Uncles and cousins were there, laughing and celebrating the trip. The Florida breeze and the fireworks blushing the myriad of colors over the park wandered on my eyes as I scream at Big Thunder Mountain. The score of the Wishes nighttime spectacular filled the speakers throughout the Magic Kingdom.
Time to go. Walking right down the middle of Main Street U.S.A., I made the mistake of contemplating Cinderella’s Castle. Sobbing started as we went to the monorail, as if they were taking from my hands a special sort of talisman.
Every time I walk out of Magic Kingdom and look at the castle, the tears of my internal child start falling on my cheeks.
My first visit to the Magic Kingdom was when I was nine months. Since then, I’ve visited Walt Disney World countless times. I’ve had the chance of visiting Disneyland in California and Disneyland Paris. It has been inevitable to be attached to these places that represent so many of my nostalgic memories.
The Disney parks represent family in many ways. They represent moments that I’ve shared with brothers, cousins and uncles. It has also been a place of sour farewells. Time sugarcoats the photos of past visits.
In an article named ‘Disneyland Is Good For You’, Imagineer John Hench pinpointed the ‘pseudomenace’ as the sentiment shared by millions of park guests. There’s no other place to have a trip to the second star to the right, survive a haunted mansion with 999 happy haunts and sing ‘Under The Sea’ in a single day. It is filled with minor details that really turn dreams into a palpable reality, bonding the experience to your inner self.
Theme parks are multisensory experiences. You will never understand a kid’s obsession to meet his favorite character until Mickey Mouse talks to you just like in the beloved animated shorts. Once you’re part of the fantasy, the game begins as if in a virtual reality experience.
Disney parks mean different things for different people. Decades elapse and millions of families keep visiting. It’s a second home to many fans. Every single change in the park affects their feelings and memories. They are part of a tightly knit fan community. When an attraction closes, many cheer and others lament it. Imagineers constantly use Walt’s phrase to justify closures or refurbishments: ‘Disneyland will never be completed. It will grow and change as long as there is imagination left in the world’.
These attractions and places have emotions and experiences attached to them. I understood that when a host from the Retro Disney World podcast told the story of how Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, closed in 1998, reminded him of his mother, who recently passed away on the recording date.
When people fly with Dumbo or hop aboard a pirate ship with Peter Pan, it creates a moment that is deeply rooted into your memories. It isn’t about the attraction, but of the feelings that takes you back down memory lane.
Disney movies are my infancy. Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Melody Time, Peter Pan, Fantasia, and more. The animated characters hypnnotized me. There was a mysticism behind them that lasted even after the movie ended. I remember that my Peter Pan VHS had a documentary that explained the behind the scenes story of the movie, showing animators studying real actors as reference for the characters. That was the first time that I understood how these movies were made frame by frame, changing my perception about the art of animation.
Every time I watch an animated film, I admire each detail of the frame. I laugh at gags I didn’t noticed as a child, admire the color palette, observe the depth of vision achieved by the multiplane camera. I have had a whole different experience every time I watch the movies.
Disney Channel is the sole reason to watch television. I came back from school, had lunch and went to see my favorite series. When ‘Zapping Zone’ started, I would take a bath in between commercials so I wouldn’t miss a thing. Then, there was the featured film. As the credits rolled, I went to sleep.
But what Disney Channel made the most was to relive my park memories and fandom. I would watch promotional material and featurettes, search over the internet about the most recent news and rumors, and I played endless nights in the Virtual Magic Kingdom, an online community that opened for the 50th anniversary of Disneyland.
When I discovered that there were fans with the same enthusiasm, I followed them. I stayed for hours reading Doombuggies.com, a site dedicated to The Haunted Mansion, and TellNoTales.com, a site dedicated to Pirates Of The Caribbean. I would read them thoroughly until I could say every single detail about the attractions’ history.
The history behind these two attractions grabbed me immediately. I saw the secrets behind the curtain, marveled at everything. As a magic enthusiast, the details of the illusions behind the attractions were fascinating to me.
Another aspect that I discovered during my research about the parks was the close relation they had with Walt Disney. When you consider that Walt invested so much to Disneyland even though nobody believed in the project, it becomes the story of a creative battle. The parks were the last big project that Walt oversaw. His ambitions in Florida wasn’t only a theme park, but a whole new city dedicated to presenting a new way of urban living. E.P.C.O.T. would be the name of this experimental city, while what we know as Epcot is just a tribute to Walt’s great and undone project.
While learning about all the process involved in the design and the construction of the parks and attractions, I also learned about other topics. My sensibilities regarding visual design, architecture, the use of color, storytelling, visual transitions, and the smart use of engineering solutions is thanks to all my investigations about the Disney parks. Every time I enter a mall or any public space, I think of a hundred ways of improving the experience. When I visit the parks, I know when a special effect is not in place, the sound isn’t in sync and there’s an malfunctioning Audio Animatronic.
The story behind Walt Disney Imagineering makes me believe that creativity has no limits. How can you explain that a group of animators, with no knowledge about three dimensional designs, architecture, engineering or the inner workings of a restaurant, were able to design a theme park? These are multi disciplinary creative geniuses. For them, the sky is the limit, no matter the tools required needed to achieve it. I identify myself with them because curiosity takes me to many creative projects, never sticking to one thing at a time. Some days I’m a magician, others I’m a film director, writer, or actor. My limit isn’t the craft, but the sky itself.
This history of the parks captivates me. It represents a world where they try to achieve the impossible everyday. It helps you dream and eliminate frontiers. There are no attachments rather than hard work and creativity. Walt Disney is the most visible example, moving from short films to fully animated features, then to the world of television and later to theme parks and urban planning.
I am grateful of the parks because of the memories, feelings, happiness and sadness that they have given me. I also thank them for my admiration for design, architecture, storytelling, engineering and technology.
Since that small discovery over the internet in 2006, my passion keeps growing. Everyday I have a list of Twitter users, podcasts, blogs, and books about the topic of the history of the parks. I even discuss about new color palettes in a building of Main Street U.S.A.
I’m a Disney fan because it has given me experiences, teachings and feelings that I have found nowhere else. It has accompanied me in every moment in different ways. The history of Walt Disney connects in many ways towards my aspirations of the future.
So when people ask me why I am a fan, to explain it shortly, I just tell them that story back in 2006, turning around to see Cinderella’s Castle with tears running down my cheeks.