Look at this Stuff… Isn’t it Neat?

“Part of Your World” is such a perfect song to me. It seems as if it is always stuck in my head. There isn’t a day that goes by without me singing it or humming it at least once.

Tonight, I came across this little gem of a video. It’s Jodi Benson, recording the song with Howard Ashman. If you’re a big fan of The Little Mermaid, this will literally give you chills.

Enjoy.

The Little Mermaid: Disney’s Game Changer

I recently wrote this expository essay for a class and thought it was something that might interest you all. Hope you enjoy! It was lots of fun to write.

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“Glen Keane was leaving Disney.” The news that one of Disney’s greatest animators was choosing to leave the company was all over the internet. When I saw this, I wondered what it would mean for the future of Disney princesses. He was one of many artists, writers, composers, directors, and producers that changed the meaning of “Disney princess” forever. After my emotions settled down and I was able to look at this loss objectively, I realized that although the exit of Glen Keane from Disney’s toolbox was devastating, it was not nearly as devastating as it would have been if Disney had lost the rights to the first princess he designed: the little mermaid, Ariel.

Ariel was Disney’s game changer. She inspired every hero and heroine that has come after her. There isn’t one specific characteristic of her film, The Little Mermaid, that defines its significance. The piece as a whole reflects the expectations we hold our family entertainment to today.

The first thing you notice about Ariel is her exotic look. Glen Keane, her lead animator, spent a lot of time researching what made people beautiful and focused on two main concepts: a unique appearance and perfect eyes. Other characters he designed later, such as Pocahontas and Rapunzel, reflect this ideology. The key to real beauty, however, is not just found in appearances. Disney explored Ariel as a character and made sure her personality was defined and realistic. Ariel’s father, King Triton, says she is “careless and reckless,” and she acts more like a real teenager than the other young princesses that came before her. Because she does not speak for half of the film, her visual design and personality were vital to its overall success.

Those characteristics were not enough, however. Ariel also needed to be relatable, but at first glance, she has a few things going against her: she is a mermaid, a princess, and desires to become a human. The three most important things about her are things that no one can directly relate to. Yet somehow, Ariel’s dreams speak to us. It doesn’t matter what her dream is. What matters is why she wants it. Ariel longs for something more, for freedom, for a chance to live her own life. This is something every child and, more specifically, every teenager can relate to. Her motives are not limited to a specific desire like love, knowledge, wealth, or fame. She simply wants to feel alive and has enough nerve to make this dream come true. Ursula, the sea witch that turns her into a human the first time, tells her, “Life’s full of tough choices.” Ariel understands this, but is never afraid to make the right choice to turn her dreams into reality.

When you compare her aforementioned traits and decisions to those of the princesses that came before her- Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty- you can see the difference, but the line is still blurry. There is, however, a significant choice Ariel makes that separates her from her predecessors and becomes a tradition carried on by many of her successors. Princess Ariel saves Prince Eric. She rescues him from drowning. This single scene from The Little Mermaid created a pattern easily seen in Disney’s succeeding princess films. Belle brings the Beast back to life when she admits, “I love you.” Pocahontas puts herself in front of her own father’s weapon right before he tries to carry out John Smith’s death sentence. Rapunzel heals Flynn Rider with her magical tears after Mother Goethel stabs him. Still, Ariel was the original to do this, making her a true role model for Disney princesses and young girls alike.

Although The Little Mermaid’s title suggests that the story revolves only around Ariel, this film introduced some of the most memorable supporting characters in Disney film history. Sebastian, the royal composer and Ariel’s guardian, is the most vivid example from the film. Although he is just a tiny crab, he has a strong voice and a huge heart. He sings the most in the film, having two feature songs (one of which won an Academy Award), and delivers some of the film’s most powerful dialogue. He even directly states one of the film’s themes: “Children got to be free to live their own lives.” Other supporting roles have their turns in the spotlight as well. Ursula was the first villain in a Disney princess film to have her own full-length song, and Prince Eric was given his own distinct personality and motives.

Another part of the film’s success must be attributed to the thing that won the movie two Oscars: the music. The score was composed by Alan Menken, who changed the sound and musical caliber for all Disney films since his debut with the company.  His compositions can also he heard in later films: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Tangled. Alan Menken and the lyricist for The Little Mermaid, Howard Ashman, did more than simply add music. They gave characters real voices and drove the story with smooth transitions and passion.

Every person from the animators to the composers that worked on The Little Mermaid put their hearts and souls into the film. These collaborators turned fairytales into more than just love stories. Ever since The Little Mermaid, Disney films have stood for family, friendship, duty, and faith. Princess films are no longer just for girls anymore, with heroes like The Little Mermaid’s Prince Eric that boys can look up to. In the past, Disney was criticized for not making their princesses and leading ladies strong enough, but after The Little Mermaid, that argument has been permanently defeated. Ariel says it herself: “Bright young women, sick of swimming, ready to stand.” Entertainment fans all over the world owe it to Ariel and her creators for taking a risk and being ready to stand for what the future of princesses deserved to be.

A Meditation on Disneyland

“Disney World incorporates some lessons learned in the original gold mine called Disneyland that opened 16 years ago at Anaheim, California. Some changes are minor. At Orlando the vinyl leaves on the Swiss Family Robinson Tree are draped with live Spanish moss. No such decoration at Anaheim. Disney World’s 18-story Cinderella Castle is more than twice as high as its Anaheim counterpart and houses a lavish restaurant. Anaheim has only one President, an animated Mr. Lincoln, but Disney World’s Hall of Presidents offers all 36 of them- in costume, in motion, and getting along famously.”

This quote is from Life magazine’s cover story of Walt Disney World’s opening, published October 15, 1971. The article makes Disney World out to be the vacation kingdom of the world- and it is! But as I read this, I thought of old Disneyland. No spanish moss, no castle restaurant, no presidents besides Honest Abe… But somehow, during my recent trip out west, Disneyland stole my heart from Walt Disney World, and I don’t know if it will ever get it back.

An essential part of the Magic Kingdom experience on both coasts is Main Street U.S.A. It’s the first part of the theme park you experience, and it sets up your expectations for the rest of the park. Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. understands its objective. It doesn’t try to be the place for Disney merchandise because that’s what the neighboring World of Disney store in Downtown Disney strives for. Instead, Main Street U.S.A. features smaller stores with unique identities that keep crowds flowing up the street towards the main attraction. Main Street U.S.A. also takes advantage of its theming to incorporate Disney stories that otherwise couldn’t fit in the park, but rightfully belong, such as Mary Poppins and The Happiest Millionaire. In the evening, Main Street U.S.A.’s objective changes slightly from a warm welcome to a tender goodbye. At Walt Disney World, leaving the Magic Kingdom is often a nightmare caused by the evening parade and the chaotic stores, but at Disneyland, it is calm and charming; the Disneyland guest can relax on the curb to castle-gaze, a luxurious freedom granted nowhere else within American borders. You’re given a true choice of staying for a float and some shopping or leaving to dream about a surreal day now passed.

Special freedoms are not only for the guests of Disneyland. The characters seem to actually live there. They are citizens of Disneyland instead of distant celebrities constantly guarded by self-important character watchmen. Alice and the Mad Hatter can play with guests, Br’er Bear can frolic around Critter Country, and Hans and Otto can climb to the Matterhorn’s peak. Because the characters here are granted more freedom, guests can liberate themselves to a higher level where they, too, begin to see Disneyland as their imagination’s playground. When everyone else is able to act on this same level, Disney’s main objective of authenticity is brought to the outermost rim of reality.

Authenticity is achieved when any contradictory elements are removed or hidden. Disneyland’s execution of the Rivers of America illustrates this precisely. The river is a part of New Orleans Square, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Critter Country, and integrates elements of each land without contradicting any guest’s view. There are so many types of boats on the river: a sailing ship, a steam-powered riverboat, rafts, and canoes. They make this river feel real, important, and natural. Each boat offers a different perspective of the river. It’s more than landscape, more than an effective transition; it has multiple attractions that each hold value.

Along the Rivers of America sits a land Walt Disney World has never known: New Orleans Square. This land is imaginative and colorful. The feeling of magic and fantasy here is on a whole other level compared to Walt Disney World’s counterpart, Liberty Square. New Orleans Square is full of high energy from its winding streets to its live entertainment. It’s a place you want to explore, and it features two of the greatest attractions of all time: Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion.

In addition to the variety of attractions, Disneyland has longer rides than Walt Disney World does. When an attraction is longer (or even if it just seems longer), it is more immersive. The deeper you’re immersed, the greater affect the ride has on you. That is a vital part of how memorable an attraction is. Naturally, if you love an attraction, you will probably come back to experience it again. A direct comparison between Disneyland and Walt Disney World is found in Pirates of the Caribbean. Disneyland’s version is 16-minutes long, with more stories, imagery, and drops that make it the hands-down winner when compared to Walt Disney World’s version. Another example that parallels length and quality is Indiana Jones Adventure. This attraction’s queue extends deep into Adventureland, and the ride itself has enough suspense and thrill to drive an entire film.

Although the entire park is a gem, Disneyland’s crowning jewel is Fantasyland. It has a perfect balance of charm and whimsy. Its approach to fantasy is a classic one, focusing on original, timeless Disney stories. Guests of all ages can thoroughly enjoy it because everyone knows the stories of Snow White, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and Pinocchio. Disneyland’s Fantasyland is pure and immersive; it encompasses enough space so that when you’re there, it feels like Fantasyland is the only place in the world. Although every attraction here is golden, there is one that stands out, visually and emotionally: the Matterhorn. In this attraction, instead of witnessing your favorite stories come alive, you create your very own story. As you board your bobsled and Hans and Otto climb the mountain’s peak, you feel wholeheartedly that the fantasies of your wildest imagination are finally reality.

There is a unique feeling you get when you enter Disneyland. A little voice tells you,  “Walt was here,” and when you leave, that voice says, “He’s still here.” This is something only Disneyland can do. Disneyland and Walt Disney World are so different, and even if they tried, one could never be exactly like the other. But that’s okay. They don’t have to be the same, and they shouldn’t strive to be. Disneyland doesn’t have Epcot or Disney’s Animal Kingdom, just as Walt Disney World doesn’t have Storybookland Canal Boats or the Matterhorn. Neither resort is better, only different, and it all comes down to personal preference. For now, I prefer Disneyland, but nothing is for certain in our ever-changing world. The only thing I do know for certain is where my mind goes when it wanders, and I wrote this essay with only one objective: to find out why.

The Quest for the Best Float

Vacation is the perfect excuse for lots of desserts and sweet treats. On my recent trip to California, I made this my motto, and put an emphasis on finding the best float.

My quest began at Disney’s Soda Fountain in Hollywood with an orange soda and vanilla ice cream float. I have to admit, I was rather confused when it came out. The soda was served in a huge mug with a scoop of ice cream resting on the rim. I tried, without much grace, to get the ice cream into the mug, but the soda fizzed up and nearly exploded. When it did calm down, though, it was quite delicious and as close to a citrus swirl as I could get on the west coast.

My next float was from the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor on Main Street, U.S.A. in Disneyland. We were about to say goodnight to my new favorite theme park, but found an excuse to stay a little longer by getting dessert. This time I ordered a coca-cola and vanilla ice cream float. Once our order was ready, we took our treats to the curb. We people-watched and castle-gazed until park closing. It was the perfect way to end a perfect day.

My final float was in Carsland from the Cozy Cone Motel. I went with a coca-cola float again, and it came in a neat Cars souvenir plastic cup. It was a great escape from the heat wave that day.

In the end, the Gibson Girl float won first prize. I’m not sure, though, if it actually tasted better or if it was just the magic of the moment. Disney’s Soda Fountain won best appearance, and the Cozy Cone won best cup. This quest sure was a tasty one, and I cannot wait to return to California for more.

The Lucky Rabbit

Yesterday, I was greeted with a familiar, happy sight, a brown and blue cardboard package from the Disney Store, that contained a not-so-familiar sight, a tiny stuffed Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Although he is gaining popularity and working his way back into our pop culture, there are still many people that do not know this little Disney icon. To be honest, I don’t know much about him either. I read some of his general history and saw a few of his shorts, but I definitely cannot consider myself an Oswald expert. I can say, though, that Oswald is still an important part of my Disney fandom.

Walt Disney said, “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Every time I hear or see this quote, I think of Oswald. As the legend goes, after Walt learned he lost the rights to Oswald (click here for that story), he spent the train ride home inventing a brand new character that changed his entire company forever, Mickey Mouse. Just when Walt thought Oswald wasn’t so lucky after all, the circumstance Oswald put Walt in was the luckiest thing that could have happened for the company.

I wear Oswald clothing and have a stuffed Oswald not because he’s my favorite character or I know everything about him, but because he’s an inspiration and a reminder that kicks in the teeth can be gifts in disguise. Luck doesn’t always announce itself, and you have to keep moving forward to realize it’s always there.

Photos from Buena Vista Street in Disney’s California Adventure at Oswald’s

“What’s this?” When Halloween & Christmas Collide..

For the first time in weeks, I felt as if I had had a good night’s sleep. I was excited to actually have a weekend at home that brought the promise of Halloween activities along with it. When I opened my eyes from my peaceful slumber, I was in for quite a surprise.

As I would on a frosty winter morning, I rushed to the window, thrilled at what I saw. There were snowflakes floating in the air and the ground was sparkly white. It was October 29th and we had snow.

If you’re reading this from, say, Colorado, I’m sure this is nothing special, but for a resident of Pennsylvania, snow isn’t usually seen until the end of December.

Once I got over the initial shock, I changed into my flannel Christmas pajamas, grabbed my Santa hat, and rushed downstairs to greet my parents with a rendition of “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!” My parents laughed and we all gazed out the window at the snow gently coating the trees and recently changed leaves.

The morning was spent like any good snow day- in the kitchen with my mom, making breakfast and listening to Christmas songs. As I ate my pancakes, I laughed at the sight of the Halloween decorations next to the frosted window. This was all so surreal.

Later that afternoon, we continued our kitchen adventures with Halloween cookies and cupcakes. I had to pull out 20 different Christmas sprinkle jars until I finally found orange.

We also carved our pumpkin, which wasn’t in the best shape after sitting in the snow for hours. I wanted to do something clever and Disney, and soon enough, the idea hit me! I had to do Orange Bird! Unfortunately, I did not have a test pumpkin and my idea didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, but it still somewhat resembled my little citrus friend! Next year, though, I’ll remember to carve simply his face and add another green leaf to his stem.

Orange Bird pumpkin

This day was more confused than I was- it had no idea what we were celebrating. There was only one logical way to end it. We had to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas. That movie has always been a favorite of mine. The music and animation are equally superb and it combines two of my favorite holidays (kind of like this day did).

October 29 was not just a snow day or  Halloween or somewhere in between. It was a chance for me to regain my spirits that I had lost over the past few weeks. I had hit a wall of anxiety and exhaustion, but as always, a day devoted to magic, family bonding, and food brought me back to my center. The snow may have seemed like Mother Nature’s trick, but overall, it provided me with a Hallo-Christmas-ween holiday treat.

Faith, trust, and pixie dust,

Lindsay

A Jolly Holiday with Mary

“Oh, it’s a jolly holiday with Mary! Mary makes your world so light! When the day is gray and ordinary, Mary makes the sun shine bright!”

It was a cloudy day in the big apple, but I felt the warmth of a thousand suns. Being a lover of the theatre and Disney, I entered New Amsterdam Theatre ready for what I heard was a “practically perfect” musical- Mary Poppins. A sense of enthusiasm overtook my body. I felt as if I was in the presence of greatness, standing in a temple where the musical genius of the Sherman brothers resounds daily, where the perseverance of Walt Disney is admired decades later, where the breathtaking smile of Julie Andrews radiates into the soul of every audience member. I was reminded of Walt’s words, “I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something, than educate people and hope they were entertained.” Would this show be one of simple pleasure or profound knowledge? After only a few songs, the answer quickly arose within my heart.

Mary Poppins spoke to me with many timeless themes, that of which I was lucky enough to witness and receive. My first lesson came through the stubbornness of the children, too unwilling to see Bert’s colorful interpretation of their dull park as reality. (Unfortunately, my hometown isn’t too inspiring, either.)  In “Jolly Holiday,” as Bert transformed the park into what his heart saw, rather than his brain, I learned that all it takes is a less conventional perspective, and “something as plain as a park becomes a wonderland!”

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We live in a world where working is nearly inevitable, whether it is at a job, at school, or household chores. Mary reminds us in “A Spoonful of Sugar” that “in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun! You find the fun, and snap! The job’s a game!” The only thing keeping us between a dead-end task and pure joy is a positive outlook. Finding a positive in daunting situations can be quite difficult at times, but once we do, the rest will come like pure magic, “in the most delightful way.”

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One of Walt Disney’s favorite tunes portrays the largest message in the show. “Feed the Birds” is a beautifully constructed metaphor saying that parents must care for their children, for that is what they desire most. It doesn’t take much, the bird woman reminds us, and “you’ll be glad if you do.” Children are the greatest natural resource on this earth, and the easiest way to unlock it is through the love we give them.

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My favorite song of the show is “Anything Can Happen.” Every lyric is purely inspirational. We’re told, “Dreams are made of strong elastic!” I’ve noticed that too many people in this day and age are far too quick to let go of their dreams. Dreams don’t ever have to die. They may take a hit every now and then, but dreams are stronger than one might think. In my short lifetime, I’ve seen that they are indeed quite flexible- far more flexible than I could ever be.

While chasing your dreams, “broaden your horizon, open different doors! You may find a you there that you never knew was your’s!” As I continue to grow in this ever-changing world, I’ve learned that we must go on our journeys together. Dream chasing often succeeds when it’s a team effort. One of my really good friends, Josh, who is wise beyond his years (although he’d never admit that), told me, “We must use others as mirrors for our identity and self-knowledge… We can utilize the perceptions of others to learn more about ourselves, if we possess the mental faculty, insight, and imagination to do so.” Finding a new you through someone else’s window is just a part of Mary’s lesson: Anything can happen if you let it.

The epic ending of this song blew me away. The stage lit up as bright as Mary’s smile. It transformed into the “heavens” itself- a remarkable stage transition. Mary and the cast repeated, “If you reach for the stars, all you get are the stars, but we’ve found a whole new spin! If you reach for the heavens, you get the stars thrown in!” Never settle for something less than what you dream of. Without dreams, there is no life. With settling for less than your dreams, there is no purpose. Don’t be afraid to shoot for the highest goals; they can come true (if you let it).

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“A man should never neglect his family for business,” preached Walt Disney. This philosophy is ever-present in the Mary Poppins tale, however, the show stands not just as a moral for busy parents. Mary Poppins is laced with themes that everyone can learn from. I left the theater not simply with a grin on my face and tears in my eyes, but a smile in my heart. That itself was worth the price of admission.

Faith, Trust, & Pixie Dust,

Lindsay

“Go and chase your dreams; you won’t regret it! Anything can happen if you let it!”