I just returned from holiday, vacation to some of you.
I went to America. Florida. Orlando, to be precise. Yes, I visited Disney. Extensively.
I go often and have done for many years but I do find that some people like to snigger and smirk when I say that I go to Disney. You see, they think it’s all Disney princesses, pretzels, and glitter. And, yes, some of it is that… but it’s so much more.
It’s very difficult to describe why I enjoy Disney—and other theme parks—so much. Especially when many people have such a strong mental picture of what they think it is.
I’ve had many reactions when I tell someone that I like Disney… giggles, laughter, pitying looks, surprise. Mainly from people who haven’t been… or people who don’t see it the way I see it. And so, I wanted to explain myself. I wanted to say what I see when I visit theme parks, and explain why I enjoy going to them.
Firstly, I enjoy rides. Rollercoasters, motion simulators, a simple log flume, a kiddie dark ride. They’re fun. If you don’t go upside down at least once a year then quite frankly I don’t know what you’re doing with your life.
Secondly, I like having fun. This can be controversial because there is this belief that when you get to a certain age, a certain stage in your life, you have to cease enjoying simple things. When you reach a certain place in your lifetime journey you can only appreciate a competitive APR on a credit card, or good fuel economy.
I’m here to tell you that is bullshit. If you don’t like having fun… fine. Be you, enjoy (or don’t) whatever it is you do.
But if you don’t like having fun because people have laughed at you when you tell them what you find enjoyable… then we need to talk. You see, I’ve discovered that there are a lot of people… we’ll call them boring adults… who like to mock people who find joy in things. And I have no problem with boring adults, I just wish they’d stay in their lane and not sneer at people who can find happiness in simple things.
Example… I ate the biggest ice cream sundae you’ve ever seen. The amount of whipped cream was frankly obscene. While I stood on Main Street USA and ate my sundae (there was a doughnut too… I’m going to die of a blood clot within the week) I saw a child of about three or four years old holding hands with the brother of Remy from Ratatouille. You know, the one who no one can remember but you know it’s the brother. Anyway, this kid is holding hands with this giant rat and watching Donald Duck dancing his tail feathers off on a parade float and you know what… the kid was happy. And everyone who saw the kid was happy. It was just a pure moment that people enjoyed because there was no boring adult pointing out that the characters were just people in suits, or complaining that the music was too loud, or calculating the amount of fat grams in my sundae.
Disney isn’t perfect. There’s a ton of negative things I could write… but I won’t because I’m talking about the things I do like.
So there’s the rides, the characters, the “on-set" theming, the ice cream, and the happy kids. But these are not the things I appreciate the most.
The key is in the words: theme park.
It’s the theming. And I don’t just mean looking at a castle. Although, it’s a pretty cute castle… isn’t it?
I mean immersive theming. As a writer and a creative, I find it incredibly exciting to see how worlds can be built. And Disney (and Universal) are damn good at it.
One of the hottest new attractions at Animal Kingdom is Pandora which is based on the movie Avatar. You know, the big blue people. I’m not a big fan of the movie. It’s okay but I’ve never been praying for the day I could be transported into the screen. But going and seeing the job that Disney have done in the area is breathtaking. And investigating how they do it is fascinating.
It starts when you walk along a large bridge towards Pandora. The first thing you notice is the change in sound, you can hear the background noise of animals… loud and foreign to your ears. With just one detail… you realise you’re about to be transported to a completely different place. The walkways change, the concrete has patterns that indicate a change in flora and fauna around you… animal tracks you can’t identify. And then you arrive and everything, and I mean everything, is different. Everything you see, hear, smell, and feel is meticulously calculated to make you feel like you are no longer in a Disney theme park. There’s no Mickey. No Cinderella. Just Pandora. And the level of detail is sensational. Custom made props blend seamlessly with landscaped horticultural areas that genuinely make it look like you are on another planet.
Pandora is an extreme example. The attention to detail on the theming is extraordinary. But this thread of turning a creative thought into a reality is everywhere and is literally what the theme park industry is built on.
I visit the parks a lot and every time I go; I discover a new architectural detail, a new imprint in the floor, a new easter egg that links things together. They are packed with so much data that it’s impossible to process it all. And things are constantly changing. We saw Broadway stars performing while we were there and visited a number of galleries telling us about things from Scandinavian Gods through to the history of Moroccan clothing.
I often think about the people who smirk at me when I say I go to Disney and I feel a little bit sorry for them because they are so limited by thinking that they know what a theme park is that they miss out on this extraordinary experience.
As a creative, I build worlds and characters that I attempt to bring to life through words. Disney is doing this but in a way that is so detail orientated that it blows my mind.
A recent Disney animated film called Coco explores life and death in a fascinating way. Many adults won’t see it because it’s Disney. And it’s a “cartoon". And it has singing in it. And any other number of “boring adult" reasons for not watching it. But it’s a great film, it does something that Disney does so very well in that it balances a line between being a film that children and adults can both enjoy in different ways. You learn about how other cultures view death, and it makes you think.
In addition to the movie and selling as much Coco merchandise as possible, Disney uses an exhibit in the Mexico pavilion to talk about the Day of the Dead and has an extraordinary display of many decorated skulls crafted with sugar. It’s fascinating to hear about how other cultures think of death. Or anything. To see the world through the eyes of another person is a gift and one that is repeated over and over again in places like EPCOT.
I’m sure some people think I spend two weeks a year going on rollercoasters and eating burgers. But I don’t at all. In fact this year we specifically visited at this time to check out EPCOT’s Festival of the Arts where we got to meet so many talented artists and eat fantastic food in incredibly themed environments. Many of the places in World Showcase I have actually been to and seeing the Disney version is fascinating.
So, this is me defending my decision to go to Disney. And to keep going to Disney.
To those of you who smirk or leave a sarcastic message on social media to those of us who go to theme parks… just think about what you are missing out on. The ability to step into a story. To walk through strange planets. Hear music that transports you. Eat food from around the world and even from the imaginations of storytellers.
For me, I feel recharged with creative energy that I intend to put into my writing in 2019 and beyond. If I can create just 1% of that theming then I will be extremely happy.
Oh, and here’s me and that doughnut.
It was worth it.