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Land of the Lilliputs

Disneyland was always about scale to Walt Disney. His animators had been using scale models for years before Walt discovered model railroading in the mid-1940s. Miniatures became a fascination of his, so of course one thing that would make Disneyland work was careful manipulation of scale. The locomotives, Main Street, the Mark Twain--all were as small as they could be and still accommodate full-sized people.

Monstro, the whale, defines the cave which hides Storybook Land from reality.
One way to lend size to, for example, the back country on the Rivers of America, is to make landmarks smaller than full size. The burning cabin, for instance, seems farther away because it is impossibly small. Early sketches called for the island to be dotted with small-scale replicas of buildings like George Washington's home, Mount Vernon.

Lilliputian Land, therefore, appears on Herb Ryman's overall view of Disneyland drawn in September 1953. It is later labeled "miniature train and canal boats," which had been the idea since Mickey Mouse Park was planned for Burbank. The island of Lilliput, where people are about six inches tall, was invented by Jonathan Swift in 1726, in his novel Gulliver's Travels.

The layout was as compact and intricate as a model train layout in a small basement.
Bruce Bushman's early sketches of Fantasyland spread the train and canal across the land, but the final design was compact and intricate, like a model railroad layout. The money and time ran out, so the rides opened with nothing to see but dirt. Ride operators on the Canal Boats of the World ride would say "Huh. Would you look at that?" to make guests feel as if they had missed something.

Art director Ken Anderson led the team that transformed the area into Storybook Land in time for the park's second summer. Model makers Fred Joerger and Wathel Rogers actually built the pieces, and landscaper Bill Evans led the delicate planting and gardening.

Imagineer Tom Morris adds: Don't forget "set designer and future film art director Stan Jolley. He drew up every one of the buildings on the attraction, probably from Ken’s looser conceptual sketches. Each building needed to be carefully sited based on the geography and grading of each plot of land, and that job fell to Stan. A few years later, he would design one of the best backlot sets ever, Disney Studio’s Western Street." [Thanks, Tom!]

Stunted trees were found growing on a limestone shelf in Northern California--the miniature trees' roots could not penetrate the rock ledge, so the trees had adapted.

The little sets had to be insanely more durable than typical settings--they would be left out in the elements for years. The wooden buildings were encased in resin used for fiberglass projects. The wooden trestles were sheathed in staff work to seem like stone aqueducts by Bud Washo and his crew. In addition to the miniature buildings, Joerger sculpted the caves, the alps behind Geppetto's village, and the hill for Cinderella's castle--he would later build the Matterhorn, Cascade Peak, and Skull Rock.

The canal boats, based on Walt's travels in Amsterdam, the Cotswolds, and other European waterways, were designed and built by Newport Beach naval architect Robert Dorris. The original gas-powered engines were swapped for silent electric motors, and the original burly male guides were replaced by lovely women. There were nine or ten 14-passenger boats on a 1,080' course that began with a cave. You don't go there, you emerge into Storybook Land.

The boats, by Robert Dorris, are miniatures, too.
Cinderella's castle.
Four Mouseketeers and the American Dairy princess helped Walt dedicate Storybook Land on Monday, June 18, 1956. The area had been closed since September 16, 1955--nine months--and it is fair to say that everyone was blown away by the transformation. Ken Anderson tells the story of personally applying gold leaf to the spires of Cinderella's castle, brushing it on very carefully so as not to waste the precious material, when a gust of wind scattered thousands of dollars worth of gold in the direction of the backstage Pony Farm. All Ken could think was how lucky he was that Walt wasn't there to see it.
Ken Anderson (left), supervising installation of buildings by Joerger and Rogers. (Note bare light bulb, lower left, waiting for its building.)


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