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 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

To Imagineer

“To Imagineer”

A Found Poem taken from Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real

Imagineer:

Both a verb and a noun,

Standing firm upon the foundation of

Disney values and optimism.

Animators, directors, writers,

Artists, and set designers,

Inspired by the

Lessons Walt had taught us so well,

Learning and succeeding by

Dreaming and doing,

Purely Disney.

The dreamers and doers

Rallied together to reach

New milestones:

A scene, a breathtaking vista,

An unparalleled spectrum of opportunity,

Countless worlds,

Still unexplored.

To Imagineer

Begins with a spark.

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).

*

“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!”