Hit play below to listen to our Arts Alive feature on the sound design of Disneyland.
Ah, Disneyland. With vibrant rides, costumed characters, and pretzels shaped like Mickey ears, you may think it’s just a place for kids. However, Disney theme Parks employ some of the most sophisticated sound design in the world.
Here are 5 reasons why:
Unrelenting commitment to story
Story is everything at Disneyland. From the queues to the rides and even restrooms, everything you (the visitor) hear is designed to keep you immersed in the environment. It makes sense: Walt Disney was a filmmaker, thus being at Disneyland feels like being in a movie.
Subtle Environmental Transitions
At Disneyland, each land and attraction has a distinct sound. From barbershop quartets on Main Street to yodelers on Matterhorn Mountain and jazz in New Orleans Square, as you move throughout the lands, you unknowingly pass through decompression, transition, and buffer zones to help you acclimate to the journey. Instead of feeling jolted as you shift from land to land, Disney sound engineers give you little hints on the way to your next stop — perhaps some birds here, a drum there, and — oh, is that a crackly 1930’s radio? — until you are a full-blown visitor of Adventureland and you’re getting ready to embark on the Jungle Cruise.
Meticulous speaker placement
At Disneyland, music and environmental sounds are piped in from everywhere, but strangely, we don’t see very many speakers. They’re often disguised as rocks, placed behind air vents, or even designed into the architecture of buildings. Additionally, because the human ear can discern two degrees of right-to-left accuracy, there’s not much room for error; if we’re supposed to believe that the low-pitched voice is coming from the green bird and not the blue bird right next to him, then those speakers need to be dead on.
The things we don’t hear
We don’t hear pop music at Disneyland, as that would take us out of the immersive story. We also don’t hear hydraulic pumps, air noise, actuator noise, awkward mechanics, or virtually anything else on an attraction that could take us out of the fantasy.
Countless legends have composed music for Disneyland — not just for the movies but for the theme park itself. From Michael Giacchino’s “Space Mountain” score to Jerry Goldsmith’s “Soarin’,” plus John Williams, the Sherman Brothers, and more, park goers enjoy marvelous music at every turn.
Feel free to casually drop this knowledge the next time you watch a Disney movie. At the very least, I hope you explore some of the fantastic music the Disney theme parks have to offer!
Music featured in this audio segment:
“Married Life” Composer/Conductor: Michael Giacchino
“Splash Mountain Medley” Composers: Robert MacGimsey, Allie Wrubel, Ray Gilbert
“Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” Composer: John Williams /Conductor: Richard Bellis
“Matterhorn Yodelers” by The Matterhorn Yodelers
“Grim Grinning Ghosts” Writer: Buddy Baker, Xavier Atencio / Performer: Paul Frees, Betty Taylor, Bill Lee, Thurl Ravenscroft, and The Mellomen
“The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room” Writers: Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman / Performers: Wally Boag, Fulton Burley, Ernie Newton, Thurl Ravenscroft, and The Mellomen
“The Main Street Electrical Parade” Writers: Jean-Jacques Perrey, Gershon Kingsley / Performers: Don Dorsey, Jack Wagner
“Space Mountain” Composer/Conductor: Michael Giacchino
“Soarin’” Composer/Conductor: Jerry Goldsmith
“When You Wish Upon a Star” Writers: Leigh Harline and Ned Washington / Disneyland bands featured: The Dapper Dans, The Royal Street Bachelors
Additional sounds from Adventureland and Jungle Cruise
Sources and special thanks: