The late 1980s saw a tremendous amount of change at the Disney Company: The beginning of the Michael Eisner Years. Michael Eisner was CEO of the Walt Disney Company from 1984-2005. Walt Disney World saw the beginning of the self-proclaimed “Disney Decade”.
1988 saw those early achievements in full swing, from the continued construction of the “Disney MGM Studios” to the development of the Epcot Resort Area; by summer of 1988, there was a lot to advertise. What better way to follow the tradition of the Walt Disney World “Easter” and “Christmas” day parades than with a summertime version?
The 1988 Walt Disney World 4th of July Spectacular, originally aired on ABC July 3rd 1988. The show followed a similar model as the Easter and Christmas Parades. It was Michael Eisner using the formula that was so successful for Walt Disney and the early days of Disneyland…leverage the television media as a way to promote the parks. Michael even makes an appearance on the show introducing the final number, a page right out of Walt’s book. It’s important to remember back in 1988, marketing of Walt Disney World and Disneyland was still separate so this wasn’t a Disney Parks presentation, but a Walt Disney World Celebration of America.
Maybe even more so, a celebration of what’s new for the summer of 1988;
· The Disney World All American Parade kicks off the celebration at the Magic Kingdom. The parade includes some familiar parade floats, (the 150 foot long princess float) and some that have been long forgotten (Big Thunder inspired float).
· Mickey Mouse is celebrating his 60th Birthday with the all new “Mickey Birthdayland” at The Magic Kingdom, complete with a special show “Minnie’s Surprise Birthday Party”. The Fourth of July Spectacular includes a dance number “The Whole World Wants to Wish you a Happy Birthday Mickey Mouse” featuring “Mickey’s Home Video”. The video was all shot in Mickey’s Birthdayland. Some of these voices just make me cringe – Mickey and the whole gang definitely had something going on with their voices. Was that Roger Rabbit?
· The 11th and newest pavilion was added to EPCOT Centers World Showcase…Norway. Footage from the Norwegian Crown Prince opens the pavilion along with the Norwegian Royal Guard Band and world dancers. Then Willard Scott takes us on a “thrill ride” of a lifetime in the new pavilion, EPCOT Center’s first “Thrill Ride”.
· The New “Grand Floridian Beach Resort”, a turn of the century style hotel, is situated on Seven Seas Lagoon and is only a quick monorail ride away from The Magic Kingdom. Grand Floridian is the perfect spot to host to “The Beach Boys” with special guest “The Fat Boys”.
· Of Course, the fabulous “Fantasy in the Sky” fireworks close the show.
10 interesting notes and observations.
- The special is brought to you by “Premier Cruise Lines”. The official cruise lines of Walt Disney World – Little did we know that Michael Eisner was already cooking up the “Disney Cruise Lines” concept. Wonder what ever happened to Premier Cruise Lines and the “Big Red Boat”?
- Gummy Bears in the parade? Yep! Supporting
“Disney Adventures of the Gummi Bears” – an animated TV series that aired from 1985-1991.
- The WDW 1988 4th of July Spectacular marked the television premiere of the Main Street Electrical Parade.
- The Grand Floridian Beach Resort officially opened June 28, 1988, only 5 Days before this special aired, July 3rd 1988. The only real footage we see of the Grand Flo is the pool area as a back drop to the Beach Boys and a wide shot of the property. I can only imagine the last minute work happening that kept Disney from showcasing the inside of the new resort.
- Timing is everything, while Norway soft opened in early May, 1988 – it’s didn’t officially open until June 3rd 1988, with “Maelstorm” officially opening July 5th. So all of the Willard Scott footage – most of which looks to be in the Norwegian village exit, takes place before the new “Thrill Ride” opened.
- While the show was advertised as “Live” from the Walt Disney World, while the Fireworks themselves where Live, most of the rest of the segments fall into the “Some Segments Recorded Category”.
- Disney MGM Studios is still over a year away from opening, although advertised to be opening spring 1989. The construction isn’t enough to stop a dance feature on the New York Street, though it doesn’t yet have a name, at least not for the television special.
- The Caribbean Beach Resort was only a few months from opening but wasn’t mentioned in the special.
- Mickey’s Birthdayland was only accessible via the Walt Disney World Railroad – Minnie was keeping the entire land a secret from Mickey. Did you notice “Happy Birthday Mickey” sign on the WDW Railroad? You can see it at 18:31 of the video. The Tomorrowland Speedway was shortened to make room for Birthdayland, and the path to the rest of Magic Kingdom was added after birthdayland.
- Was that Rodger Rabbit at Mickey’s Birthdayland? Yes it was! Rodger Rabbit premiered June 22, 1988 in the US. He can be seen multiple times during the 4th of July Special, though he is never called out, and doesn’t have a speaking part. This would have marked one of his earliest television appearances. Due to contract disputes, Rodger hasn’t been seen in Walt Disney World in 1992.