Leonard Maltin remembers the first time he took his daughter, then 4, to Disneyland.
“She saw Minnie Mouse, let go of my hand, went running toward her, grabbed her around the waist and gave Minnie a big hug — which of course, was many returned. And a few minutes later she looked me in the eye and said, ‘This is a wonderful place!’ ”
Like daughter, like father. Growing up in New Jersey in the ’50s, Maltin didn’t make it to the park until he was 18, but he loved it at first sight.
“Everything I’d heard about it was true — that it is a complete environment where you feel you’ve stepped away from the real world,” he says. “And where it’s cleaner than the real world, and nicer and friendlier.”
As a member of the Hollywood community, Maltin was able to make up for lost time.
“I’ve been given a couple of privileged moments,” he says. “I’ve gotten to go into Walt’s apartment on Main Street, which for me is like hallowed ground. … It’s where he and his family would rest or relax when they visited the park.”
He also got to take a whirl on the Lily Belle, “which is the private railroad car that is sometimes attached to the train, and which is named for Walt’s wife. (It’s) decked out like an old-fashioned private car would be.”
Today, Maltin says the park holds the same magic for him.
“I think that one reason it was so successful from the start was that not just the same care and thought that went into Disney’s films (went into it), but the same outlook and world view and awareness of and respect for the audience — all were evidenced inside the theme park.”
Film critic/historian Leonard Maltin is the producer of Walt Disney Treasures, a series of special-edition DVDs, and author of “The Disney Films.”