In another thread, a poster stated that “there was nothing innovative about Disneyland (when it opened) except the marketing,” that Fantasyland was essentially a carnival and that Fronteirland was a ripoff of Knott’s Berry Farm's Ghost Town.
So the question posed by this thread is: what was innovative about Disneyland when it opened in 1955. What made it (arguably) "the world’s first theme park”?
Here’s my answer: To the best of my knowledge, Disneyland was the first park made by filmmakers, the first park to have cinematic principles incorporated into its design – that was the big innovation.
The establishing shot down Main Street, the “weenies” to draw the guest forward, the use of forced perspective and other techniques, the use of color and music to establish mood. (I read that, at one point, Walt even wanted to install theatrical curtains to open whenever a guest stepped through the entrance tunnels, until he was convinced that it wouldn’t be feasible.)
While elements of the Disney theme park may have existed before – dark rides, live entertainment, places themed to be other places - Disneyland was the first park to synthesize all these elements, and to so in a uniquely Disney way.
The design of the park was innovative, with it’s central hub presenting the guest with a choice of which path to follow, with attractions arranged according to theme instead of scattered willy-nilly over the landscape.
I also believe Walt’s ambitions for the park were innovative – Not that I need to quote it for anyone here, but here goes: “To all who come to this happy place – welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, dreams and the hard facts that have created America … with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” I think most 1950’s amusement parks would have been dedicated with “Have a good time, folks.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s another thing that sets Disneyland apart.
And, yes, the marketing was very innovative – using the brand new medium of television with “Uncle Walt” as the host, inviting us (Well, not me, I wasn’t born until 1981, but my mother watched the show!) into his dream factory. Using the already-familiar Disney characters as a selling point. Building the myth of Disneyland before it even opened –and that’s another innovation, the very idea that Disneyland itself is Walt’s dream come true. Most other parks don’t have that sort of backstory – and it was because of the TV show that the public became aware of it. So yes, the innovative marketing definitely played a large part. But I believe the product that the marketing sold was even more innovative.