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SUNDAY READING

Moving Right Along : The Residents of the Indian Village Have Been Replaced With Audio-Animatronic Bears. Disneyland Grows Ever More Sophisticated.

July 13, 1986|JIM RAWITSCH | Jim Rawitsch is a writer living in Lake Arrowhead.

Disneyland's 30th-anniversary year comes to a close July 17.

In the shadow of the Matterhorn, something triggers a memory. Here, on the edge of Tomorrowland, the House of the Future once stood--proud monument to the plastic optimism of America's Eisenhower years. Opened in 1957 and sponsored by Monsanto, the house was a showcase: plastic furniture, plastic fabric, see-through plastic cupboards filled with plastic kitchenware, even wardrobe closets with plastic purses and shoes neatly arrayed for inspection. But the fashion-conscious began to sneer at Melmac and Naugahyde. By the late '60s, the house had lost its appeal and closed.

Why wasn't the concept updated and a new attraction opened? Perhaps we've replaced dreaming about our future homes with dreaming about our future survival. Or maybe it just takes more to entertain us than it used to. "The idea with all of our attractions is to offer something that's more sophisticated," says Disneyland spokesman Al Flores.

Perhaps no change troubles Disneyland devotees more than the change in the park's ticketing system. Historically, tickets lettered A through E placed clear relative values on the park's attractions. "A" tickets bought admission to the simplest attractions; the most elaborate attractions, including the Matterhorn bobsleds and the Haunted Mansion, required the more expensive "E" tickets. For a generation of Southern Californians, the "E" ticket came to symbolize a combination of excitement and imagination. In much the way an earlier generation's "putting on the Ritz" surpassed its luxury-hotel origins, "E-ticket ride" expanded in meaning and entered everyday language.

When lettered tickets were replaced five years ago by a single-price admission passbook, the qualitative distinctions between attractions blurred. Under the new order, each ride became as accessible to visitors as every ride. The shift has not been universally embraced; leftovers from the past can still be found in private hands, stashed in countless dresser drawers and shoe boxes. One day, the tickets may become collectors' items or, if the rumors circulating earlier this year prove true, may regain their original value if the old system is revived.

Meanwhile, by 1976 the old Rocket to the Moon had become Mission to Mars. The pack mules were put out to pasture and replaced by the Thunder Mountain roller coaster in the late '70s; the stage on which the ever-wholesome Kids of the Kingdom once performed will soon be replaced by Star Rides, an attraction that features a 3-D film produced by George Lucas, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Michael Jackson. On a more subtle level, Main Street was recently repainted in a palette of fashionable '80s colors.

Only the Flying Saucers suffered from an overdose of sophistication. Introduced way back in 1961, the round bumper cars floated above the ground on a cushion of air--but their technology wasn't up to the rigors of America's most popular amusement park. The thousands of air holes in the bright-blue arena floor used to clog up on a daily basis. The attraction closed after five aggravating years.

Increasing social consciousness has taken its toll, too. From 1955 to 1970, the Frontierland Indian Village was staffed by living, breathing Native Americans; after a labor dispute, they were replaced with Audio-Animatronic animals singing country music. Aunt Jemima's Pancake Kitchen was turned into the River Belle Terrace--no grinning mammies in sight. The Frito Bandito is gone, as are the black tap-dancing shoeshine boys. For the record, there are still black jazzmen playing in New Orleans Square and Polynesian dancers at the Tahitian Terrace Restaurant. In the battle between stereotypes and the celebration of ethnic diversity, during the past year the park has also added stands selling churros , a Mexican fried pastry; their runaway success has led management to expand the number of serving carts.

A generation has grown to adulthood in the years since the park opened. Disneyland has changed, but so have our dreams, our expectations and our fantasies. And who knows? Maybe E-ticket rides will return. Nobody knows for sure what our House of the Future holds.

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