Sharon Knolle Freelance Writer

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Finding Neverland

Disneyland's fanatics take many different forms


For many diehard fans, Disneyland means more than just a day at the park -- it's an obsession.

There are countless ways a fan can celebrate all things Disney, whether it's by covering your body with Disney characters like the Disney Tattoo Guy or creating a Web site for your favorite ride or camping out on Ebay to nab collectibles.

Collecting is a hobby with many subdivisions; a collector can hoard Disney pins, stuffed animals, animation cels, figurines, music boxes, Christmas ornaments or watches, and on and on. If Disney manufactured or licensed it, you can bet someone, somewhere is collecting it.

Within those categories, come even finer distinctions, like focusing on a character like Tinkerbell, a film such as "The Jungle Book" or items relating to the park itself, such as replicas of Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

Bob Molinari, who runs the Disney-only store Fantasies Come True in Los Angeles, is celebrating his own anniversary this year: 25 years in business.

His was the first Disney-only store in the world, eight years ahead of the actual Disney Store chain. His personal collection is mostly figurines from "Snow White," but he had to scale back 10 years ago when he started to run out of room. "It filled every nook and cranny," he says of the collection, which he estimates at "thousands" of pieces.

Love of the classic Disney attraction the Haunted Mansion prompted graphic designer Jeff Baham of San Jose, Calif., a self-described pop-culture junkie, to create the exhaustively in-depth site, which features original design sketches and historical background on the spooky attraction.

His site is so in-depth that when Disney was prepping the movie based on the ride, they turned to him to help with research and even invited him to the set to meet director Rob MinkoffRob Minkoff.

Nostalgia is one of the big appeals of Disney for anyone who grew up attending the park. "There is something amazing about being able to revisit an immersive experience that has remained, essentially, unchanged, while everything else in life evolves and moves on," says Baham. "It's the closest thing to time travel that there is."

Chicago resident Werner Weiss grew up in California and had such fond memories of Disneyland, he started, which features attractions that no longer exist at the park, like the PeopleMover, Adventures Through Inner Space and the Carousel of Progress -- even the old Disney parking lot that California Adventure now occupies.

"I wish I could take my own kids on the Mine Train through Nature's Wonderland," Weiss says. "It was replaced by Thunder Mountain in 1979. This was a slow train through the American West. It really took you to another place and time. But by today's standards, it would be really hokey."

Steve DeGaetano of Los Angeles is so into the Disneyland Railroad, he's written a book on the subject, which he sells on his Web site

DeGaetano recalls, "My earliest memories of going to Disneyland center around the first time I laid eyes on, or heard -- or even felt -- the rumbling steam locomotives of the Disneyland Railroad. They were the first real steam trains I had ever seen as a wide-eyed 5-year-old. My parents knew I liked trains, so they made sure that the first ride of every visit was a trip aboard one of the genuine steam-powered trains."

For other Disney fans, like Westminster, Calif., schoolteacher Tina Gurney, who meets friends at the park once a week, it's a social center. "All my girlfriends have passes and instead of meeting at the mall, we go to the park."

On a recent trip to Italy, she says the local piazzas made her realize what she loves about Disneyland. "(In Italy), it's all this energy going on and people meeting. That's why I love Disneyland. It's my piazza."

Date in print: Friday, April 29, 2005

2005 Reed Business Information 2005 Variety, Inc.

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