Disney and the Internet: Is the Joke on Us?

I appreciate the idea of a good joke as much as the next person, and judging by the amount of sharing of false ads on April Fools Day, satirical articles through sites such as The Onion, and any number of humorous memes, I know I’m not alone. This led me to really think about the internet, in general: the sharing of news, ads, pictures, and, of course, gossip. We rely on unproven sites for our news, opinion pieces to form our own opinions, and public comments sections to use as our own personal soapboxes. Oft times, our minds are made up on an issue or subject before we’ve done any real research due to the instant gratification of internet access. And sometimes, if you will pardon the cynicism, I wonder if the internet in some ways isn’t just one big joke we’re playing on ourselves.

Okay, I'm not suggesting we do away with the internet.. but please, read on....

No, I’m not suggesting we do away with the internet.. but please, read on….

Being a self professed “DisNerd,” allow me to use Disneyland as an example of this thought.

I’m sure I’m not original in my thought, but the thought enters my head more and more often: What if the internet had been around when Walt had been building Disneyland?

Here’s the first preview the general public got of Disneyland:

Can you imagine “insider” reporting by some of the select few, who focused mainly on what was going wrong?

“Rumor has it the wrong trees were bulldozed. If this is the kind of care being put into this construction, what can we expect for the rest of the park?”

“Insiders are saying there aren’t enough attractions in the area of the park called ‘Tomorrowland.’ Instead, looks like the suits are pulling in sponsored exhibits, so get ready for lots of corporate plugs, folks. We don’t need that in a theme park.”

“@DisneyLanding1955 tweeted: Apparently @RealWaltDisney is using the plumbers strike to justify the lack of drinking fountains. Yet he’ll take your money for drinks. (@RealWaltDisney replied:@DisneyLanding1955 People can buy a Pepsi, but they can’t pee in the streets.)”

“Apparently the river that’s going to hold a steamboat completely drained overnight. I wouldn’t count on this park to be worth much with this kind of thing not being thought through.”

“The color scheme of the buildings in Fantasyland are loud and look more like a circus than a Fantasy. What’s more, there’s not even a Pinocchio ride.”

“I’m at the park, and a lot of guests seem to be coming in with counterfeit tickets. The ticket takers seem to be powerless to do anything about it. This is not a sign of good management”

“Crowd control is going to be an issue. The Mark Twain is about to tip over. This place was not built soundly.”

“It’s hot, and the asphalt isn’t hardened. Ladies are losing their heels. I’m beginning to think Disneyland will never be completed.”

Now, let’s be honest. If these were the images you had in your mind, would it influence you on whether or not you wanted to go to Disneyland? I’m not saying it would for everyone, but it would at least make me reluctant. However, people at home didn’t have that outlet. They had black and white TV sets. They had Walt showing up in 1954 with a new TV show that was essentially a huge commercial, albeit a very entertaining one at that. Opening day? Except for a few miscues, the viewing public had no idea of the craziness behind the scenes. They had a front row seat to a new and amazing world! The following day, newspapers ran the articles on the chaos, but at that point it was a bit late to form much public opinion. The general public had already seen magic from the comfort of their living room and now had a way to experience it themselves.

Now, I’m not saying that criticism is a bad thing. We learn from it. Mistakes and misfires are corrected and we move forward. However, it does pose the question: do we let it affect our personal judgement? The above scenarios, the “imagining” of internet reporting from back in the day – they’re all true instances thrown in with a bit of opinion (Although the bulldozing of the wrong trees has been purported to be a myth). As I asked before, would those statements make you more skeptical about going to Disneyland, or would you still go eagerly? What about movies that were predicted bombs, like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? The issues Walt had with P.L. Travers in getting Mary Poppins made?

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I guess the point I’m trying to make is this:

Although I’ve used Disney as the example, this one could really apply to anything. Are we letting ourselves be influenced by inherent negativity online without actually thinking for ourselves, or is it better to go in with a bit of skepticism? The jury is still out for me personally, just a bit of something to think about as you read all those “insider” and negative articles. Perhaps a balance of both is in order?

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this!

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Life as a Library

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I have a friend who recently decided to move his family back to Arizona after a year out of state. Upon informing friends of their decision, he said he was looking forward to “reopening this most important and long chapter in our lives that should have never closed in the first place.”

I always find the word “chapter” an intriguing one in regards to our lives and the stories we tell. Oh, I definitely believe we tell stories. But is it one big novel? To me personally, that’s limiting. If we live our life as one big story, we’re always looking toward the end of that book, wondering what the final resolution will be.

I like to think of our lives as more of a library full of books; a collection of stories. Some are short stories; some are epic adventures. Some may be collections of the most beautiful poetry that cannot be written, but are stored forever in our hearts and senses. Some are stories of fantasy, played out through “what ifs” and Mitty-esque moments. There are stories that ring of nostalgia, and we keep those stories on a special shelf to look back on time and time again. Some are so heartbreaking and infuriating that we may never want to revisit them. Many, if not most, of these stories are part of a greater anthology. Often we don’t realize the story has ended until a new one has begun.

But here’s the reason I prefer “story” or “book” over “chapter:”

Every story is a new beginning. I think we, as human beings, need a sense of “starting new” as compared to “picking up where we left off.” Yes, a story may have ended, and it will be a story that has shaped who you are, but what you are doing now? It’s a brand new start.

Live your life. Tell your stories. But tell many of them. Be the author of multiple books. Don’t worry where it will end, but be aware of how a new book will start.

Dear Walt

If You Can Dream

It’s a beautiful quote, isn’t it? What a great notion. It goes hand in hand with the idea of wishing on a star and just believing.

Only… you never actually said that, did you? This quote, often attributed to you – it was never actually yours, was it?

Sure, the notion of such is a great one – after all, we are supposed to follow our dreams. But Walt, the myth of you as a dreamer and magician, a man who never gave up and had a magic touch in everything he did… I know there’s a lot more to it.

In all honesty, the myth side was what drew me to you initially. You created Mickey Mouse, Disneyland, amazing feature films, and made so many people worldwide happy with your special touch. There definitely IS a magic to that! However, to many (myself included), it can be quite disheartening when we don’t always see our dreams come true like we hope they would; at least not in the ways we expected.

I’ve been there. I’ve had opportunities dangled in front of me, only to see them plucked away at the last moment. I’ve wanted these opportunities so badly, as part of my dreams to reach an ultimate goal. But the timing was not right, and I often have found myself questioning my desire and drive. I had a moment like this a couple years ago, and believe me when I say, it was a picture of you that snapped me out of my funk.

Storyboarder

Why this picture? For one, it’s just a great picture. You were telling the story of Pinocchio the way only you could, and pouring all of your energy into it. It showed someone that was working hard and letting his talents shine through. Someone that was having fun but giving all he had to tell his story. It was a refresher of sorts for me – I remembered that you were human – so much more than myth.

This was the Walt that interested me more. The man who had to fight his way to get where he was. The man who was faced with struggles and adversity. The family man who had quite the personality that was often unseen by rolling cameras and the public eye.

A person can look at a legend and be in awe, but to look at the person behind the legend and see what was accomplished as a real person – well, that is where real inspiration is found for me.

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This all came to a head when I finally had a chance to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. This was a place I’d wanted to visit for quite a while, but never had the opportunity to do so. I couldn’t wait to explore and revisit so much history, both of you and the history of the Walt Disney Company when it was in your hands.

The first thing I would like to say, Walt, is this museum was gorgeous. It is every Disney fan’s dream. History came alive in so many fantastic ways, from storyboards, to the famed multi-plane camera, to an amazing miniature scale model of your masterpiece known as Disneyland.

Animator's Desk, displaying sketches from Walt Disney's Pinocchio.

Animator’s Desk, displaying sketches from Walt Disney’s Pinocchio.

A view from above - the Multiplane Camera, first used in Walt Disney's Silly Symphony: The Old Mill

A view from above – the Multiplane Camera, first used in Walt Disney’s Silly Symphony: The Old Mill.

Miniature scale model of Disneyland, as seen during Walt's lifetime.

Miniature scale model of Disneyland, as seen during Walt’s lifetime.

The history was rich, and really came alive for me here, but what really stood out for me once again were the parts that showed you as a family man:

Walt Disney, family man. Throughout the museum, the Disney "Family Story" is displayed, rich with family history, Walt's personal hobbies & tastes, making sure the public gets a great insight of the man beyond company history.

Walt Disney, family man. Throughout the museum, the Disney “Family Story” is displayed, rich with family history, Walt’s hobbies, and personal stories. This ensures the public gets a great insight of the man beyond company history.

A “goofball” at times:

Fooling around on the set of an Alice Comedy. Pictures like this are some of my favorites of Walt.

Fooling around on the set of an Alice Comedy. Pictures like this are some of my favorites of Walt.

A traveler:

On a Hawaiian vacation with wife Lillian, and daughters Sharon and Diane. Walt the traveler: A man after my own heart!

On a Hawaiian vacation with wife Lillian, and daughters Sharon and Diane. Walt the traveler: A man after my own heart!

A Patriot:

Detailing Walt and the studio's many contributions to the effort during WWII.

Detailing Walt and the studio’s many contributions to the effort during WWII.

I took the opportunity to pose for a picture on the Griffith Park bench placed in the museum. To reflect on you and all you had done. To think that, as a daddy, you sat on perhaps that very bench and began to think of a place that families could enjoy together – now THAT is inspiring!

My lovely family and I on "Walt's Bench."

My lovely family and I on “Walt’s Bench.”

The closer I got to the end of the exhibit, the more melancholy I felt myself getting. I knew what was coming, Walt. And it was breaking my heart. Of course, you didn’t know. You were turning your attention to different projects, looking to the future. Your vision of Epcot – what an amazing finished product that could have been! But we’ll never know, as you passed before it could come to fruition. I entered that last room with a true sadness. The man who I was fully realizing as an extraordinary human being left the world too soon.

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A world mourned when you died, Walt. But those of us who were too young to be around in your time mourn, too. We feel the loss of someone who, it seems, had much more left to give. You were working till the end. Dreaming? Yes. But working, brimming with ideas. Your dreams became reality because you were dedicated, thoughtful, and saw projects through. It wasn’t always easy, I know. In fact, one of the most inspiring quotes from the museum, for me anyway, came from one of the hardest times of your life. It wasn’t about making the impossible happen. It wasn’t about life being magical. No, it refers to a time your animators went on strike at the studio:

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Why this quote? Because it shows even someone as revered as you had moments of hardship. Times when you were ready to give up – to walk away. Of course, you didn’t, for which many are eternally grateful. But you were willing to admit that you had that type of moment.  And for someone who has felt that feeling far too often, it’s beyond inspiring to know the power of forging ahead even in dark times.

So thank you, Walt. Thank you for all you did. Your hard work. Your determination. For making countless children of all ages happy. For being yourself through the entire process. For being a good family man.

For being human.

Sincerely,

An Admirer

(Note to readers: I realized I barely touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum. I would encourage each and every one of you to try to visit this amazing place should the opportunity arise. It was so wonderfully put together, and truly tells the story of Walt Disney in a way that only family and those closest to him could tell it. For more information, visit the Walt Disney Family Museum website. All pictures from the museum itself were taken by the author upon his visit to the WDFM.)

Real Character (Or, How Peter and Jake Made Wendy’s Day Perfectly Darling)

Dear Residents of Never Land (aka, Peter Pan and Jake the Never Land Pirate),

I write this letter as a long overdue note of thanks for making a five year old’s day at Disneyland so incredibly magical by small acts of kindness that were, in essence, incredibly huge in her eyes – and ours, too!

You see, as I’ve mentioned in the past, Peter Pan and Never Land are huge in our household. While there are other aspects of Disney from day to day, depending on which characters we are “playing” at a particular time, Peter is the constant. Any time we’ve met you at the park, Peter, you’ve always been a highlight and we’ve been excited to see you. So, it was with great anticipation on this trip that our daughter wore the Wendy dress her grandmother had recently made her in anticipation of meeting you.

That day in the park, September 9th, 2013, we arrived and looked for you in the locations and attractions we had met you previously. The early morning yielded no results, although one cast member had mentioned seeing you around Dumbo. Yet, in asking a character handler at the Tangled meet & greet, we were informed that no, you had not made it to the park today. Later, however, we were informed by a cast member at another area of the park, “Peter should definitely be around today!” Being that there was quite a bit of confusion among cast members as to your whereabouts, I ventured to Main Street to chat with the character handlers there to see if I could get a definitive answer. Although I cannot remember the handler’s name, I can tell you what a wonderful help she was. After explaining our situation to her, she stepped back and made a call to the back. Upon her return, she sadly explained that you had some troubles in Never Land that morning. Hook and his fellow pirates were being extra feisty, and you were needed there to reign them in. Sadly, you would not be at the park that day until Soundsational parade time.

While we understood – I mean, these things happen, pirates being how pirates can be – we were nonetheless a little sad. Here our little Wendy had one wish, and that was to meet you and show you her dress, Peter. But being the trooper she was, she held back tears as we went to plan “B.” While she was reluctant to meet Tinker Bell (I guess Wendy and Tink have a bit of a past…), she was more willing to venture across to Disney California Adventure in hopes of meeting Jake (the nice Never Land Pirate) and return to Disneyland later to at least wave to you as you passed by during Soundsational.

Jake, this is where you came in. When we got over to Californina Adventure, you were not out, but were told you would be arriving shortly. The short wait was worth our while, as you instantly recognized Wendy and took her on a magical journey through the streets of Hollywoodland in search of the ever elusive second star to the right. For a full five minutes, the two of you were in your own world, walking down one side of the street and up the other, eyes peeled for any sign of Never Land.

After finding evidence of a possible path to Never Land (a star in the window of the Animation Building), it was time for you to move on and meet other guests waiting for you. But Jake, you put a smile on that little girl’s face – the biggest one we had seen that day.

At least, the biggest one we had seen so far.

Later that afternoon, we traversed back to Disneyland in order to catch the only showing of Soundsational that day – at park closing. Still unsure of meeting Tink in Pixie Hollow that day (I mean, she HAD wanted to shoot Wendy down, you know…), we made our way to the back of the park for a ride on It’s a Small World. After that, we sat down for a spot at the end of the parade route. As the sun began to set and the parade started, our little Never Lander waited with anticipation to wave to you, Peter.

Waiting For Pan…

Soundsational is definitely a great parade. The music, the upbeat tempo, the cast of characters… this time was no different. Very much worth waiting for. However…the main event was coming up – would you see Wendy and wave back?

Hi, Peter!!!!

Did you see her? Did you ever! Not only did you wave, but you made her feel like the most important person in the world for 15 seconds. When you spotted her, you ran over, got down on her level, and….

“Wendy!!! Where’ve you been? I’ve been looking ALL OVER for you!!! I’m so glad you made it today! I have to get back and catch Hook, but I’m so happy to see you!”

As you ran off to fight those pirates once again, and our little one squealed with glee, you took a moment to point back and tell Tinker Bell she was there. And yes, even Tink was happy to see her!

As adults, many seem to forget the magic of meeting a favorite character in the park. We tend to be the ones gasping at long lines to meet a mouse, a princess, or a boy who never grew up. We scoff at meet & greets and want to get to the rides. But for many of us, we can look at the face of a little girl who just met her hero…

“He stopped the parade just for me!!!” – her exact words!

…and it’s the most important thing about being in a magical place.

So thank you, Peter and Jake. You made a little girl’s day by going above and beyond what many expect. And I am forever grateful for moments and characters like you.

Sincerely,

A Dad Who Never Wants to Grow Up

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Do you ever look at your past social media postings, whether it be browsing old pictures or using an app like Timehop or Facebook’s “On This Day” feature, and think to yourself, “Wow, I remember that! That was such an awesome day!”? Or maybe, you look at a picture of a loved one no longer with you, and feel an ache in your heart. Do you see an old status update and wonder what you were thinking in posting that, or if it was even necessary to share? Perhaps you had one of those vague posts that made no sense except to a few – and maybe now, you don’t even remember what it was about!

 
The thing we need to realize is, with a platform like social media, we’re constantly sharing our stories: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright perplexing at times. But they’re all part of our stories. I often think of this when I post a status update or share a picture or article. Is this something I want shared as part of my story? Years from now will I look back with fondness, perhaps with a melancholic longing for a time since gone? Will I feel slightly ashamed that I made a big deal out of something that was beyond my control? How many times did I use the word “hate” as compared to the word “love?” Years from now, will an advanced race from another galaxy crack our data and think to themselves, “This society sure disliked each other but loved four legged furry creatures?”

 
Even more frightening to me though, is the thought that perhaps this is the only medium in which many of our stories are shared. I’m not a doomsday prepper or anything like that, but I do fear sometimes how dependent we’ve become on technology. Let’s travel into the future again. For discussion’s sake, we’ll assume there was a cataclysmic event that had rendered our technology useless for future generations. Maybe the aliens didn’t carry USB ports to transfer data. What then will tell our stories? Were we influential enough for our stories, our societal customs to be carried through generations?

 
Just a thought I’ve been having: Our ancestors preserved their history through written word – even writing on caves to tell their stories. I think it’s time to start journaling more, putting words down in physical form. More than on a website, a social media account, an article talkback (Please, God, don’t let future generations judge us by the vitriol spewed there.). Record our thoughts, our likes, our dislikes. Family histories. Daily activities. Make it personal, or don’t. Make it something that can be passed down to your children, and to their children. You get the picture; but put it to physical form.

 
And don’t forget to live as you tell your story. Do good. Treat others how you want to be treated – remember, you may unintentionally be a hero or villain in someone else’s story.

A Thank You Note

Lately, I’ve been looking back, trying to figure out where exactly all of this “DisNerdia” clicked into place for me. I’d been a relative fan of it all my life, loving it as a kid, trying to be “cool” in junior high and not let that love show around the other kids in class. I remember seeing The Little Mermaid shortly after it was released on video, and thinking to myself, “This isn’t bad – for a kid and girl movie.” So what brought me out – what made me truly embrace the nerd within when it came to all things Disney?

Was it a movie?

Was it music?

Was it a person?

As it turns out, it was all of the above, combined into one experience, dating back to my sophomore year of high school. And I wonder if the person involved in this ever realized his actions and words had such a profound effect.

Brian and I were both involved in performing arts in high school, having been in a few shows together and in the same choir class. We knew each other, but in all honesty, that was about it. Then, there was a movie poster that changed everything:

Walt Disney’s Fantasia was going to be released into movie theaters for a limited 50th anniversary run. Last time I had seen Fantasia I was about 8, and, aside from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I remembered little from it. Yet I did want to see it again. Brian put sign ups in the choir room so we could go as a group, and I signed up. As it turned out, not too many people signed up, and it was in question whether the outing would happen. Being 15 years old at the time and having no transportation, I was prepared to not be able to go, but Brian offered me a ride to the other side of town to go see it. I must admit, I felt a little out of place on that car trip, not really knowing anyone all that much on our way across town, feeling a bit like a charity case being taken along for the ride. But it would all be worth it.

Seeing something as innovative and mind blowing as so many of the sequences were on a big screen blew me away. The idea of classical music providing the backdrop for some pretty stunning images (it still amazes me how well early hand-drawn animation has held up over the years) left me pretty speechless. I fell in love with the movie, the accompanying music, and really rekindled my appreciation for the Walt Disney Company as a whole.

The final segment, “Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria,” still amazes me with its contrasts of good and evil, chaos and peace.

In Brian, I found someone who shared this appreciation, someone I could talk about the newest releases and soundtracks to, as well as discuss company history and love of theme parks with. Beyond the realm of Disney, this actually helped me realize it was okay to like things some might consider “kids’ stuff.” It was okay to be my own person, with likes and dislikes apart from others. Brian and I kept contact through the years, even turning up (unbeknownst to each other) to the same group interview for The Disney Store. (For the record, we both ended up with part time jobs there!) We have since remained in touch and continue to be friends, one of our common bonds among many being our appreciation for Disney. It’s been nothing short of amazing to see our daughters have so many interests for things such as Disney movies, music and fields such as Imagineering!

This post stands as my thank you letter. To Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski for envisioning Fantasia. To the Walt Disney Company for giving it a 50th anniversary theatrical release. And to Brian, for taking pity on a 15 year old kid and giving him a ride to the theater to see said movie. That small act of kindness meant more than you know in my life.

So, dear readers, do you have anyone to thank for your love of Disney? Parents, friends, teachers, relatives…even Walt himself? Take the opportunity to do so, whether by blog post, a note, or a salute to the “Partners” statue in Disneyland as you walk by.

And then…. feel free to pass that love on.

When I Stopped Believing (and Started Believing)

Dare I tackle the subject of Santa? Parents, if you have children nearby, I suggest you shield their eyes now. I’m about to tell you about the year I found out the truth about Kris Kringle.

I honestly don’t remember the age, but other details I remember quite specifically. Pizza Hut had a special they were running, that included a Care Bears sticker book for an additional charge. I wanted that Care Bears sticker book. But we were on a budget, and at times were lucky to be able to dine out at Pizza Hut, so I didn’t ask too much for it. However, as the days to Christmas drew nearer, I was in my mom’s room looking for something (I really can’t tell you what, or whether I should have been in there – sorry Mom!), and saw that sticker book out of the corner of my eye. I figured it must be a gift for me, so I pretended I didn’t see it. And when Christmas morning rolled around? I got a Care Bears sticker book as part of my present from Santa!

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The Holy Grail of Restaurant Promo Books!

Or, Santa mom….

Thing is, I wasn’t really disappointed at this revelation. I knew my mom had bought it. I knew Santa probably didn’t stop off for a pan pizza on his way to my house. My sister tried to help explain when I confided I had seen the sticker book. “I’m sure moms and dads have to help Santa out sometimes.” I didn’t buy it. But it was okay. My mom knew I wanted that sticker book. She wanted me to have it. This was really what the spirit of Christmas and giving were all about. So my mom was Santa? How awesome was that?!? She may not have been for other kids, but for me she was, and that was pretty darn neat.

To me, that’s what Santa is about. Being able to give to others, to spread the cheer selflessly. Even in the little ways. It’s why today, I still believe in Santa Claus. Because I am Santa. My wife is. My parents are. My little girl is. I’m sure so many of you out there are. The idea of Santa goes way beyond a mythical figure based on a real-life saint. It lives on in all of us as long as we believe and give of ourselves.

santa