“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Walt Disney
So, we are heading to the incomplete Eurodisney to give our little four-year-old girl her birthday present. A trip I planned to the Magic Kingdom in France, spending the weekend in Hotel New York. I know it will be tiring, with the rain and snow forecast for this weekend, but watching the little person packing her bag tonight, making sure to put her favorite Disney books in, and her poofy Princess dress that she forced into the little furry suitcase with a horse on the front. “Why do you need the princess dress?” “What if Cinderella is there?” Hmm, that somehow makes sense, my daughter needs to be dressed for the occasion in case she meets Cinderella-who married royalty, so the dress code is pretty strict for these encounters, or so my little one thinks. The dreaminess on her face, drifting off to sleep talking about Minnie Mouse and Goofy (we all love Goofy, he is my favorite, along with Dory from Finding Nemo). She was talking about her trip with the enthusiasm of a rookie astronaut preparing for a maiden voyage to another galaxy-in the company of visiting aliens.
All things Disney have that effect on us. I don’t care if some over-philosophizing people think Disney is commercial, too Americanized, whatever they claim it is. To me, Disney is imagination, pure and simple. With so much imagination, magic is bound to emerge. You go there, and you are transformed, not into someone else, but into the child you imprison within you, behind the austere grown up exterior where everything is under control and making sense. You cross those gates, give your ticket a swipe, and you are the wide-eyed kid who wants a corn dog now now now, and wants to ride with Peter Pan in the starry sky of London, fighting with Captain Hook and laughing at the tic toc of the crocodile biting Captain Hook’s behind to be saved at the last minute by the loyal Smee.
I like everything Disney. I read more about the visionary who created the concept, the formula, the characters. Walt Elias Disney was born in 1901 to an Irish (origin) Dad and German (origin) Mom who were living in Chicago. He moved a lot with his parents, was a bit of a rebel with a stern father, and had a dream that he followed persistently. When he enlisted for the Red Cross to go to Europe in World War I after he was refused in the army for being too young, he worked as an ambulance driver in France, and on the ambulance he painted, not camouflage, but cartoon characters from end to end. He came back from the war and started making short animated films, went bankrupt, didn’t give up, packed up a suitcase, and headed to Hollywood to start a business-not yet 22.
He borrowed money from his brother and together started working in a garage to produce animated movies. He quickly made it to the top unstoppable even by the Great Depression that was gripping the US at the time, and in 1937 he made history by producing an animated feature “Snow white and the seven dwarfs” at over a million dollar price tag. One thing about Walt Disney that made him different from the Hollywood crowd was that he was a family man. He had dinner every night with his wife and two daughters and never missed an event featuring his kids. He once said: “A man should never neglect his family for business” and lived by that saying. With the support of his wife and family, he went on to purchase a property twice the size of Manhattan and build his first ever Disney Land in Orlando. It was his imagined concept of a theme park that really works. A dream come true.
One thing that really astounds me with the vision of Walt Disney is the simplicity of it. He wanted to entertain both adults and children, and starting with Mickey Mouse, created three dimensional characters that the world has come to love and identify with. His theme parks, although appearing artificial and blah, are clean fun for families. It is nice to share the same sense of magic with your kids, it is a time you share and remember and leave with a boost to your feel good stash of emotions where things are safe and life is good and it is not only okay but encouraged to dream a little.
Some of the quotes by Walt Disney that inspired me as I wrote this in hopes of catching a few winks before heading to Euro Disney in the morning:
“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
“All your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them.”
“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.”
“I do not like to repeat successes, I like to go on to other things.”
I am looking forward to sharing moments of magic that I will witness on the upturned face of my child after she charges through the gates of a haven of wonder, where life and its problems pause for a while, giving parents a break, where fireworks fill the night air above the Disney Castle in a blinding splash of color and stars, where the thrill of my daughter’s lifetime would be to meet her favorite Disney characters in the flesh and fly with Peter Pan to Neverland. Who needs pixie dust when you have the living, incomplete dream of Walt Disney, a poor kid who was born in Chicago, a folk hero who realized his American dream?