Disneyland’s holiday tweaks twinkle with seasonal magic

Nov. 28, 2013 | 11:01 a.m.

A view of Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle, featuring snow-capped turrets, sparkling icicles and more than 80,000 shimmering LED lights at Disneyland. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Disney "Viva Navidad!," billed as a colorful and fun celebration of Latino culture and Christmas holiday traditions, is on display at Disney's California Adventure Park. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Disney "Viva Navidad!," billed as a colorful and fun celebration of Latino culture and Christmas holiday traditions, parades through Disney's California Adventure Park. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Disney "Viva Navidad!," billed as a colorful and fun celebration of Latino culture and Christmas holiday traditions, parades through Disney's California Adventure Park. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Minnie Mouse is part of Disney's "Viva Navidad!," billed as a colorful and fun celebration of Latino culture and Christmas holiday traditions at Disney's California Adventure Park. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

John Corlett and his daughter Taylor Corlett, 8, of San Diego view a large Christmas tree decorated with hubcaps amid the Christmas and holiday makeover of Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure Park. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Paxton Hall, 4, and Ellison Hall, 2, of San Diego pose for photos in the Christmas and holiday makeover of Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure Park. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Mater drives through Radiator Springs wearing a Santa hat amid the Christmas and holiday makeover of Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure Park. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Disneyland's Jungle Cruise attraction has been changed to the "Jingle Cruise" for the holiday season. The ride features homesick Jungle Cruise skippers on a holly jolly adventure and seasonal shenanigans. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Disneyland visitors cruise through "It's a Small World" holiday, featuring different Christmas and holiday celebrations from around the world. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Disneyland visitors cruise through "It's a Small World" holiday, featuring different Christmas and holiday celebrations from around the world. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Disneyland visitors cruise through "It's a Small World" holiday, featuring different Christmas and holiday celebrations from around the world. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Disneyland visitors are silhouetted by thousands of colorful lights on the exterior of "It's a Small World" holiday, featuring different Christmas and holiday celebrations from around the world. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Disneyland visitors cruise through "It's a Small World" holiday, featuring different Christmas and holiday celebrations from around the world with lights and decorations. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A menorah shines through the window of the office of Dr. Silverstein on Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Crowds gather around a large Christmas tree on Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A woman sports Christmas-colored Mickey Mouse ears as she awaits "A Christmas Fantasy Parade" on Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Tina Franceschi, left, of Sunnyvale, and her daughter Katie Franceschi, 10, wear "glow with the show" Mickey Mouse hats as they await "A Christmas Fantasy Parade" on Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland. The interactive versions of Disney's famous Mickey ear hats light up and sync to the beat of the music. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Colorful balloons are illuminated by lighted Christmas wreaths as "A Christmas Fantasy Parade" travels past crowds lining both sides of Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Toy Soldiers parade down Main Street U.S.A. as "A Christmas Fantasy Parade" travels past crowds at Disneyland. In the background is Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Disneyland's Christmas Fantasy Parade travels past crowds lining both sides of Main Street U.S.A. In the background is Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle, featuring snow-capped turrets, sparkling icicles and more than 80,000 shimmering LED lights. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

"A Christmas Fantasy Parade" travels past crowds lining both sides of Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

"A Christmas Fantasy Parade" travels past crowds lining both sides of Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

"Toy Story" character Woody arrives during "A Christmas Fantasy Parade," traveling past crowds lining both sides of Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Santa arrives in Disneyland's Christmas Fantasy Parade. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Colorful Christmas wreaths and holiday lights hang across Main Street U.S.A. and Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle. The castle features snow-capped turrets, sparkling icicles and more than 80,000 shimmering LED lights at Disneyland. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The scattered nature of Southern California’s expansive urban grid is never more noticeable than during the winter holidays. While lights festoon certain streets and artistically ambitious homeowners create over-the-top front-lawn tableaux, Los Angeles still lacks the central pedestrian thoroughfares that make Christmas so enchanting in cities like New York and Chicago, London and Paris.

This means that, as with so many other things, we have to drive to Christmas.

Or at least Anaheim. The new trend in open-plaza shopping may offer more local town-square seasonal activities — the Grove and the Americana have tree-lighting ceremonies and nightly “snow” fall, while Pershing Square and Nokia Plaza host skating rinks.

But none of them beats the faux Main Street that started it all. At the resort the mouse built, Walt Disney’s nostalgic imagining of Americana has become more crazy festive with each passing holiday season.

For many families, including mine, a December trip to Disneyland and California Adventure is part of the holiday ritual — where else can you wave to Santa and Mrs. Claus in a parade and then go on Space Mountain? Not to mention that in the wintertime, “It’s a Small World” is finally bearable, lovely and festive, and more important, showcasing music that is not its mind-numbing theme song.

Disneyland visitors cruise through "It's a Small World" holiday, featuring different Christmas and holiday celebrations from around the world on Nov. 21, 2013. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Disneyland visitors cruise through “It’s a Small World” holiday, featuring different Christmas and holiday celebrations from around the world. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Disney, with its jewel-colored palette and themes of gentle, family-friendly magic, has always had a built-in relationship with the holidays. Things twinkle in the parks year-round — Tinker Bell, the Wishing Star, strings of ambient fairy lights — but at Christmas, all the realms of fantasy suddenly have a common theme.

And what began in 1956 with a Christmas tree on Main Street and a Santa hat on Mickey has become increasingly dramatic, and, of course, dramatically marketable.

The Christmas fantasy parade, the sudsy snow falling in “Believe,” the Haunted Mansion gone all “Nightmare Before Christmas” — every few years, Disney adds something new and tinsel-rific to its resorts. Last year, Jingle Jangle Jamboree came to Big Thunder Ranch, while the new Cars Land and spruced-up Buena Vista Street got their own signature decorations. (More important, California Adventure got a Starbucks, another company that knows how to harvest the holidays — two peppermint mocha lattes, please.)

Amped up by the Thanksgiving week push for the Disney film “Frozen,” this year is the most Christmas ambitious yet. A holiday-themed “World of Color” show and a “¡Viva Navidad!” party have debuted in California Adventure. An old-fashioned winter village and ice skating rink is in Downtown Disney. And a meet ’n’ greet with “Frozen” characters has come to Disneyland, where the beloved Jungle Cruise has also been transformed into a Jingle Cruise.

Disney Viva Navidad!, billed as a colorful and fun celebration of Latino culture and Christmas holiday traditions, parades through Disney's California Adventure Park on Nov. 21, 2013. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Disney “Viva Navidad!,” billed as a colorful and fun celebration of Latino culture and Christmas holiday traditions, parades through Disney’s California Adventure Park. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A Jingle Cruise. Honestly, how did no one think of that before now?

Southern California parents may not be able to offer our children the magic of the year’s first snowfall or the wintry lace of frost on a window pane, but it’s tough to beat Sleeping Beauty’s Castle strung with lights and garland.

As with everything Disney, there is a high degree of capitalism lurking beneath the holiday cheer — fancy festive Minnie ears and a whole line of Disneyland at Christmas wear are available in every shop. But then most urban light displays and mall Santa sightings are geared toward those famous shoppers rushing home with their treasures. That “Miracle on 34th Street” certainly wouldn’t have occurred without the combined efforts of Macy’s and Gimbels. (You’ll notice that ol’ Kris Kringle didn’t suggest making a charitable donation instead of getting your kids those roller skates; he just sent the harried mamas to the right store!)

Crowds gather around a large Christmas Tree on Main Street U.S.A at Disneyland in Anaheim on Nov. 21, 2013. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Crowds gather around a large Christmas tree on Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Obviously, some of the increased wattage is fueled by “Frozen,” which the folks at Disney are clearly fingers-crossed, Christmas-wishing will become a new holiday tradition in itself, the biggest modern holiday classic since “Elf.” Of this year’s new attractions, several have “Frozen” tie-ins — the skating rink is named for Olaf, the film’s talking snowman (voiced by Josh Gad), who also serves as narrator for the new “World of Color — Winter Dreams.”

Which, among other things, brings the year-round miracle of the Internet to the Disney brand. The light, water and image show opens with an extraordinary collage of ordinary people, gathered through the Internet into a virtual chorus that performs an original composition called “Glow.” With Olaf’s help, the dancing fountains, swelling music and water scrim present a series of winter and holiday scenes culled from a variety of Disney films and TV shows, including the “Toy Story” gang performing “The Nutcracker.” (Hey, if Barbie can do it, so can Buzz.)

“Winter Dreams” may be the biggest addition, but the “¡Viva Navidad!” party seems the most significant, providing a little relief from Disney’s still quite Eurocentric vision of the holidays. You can, however, play “Feliz Navidad” till the reindeer come home, but it’s mostly a traditional biscuit-tin holiday that Disney’s celebrating with its tartan flannel, dancing gingerbread men and Christmas ball princesses.

Not that we’re complaining. A frosty, Black-Forest-quaint Noel may seem at odds with Southern California’s population, topography and often the local weather, but it’s a lovely vision, a shared vision and more important, an ever-evolving vision.

And until the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles includes a version of the store windows on New York’s Fifth Avenue, the winter markets of Munich or the light displays of London’s Bond Street, it’s still the best holiday magic in town.

– Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times critic

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Comments


One Response to Disneyland’s holiday tweaks twinkle with seasonal magic

  1. Patrick O'Brien says:

    Noelene great work. Happy Hoildays

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