Note: I wrote this last month but didn’t have a chance to publish it till now.
“YOU went to Disneyland?” said my friend Debbie, her disbelief evident in her voice. “However did they talk you into that?”
I was a little surprised. My mental self-image tends to be subtle, someone that keeps her opinions to herself because they are so nuanced and well-thought-out that I can’t just blurt them out at random. (I have other delusions too) And while it’s true that I haven’t been what you’d call a big fan of Disneyland, I still end up going there all the time because I am completely outnumbered by my kids, my husband and my in-laws.
But I’ve made my peace with the Big Mouse. And I’m going to tell you about it. But first, my issues.
I didn’t grow up with Disney. 8 ½ years younger than my next sibling, I grew up in a small town on the Canadian prairies. We didn’t have a TV. I spent most of my time lying on my bed reading reading reading. I grew up on A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, and Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows. I read and re-read the Grimm brothers and the Little House books. And so I was unprepared for life in our current American culture.
I did not respond well to my first introduction to “adapted” books. I remember visiting a friend’s house and watching Little House on TV. I was shocked. “That wasn’t in the book! That’s not right!” I kept saying, until they finally sent me home. I reacted similarly to Disney’s movies; their Pooh was bumbly and dorky, their dwarves in Snow White without dignity.
I also have not reacted well to Disney’s usurpation of other people’s perfectly good tales. They take other people’s creative impulses and squeeze them into yet another one-size-fits-all bumbly, dorky, talking-animal, curvy heroine, oversized-chest male, happy ending movie. They messed up Little Mermaid, Hans Christian Anderson’s dark moralistic tale. In the original, the prince marries the other girl, and the little mermaid dies of a broken heart—but is rewarded with a soul, so she gets to go to heaven, which is about as happy as Anderson gets. And whatever possessed them to decide to make The Hunchback of Notre Dame into a children’s movie? It’s not like Disney is hurting for money. Why can’t they hire people to come up with original stories? Ok I’ll stop now; I could go on for pages. (Maybe it’s not surprising Debbie knew my real feelings?)
Donn, of course, grew up in Southern California. They had a TV in every room. His parents love Disney and Disneyland, and took him to the park all the time. One time he went on Space Mountain 11 times in the same day. That’s the kind of legendary figure he forms in our family.
3 years ago, my inlaws took all of us to Disneyland. I went under protest. I find the whole enterprise amazingly cynical. It costs $63 to get in if you are over 10. A Belle dress, for your 4 year old to play dress up in, costs $60. Yet they bill themselves as “the happiest place on earth.” For who? Just people with disposable income? Just people who speak English? Just people who LIKE Disney? It’s so cynical.
“It’s just an advertising slogan,” groaned Donn, rolling his eyes at me. “Get over it.”
My mother-in-law’s favorite “ride” is that one which in kindness to your mental processes I will not name; the one in which animated figures shriek that same annoying song over and over at you, until it’s stuck in your head for days. Far from promoting world peace, that “ride” seems to ignite hatred and homicidal tendencies.
At least I think so.
Last year, we went again. Donn’s parents had a harder time keeping up with us, but at least Ilsa was finally tall enough to go on all the rides—that was a sore spot during her first visit, when her twin was deemed tall enough but she wasn’t.
But I’ve made my peace with the House of the Mouse. This year, the in-laws couldn’t come, said they just don’t have the stamina anymore, but they sent us. Everyone else was excited, so I put on my happy face (sarcasm) and off we went.
And while I still wouldn’t call it the happiest place on earth, even grumpy cantankerous moi had a great day. (Wouldn’t this make a heart-warming family movie?)
Going with older kids makes a difference. We didn’t even see any giant cartoon characters. Instead, we rushed from ride to ride; Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, the Matterhorn. (Do you think Disney’s in a rut?) We would get our Fast Passes for the future, then hang out in those long lines—the happiest lines on earth!—until we could experience our 2 minutes of pure joy. Fortunately we all love roller coasters.
We went on most rides twice, but we went on Thunder Mountain four times! That’s because we went on rides instead of joining the enormous claustrophobia-inducing crowd watching the light-and-smoke show about the history of Disney. We would stagger off the roller coaster, run round, and ride again. It was awesome. We discovered that for this ride, which has a long train, it’s best to sit in the very back, where you get whipped around. For Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, you should sit in the very front row.
I like sitting next to Ilsa on rides. She’s so tiny, and she shrieks and puts her arms up and has so much fun that it intensifies the experience for me. Even the biggest rides that Disney can offer hold no fear for her.
We haven’t been back in the States all that long, so we’re still getting our cues about ways things have changed since our last time home by watching our fellow-Americans. It was interesting to see that, even in this affluent nation of ours, many people apparently can’t afford full-length mirrors. It’s sad.
Last year, we couldn’t go on the Pirates of the Caribbean because it was closed for remodeling, so we were excited to try it this year. We tend to view Pirates 2 & 3 as basically theme-ride movies anyway, considering their serious lack of a comprehensible plot. We patiently waited in the long line, excitedly boarded the boat, and then sat, bored, for the next few minutes. It’s the exact same ride as before, except they have changed the dialogue to add in a few ‘Capt. Jack Sparrow’s’ and ‘Davy Jones’.” Pitiful. We all hated it.
We endured those terrible animated animals on Splash Mountain for those few microseconds of pure, unadulterated terror when you come out on top of the mountain, get that breathtaking view of the park, and plunge down, down, down that 50-foot drop. It’s so cool. It’s worth it. I love that ride. (except for those annoying animals, which no one likes.)
The fireworks show was incredible; it turned night into day. We went on Thunder Mountain one last time while craning our necks upward; the booms and sparkles were a fitting expression of our own exuberance.
By the end, we were limping in exhaustion, beyond hungry. (We had cleverly outwitted the infamous Disney greed by eating RIGHT before coming in and bringing enough snacks to keep us all going all day; we hate paying $30 for a pizza worth about $5) It was after 11 p.m. We staggered towards the gate, foregoing one last time the joys of Space Mountain when we saw the after-fireworks crowd all standing in line. We drove around Anaheim, looking for an open restaurant, ended up eating cheap tacos from Jack in the Box in the car. Ilsa fell asleep between each and every bite.
I’m still not what you’d call a Disney fan, but Disneyland’s all right. If you like all that happiness, that is.