The last two times I’ve been to Disneyland have both been during the holidays. Shortly before my mom sold her house in LA County, I went down for a vacation with my boyfriend to visit family and spend a long time at Disneyland. This was in October, during the huge Halloween celebration. The time before that was Christmas 2000. When I was a child, we only went in the summer, so I was unaware just how extensive the park was with its holiday changes, which included alternate versions of certain attractions.
I’m honestly not a huge fan of the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay on the Haunted Mansion. (Which lasts from late October/early November, depending on whether you’re at Disneyland or Tokyo Disneyland, to January, neatly dodging the question of whether it’s a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie.) It’s not just how disappointed I am that Graham, who’s only taken one vacation in his life, has never seen the original Haunted Mansion. It’s that . . . it doesn’t quite work for me. Basically, the idea is that, after the events of the film, Jack decides that his take on Christmas is better suited to the 999 Happy Haunts and takes it there instead.
I suppose part of the problem is that it feels as though Jack didn’t learn anything from the events in question? Like, “Oh, I just need to find the place where my Christmas works,” instead of “stay in your lane.” There’s an argument there, I suppose. “Stay in your lane” is kind of harsh, really, and maybe there’s a place. But then we get into the deeper mythology—like, are all 999 ghosts really like the Halloweentown folks, or would they maybe like an ordinary, if spectral, Christmas? And of course they’re still working with the mansion’s layout, so you still have to have the ballroom and the graveyard and the attic and all. As I recall, our ride got interrupted a lot in the seance room, but the Madame Leota stuff was particularly uneven anyway.
“It’s a Small World holiday” works considerably better, not least because of the whole “peace on Earth, goodwill toward men” theme has been part of the holiday all along and is the general theme of the ride even in the regular version. So okay, we get “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” instead of the well-known Sherman Brothers song, and they don’t take the opportunity they might to show some of the other holidays of the winter months, but it’s still not bad. Though I’ll freely admit to not having taken the opportunity to go on it twice, even when my younger sister begged me to take our mom, the day we took my mom with us. Once on Small World a visit is enough. After all, going on it means the song will join the Hitchhiking Ghosts to follow you home.
I’m only about 90% sure I saw the Country Bear Christmas Special, I must confess. The Country Bear Jamboree was still open that last Christmas; it would close the next year. (Its closure was not the worst thing to happen in September 2001, but I’ve never forgiven Disney.) But I may also have been the only adolescent in the world to genuinely enjoy our annual visit to that particular attraction, when I was growing up, so I can’t imagine I would’ve missed the Christmas variation. Apparently, they haven’t been able to justify keeping up the changeover at Walt Disney World, since attendance isn’t high enough. I grant you it’s not the most exciting attraction in a Disney park, but I still think it’s better than the not-very-good Winnie the Pooh ride they put in its place at Disneyland!
If you think about it, changing over the rides for the holidays is kind of a strange idea. Graham was thirty when we went to Disneyland. He’d grown up hearing about the Haunted Mansion. This was his first and so far only time seeing it, and what he saw was not the Ghost Host and the Hitchhiking Ghosts but Jack Skellington and Lock, Shock, and Barrel. He was, to be blunt, disappointed. The overlay on Space Mountain didn’t bother him, but come on—how do you screw up Space Mountain? Some weird orange lights isn’t going to change the ride’s basic experience. Then again, Pirates was closed altogether when we were there, so I guess it could’ve been worse?
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