HOLLYWOOD — Growing up in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom can do things to a guy. Just ask Charles Phoenix, who found everywhere he went reminded him of Disneyland.
“It was almost like an affliction,” Phoenix says. “And at some point, I realized all of downtown (Los Angeles) started reminding me of Disneyland.”
When the futuristic, Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall opened in 2003, he looked at it and saw Tomorrowland. And an idea was born: a tour of downtown L.A. that compares the city’s urban core to the most famous theme park of all, Disneyland. Last stop is the concert hall.
“It becomes the castle of downtown,” Phoenix says.
For his cheeky weekend field trips, the self-described histo-tainer rents a 1950s yellow school bus and takes visitors to such sites as Chinatown, the concert hall, Union Station, “Blade Runner” location the Bradbury Building, and even Skid Row, finding Disneyland references at many of them. Up to 52 people pay $69.50 each for the six-hour bus/walking tour.
Phoenix’s droll “God Bless Americana” slideshow monologues about Southern California kitsch-culture at the American Cinematheque have won him a following within the arts and showbiz crowd. And those fans are following him to Disneyland … er, downtown L.A.
Among them have been film producers and writers — “SpongeBob SquarePants” creator Stephen Hillenburg, for one. Just don’t expect too many denizens of the actual Mouse House to be on the tour.
Phoenix removed Disneyland from the name of his tour for the second season, under way through April. “I didn’t want to get too close for comfort,” he explains.
A Disneyland official, who hadn’t heard about the tour, had no comment.
Phoenix did, however, conduct a slideshow of old Disneyland photos for the opening of the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) in the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex. This in turn led to an invite to appear in a Save Disney rally before a Walt Disney Co. shareholders meeting in Philadelphia last year, where the next-generation Roy Disney and Stanley Gold’s Save Disney mounted a challenge to Michael Eisner’s leadership.
But Phoenix had nothing to do with the conflict. Producer D-J Haanraadts explains Phoenix’s attitude: “He said, ‘I’m just an entertainer.’ “