On any given day of the week, at any given time of the year you may, if you feel so inclined, witness one of the most inexplicable phenomena that the 21st-century could possibly puzzle you with. What is this marvelous wonder you may ask? Well I will tell you – dozens, perhaps hundreds, of little girls under the age of 10 spectacularly dressed in diminutive ball gowns reminiscent of decades and centuries gone by. And even stranger, this cavalcade of pint-sized princesses, of every race and ethnic background, is generally accompanied by an older generation equally idiosyncratic in their dress – sensible jeans, tennis shoes, a backpack and headgear consisting of a beanie with two large plastic mouse ears attached symmetrically to either side.
I know what you’re thinking. “Well what’s so inexplicable about that? That’s just an average day at a Disney theme park.” Well, yes, this is true. But allow me to elaborate a point. Won’t you?
I was born in 1974. That makes me roughly 39 years old. One of the most exciting memories of my life was getting to see Disney’s Sleeping Beauty in the theater for the first time when I was about six or seven years old. Even my parents seemed excited although I was sure they had seen it before. After all, the movie was made in 1959, fifteen years before I was even born. It was hardly new. But it was new to me.
Now let’s flash forward to the present day. It’s been almost 55 years now since Sleeping Beauty first debuted in theaters. In 1959, Dwight Eisenhower was the President of the United States. Man wouldn’t even land on the moon for another 10 years and the idea of something as modern as a cell phone wouldn’t even be dreamt up on Star Trek because Star Trek wouldn’t even appear on television for another seven years. Get my point? I wish more shareholders and executives of the Disney corporation did.
I wonder sometimes if the inheritors of the Disney brand realize just what exactly they’re holding in their hands. Ask any of those little girls dressed as iconic Disney princesses who Dwight Eisenhower is and you’ll probably get a face akin to the one you get when you ask an eight year old if they’d like Brussels sprouts with dinner. And yet these same little girls, born into an age of cell phones, the internet, electric cars, and televisions no thicker than a few inches, will make a pilgrimage, around the world if need be, to spend just a few moments with a character that was created before their parents were even born. Perhaps this is not as inexplicable as it is remarkable.
I know why I love Disney. I’ll save my thoughts on that subject for another day, but it’s not difficult for me to understand why other people like it too. Walt Disney created something truly special. It may sound cliché but there are two main components that have always made up what amounts to Disney magic – simplicity and optimism. The ideas have been unchanged throughout human history. Everyone at some point in their lives faces a challenge and how a person approaches that challenge will decide the course of the rest of their lives. Pretty simple. And Disney always reminded us that no matter whom you are or what resources you have available, if you hold fast to your dreams seemingly magical outcomes can happen. That is the pure essence of optimism.
When you look at things in that light you come to realize that Disney is more than just animated movies, stuffed toys, and fabulous theme parks; it’s about a system of values and a way of life that Walt Disney himself truly believed in and were personified in his creations. To the average child who visits a Disney theme park Snow White is a real person. Forget that she’s 76 years old. What she, and so many other Disney characters represent transcends generations for as Mrs. Potts tells us it’s a “tale as old as time”. Fundamentally all human beings want to be loved, to be respected, and to overcome their challenges, and Walt Disney believed that America was the only place in the world where people had the best shot at making those things happen. Cynics love to pick apart Disney because they choose to wallow in the more negative side of life. There has become a trend in modern media to celebrate the nihilistic and the dystopian. In the contemporary HBO series version of Sleeping Beauty Prince Philip would have been killed before reaching the castle and Maleficent would have laid waste to everything in sight. There would be no little grandmotherly fairies to save the day and King Stefan’s kingdom would be fighting daily against an onslaught of drooling undead corpses. Walt wouldn’t get it and I don’t either.
And that is why Disneyland and Disney World continue to be beacons of simple optimism, drawing millions of people from around the world year after year. You know when you see the name Disney that you’ll always get a happy ending. Things are not always “perfect”, far from it, but challenges will be met and overcome, dreams will be fulfilled, and there will be a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of the day.
Disney isn’t about how much money a corporation can make in a year. It’s a legacy that has been passed down through generations, a legacy of optimism, imagination and ingenuity. It is my sincerest hope that as time goes by that the management of Disney will continue to recognize this and never lose sight of the fact that they hold something truly special in their hands. It’s not about a five dollar hot dog or creating money generating film sequels (although those things do pay the bills). It’s about furthering one of America’s most iconic legacies, a legacy of hope and acceptance, and knowing that no matter who you are or where you come from that there’s a place where fairytale princesses are real, benevolent ghosts waltz away the night, and where you’ll always feel as though you are someone just as magical.