former glory after an unfortunate paint scheme debacle, and the park played up the nostalgia factor to the extreme.
THE HAPPIEST FACES ON EARTH
The official campaign for the 50th was the “Happiest Faces on Earth”.
This was before the social media boom of the late 2000s, so the event had no official hashtags. But giant photo mosaics (created by Roy Feinson) popped up around Disneyland, featuring guests photos of all generations, some dating back to 1955.
HAPPIEST HOMECOMING ON EARTH
For the first time in decades, Disneyland completely closed to the public for a day (May 4, 2005). The day served as a media preview, filming television specials for the park and providing photo ops for all the décor, refurbished attractions, and general splendor.
On May 5, the Happiest Homecoming on Earth officially began. CEO Michael Eisner led a dedication ceremony in the park, alongside Julie Andrews, the official ambassador for the 50th anniversary, and Art Linkletter, the original anchor for Disneyland’s Opening Day broadcast. Christina Aguilera and LeAnn Rimes performed Disney songs, and Disney cut to live feeds from the Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland (which was just a construction site at the time!). The commencement also officially marked the start of some new attractions and theming:
- Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years – Did you know Steve Martin used to work at Disneyland’s magic shop? During the 50th anniversary, the Main Street Opera House transformed into an exhibition hall celebrating the park’s past. The exhibition featured a video of Steve and Donald Duck sharing Disneyland history and stories.
- 50th Anniversary Anthem – Richard Marx wrote an official 50th anniversary anthem, which played after the fireworks every night throughout the celebration.
- 50th Horse – One of the horses on King Arthur’s Carrousel donned a 50th anniversary sash and gold detailing, with two letters: JA, for Julie Andrews.
Disneyland anticipated huge crowds, but no one was prepared for just how huge the crowds were. Guests started camping out in front of the park gates the day before! The lines got so out of control that Disney actually opened California Adventure overnight to house campers. Disneyland opened early, at 7 am, and it still took hours to admit the morning crowd.
50 YEARS OF MAGIC
It’s a rare feat for an amusement park to last 50 years. It’s an even rarer feat for an amusement park to take on a life of its own, and become a lasting part of pop culture. The 50th, though not as sparkly or merchandised as the Diamond Jubilee, was all about celebrating the park’s life. In 50 years, the park exploded in size, transformed from fair attractions to high-tech coasters, hosted iconic characters…and became a home to millions of people.