DVD Review:
The Secret Tour of Disneyland
The Secret Tour of Disneyland DVD cover
 
Hosted by
Lauren Delmont
 
Directed &
Edited by
John Delmont
 
Written by
John Delmont &
Lauren Delmont
 
2 hours &
26 minutes
 
 
 
Yesterland
 
 
Reviewed by
Werner Weiss
Dec. 4, 2009

Update Dec. 7, 2010: This is a review of the original version of The Secret Tour of Disneyland, released in 2009. The 2nd Edition, released in December 2010, has essentially the same content, but has some updated material and is now a 16:9 anamorphic DVD. For information about the differences, see The Secret Tour of Disneyland, 2nd Edition.

A few years ago, Lauren Delmont, who was then a high school student, had an idea for a school project. She wanted to make a documentary about some secrets at Disneyland. She asked her father—John Delmont, who works in the video business installing production systems and editing suites—for help. It was for Spanish class, so the whole thing had to be en Español.

The result was a 5-minute video, Secretos de Disneylandia. It was a big hit with her class.

In fact, it was such a hit and so much fun to make that the father and daughter asked each other, “What if we did a full-length tour of the park?” They could pool their talents and have a good excuse to spend quality father-daughter time at the Happiest Place on Earth.

This time, it would be a genuine, feature-length film on DVD—in English.

The Secret Tour of Disneyland

Armed with decent video equipment, John’s industry experience, Lauren’s presentation skills, and Disneyland annual passes, they embarked on what turned out to be a two-year effort. They juggled John’s job responsibilities and Lauren’s college schedule. The project started out as a simple travelogue. Over time, the film grew more ambitious, with a lot of research, writing, filming, editing, and even a fair number of “green screen” effects.

The Secret Tour of Disneyland
Lauren Delmont with Disney Legend Blaine Gibson’s Partners statue

By the time they were done with The Secret Tour of Disneyland, they had a DVD with a run time of almost two and one half hours. It was still partially a travelogue. In addition, it now showed Disneyland history using historical photos, took viewers to other Southern California locations with connections to Walt Disney, and provided a stream of fun facts about Disneyland. It even had a chapter about the Disney-designed attractions at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and what happened to them. The DVD had multi-level menus and a few “Easter eggs.” (Press enter on the DVD remote when you see a purple Mickey head silhouette in the lower right corner.)

They began to sell their DVD in mid-2009, but it remained a fairly well-kept secret. Although I try to keep up with a number of Disney-oriented websites, blogs, and forums, I didn’t know about The Secret Tour of Disneyland until I received an e-mail note from John Delmont last week.

The Secret Tour of Disneyland
The baby in the oval frame at the Baby Care Center is none other than Walt Disney himself.

I wondered if I would enjoy the film. As someone who has read a great deal of Disneyland history over the years, I assumed I would already know all the “secrets” in the film. I was concerned that a homegrown film would have only home movie production values. Also, how well had father and daughter Delmont done their homework to make sure the trivia and history in their film are accurate?

A few days later, I had the DVD. I need not have worried. Plenty of “secrets” were either new to me or were things I had forgotten. Things that I already knew were presented in such an entertaining manner that they were fresh anyway. The quality of the production was far better than I expected. I had a few minor quibbles with a few lines of the script, but I think they did their homework very well.

The Secret Tour of Disneyland
“Did You Know?” slides provide additional trivia.

I had fun watching The Secret Tour of Disneyland, and I think most other Disneyland fans—from casual parkgoers who know little about the park’s details and history to longtime Disneyland “scholars” who know “everything” about the park—would enjoy it too.

The Secret Tour of Disneyland
With a little digital magic, Lauren talks about the singing busts of the Haunted Mansion.

As the host, Lauren Delmont narrates the entire film and has a lot of camera time, so the success of the film rests largely on whether she can keep the audience interested without being either dull or irritating. As someone studying theater, she knows how make her lines fun and interesting.

Think of Samantha Brown hosting Great Hotels on the Travel Channel, Rachel Ray hosting $40 a Day on Food Network, or Stacey Aswad hosting Walt Disney World’s Top 7 Must Sees on your Florida Disney resort television. Lauren follows in that tradition. Like those women, Lauren is cheerful and has an expressive delivery. Lauren also knows when to tone it down.

The Secret Tour of Disneyland
From her Skyway bucket, Lauren talks about park history, as changes occur on the ground.

Sometimes rejection can be a good thing.

John Delmont wanted to film a segment in Walt Disney’s apartment above the Main Street Fire Station. After all, that would be the best place to tell its story. But it’s not open to the public.

John contacted Roy E. Disney about getting into the apartment. Roy replied, but the answer was a gracious “no.” According to John, “It was probably the nicest turn-down I’ve ever had. He even e-mailed us back and said the idea sounded great and he wished us the best of luck.”

They couldn’t get into the actual apartment. But with some compositing and green screen work, John could have Lauren appear in the apartment. That was the turning point. Suddenly, Lauren could narrate from anywhere—from the top of the Matterhorn to the graveyard in the Haunted Mansion. She could visit long-gone attractions. It’s all done with a spirit of fun. The video effects are playful and obvious, not deceptions.

“If I ever see Roy in person,” John commented, “I’ll have to thank him for turning us down because it really helped the video.”

The Secret Tour of Disneyland
The real Adventure Thru Inner Space closed before Lauren was born.

The DVD is a professionally manufactured, dual-layer DVD, with stereo sound. The format is letterbox widescreen (like the images in this article with a black bar on the top and bottom).

The DVD played flawlessly on my computer, a 24" iMac, in both full “Full Screen” mode and as an “Actual Size” window.

Update Dec. 7, 2010: The comments about aspect ratio in the four paragraphs below only apply to the original edition. The 2nd Edition is a 16:9 anamorphic DVD, which should eliminate this issue.

Then I popped the DVD into a Sony Blu-ray player attached to a Sharp Aquos HDTV over HDMI. I expected black bars on the top and bottom due to the letterbox format and black bars of the sides to account for the 16:9 aspect ratio of HDTV compared to the 4:3 aspect ratio of the DVD. Instead, the image stretched from side to side to side, with black bars only on the top and bottom. Circles became wide ovals. People were all short and wide. And when people turned their heads to the side, they had really long noses. I tried all View Mode settings on the TV. I could make the problem even worse, but I couldn’t get the correct picture proportions. I hadn’t had this problem with any other DVD.

Finally, I went into the setup mode on the Blu-ray player. I discovered that I could correct the problem by changing the “Screen Format” from “Original” to “Fixed Aspect Ratio.”

Now the picture was fine. I could eliminate all black bars while still keeping the correct image proportions by choosing the “Zoom” View Mode setting. On the big hi-def screen, the picture quality was not quite up to the standards of an anamorphic widescreen DVD, but still respectable.

If you buy the DVD and have the same problem, you now know that there’s a quick, simple solution. There’s no need to put up with a distorted image. Of course, it’s also possible that your picture will be fine, without having to change any settings.

The Art of Disneyland and Walt Disney Imagineering
Not digital magic! There’s still a mural by Mary Blair in Southern California.

So now we get the big question: Is the DVD worth buying?

If you have no interest in Disneyland, you probably won’t enjoy The Secret Tour of Disneyland at all.

But, wait! If you like Disneyland enough to read Yesterland, MiceAge, and MiceChat, chances are you’ll enjoy The Secret Tour of Disneyland very much. It’s entertaining, fast-moving, informative, and a lot of fun.

You can purchase The Secret Tour of Disneyland through Amazon.


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© 2009 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated April 3, 2011.

Cover image, scan of DVD, and images from DVD © Dog Walks Man Productions.
 
Disclosure per FTC guidelines: This article reviews a consumer offering, a DVD called The Secret Tour of Disneyland, from Dog Walks Man Productions. Werner Weiss received a free review copy of the DVD from Dog Walks Man Productions.