I find it interesting that when the debate of Disneyland vs. Disney World comes up, one of the common arguments in favor of Disneyland is its "charm" or "intimacy."
I came across this article in doing a Google search for something else Disneyland-related, and it may come across as a bit too academic for some in terms of recreational reading, but the article from the blog Passport to Dreams Old & New, which is titled The Awkward Transitions of Disneyland!, is really thought-provoking and makes you look at the boundaries between lands, or between the hub and Main Street, in a whole new light.
Here are a few excerpts that capture the main argument:
The thing you hear all the time about Disneyland ultimately comes down to two words: magic and charm. Now, "magic" is a reappropriated marketing word, so it's really not helpful, but it points towards our second term, charm. Disneyland is intimate and human sized. Magic Kingdom is spectacular and epic sized. Everyone who's been to Disneyland knows it's got something special about it - but what it is, nobody seems to be able to say.
Disneyland grew up as the men and women who made it were still making up the rules as they went, and so it grew in fits, starts, and stops. A fairly holistic theme park with lands that were siloed off from each other expanded, tacked new things onto areas where they were not meant to be, the areas bled together, additional demands for capacity forced development of unlikely spots, and urbanization of the surrounding area blotted out hopes of blowing the park out very far beyond its railroad tracks.
Disneyland built things where it could, and so very often buildings are dropped down perfunctorily, only very rarely placed to achieve any specific pictorial effect. Depending on where you are, there can be three levels of themed design occurring around you on different registers. This makes Disneyland visually dense while retaining a somewhat prosaic thematic effect. This is what people mean when they say Disneyland is charming: it's a massive pile of ideas slammed down, one atop the other, with very little room to spare. This means that it's very common to find areas where one kind of texture or surface treatment just ends because it collides with another.
This is what I mean when I say that Disneyland and Magic Kingdom are aesthetically dissimilar - your basic assumptions about the way the place was put together have to be different. Magic Kingdom generally handles its transitory spaces with slow, subliminal, incremental changes, some sort of real life version of a cinematic fade. The part WED Enterprises chose to exclude, of all the things they could have excluded, are the moments in Disneyland where one set of themed design choices meets another in a very small space.
I'm fascinated by those moments, partially because it was exactly that which was excluded with almost surgical precision from every Disney theme park that came after - every subsequent version builds on the 1971 park, not the 1955 one. Therefore, it must by definition be one of the things that makes Disneyland so charming - that thing they removed, that special condition.
The blog post has lots of photographs that illustrate her point. I can't do justice to the brilliance of her observations from the three quotes I pulled out above, so if your interest has been whetted, I suggest you read the entire article.
Towards the end of her lengthy article, the author comes to this point:
Disneyland is sort of like that. It was so cutting edge in its day that the subsequent evolution of this thing we now know to be a theme park means that its tricks, the moments where the illusions meet awkwardly, is very obvious to modern eyes. This is what creates the sense of cuteness, of charm. This is what I mean when I say that Disneyland is naieve: what it's up to is right out there in the open for all to see. It's a great place to start to learn about how theme parks work because what Disneyland does thematically tends to be very clear and easy to comprehend.
But I don't think that just that aspect alone makes one thing inherently superior to another. The increased sophistication of something like Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom is, just like Disneyland, reflective of the era in which those parks were built. I enjoy the artistic aspects of those parks without finding them to be a threat to Disneyland's similar but also quite different excellence, just as I don't find Peter Jackson's CGI gorilla to be much of a threat to the legacy of the 1933 King Kong.
On one hand, modern audiences tend to laugh at the effects in King Kong or Jason and the Argonauts, things that held me in rapt attention as a child as dazzling, seemingly magical expressions of technical skill. Yet Disneyland has largely not dated in the same way, and I think the secret is because even in 1955 the park was about nostalgia. You don't traipse 1955 adults down a fantastical recreation of what America was like in their childhoods for just no good reason. Disneyland never once asks us to believe that what it presents is reality, it has and will forever be intentionally retrograde.