Disneyland has long been described as a three-dimensional movie in which park guests are spectators as well as participants. The windows on Main Street represent opening and ending credits. Transitions between lands are the cross-dissolves and scene changes. While guests may choose what to experience and in what order, Imagineers ultimately decide what they see and when through staging. In Designing Disney, John Hench writes, "Some of our best staging is in the Fantasyland 'dark rides' at Disneyland, where we illuminate only the most essential elements of the story." It is a tried and true interpretation about what Disneyland does and how it does it.
Over the years, I have developed another interpretation. Disneyland is a collection of portals to other worlds, which consist of past worlds, alternate universes and exotic locales thousands of miles away from the mundane. Many worlds are a combination of all three (Critter County, for example, is both a past world and an alternate universe). Park guests are time traveling, inter-dimensional tourists, picking and choosing among the alternate worlds to explore.
The Esplanade is where the business of portal-hopping is conducted. Tickets and cash are exchanged. Baggage is rifled through. Tickets are scanned. Just beyond the main gate, final preparations are made in a nicely landscaped lobby of sorts. Strollers are rented. Questions are asked. Parties are accounted for. The first portal is on your left or your right. They are simple tunnels, but are also incredibly effective portals. A plaque above explains what is about to happen. Posters promoting other worlds are on display.
Either portal leads to a turn-of-the-century American street in an alternate past reality that may or may not have actually existed in our world. All we know is that it exists here, its sights, sounds, smells and tastes ours for the taking.
Worlds contain other portals that branch off and lead to new worlds, four of which are maintained in Disneyland's central hub. Throughout the park, portals are represented by gateways, doorways, pathways, tunnels, vehicles and even waterfalls. Pirates of the Caribbean is effective in its use of portals. In a promotional special, Walt Disney explained how the attraction works, "People are gonna get on a boat here, ride through the lagoon, and then as they get around here we're gonna take them down a waterfall, take them back into the past into the days of the pirates, you know, where the whole Caribbean area was full of pirates and they were always sacking towns and things. You believe in pirates, of course?"
As if people were denying the existence of pirates at some point. However, the language here is clear. Pirates of the Caribbean transports riders to a past world, its supernatural phenomena suggesting an alternate universe of sorts.
Whatever your interpretation about what Disneyland does is, it probably requires some suspension of disbelief. After all, in our cynical reality Disneyland is nothing more than a tourist destination built to extract money out of people with mundane lives looking for excitement in order to profit shareholders, many of whom have no interest in Disneyland as an artistic endeavor. Unfortunately, this sentiment has been shared by many in the top echelons of management over the years.
I prefer the three-dimensional film and portal interpretations, myself.
One big portal.