Wednesday, April 02, 2008

And Then There Was Disneyland ...

Check out the last post if you haven't already, wherein I share some thoughts about the wedding and being married in general. In this post, I discuss the honeymoon.

Specifically I'm going to discuss Disneyland, because while San Diego was great, and we'd love to go back for vacation in the future, I don't have anything particularly within the purview of this blog to say about it. But Disneyland, now, Disneyland is a different story.

As I've grown older I've realized that there's a trick to Disneyland that some people get and some people don't, and for the most part it predicts whether a person considers Disneyland the closest thing to Eden on God's green Earth or a hackneyed money trap for the naive (the Golden Fleece, my family joked when we visited Disneyworld).

There is, to be sure, lots about Disneyland to be cynical about. As far as I can tell Walt Disney himself was kind of a terrible man, and it is expensive, and they are looking to squeeze every last penny they can out of you. There are more exciting rides to be found. And yes, it's all fake.

Or is it? That is the trick - what do we mean by "it?" What is Disneyland? If Disneyland is a collection of rides, fake buildings and stores, all the vision of an egotistical genius, then it's nothing to write home to Mom about and quite skippable.

Five years ago I put it this way:

Disneyland is not an amusement park in the conventional sense; it's a purveyor of magical lifestyles. Disneyland is about the total package experience of being wide-eyed and child-like and transported to a magical place where everything is good and sparkly and wonderful. Every love story that has ever been told, every prince charming that has ever loved, every beautiful princess that has ever loved, and every child that has ever hoped to wear shining armor on a white steed or a beautiful ballgown on a marble dance floor - this is what Disneyland is about.

If that is the "it" by which we mean Disneyland, then it is quite certainly not skippable. And certainly not skippable by me and Thayet on our honeymoon, of all times.

There were the rides (Finding Nemo is, in fact, worth the wait - so long as that wait is no more than about 60 minutes). There was the food (yum!). There was the atmosphere (swing dancing before dinner!). There was the new Pirate's Lair (yay!). There were the people - the folks who work at Disneyland who really believe in what their park stands for.

And there were, surprisingly, the shows. Not Fantasmic, although I saw that on Rivers of America for the first time and I'm glad I did. I'm talking about the kids shows: the Jedi Academy and the Disney Princess Faire. It's actually the latter that I'm most excited about morally, although the sheer coolness of Disney's new voice conversion technology and their Darth Vader are ... I mean ... DARTH VADER! Why will I never get to fight DARTH VADER in the flesh??!

Because I'm older than the age of eight, of course, which is more or less cutoff for audience participation in these shows. Let me back up. Disney has these audience participation shows for kids, wherein children from the ages of about four to eight are a) given Jedi robes and lightsabers, taught an attack combination, and given the opportunity to fight Darth Vader or Darth Maul (in the one case) or b) taught basic courtly etiquette and a dance suitable for princesses or knights (in the other).

What got me about the latter show was the way it was presented. I forget the exact phrase, but at some point the teaching princess makes the connection to these impressionable young minds that being a princess (or a knight) is about about being kind, courteous, joyful, and believing in yourself. There's a similar message in the Jedi Academy show about what it means to be a real Jedi, but this one struck me more (Lady Lillian also says that dancing is a wonderful way to express the joy in your heart, which is so true).

What got me about this show is that it so perfectly encapsulated the wonder and essential goodness of what Disneyland stands for. What makes the Disney Princess concept (and franchise) so powerful is that it stands for this basic idea, that there really is a world where kindness, courtesy, and joy (and if you think that courtesy and joy are incompatible you don't understand what manners really are) reign, where self-doubt is banished, and all is right. What made this show so touching is that it was basically telling these kids that it's all true, and you can carve out in your life an enclave of kindness, courtesy, joy, and belief in yourself if you are determined to make these things - being a princess, being a knight - your watchword.

Maybe that's a terrible message to give little boys and girls, because maybe it isn't true. But I don't think so.


William said...

I wouldn't say that I've put it into words quite so eloquently, but I think your description of Disneyland describes my love affair with Miyazaki's films quite well.

What I feel seperates his films from just any good film is his ability to make me believe that the world really works that way.

Watching Nausicaa makes me believe, for at least those two hours, that if you just love strongly enough, and deeply enough, you can do anything.

I happen to think that's a very good lesson too.

Shanah Van said...

i used to believe the world could be that way. but too much has happened that gives evidence against the whole idea. sad, i know, but true. maybe someday i'll believe again.

Natalie said...

Willie: I actually like Heinlein for the same reason. I don't like his vision as much as that presented in Disneyland or Nausicaa, but it's not a bad vision, and it's not an experience many writers can create in any medium.

Shanah: I started replying to this and then I just wrote a whole other post.