Spent last weekend at Disney’s California Resort. I admit that I took the photo above, but I thought it funny enough to post, even though, technically, it isn’t very good. Not only did Walt have a mouse, but he also had a tower growing out of his head! What a guy, huh? In truth, I’ve always liked Walt Disney, the man on TV selling culture to kids. Know why jeans frequently have holes in them, and look worn and old, even $80 new from the store? Spin and Marty, that’s why. Feel free to look it up. The city dude’s new jeans got dragged through the horse yard, kicked around, washed a jillion times, and ended up looking like, well, like those eighty-buck ripped pants you see today.
Walt, of course, is remembered by the general public as an animator, and of course, as the founder of Disneyland, which has grown into a worldwide entertainment juggernaut. But, of course, over the years, he didn’t draw a lot of the stuff with his name on it (I mean back when he was alive.) He was also, perhaps primarily, a storyteller. Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, tells a story. It’s a simple one, and a silly one (he called his toons “Silly Symphonies,) but it’s still a complete story. He adapted many stories, too, of course, especially from the brothers Grimm, but he always made them his own. As a little kid, I couldn’t read the Grimm version of Snow White — it’s horrible. But, I loved Walt Disney’s story. Disney knew how to tell it so everybody would love it, and that’s what he did every day of his adult life.
And his theme park was designed to be a story, or maybe five stories, all with stories within them, as well. Main Street was based on a small-town middle America that was long gone by 1955, and patterned after the main street of the Kansas town where he grew up.* The other “lands,” (Walt loved things German) including Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tommorowland, all tell stories about swashbuckling fun, life on the edge of civilization, fairy tale worlds, and what was then the future, beckoning bright just around the bend. You can immerse yourself in the stories told at Disneyland, as we did when we “paddled” a canoe around an artificial island in an artificial lake. (They are real canoes, but there are professionals who actually paddle the things.) You can experience the lifestyle of the Pirates of the Caribbean. There was a working Monorail before Seattle built one for their World’s Fair, and it’s still available in a much updated version. There used to be a People Mover, of which I know at least one was sold, to the City of Detroit. Walt liked the future, and worked to bring it about, so his Tomorrowland stories were more Star Trek in style and intent than they were Star Wars. Today, of course, Tomorrowland is all about Star Wars, but I’m talking 1955 here, folks. (I know, there was no Trek either. I’m referring to the fact that Star Wars is a fantasy telling an invented mythology, whereas Star Trek is a hopeful vision of a real future. I like them both.)
You can learn a lot about story by visiting Disneyland. Many of the rides have encapsulated stories within their experience, and they are too short to have any extraneous modifiers, bub! If you’re a writer, I’m giving you, free of charge, a five-star excuse to go to a Disney park: you can learn a great deal about telling a story there. Don’t say I never did anything for you!
*You can learn more about Walt Disney’s life from this article on Wikipedia.