Frontierland adjoins New Orleans Square as you move clockwise around the theme park. the focus here is on the old West, with log stockades and pioneer trappings.
Frontierland was by far the largest area within the park when Disneyland first opened. Such was the power of the Western in the 1950s that it covered almost a third of the land area within the earthen berm that surrounds the park. Over time, Frontierland was carved into smaller pieces, including New Orleans Square and Critter Country.
Within a limited space, the Imagineers had to give guests a visual sense of an endless frontier beyond the gates of the log fort. Their goal was to present a deep, dimensional vista that would pull the guests into the land. When you stand in the Plaza Hub and look through the gates of the fort, you should see the smokestack of the Mark Twain steam-powered paddle wheeler as the weenie and the great frontier beyond.
Frontierland also works as a "time machine" as you walk from the gateway toward the Mark Twain and Columbia sailing ship dock. It is a mini-history of frontier architecture. Your journey begins in 1807 at the Pioneer Mercantile. The hand-cut logs have a distinctive look that suggests you are at the edge of the wilderness.
As you continue west along the covered wooden sidewalk, the materials become more refined as well as the architectural details. You end up at the Golden Horseshoe Saloon, which was "built" in 1871. Just beyond the saloon is a miniature version of New Orleans Square that was built when the park first opened. Housed in this building used to be such landmarks as the Aunt Jemima's Pancake House and Don Defore's Silver Banjo Barbecue Restaurant. Today it is the home of the River Belle Terrace. By the time you get to the Mark Twain dock, you will find crates ready to go in 1883.
Speaking of the Golden Horseshoe saloon, Walt wanted a very specific look for this very important showplace. He asked his design team to conjure up something that looked like it came out of the 1953 movie Calamity Jane. Little did Walt know he already had a set designer from that movie already on his staff, Harper Goff. Once again, Harper plays an essential role in the development of Disneyland.
It was Walt himself who personally laid out the dimensions and the contours for Tom Sawyer Island. He looked at a number of different options for the island including miniature reproductions of famous American buildings, Mickey Mouse Island, and Treasure Island. In the end, he invented something new, the childrenâ€™s adventure playground. This was a place where adults could sit back, relax, and let their children burn off a bit of energy. After all, the kids couldnâ€™t get lost as they we stuck on an island. The island has gone through many changes over the years and is now infested with pirates.
Remember, Disneyland is a three-dimensional cinematic experience. Throughout the park you find movie tricks ranging from forced perspective where the buildings are meant to look taller than they really are while retaining an intimate quality to the cross-dissolve, which creates a seamless transition from one space to another. Another visual effect that creates a richer texture and a more immersive environment is called an "inbetween."
In the book The Illusion of Life / Disney Animation, the authors describe that in the animation process the scene is staged by a series of key drawings that highlight major points of motion. The key drawings come to life because of the large number of "inbetweens" that complete the scene.
Within Disneyland there is a number of examples of "inbetweens" including the petrified tree next to the Mark Twain dock and Tarzan's Treehouse in Adventureland. They are things you pass by all the time without a thought but you would notice that something is missing if they were removed.
One other very subtle feature is the link between the petrified tree and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Take a look at the top of the tree and compare that to the top of the Big Thunder hoodoo (the mountain) and be prepared to be amazed.