NEW YORK -- It rained a bit, but nobody complained as umbrellas popped open. The souvenir and refreshment lines were long and winding, but people were patient. It took some doing to find a place to plop down a blanket, but there were smiles and laughter amid the picnic baskets and stuffed animals.
After weeks of anticipation, frenzied activity and debate about whether the event should happen at all, the mood was decidedly mellow last night on the Great Lawn of Central Park for a Walt Disney spectacular. Thousands of people from across the nation, mostly parents with their small children, gathered to await the premiere of the animated film "Pocahontas."
The scene resembled a Woodstock nation for children, as
families unfurled blankets, unwrapped picnics and stretched out front of four 80-foot-high screens under overcast skies and 56,000 watts of light set to illuminate the night. Oddly enough, the Great Lawn was covered in 120,000 square feet of synthetic turf for the event, which is the largest movie premiere in history.
About 100,000 people were expected. The majority of the tickets to the event had been given away months ago in a random lottery.
Live entertainment began early in the afternoon, as parents sought the best space to see a screen and escorted children to the hundreds of portable toilets lining the perimeter of the Great Lawn. Because thousands of people had thronged into Central Park by early yesterday afternoon, Disney officials opened the gates at 2 p.m., an hour before the festivities were scheduled to begin.
According to the police, some people were annoyed that they needed tickets to enter the grounds, but the afternoon generally was uneventful. Some families were disappointed that they were forced to sit in a section behind the Great Lawn as it quickly filled.
"It's exciting just being here on the Great Lawn with all the people," said Cindy Berry of Manhattan, with her daughter Heidi, 12. The Berrys got their tickets through the public lottery.
While yesterday was mellow, what unfolded in the days before had almost as many plot twists as the film, this being New York. There were scalpers -- or at least rumors of scalpers -- selling the free tickets for as much as $50. There was a rainstorm last week that threatened the gigantic pieces of equipment. A few days later, the police and a parks official chased a potential movie-equipment thief into the night. There were charges that hundreds of tickets had been unfairly distributed to city employees and assorted big shots. There were forecasts of rain.
And there was the audio backdrop of former Mayor Edward Koch and others complaining that the city had no business holding a commercial event in Central Park, a place for softball players, Rollerbladers, sunbathers and nature lovers. The Great Lawn had been off limits to the public in the weeks it took to set up the huge stages, screens and 400,000-watt sound system for the event.
To be sure, the naysayers made other plans yesterday. on Saturday.
Delighted city officials said, however, that "Pocahontas" was bringing both money and benign publicity to New York. It was the perfect antidote to all those years of Johnny Carson jokes about New York as the place to be mugged, said Jack Linn, the Parks Department's assistant commissioner for citywide services and a planner for the event.
"Here's Disney attracting family to Central Park," Mr. Linn said.
The premiere was nothing if not big. The presentation of the animated tale of the American Indian heroine, Pocahontas, and her encounter with the British soldier Capt. John Smith took enough electricity to power the World Trade Center. Forty miles of cable were laid, and eight projectors were used for nearly 16 miles of film.
After weeks of speculation about how the city made out financially on the deal, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Thursday that the Walt Disney Co. had agreed to give New York $1 million for the use of Central Park.
Mr. Giuliani said yesterday that the city would incur costs from "Pocahontas," but he said they would be "not even close" to the $1 million Disney has pledged to the city. The mayor also said the event would have a wider economic impact. "It's going to bring tens of millions of dollars to the city in direct and indirect revenues," he said.