Friday, January 8, 2016

Walt Disney's "America The Beautiful" at Disneyland

America The Beautiful was a 360 degree film that was presented at Disneyland, in Tomorrowland's Circle-Vision Theater. Over the years, there were several films with that same name that were shown, but the version that played the longest debuted in 1967, along with a whole new Tomorrowland.

The film played at Disneyland for 17 years until it was eventually replaced by American Journeys and The Wonders of China in 1984. However, in the summer of 1996, America the Beautiful returned to Disneyland for a limited engagement that lasted into 1997.

This was still a time before everyone was on the internet, so I didn't have any advanced notice about the film's return. I can still remember the excitement I felt back in 1996, when I first saw this new banner hanging over the entrance to the theater. The banner reads, "Celebrating 40 Years of Circle-Vision - The 1960's Classic - Walt Disney's America the Beautiful - Special Return Showing"

Let's go back now and take a look at the Circle-Vision theater building (and surrounding area), through a series of "then and now" photographs. This first photo was taken in 1983. It doesn't show the actual theater (which would be just to our left) but it does show what the costumes looked like for the hostesses working the attraction.

This next photo is from 1996 and was taken while standing just a little further west, allowing us to see a portion of the theater marquee. Note the two banners announcing the return of America the Beautiful. One of them is the Statue of Liberty banner that we saw above. We'll get a closer look at that red, white and blue one in just a minute.

Not to depress anyone, but here are a couple "later" shots of the building taken from almost the same spot. The first one is from Wikipedia. I have very few of my own photos of the "Brown Tomorrowland of 1998" because I found it too repulsive to photograph.

And this is the current view:

Next, we have some shots of the theater entrance that were taken while standing underneath the PeopleMover beam. This is from 1983:

If we lighten the photo a little, we can see the design on the wall just inside the doorway a little better.

This is the same angle, from 1996. Note again, the two new banners. Also note the strips of metal that have been added to the marquee to cover up the former sponsor of the theater (Delta Airlines).

I don't need to lighten that photo to see the wall inside, because I took a close-up shot of it back in 1996.

Once again, I don't want to bum anyone out, but this photo was taken from the same angle, so I'm including it here. I shot this one through a hole in one of the construction walls that were put up during the destruction of Tomorrowland in September of 1997. (The hole in the wall just happened to line up perfectly with the shot I had taken back in 1983. You can see just a smidgen of the PeopleMover beam in the upper right hand corner of both photos.)

And the same view today:

Going back to 1983, this close up shows the smaller sign that was tucked into a corner just to the left of the entrance.

And here's the sign's replacement. This was taken in January of 1996, prior to the return of America the Beautiful. The Wonders of China would play in the theater first, from early morning until early afternoon. American Journeys was then shown the rest of the operating day. There was a short period of time in the middle of the day, that the theater would have to close in order to change the marquee and switch the reels of film on the projectors.

This is the same display case in July of 1996. The sign on the right mentions that America the Beautiful was the last Circle-Vision film personally supervised by Walt Disney. There is also a mention of the "next generation of Tomorrowland attractions". What a joke! The Circle-Vision theater didn't even get to remain as a stand-alone attraction in the new Tomorrowland of 1998. It was turned into a queue for an attraction that lasted only two and a half years! Argh!

Now we will head inside the building. The waiting area had large square upholstered seats. Sometimes you would see guests sprawled across them taking a nap. In the photo below, they have been pushed together in groupings of two. The PeopleMover had not permanently closed at the time this interior shot was taken in 1995, but it's operation was "spotty". Here, we can see that there is one car lined up right behind another on the track. Also, if you look at the wall below the PeopleMover track, you can just make out a world map. This photo goes back to when Delta Airlines was still a sponsor of the theater.

I'm including this next pic just for fun. If you look carefully in the photo above, there is an upside down popcorn box under one of the seats (far left and in the back). This isn't THAT exact popcorn box from the photo (I don't usually pick up trash off of the ground), but it is one just like it that I had saved from back then.

This photo shows what the pre-show area looked like during the time that America the Beautiful was having it's special return showing. The state flags were a little reminiscent of the way the room was decorated back in the early days of the Circle-Vision Theater. Too bad they didn't replicate the modern flags that used to hang from the ceiling.

Now let's go inside the theater and watch America The Beautiful. I've posted two links below. I shot this footage in 1996, during the film's return engagement to Disneyland. This first link includes the building's exterior and also the pre-show ("Hey the count of three, shout out what state or country you are from!").

This second link is for a video of the actual film, in it's entirety.

I do have footage of both American Journeys and The Wonders of China that I will post in the future, if anyone is interested.

I have now posted footage for both American Journeys and The Wonders of China. That footage can be viewed here: Circle-Vision at Disneyland.


K. Martinez said...

Great article today! Definitely interested in your footage of American Journeys. This was one of my favorite exhibits which existed both in the original Tomorrowland and Tomorrowland 1967. I suppose Soarin' is today's answer to this exhibit. The construction pic really brings home that at Disneyland it's all an illusion. Thanks, TM!

K. Martinez said...

TokyoMagic!, Just watching both videos brought back lots of memories. So was the video you presented here the 1967 version of America the Beautiful or earlier?

TokyoMagic! said...

Thanks, Ken! The video here was the 1967 version. Although technically, it might be a 1976 version. I was told a while back that in 1976 a couple very minor "tweaks" were made to the 1967 film. Now I can't remember what those changes or additions were, but I'm hoping someone out there will know (Mike Cozart????) and will be able to give us some more info on the subject! :-)

Major Pepperidge said...

Nice post! I really wish I had gone to the park when the 1967 (or 1976) version of "America the Beautiful" returned to the park. I love that whole experience so much. I wonder if the various reels for the very early "Tour of the American West" Circlevision film still exist? Imagine how cool it would be to view a 60 year-old look at places like Las Vegas.

TokyoMagic! said...

Thank you, Major! I could not get enough of "America The Beautiful" when it returned to DL. I went to see it over and over! I bet Disney has copies of the "Tour of the American West" film. I'm guessing that there probably isn't very much film-wise that is "lost" when it comes to Disney. I do remember being told by several cast members during the special return engagement of "America The Beautiful", that the copies they were running were all struck from the original negatives and that if any one of the nine reels were to break, they would just go back to showing "American Journeys" because the originals were too delicate to go back and strike another copy from. With everything being digitally transferred now, I don't think that would be a problem today.

I always thought that the Carthay Circle Theater in DCA would have been a perfect place to show "America The Beautiful" because the original theater in Los Angeles actually had a round theater auditorium. Plus, it would have been a nice tribute to Walt Disney, who pioneered the 360 degree filming process. Oh well, I guess they thought that the struggling DCA needed another restaurant rather than an actual attraction. I hope it is making a lot of money for them. Personally, I have never eaten there and I don't have any plans to do so in the near future.

Major Pepperidge said...

I have never been in the Carthay Circle Theater (haven't been to DCA since before "Carsland"!), but it would be AWESOME if they reintroduced a Circlevision presentation - especially the classic "America the Beautiful" or "Tour of the American West" films!


Actually when AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL was brought back for a farewell performance at Disneyland before the NEW TOMORROWLAND of 1998 began construction, Disneyland was showing the Walt Disney World 1976 back-up copy of America The Beautiful. The only remaining copy that was still usable (without the cost of making new prints) Whoever the cast members were that said you were watching a NEWLY made print were very wrong. In-fact, the film was faded in many parts and in some points (the St Louis Arch scene for example) - you were watching a still frame because that segment had deteriorated to much. There was absolutely NO money in the budget what-so ever to have made brand new prints of the Circle-Vison film for its short return performance.

The reason the Walt Disney World print of the film was in better condition is that the 1976 AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL was not played for very long in Florida's circle-Vison theater. The Circle-Vison film "MAGIC CARPET 'ROUND THE WORLD" returned shortly after the Bicentennial.
Upstairs in Disneyland's projection/splicing room was a DISNEYLAND back-up copy (in fairly poor condition) that could be used to splice parts in should the vintage Florida copy of America The Beautiful break or wear. Again these were both the 1976 version of AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL.

In 1982/83 "MAGIC CARPET 'ROUND THE WORLD" was updated for Tokyo Disneyland -this updated version was also shown at Walt Disney World for a short time before AMERICAN JOURNEYS was completed (originally announced as AMERICAN SPIRIT)

When Disneyland's Circle-Vison overhaul was completed in 1984 it was originally intended that the double film system would allow Disneyland to show AMERICAN JOURNEYS AND MAGIC CARPET 'ROUND THE WORLD. But before this happened there was a Disneyland enhancement program to begin to bring new EPCOT CENTER attractions to Disneyland - so WONDERS OF CHINA came to California. So did MAGIC JOURNEYS 3-D and there were plans for AMERICAN ADVENTURE in a new Liberty Square, a form of Horizons "Looking Back at Tomorrow" sequence inside the Carousel Theater and even Journey Into Imagination was being planed to have a version in Disneyland. These other EPCOT additions all were victims of the EISNER regime.


TokyoMagic! said...

Thank you, Mike for that information! Wow, I would have loved to have seen another theater show in the Carousel Theater. And how wonderful that would have been to get the American Adventure here in California.

So was there a difference between the 1976 "America The Beautiful" and the 1967 version? Or was it just that we got the WDW print that was struck in 1976, but there were no differences in the film itself?


Yes- the 1976 Becentennial edition of AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL featured newly filmed scenes of Independence Hall ( remember the women in from in hot pants!) Colonial Williamsburg and The Liberty Bell. There was also a new attraction poster done for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World based on the 1967 poster but with revised graphics and wording.

TokyoMagic! said...

Mike, thank you so much for answering that question! Ah, yes....Independence Hall. The scene where you can see a visitor trip over his own feet as he is distracted by the Circle Vision camera!

Sunday Night said...

Great! I loved this as a kid. Even today the effect works as I noticed the crowd oooed and ahhhed when the helicopter shot banked. And who could forget that winter Yosemite scene as the camera emerges from the tunnel. Thanks for posting this.

TokyoMagic! said...

Sunday Night, Thank you for commenting....I'm glad you enjoyed it!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this info on an old favorite.

We never missed this show on our visits, even though young me hated the standing wait.



Unknown said...

I Am Interested to See American Journeys.

TokyoMagic! said...

Hey Josh, I have a post planned for just three months from now (November) that will include full footage of American Journeys, The Wonders of China, and the pre-show film that played out in the lobby prior to both CircleVision movies. I'll leave a message/comment here when that post gets published. Thanks for commenting!

Unknown said...

Awesome. And I Subscribe You on Youtube.

Dreemfinder said...

A THOUSAND THANKS! So many times I've seen video and audio posts of this film but NEVER with this original, splendid and delightfully dated narration, which I have so sorely missed!

"Uh, please don't pick the flowers as we pass."

TokyoMagic! said...

Thank you for subscribing, Josh!

Thank you, Dreemfinder! And you are welcome! That was my favorite line in the entire movie. I really wish they would bring this back to Disneyland or find a place in DCA for it!