I once knew a married couple that despised Disneyland. They wouldn’t let their daughters watch any Disney film and refused to introduce them to the Disney characters. No princesses and princes. No heroes or villains. From where they stood, Disney was just a machine. A merchandising powerhouse that tosses the public entertainment designed with only one purpose in mind – to affix a price tag on it.
You pay to enter the park and on your way out why not pay for a shirt or a coffee mug, something to hold your memories in?
They didn’t want their two girls tricked into thinking they could be princesses and then have themselves suckered into spending hard earned money on costumes or other detritus that clutters the Disney Store. This is what they saw, what they believed in. Money’s relationship to life’s experiences.
I won’t defend Disney and say they aren’t out to get our money, (they are a business after all) but I also won’t say that they don’t offer experiences that have value and aren’t worth the money.
I respect my friend’s opinion. In my younger days I might have felt that distrust and disdain as well. I could feel what they’re feeling if I let the cynicism seep in, but I don’t do that. Not anymore. Now, I adore Disneyland. Its faults and flaws are minor compared to its magic, and I do believe in Disney Magic.
I cannot explain the charge of glee, joy, and awe I feel when I walk through the gates of Disneyland. It is a charge indeed, all energy, a tingling that erupts in a broad grin. This last weekend the wife and I went with our parents for my birthday. I was up earlier than I’d ever been (I am not, nor have I ever been and early riser) and I didn’t lose steam at any point during the trip. I chugged through Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Frontierland, Critter Country, Fantasyland, Toon Town, and Tomorrowland. We did all the rides, some two or three times, like we had in the past and will do again in the future. It wide-eyed ecstasy, a full heart of joy at every sight and sound of the Disney experience.
Interrupting side note: I must confess – we have one Disney coffee mug in the cupboard. I never use it. I can’t explain why, but I love that it’s there. In the morning when I grab the cheap Ikea mug I see Mike from Monsters Inc. smiling down at me and I get a bit choked up, teary even, smacked in the face with a jolt of happiness. It’s sudden and urgent, this happiness, and when I close the door on him my heart sinks a little – a little, not a lot, but I feel it heave and drop.
Like I said, in my younger days I wouldn’t have had this response. I enjoyed Disney films enough but never gave them too much thought. I had never been to the park growing up, so I lacked that experience as well. It wasn’t until my 20s that I first visited the park, and it is hard to recall the exact moment, but something in me kept drawing me back. During college I took a solo road trip through California, wandering from San Francisco to Big Sur. I kept driving, unplanned really, and wound up at Disneyland. It happened again when I went to Big Bear for my 30th birthday, once again alone. I drove to Anaheim and spent a full day at the park before driving all night back to San Francisco.
I’ve always been afraid to focus and find the reason for my love of Disney, afraid that I would uncover a fatal flaw in it and I would return to being the cynical Generation X derivative that I had been in my teens so on this trip, I opened up. I looked for reasons to lose faith. A hidden skeleton made of ATMs. If Disneyland was to eventually crush my soul I wanted it to be done quickly, and at my own hands. I would push it to do so.
I: In A Bug’s Land the lights are fireflies and the walkway is covered by a false milk carton, but the garbage cans look like generic garbage cans.
II: Tomorrowland has a rotating building which houses the Innoventions exhibit, which is an obvious shill for Hewlitt-Packard, ABC, Microsoft, and Honda. It was a disgusting display of smiling faces and nonsensical rhetoric by corporate America. This was the biggest offense. Walter Elias Disney, be ashamed. Be very ashamed. Roll in thy grave.
Those are the two extremes of Disneyland’s faults, from the minor to the easily ingnorable. I’ve been to Disneyland roughly a dozen handfuls and hadn’t experience the vacuous dread of Innoventions until this past trip. It’s cell phone mall kiosk level dread. Sick from false sweetness, empty brained notebook knowledge of useless prop utility. So next trip, I’ll just avoid it. Easy.
The Bug’s Land garbage cans should be fixed too, perhaps in mock shrine to matchbooks or candy boxes, but Innoventions is in need of an entire overhaul to give it a purpose worthy of the name Disney. The carnival barkers for Microsoft and ABC should be silenced to let the magic be heard and it is at this exhibit that my cynicism leaks in and kills all enjoyment. I will give my darkside this moment to shine and caw.
The hatred of Innoventions is well deserved on Disney’s part and with that, there it is, the shining beacon of some horrible truth. The crux of my married friends’ point. Disney just wants your money. No love, no hope. Smile and steal. From your child’s dreams to your wallet into Disney’s stock price.
But that’s not what’s important. Not now. Not to me. It might creep in later and I might let it, but now I welcome the unfettered joy Disneyland spurs inside of me.
Interrupting side note II: We saw the new show at California Adventure called ‘World of Color,’ a show of water, fire, colored lights, and images in concert with choice Disney music. My heart warmed over, the heated blood pulsing up to my head, to my eyes, swelling inside in my chest and settled throughout my being. It was the feeling of lost innocence, a vision of a child unknowing, scared, facing the world. The show itself had no story and it flowed through a swarm of Disney heroes and villains pointlessly, but what I did see on display was that Walt Disney’s legendary innocence was still intact.
The show used scenes and characters from famous Disney films as well as those from lesser known films. What I saw was an artist as proud of his famous work as he was of his work that failed to find an audience and make tons at the box office because the truth is, Disney’s ideals are not in fashion right now but they do not change what it is they do. They offer childish beauty and dreams, hope and fluttering innocent visions of life.
There is a sadness contained in Disneyland, a great sadness, or really, a great sadness in us that gets released at Disneyland. At least this is the truth for me. Disneyland shows me so much joy and hope that my heart breaks every time I leave. I understand that this outlook paints me as a pathetic sheep, blind to the ways of corporate America and its lust for all the dollars in the world but once you remove all of these superficial layers to Disneyland what you find is the heart and soul of an amazing artist. Walt Disney, with his specific and universal vision. In the middle of a culture based on sarcasm and cynicism, somehow an ideal like his can still be successful. His characters and the world they live in goes beyond ours.
In Disney we do not get a vision of the world as it is or how it ever really was, but of how it could be, but never will.