Walt and Me

I was not a Disney kid growing up; I became a fan of Mr. Disney as an adult.

It seems weird to say it, like I should be having my official “literary snob” business cards taken away, but this is one of my quirks (possibly embarrassing) and it was not something I was planning. I am a fan of the man and mainly that all stems from Disneyland.  Let me explain this better:

It was February 2000 and I had just moved from Michigan’s snowy winter to the surrealism that is Los Angeles. I was starting mid-term in the graduate program in writing at the University of Southern California, which definitely put me in an odd position. I was the new kid and many of the cliques were already formed in the autumn, when everyone else started. Plus, to be honest, programs like this are not exactly a place where people make friends; there is a lot of competitiveness in the writing world. You want to have the respect of your professors and be in with the good writers, you do not want to be part of the other groups, trust me.

So to say I was lonely and feeling out of sorts at that moment would be to put it mildly. I was not on my A game.

Anyway, I was watching TV in my grungy graduate apartment (seriously, my roommate was one of the messiest people I had ever met; I was terrified to get near the kitchen, deciding to live off food from the local Starbucks and canned goods), when an ad came up for Disneyland.

I had completely forgotten that Disneyland was near Los Angeles, it was not even on my radar (like I said, not a Disney kid). I had nothing going on the next day so I checked their Web site for info, got directions and set my alarm to go in the morning. I thought, if anything, it would give me a funny story to tell my friends and family back home: “What did you do today? That’s nice… Me? I just went to Disneyland!”

Again, remember my experience so far in Los Angeles, a little lonely, not connecting with my fellow writers yet, lousy roommate and I was in a big and (let’s be honest) less than welcoming city.  Walking into Disneyland that day was not like just going home, it was like returning to every happy memory of my childhood.  It was a rush, plain and simple.

Now, I had been to Disney World as a child and had fun there, but it never felt like this. It was completely the opposite of everything I was feeling and living in around USC.  This was, to avoid being corny, felt magical. It was a gift I wasn’t expecting.  The energy, the vibe of the place took my breath away. I was overwhelmed and it was not a feeling I was prepared for. I seriously almost wept.

What made that first visit even more great is that it was a rainy day. Which meant, I almost had the park to myself. I was a kid in a candy store as I walked off the Indiana Jones and the Forbidden Eye ride and immediately walked right back on again. There was no wait anywhere that day, and I experienced everything, had lunch and then did everything two or three more times. I was there the entire day and left that evening at closing, exhausted but incredibly happy; like a child after a really good Christmas (I’m talking brand new puppy good).

The next day, I felt ridiculous and a little embarrassed. I wasn’t wearing a sweatshirt from the place (I would never be that guy), but I did feel tainted in a way. I talked to some of my fellow writers and realized to my relief I was not the only one that felt that way upon visiting the magic kingdom. If anything that visit opened up conversations for me with fellow writers.

One thing I latched on to immediately around Disneyland is the sheer creativity of the place. When it comes to amusement parks, Walt didn’t just invent the printing press, he also invented the books. And while Disney World is nice, there is something special that Disneyland has that I didn’t feel at Disney World. I’ve tried to explain this to people before but always find it difficult to find the right words. Disney was there and he oversaw it. It’s his presence, plain and simple.

The vibe around Disneyland became a thing for me, and I would return from time to time when I was living in Los Angeles, not for the rides, per se, but the feeling of being there (There were some visits where I didn’t even go on rides). When I was working on my thesis (an unpublished novel named Cassandra on the Island), I was known to even bring my notepad with me, finding a spot in a corner of the park to write and just watch the people rushing about.

In the last few years, I have read books on Walt and watched a few documentaries on him and Disneyland; trying to tap into the well that is his mind.  See, as someone who idolizes creativity, I love how his brain works and I wish mine had that capability; for he had no barriers, everything was only a step for the next level. Consider animation:

  • Drawing little cartoons.
  • Turning that into a business.
  • Adding sound.
  • Adding color.
  • Making the first full-length animated film.
  • Making more and more.

That list doesn’t do it justice since he was advancing the medium every step of the way. He was never stagnant. He just builds and builds and builds. Disneyland was the same way, starting as a small idea inspired by some model trains. That creativity right there to me is awesome.

Things were never done for him. He even said at one point, famously, that “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” As an artist, that idea is inspiring and exhausting at the same time.  It would be like writing a book that never ends. I mean, even The Neverending Story had to end at some point for the author.

I must admit, it does make me sometimes sad when I think that a ride will never be like how I originally remembered it; for example, The Pirates of the Caribbean is now filled with characters from the movies (which is fine).  It makes sense though, things need to change. It is what keeps the place alive and keeps it from becoming a full-on nostalgia environment.

So things change, things grow, things improve, things are always moving. You can almost find a philosophy of life out of the amusement park.

I cannot wait to take my children to Disneyland. I want to see their faces upon experiencing the magical kingdom for the first time. But just as much, I want to talk to them about the making of the place and the creativity behind every inch of the park.

So I admit it, I am a fan. Disney is an inspirational individual for me and I really, really wish my brain was wired like his.

If you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my books? I had two novels published in the last few years, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here. Thanks for reading!

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7 responses

  1. Reblogged this on The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard and commented:

    UPDATE: So how many of you have seen the fake movie poster for WALT, a biopic on Walt Disney? (If you haven’t, you can see it here- http://www.cartoonbrew.com/disney/walt-by-pascal-witaszek.html). It’s been getting a lot of attention. Personally, I think this is entirely doable and I keep working out scenes and dialogue for it in my mind. If I was writing the screenplay, I would focus on his childhood and the early years of animation, stopping the film at the premiere of Snow White. The theme will be the idea of innovation, always striving to break new ground; and I would try to capture that energy he had around himself and projects then. I can even see a second film, that would follow the power and overwhelming responsibility of his empire and the peace he found at Disneyland. The sad thing is the fake poster has Akiva Goldsman on as a screenplay writer right now, and I think he is… terrible seems harsh, predictable and boring seems better… Well, after A Beautiful Mind I have really questioned his ability to write a good script, especially one true to the topic he is trying to capture. Whatever, it is a fake poster. What do you think?

  2. What are you waiting for? Write the script! You know you can do it–you have the passion, the sense of history, and the innate love an author must have for her (his) characters (see what I did there)?

    You have buckets of talent. This is your year.

  3. Pingback: The Historical Resonance of Turning Two | The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

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