Sunday, September 17, 2006


My wife, two daughters and I are back home from a summer-ending trip to Disneyland. As I'm pretty sure I've mentioned once or twice, my twin daughters begin college in about a week (later than most, we know) and we wanted to send them off in style. We were also joined for a day by Kid Sis, who hadn't been to the original Magic Kingdom in years and I think had a good time with us.

Having written that, I almost feel like I'm unveiling a terrible secret: "Hi, I'm Brian, and I love Disneyland." It's not cool--in fact, pretty much the opposite. I'm embarrassed.

There is certainly an adult, rational, cynical side of my brain that understands the Disney Corporation to be a crushing behemoth that competes fiercely, exports some of the most vapid aspects of American culture around the globe, and never misses an opportunity to wring every last cent from its properties and customers. One of the great truisms of U.S. jurisprudence is "Don't Mess With Disney" because their lawyers will bury you. You don't have to explain that to me; I get it.

And yet....

There is the other side of my brain that grew up in 1960s' South Dakota watching the Mickey Mouse Club and Wonderful World of Disney (in COLOR! once we finally got a color television set). My Adult Brain knows now that those programs were little more than commercials for Disney theme parks and products (surely Uncle Walt invented multi-media synergy), but my Kid Brain saw them as windows into an exotic realm I would probably never enter. I had a friend who'd visited Disneyland and returned with one of the mouse-eared hats, just like the ones I saw on TV, and we treated it like a sacred holy relic. When he let me perch the ears atop my crew-cut for a moment, I felt cold, electrically charged mercury flow through my spinal column. He told and retold the stories of his travels and was a hero for days.

When I made my first visit to the park around age 9, I was not disappointed. And now that I have the means to visit Anaheim pretty much whenever I want--which since we've had children has been every couple of years--I'm still never disappointed. Fact is, I'd rather give my leisure money to the Disney Corporation than a Vegas casino, a cruise line, a liquor store, gasoline for a fast car, or whatever it is people spend their cash on in the name of fun. I find real value in the immersive environment, attention to detail, genuine commitment to pretty good customer service, and opportunities to evoke old memories while making new ones. I like studying how so many creative people have applied their talents for 50 years to entertain me. And I perceive a purity of intent and purpose that I think escapes Disney's harsher critics.

The Disney folks and I have a business arrangement: I give them money and they give me magic. It's a fair trade.

By the way, the photo above illustrates how empty Disneyland's Main Street was last Wednesday morning, our first day in the park. We walked onto ride after ride, with even the most popular demanding no more than a 10-minute wait. After years of only going during school holidays (because that's when our kids were free, just like everyone else's kids), it was an extraordinary experience that spoiled us. Nothing but off-season mid-weeks for us from now on, I'm afraid. If the kids can't make it, too bad for them. My wife and I will send them a postcard.


Milinda said...

One of our former classmates, Dan Singer, I believe, ended up working for Disney in their animation section. 'Course, that is very, very old news from an old, ahem, girlfriend of his. I have no idea if he is still there or not.

I agree: Disney is magic, dispite the hype.

Brian Fies said...

Milinda, glad you're still visiting! I remember Dan; I'm also thinking there was someone else in our class who worked for Disney, but can't place his name. It'll come to me in a year or two. Thanks for backing me up.