Not quite an in-park special and not quite it’s own thing, “Christmas in Disneyland” follows the story of an old curmudgeon who celebrates his own curmudgeon-ness but then…realizes he’s not a curmudgeon? If we’re being honest, I’m not quite clear on this guy’s journey but here’s what I DO know: it takes place at Christmas. In Disneyland.
Gramps (Art Carney) and his grandchildren are spending the day at Disneyland, and while the kids are having a blast Gramps declares himself immune to the magic.
As they leave the park they come across a tour guide (Sandy Duncan) who upon receiving a barrage of curmudgeonly sentiment tells Gramps that the park gives a cash reward to the biggest unbeliever in the park. Gramps falls for this and they hop onto a golf cart driven by a cast member (Glenn Campbell) which takes them beneath the park to the magical (?) Dr. Vunderbar’s (also Art Carney) lab.
The terms set, the park employees set out to turn Gramps into a believer. Sandy Duncan goes first, miniaturizing herself and going into “It’s a Small World” to do a song and dance with the puppets.
Glenn’s up next, partnering with the Country Bears for a hoedown. Not sure what ‘belief’ this is meant to instill. Also, the recorded images of the Country Bears costumes do not do them any favors.
The gang comes across Santa, but he’s depressed because his elves aren’t working hard enough. The kids suggest that Snow White’s dwarf friends could help – and they do. Sandy Duncan does double duty here as Snow White. This scene moves at a glacial pace that can’t have been intentional.
Later, in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, Gramps tells a story about a cavalcade of A-and-B-tier Disney characters who have shown up for a Christmas party. We’ve got Mickey and Minnie, sure. Donald? You bet. Dumbo? Okay. King Leonidas from Bedknobs and Broomsticks? Double-check the invite list.
The Three Little Pigs are there, too, which seems weird until its revealed that the Big Bad Wolf is the antagonist of the whole thing. He comes down the chimney instead of Santa and puts the guests into a huge sack. His intentions, whatever they are, are never realized as the kids trick him into a fireplace where the real Santa falls on him and knocks him out.
It’s worth pointing out that this song is about ten minutes long and features several off-key, monotone solos by the children. Just an odd choice all around, an obvious time-filler.
At the end of the day, Gramps realizes that he’s fulfilled all of the criteria of being a believer just by….being himself? Celebrating his acceptance of himself, he wishes for a snowfall on Main Street, calling it an impossibility even though it happened earlier in the special. To nobody’s surprise, the snow descends on Main Street and Mickey and Minnie perform an ice skating routine. Soon after, a chorus marches through Disneyland singing Christmas carols and we’ve got a heartwarming ending.
This is a rough one, but it’s a good look at the Disney of the ‘70s: filled with Americana and fairy tale characters, leaning on IP gambles like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and infused with a healthy dose of star power. Plus it’s Christmas, and it’s Disney, and you’d have to do way worse than this to be unsuccessful with that combination. Enjoy.