Monday, March 29, 2010

The Happiest Place on Earth

"To all who come to this happy place; welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past ... and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America ... with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."
~ Walt Disney's speech at the grand opening of Disneyland
Anaheim, CA, July 17, 1955.

Happiness. Dreams. Joy. Inspiration. Disneyland. How can I add anything more to Walt's wonderful opening invitation to Disneyland? It says it all.

Furthermore, how can I begin to describe my love for Disneyland and all things Disney? From a very young age, up until today, I have been in love with fairy tales and storytelling, and Disney was a master. Not only that, but I loved (and continue to love) to draw. In junior high, I decided I wanted to be a Disney animator when I grew up and, out of love for one of my beloved artistic innovators (or should I say "imagineer") I changed my cursive capital D to mimic that of Walt Disney's signature/logo. I still sign my name that way. When I was in college, I went to an art gallery showing of the original cells and hand-painted backgrounds from Snow White, the world's first full-length feature cartoon. They were breathtaking. I geek out on the Doombuggies website, and read up on everything there is to know about the creation of my favorite ride. I'm not a super-fan, in the sense that my home isn't covered with all things Mickey Mouse (although I do have a few pieces of memorabilia and collectors items). I just appreciate the ideals Disney strove for, both in his movies and at his park, his craftsmanship, his innovation, his art, his creativity, his storytelling.

Most of the Disney stories touched me because they reaffirmed the idea that, even though there might be some tough times along the way, things will turn out okay in the end. This is something my childhood self desperately needed to hear - me with the coke bottle glasses, short boy haircut, and shy personality that made me a prime target for daily bullying in the school yard. I continued to have hope, because as Cinderella sings, "no matter how your heart is grieving/ if you keep on believing/ a dream that you wish/ will come true." (My faith certainly helped me too. But that's an entirely different post I'm working on, called Faith and Fairy Tales.)

So when I visited Disneyland for the first time, at about eight years old, I was a combination of shocked, giddy, and overjoyed, to discover that those magical places from all the storybooks and movies were embodied in a real place. There were no bullies in Disneyland, and I was a princess, no matter what I looked like, and the magic was real. Even if I knew we were still playing pretend, it was the most wonderful, glorious, elaborate game of pretend I'd ever played. An interviewer once asked Walt Disney what his favorite moment was out of all his animated films, and he said it was the scene when Cinderella gets her ballgown. That feeling of awe and wonder, beauty and magic and possibilities - that's what Disneyland feels like.

It sounds cheesy - the happiest place on earth, a place where dreams come true - until you get there, and see it for yourself. From every little enchanted flower in the landscaping, to the smiles and pleasant attitudes of each "cast member", to the attention to detail and gorgeous art and thinking outside of the box by the Imagineers on all the rides and attractions, to the full-on commitment the costumed cast members take towards their roles, it all adds up to an environment where you can just let go and dream and have fun. You truly can be a kid again. The park holds everything any kid's imagination has ever longed for: you can run away with pirates and search for buried treasure on the high seas, sneak into a haunted house, fly over London with a pixie, ride a space ship into the future, visit an enchanted castle, brave the dangers on safari through a treacherous jungle, tame the wild west, ride a real locomotive. It's a kid's dream come true.

Each time I've gone back to Disneyland, at different ages throughout my childhood, in college, even for my honeymoon, and just recently as an adult, each experience has been shaded in different magical hues and has been uniquely special. Is it escapism? Yes, most definitely, but it is a type of escapism that reminds you of the good things in life, the things to strive for. On my most recent trip, it was towards the end of the day when I realized I had gone all day without worrying about anything (this is an earth-shattering feat for me, a hard-core worrier and all-around fret-box). Yes, all my troubles would be waiting for me when I got home. I wasn't in denial about that, but for one day, the burdens were gone, and I was just a kid, dreaming about possibilities. Disneyland reminds us of the potential good in each of us, to overcome adversity and find joy. It reminds us to take time just to laugh and have fun. It brings out the kid at heart. I smiled so much that day, my face ached.

The old saying goes "a picture is worth a thousand words", so I'll close here, with probably the only picture of myself that will ever appear on this blog. It was taken by my dear friend, who facilitated my most recent trip back to Disneyland. ("Thank you" just doesn't seem to express my gratitude.) When I look at this picture, I see my eight year old self, just laughing in the moment, free of all cares, and it makes me smile. Life will always be there to give us troubles and no, things don't always turn out the way we want them to, but Disney chose to remind us that if we keep hope and stay true to what we know is right, then just maybe, it "makes no difference who you are/ anything your heart desires/ will come to you." We all need to be reminded of that sometimes...


D.L. White said...

I already said in my post that my favorite ride is the Haunted Mansion. It always has been ever since I first rode it as a kid. I wanted to live there! So it was a real treat to be able to visit the park recently, during the 40th anniversary celebration of the ride.

One thing that I did on my first visit, and have done on every consecutive visit, has been to make a wish and throw a coin into Snow White's wishing well, located next to the entrance to Sleeping Beauty's castle. It always makes me smile.

What's your favorite ride/attraction at Disneyland?

Laura said...

You have two of the three songs that I have sung to the children since they were infants...

Oldest: "A dream is a wish your heart makes..." knowing her as you do I'm sure you can see how that song perfectly embodies her wishful, sweet, feminine heart. She's not a Pollyanna, but she's still a little girl and always will be to me. Interesting that I chose that song for her before she was old enough to smile, yet it suits her like nothing else would.

Middle: "When you wish upon a star..." Ah, the boy who is such a boy instantly becomes the snuggley chubby baby who wants to be in my lap whenever he hears me sing this song. I'm sure I mentioned that he doesn't request I sing for him every night as he used to (sigh). However, the night I returned from this trip with you he specifically asked for it. And I melted.

Youngest: "Baby mine..." She is, and always will be, the baby.

So, back to your question, I can't pick a favorite ride. I thought I could, but then I tried and I just can't! I love them all, there's no repetition at Disneyland so each ride is special and tells a story. That's what makes it magical. You don't just "ride", you go on a journey. For a few minutes you become Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Dumbo, a pirate, a space explorer... you ride to the Grand Canyon, to the EAC (name that movie!), and even try to get to the moon of Endor.

Disney Imagineers have no concept of thinking outside the box... there is no box.

chandy said...

Thank you for writing this and letting me take a mini Disney vacation in my mind! I enjoyed the trip!

Haunted Mansion is a GREAT ride for the afternoon, after you've been on your feet all day and are ready to sit down for a spell and enjoy some cool air ;)

You know I love Splash Mountain...perfect combination of great music, animatronics, characters, story telling, and thrills. And there is nothing better than cresting the hill for the final drop just as the Fantasmic finale is kicking in. Perfection!

But I can think of so many other rides that I just LOVE. Whenever Chad and I were younger, we always made it our quest to ride every single ride in one day. That is surprisingly difficult to do!

Jessie said...

(Little tears are in my eyes...)

I love Disneyland. It's such a great place. Erik and I love to go, and we try to go once a year. I know that seems excessive, and there's something to not going very often so that you're amazed every time. But even going as often as we have I still love it every time. Every time. I love feeling like I don't have to worry. I love feeling safe and happy. I love that my kids love it as much as me.

D.L. White said...

After writing this post and reading all these comments, I totally have Disney-fever again. I think it's time for another trip!!! Woot!!!

It's very hard to pick a favorite ride. Even though my spooky little heart always goes back to the Haunted Mansion ride, whenever I go to the park, or every time I think of the park, something different comes to mind. I was obsessed with Indiana Jones when I was a kid (and went thru a brief stint of thinking I wanted to be an archeologist) so for a while, that was my favorite ride. And how could you not love the Peter Pan ride? Or how can you not scream your head off and have fun on Space Mountain? So hard to chose a favorite...

@ Laura - I just love it that you sang specific Disney songs to each one of your kids. My parents never sang to me, but I'm sure I would have loved it, to know that I had a special song. :-)

hyacinthinemoon said...

I loved different Disneyland rides as I grew up in different stages. When I was very small I loved Dumbo. My dad tells me I made him ride it over and over again when I was 3 and 4. When I was older I really loved the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Carabean. In high school my favorite ride was Space Mountain. In college I was around during the opening of the Indiana Jones ride and I just adored it!

It's kind of funny to think of the different stages of my life being defined by certain rides at Disneyland.

Kristi said...

Wow--this post brought tears to my eyes--for so many reasons. My family went to Disneyland when I was 9 or 10. Back in those days, the only family vacations we took were to visit other family, so the trip to Disneyland was special (and only happened because it was combined with a business trip that my dad had to go on!). We road-tripped it from South Dakota to California (much more exciting when you're heading towards Disneyland and not away from that magical place).

My favorite ride was Space Mountain--I'm pretty sure we did that one a few times, but I also loved seeing all the characters walking along the street.

Thanks for bringing us along on your Disneyland journey!

WriterGirl316 said...

Thank you.
There's a point when I'm reading something and I realize that out of all of the words known to humanity, none expressed ____ better than those I just read.You captured the essense, the very breath of Disneyland itself, in this blog post. For the few minutes I spent reading it, I felt like I was seeing these places myself instead of reading about them. You painted a picture in my mind so masterfully that I honestly had nothing to add to it.
I know you wanted to know about our favorite rides,and I promise I'll get to that, but just one more thing: thank you for the few minutes of repose that your post gave me- I felt a calm and an awe at such a true account of a place that is very dear to me.

My favorite ride was Space Mountain, because I felt as though I was unstoppable, whirling through space. It was exhilarating. However, when I finally went on Tower of Terror later that afternoon, I changed my mind. I still adore Space Mountain-we waited in an hour-long line at 10:30 pm to ride it again- but Tower of Terror did take its place. Not only was it not terrifying, but it was proof to myself and the rest of the world that I was not afraid. It gave me a sense of confidence that no other ride ever has- like there was no limit to what I could do if I just believed.
- Jessica
PS- Disney should recruit you to be a lobbyist or speaker for them. Seriously, you have a gift.

Ron said...

DL - Having grown up in SoCal with relatives (cousin and brother) working at Disneyland, and having yearly passes for a few years - I totally agree with your post. When we moved away from SoCal - we found that Disney was one thing that we missed the most. I can't wait for June, because that's when our fireflies come out and I feel that Disney magic here in Iowa.
In more recent times, I have noticed changes almost every time I'm in the park. I always can't wait to see what they've done 'this time'.

I am kinda leaning toward the Tower of Terror as my favorite ride for a couple of reasons. 1) The wait is extremely fun with the Twilight Zone stuff and the interesting lobby and boiler rooms. 2) The ride is not only thrilling, but a technological marvel. There is one point in time where you feel like you just entered outer space! The counterpart ride in Florida is even better with the special effects and a few other surprises.

I've decided to take life in more of a Disneyland manner. So, when I'm amazed by something, like... firefiles, people here look at me like I'm crazy. But, I'm starting to win some of them over. It helps that 'faith and fairy tales' really works. Can't wait to see your take on that!

Laurie B said...

Thank you Davina, for this wonderful post. I think it was perfect. I remember as a child that everything in the park seemed perfect. The details were amazing. Not a chip in the paint anywhere. Not a twig out of place. Maybe it's just because I was young and didn't really see the details as my brother, sister and I ran from attraction to attraction. We'd run all day and then race to the car. Our parents dragged themselves to the car. Now I understand how they felt.

I have many favorite rides for different reasons. Small World is my favorite to go on with children. I still remember my baby cousin's eyes shining bright as she looked at it all with amazement. I was 10. My own children loved it too and would sing along.

The Peter Pan Float, as it was called, is still my favorite because I really believed we were flying over London as we looked over the edge of the ship down below to the tiny twinkling lights of the city. It was real to me and I still believe when I ride it.

Pirates of the Carribean is also a favorite because it takes me there. First to the bayoue with the fireflies and croaking frogs, then to the battle between the pirate ship and the fort, then to the town as it's plundered and pillaged, then to the treasure caves with the sparkling treasure. I was and am sure it's real.

I never leave the park without a French Dip sandwich from the poolside restaurant at Californian Grand Hotel. Best French Dip anywhere. Also I have to have those little fruit flavored, Mickey shaped suckers. You get 6 of them and I can never decide which to eat first. I love them!!

I look forward to my next visit to "The Magic Kingdom". Maybe we can go together as Laura and I did so many times when Kate was little.