Ah, Disney magic? Disney money? Watching Saving Mr. Banks recently, and blogging about it, got me to thinking about that particular combination for the first time in some years. Here’s why.
If you are my age, and had an average American childhood with a big console television in the living room, you grew up watching Disneyland every week.
Then I went to library school, specialized in work with children and re-read many of the classic stories.Yikes.The Disney version was often not even close to the original and often different in ways that were not improvements. Plus,this was the end of the protesting 1960′s, when Disney was considered a crass corporate monster supporting outdated cultural values. In some circles, anyway.
All this makes it hard to think about Disney the company with complete clarity or critical ability. However, it used to be part of my job. I worked in research at a global consulting firm where my specialty was the media and entertainment group. I needed to know everything possible about Disney as well as the other industry giants.
Then I was sent to an offsite meeting right there at Disneyworld. Belly of the beast? (We stayed here. My employer didn’t do anything half way ).
We were there to explore a new industry development, multimedia, and get a behind the scenes look at what Disney was doing.
And here is where it all becomes a kind of split-personality experience. The professional I was then easily recognized Disneyworld as a giant machine dedicated to separating people from their money. And they did it extremely well. They made it fun, they made it easy, and boy, did they make it profitable. I knew all about how they had underground tunnels so staff never, ever, ever, appeared on the street only partly costumed. In fact, a cashier looked me right in the eyes and said, “What costume?” Yes, that was Disney’s much admired training program in action right in front of me.
But along with me, the cynical industry observer me, was the little girl I was, who never got to Disneyland, and me, the mom who never took her (no longer little) girls. As I watched the very small children hugging the Cinderella mice and Robin Hood the fox, it was perfectly clear to me they thought the characters were the real thing.
Some kind of magic was indeed happening here.
I even felt it a bit myself when I flew past Big Ben on the Peter Pan ride.
It is deeply fake and calculated. And it is deeply real and kind of wonderful. How do I deal with this intellectually? Is it possible?
Certainly it’s true that some Disney versions of children’s classics are pretty bad, but even in the worst of them, there are often moments of beauty and imagination. I am particularly fond of the singing flowers in Alice in Wonderland.
And the best of them are the best in class, period. What child ever forgets the talking mirror in Snow White, the pumpkin-to-magic- coach in Cinderella or the dancing flowers,flying horses and hippo ballerinas of Fantasia?
So here is my confession: that same summer I took my family to Disneyworld for a few days before daughter #1 left for college. We had a good time, too.
And at the same time, I am very glad the protesters won and Disney did not get to theme park Gettysburg. What a bad plan that was. Some places do not need Disney magic and some places should not be turned into Disney profit centers.