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Tears, Proposals and Flying Elephants: Disneyland Reopens

Good morning.

In March 2020, Disneyland — self-appointed “happiest place on Earth,” glittering emblem of Southern California — shut down. It was only the third unscheduled closure since the park opened on July 17, 1955. The other two followed the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Those other closures were relatively brief. But this time, the pandemic kept Disneyland’s gates shut for month after agonizing month. Until Friday. So today, we’re starting the week with a look at Disneyland’s grand reopening, written by The New York Times’s resident Disney expert, Brooks Barnes:

For more than a year, Disneyland disciples waited for the storied theme park to come back to life. Elephants flying. Pirates marauding. Flowers crooning. Hippo ears wiggling.

Matthew Gottula, a fashion photographer in North Hills, put it this way on Twitter on Thursday, as Disney employees prepared for the Friday reopening: “Imagining the animatronics at Disneyland turning back on like in ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ when the spell is broken and the kingdom wakes up and just continues what they were doing midsentence.”

If only true love’s kiss was all it took.

The Walt Disney Company was ready to reopen its theme parks in the United States last summer. But it faced radically different state governments. Loosey-goose Florida allowed Disney World to resume operations in July, but California withheld approval, leading to a spiky standoff between senior Disney executives and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

As the months dragged on, Disney came off looking like the reasonable one: The safety protocols it had adopted in Florida (mandatory masks, limited capacity, rearranged queues) proved remarkably effective.

In March, the Newsom administration gave Disneyland the go-ahead to reopen. It took Disney almost a month to call back 10,000 furloughed workers and train them on new safety procedures; implement a new online ticketing system (you now need a reservation); restock refrigerators at the Galactic Grill and River Belle Terrace; and figure out how to truncate long indoor rides to comply with temporary health regulations.

“As a business, one that employs tens of thousands of people, it’s obviously important to reopen, but it’s also important as a global marker,” Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park chairman, told me in mid-April. “Disneyland carries special significance. Our reopening is a barometer of the health of the world.” We were chatting inside the closed park, where flower beds near the train station still needed to be replanted.

With capacity initially limited to 25 percent, tickets for certain days (Saturdays in June) quickly sold out. But there was still plenty of availability as of Sunday, indicating that some fans are worried about getting their money’s worth. Tickets have not been discounted ($114 to $154 for adults, depending on the day) and many signature offerings have been nixed in the name of coronavirus safety — no parades, fireworks or hugs with walkaround characters. The Matterhorn bobsleds and Jungle Cruise are also closed.

“Not quite yet,” Gottula said in a Twitter message when asked if he had bought tickets. “I want a more complete experience.”

Here’s what else to know today

Eli Broad, a businessman and philanthropist whose vast fortune, extensive art collection and zeal for civic improvement helped reshape the cultural landscape of Los Angeles, died on Friday at age 87.

  • An appraisal: A Los Angeles Times columnist assesses Broad’s mark on the architecture of the city.

  • A look back: Read about the opening of the Broad museum in 2015.

  • A look forward: With Broad’s era past, who will fill the void in civic leadership? “Los Angeles will never have one single kingmaker or leader who will take charge of all the challenges we’re confronting,” Miguel Santana, a longtime government official who now heads the Weingart Foundation, told The Los Angeles Times.

  • A notable quote: “There’s no curtain you can’t get through in Los Angeles — no religious curtain, no curtain about where you came from,” Broad told The New York Times in 2001. “It’s a meritocracy, unlike some other cities. If you have ideas here, if you have energy, you’ll be accepted. I love L.A.”

California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected]. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.


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