Disney's latest star
In Classic Disney style, "World of Colour" springs to life with 1200 fountains spraying hundreds of litres of water into the air and dozens of cannon shooting columns of fire into the night sky.
Much-loved movie scenes play out on a misty screen, measuring 1765 square metres, and the cheeky face of Mickey, emblazoned on a massive Ferris wheel, beams through the smoke and vapour.
Aladdin and Princess Jasmine embrace on a watery magic carpet, Pocahontas rides the rapids in a canoe, Bambi gambols through the forest and the watching crowd hoots its delight when the rakish face of Captain Jack Sparrow, aka Johnny Depp, bursts on to the screen.
World of Colour, a $US75 million light and laser spectacular, premiered on June 11 at Disney California Adventure (DCA), the theme park adjacent to the original Disneyland, and is set for a long run.
Host Mickey Mouse, resplendent in tuxedo and flanked by Disneyland heavyweights, Disney president Bob Iger and chairman Tom Staggs, orchestrated opening night events. When darkness fell, the multimillion-dollar mouse used his magic baton to set the show in motion.
World of Colour is Disney's newest attraction but its name comes straight from the Disney archives. It commemorates the television series Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, which premiered on NBC in September 1961, just as the channel cut over to colour broadcasting.
The new spectacle, termed a hydrotechnic show, pays tribute to those early days, beginning with a series of 1960s television scenes projected on to spheres of light floating above the park's Paradise Bay.
Walt's image, trapped inside a shiny disc, has a few words of wisdom: "Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination," he tells fans, as coloured balloons of light display happy kids and scenes of frivolity that hark back five decades.
When the nostalgia fades, hundreds of geysers explode into colour, as Ariel, the Little Mermaid, dances and swims while her sidekick crustacean, Sebastian, breaks into the catchy number, Under the Sea.
For the next 25 minutes, snippets from Disney's most popular animated films, including the 1940s classic Fantasia, fill the night sky.
Little Mermaid fans should be delighted with the brand new animated scenes portrayed in the mist, while the countless swirling and swaying fountains will dazzle ballet fans.
Their rhythmic movements were choreographed by Australian dancer Joshua Horner, a former member of the Australian Ballet, who last year starred in Billy Elliot on Broadway.
The creative director at Walt Disney Animation Studios, Dave Bossert, says many of the scenes were "reanimated" to fit on to a concave screen some 116 metres long and 15 metres high, while brand new scenes were added to The Little Mermaid, as well as a few other cartoon segments.
"At Disney, we're obviously always striving to come up with the next big thing," he told media the following day. "We conceived the idea five years ago and we've been working on the animation for 18 months. No one has ever combined water, lasers, animation and flames before."
The show is "awesome", as the southern Californians love to say, but I am more awestruck by the fireworks that explode over Sleeping Beauty's Castle in the original Disneyland park, next door to DCA.
The fireworks, which feature Tinker Bell and Dumbo careening across the sky on trapeze ropes, take place every (northern) summer.
As a newcomer to Disneyland, I proudly wear my "1st Visit" badge and line up in front of the castle to watch it change colour a dozen times as cascading pixie dust and a million lights rain down on it. It's hard not to stifle a tear as sweet sentiments of magic, love and joy echo across Fantasyland.
Disneyland will celebrate its 55th anniversary on Saturday with even more whiz-bang explosions but I'm just glad I finally made it to the park tagged "The Happiest Place on Earth".
Like thousands of Aussie kids, I watched Disneyland every Sunday night on television and thought the Mouseketeers (we watched reruns of the The Mickey Mouse Club for years in the 1960s) were the coolest kids on the planet.
Now, decades on, I want to see all that stuff, go on the Jungle Cruise, walk through Frontierland and get up close with the cute characters.
The "Walking in Walt's Footsteps Tour" provides that wistful experience and I follow my tour guide Albert along Main Street as he dispenses trivia and historical titbits. He points out the top floor of the fire station where Walt kept a private apartment during the park's construction phase.
We learn that opening day, July 17, 1955, was something of a disaster and nicknamed "Black Sunday" and "Walt's Follies" by the critics. Park patrons apparently got their high-heels stuck in the still-wet pavement cement and while only 24,000 tickets were issued, counterfeiters issued fake tickets and 10,000 unexpected visitors turned up.
But things were smoothed over, Albert extols, and within a few weeks Walt was advertising on television and 1 million people had walked through the gates.
Today roughly 20 million visit the original park and DCA (which opened in 2001) each year, and Australians make up the third-biggest international contingent after the British and the Japanese.
The writer travelled courtesy of Disneyland Resort and Air New Zealand.
The next big thing
World of Colour is part of a $US1 billion ($1.18 billion) DCA expansion. New attractions and enhancements will include:
The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Undersea Adventure, where riders will travel under water in clam-shaped carriages, opening in 2011.
Cars Land - a 4.8-hectare attraction that recreates the town of Radiator Springs from the Disney Pixar film Cars.
Buena Vista Street - a Los Angeles street from the 1920s and '30s, a re-creation of the Carthay Circle Theatre, where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937.
Disneyland Park closes its 20-year-old George Lucas-inspired Star Tours attraction this month; it will reopen next year as The Adventure Continues, a 3-D take on the Star Wars movies.
Air New Zealand flies daily to Los Angeles. .
The daily Walk in Walt's Footsteps Tour includes lunch in a private venue, Fast-Pass entrance to one roller-coaster ride, entrance to other attractions and Disney pin. $US64 ($75) a person.
For the best view of World of Colour, stand at least 100 metres from the water's edge. As there are only 4000 places for each of the twice-nightly performances, patrons queue early to secure a spot. Get to the theme park early to grab a Fast-Pass for the event, or buy a dinner-and-show package at one of two restaurants overlooking the bay.