I was asked the other day what I like so much about all things Disney. That’s an easy question, I thought. I’ve got a hundred reasons why I go to the theme parks, watch and re-watch Disney movies, collect Disneyana, (see my post Hooked on Collecting) pour over Disney message boards, Disney Facebook pages, dissect every announcement of changes and additions to the theme parks and read biographies of Walt Disney. You’re going to have to tell me when to stop. Just tell me when to stop. Only problem was, while I was thinking all those things, I wasn’t saying anything. At that moment, I realized that while I had thought about all those different aspects of the world of Disney, I had never really articulated why it is that Disney means so much to me – at least not out loud.
Fortunately for me, the person who had asked was understanding and willing to wait while I put some coherent words together. Not everyone I talk to understands my love of the world of Disney. I get a lot of “It’s so commercial” or “It’s for kids” or “They just want your money”.
I tried to trace back my when my interest had begun. The first movie I ever saw in a theater was The Sword in the Stone. A good movie, but not a great movie. I remember waiting for and watching Disney’s Wonderful World of Color every Sunday on television. There was that great opening with Sleeping Beauty Castle, Tinkerbell and firework sand classic cartoon and nature shorts, sometimes a movie and Walt would introduce the pieces. But not all of it kept my interest.
I saw many of the live action movies while I was growing up, like “Herbie the Love Bug”, “The Ugly Daschund” and “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes”. but most of them were, well mediocre. Even the movies with better stories like “The Shaggy Dog” and the “Absent Minded Professor” I saw at the drive-in. Small, tinny sounding speaker and watching through the windshield did not make for a great movie experience. And the Shaggy Dog just scared and wierded me out. I didn’t go to Walt Disney World for the first time until I was in my late twenties. And that trip is kind of a blur. So how and when did this minor obsession start?
Now, picture for a second, that all this happened in my head, in a matter of seconds, while I probably had this mouth open faraway look in my eyes. I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, A Mother’s Gift, how my mother had been a collector of Disneyana and took me to my first Disney movie. But, as interesting as the items in the collection are and fond as I am of the memories of her telling me about them, and as much as I did enjoy Disney animated movies, and I vaguely remember enjoying my early visit to Walt Disney World, those were curiosities and did not lead me directly to the place where I am today – writing a blog each week about Walt Disney and the world of Disney magic.
Then it hit me. There was a kind of common denominator to all of this. It wasn’t pin collecting, new movies, the addition of Star Wars to the Disney portfolio or escaping into the Fantasy world of a Disney theme park. It’s Walt.
Walt Disney has become a role model for me. Here was a man who came from no means to build one of the greatest entertainment empires the world has ever seen. He persevered through setback after setback, going broke more than once. He could have been envious when it became apparent that others could execute the drawings for his ideas better than he could. He could have quit when Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was taken away from him. (BTW, thank you Disney company for bringing Oswald home) He could have taken the easy path and continued to make short cartoons when everyone told him that people wouldn’t pay and sit for a feature length animated film. He could have folded his tent when many of his animators went on strike. He could have sold out to another company when World War II forced him to make films for the military at almost no profit. And he certainly could have coasted on easy street when the company finally reached financial stability after ignoring the naysayers who said that the theme park he imagined would fail. Instead, he persevered. Instead, he stuck to his dreams and found ways to achieve his goals.
I am in awe of the boundless creativity that Walt exhibited throughout his life. As I discussed in my post How Much do You Want It?, there aren’t many people who have been successful at so many different entertainment genres. Walt had no background, training or experience in television, live action movie producing or theme parks. He even learned animation while he was creating his early shorts. But, he never let that stop him from doing what he instinctively knew what people wanted or needed for entertainment. His boundless optimism that, somehow, despite not having money or many supporters or any real plan for how some of his work would get accomplished, if he just focused on making people happy, everything would work out. He took big, potentially company destroying chances and didn’t look back. His unbridled enthusiasm and can-do attitude made him a natural leader. As a result, people he needed help from to succeed, believed in him and followed him. Bankers, animators, architects, engineers, directors, artists, even his brother Roy all fell under the spell of a man who could weave a great story and who’s enthusiasm for any project was spell binding and infectious.
If you were to describe someone who was not afraid of the unknown, took risks, lead men and women on great campaigns, followed his own heart, stuck to his principles, exhibited a knack for problem solving and built great things, you might be thinking of decorated military man or an explorer, moving from one adventure to the next. Not someone who made movies and created theme parks. But Walt Disney was an exceptional man who followed his passions even in the face of tremendous skepticism and what, to others, were insurmountable obstacles, financially, technically and artistically.
Those exceptional qualities inspire me and, I think, others, even though he has been gone for fifty years, to admire and aspire to be like him. While others have been successful at their chosen professions or endeavors, I’m hard pressed to think of too many who have done it with such style and enthusiasm and seemed to have so much fun at the same time. I’d love to hear where your love, passion or interest in the world of Disney came from.