“Why do you like Disneyland?”

February 16, 2024

I get this question a lot. The more I visit, the more I get asked. And every time, I give an abbreviated answer. Not this time. This time I want to answer it for real.

As an artist, I am excited about a place that is designed and engineered for people. I like how it has been created to encompass every aspect of life: food, drink, atmosphere, architecture, transportation, fashion, theatre, dance, music, sound, even smell. There are entire teams of people that work on each of those. And they all require insight, creativity, and science.

Behind every major direction there are a thousand tiny decisions that need to be made. There are people who never made anything like this before who are taking their best guesses, learning, and changing. For every attraction, there are hundreds of drawings. There are schematics and build-outs. There’s math and engineering.

There’s an entire city’s worth of infrastructure. Energy, water, waste management. Safety, sanitation, fire departments, and a lot of computers.

It’s an incredibly large orchestra, and I find that beautiful.

Once, addressing common criticism of Disney parks for not being “real,” Joe Rohde (I think) offered up an alternative to consider. It’s actually real.

Disneyland is as real as the world outside of it. Everything we put on this planet was made by people, with what we have on this planet. Every building was built. Every painting was painted. Every song was written. Every dish cooked. It has a “backstage” area? So does the rest of the world. There’s always a back room, a shipping-and-receiving door. Let’s not pretend. That is reality.

Disneyland exists like all art in the world, to appreciate and criticize the world we live in. Disneyland is not all happy, giggles, and fun. It is not without scary or sad. It is not perfect, but it is perspective.

Just as movies invite us to step inside a world for a moment of our existence to offer some fresh perspective, Disneyland too gives us that chance, from a different lens, from a different director. And since Disneyland was made by movie people, it makes sense. Movies are just as “fake” as Disneyland is, but I think however you define “fake,” movies absolutely exist in the real world, and so does Disneyland.

If you go to Disneyland with the mindset that it is “fake,” then you miss out on the chance to see it as real. And I think if you do that with any other part of life, be it food, music, or even people, you rob yourself of opportunities to learn.

Disneyland may give you the illusion that it is one big show, but it is real action, played out, every day. That’s not fake. That’s not pretend. That’s real.

“it’s a small world” is an innocent, childlike message that asks people why we don’t try harder to get along with each other. It’s as relevant today as it was when it debuted in New York in 1964.

Disneyland challenges us to see a world where we can be kinder and more accepting of each other. It gives us the opportunity to put aside the societal urge to fit in and instead be ourselves. No matter who you are, at Disneyland, everyone will excitedly wave to you from a train or boat. Try that outside of Disneyland.

It’s not where people go to escape. It’s where people go to live in ways they would like to. It should be an indictment on the “real world” that people keep wanting to go to Disneyland to experience better transportation, better accessibility, and better service. Why does our “real” world fail us in ways Disneyland succeeds?

I like that Disneyland, and Disney parks around the world, were created to be these kinds of places where everyone can enjoy it together. I think that’s remarkable.

I want to leave you with an anecdote. One day I was at Disneyland in Anaheim, where I have been tons of times. My partner’s glasses broke. One of those incredibly tiny screws fell out. We had the screw, but they couldn’t wear the glasses like this.

I thought about it for less than 10 seconds, and started briskly walking toward Main Street. I went right into a shop where I know they sell watches. I saw a (set-dressed) desk with a dozen drawers, and asked a Cast Member if they had tiny screwdrivers in there. He sat down, turned on the desk lamp, opened a drawer, and took out a tool kit. We handed him the glasses, and he screwed it in for us.

I didn’t have to ask a Cast Member where I could go. I didn’t look at a map. I didn’t search for anything. I have just come to expect that almost anything is solvable here. And from that feeling, an unfortunate situation turned into a bright, memorable one.

Sure, you can do this at any reasonable jeweler if you know where one is or search for one. But just like in the “real world,” Disneyland did it too. It’s real. It’s a real place that does real things all the time. Even the smallest, seemingly unimportant things. Because with almost 70 years of near-daily operation, they have figured it out.

The shop, by the way, is named after a 1967 Disney song called Fortuosity. It’s an invented word, but all words are made up, aren’t they? According to Richard Sherman (who wrote the song), it means with faith and good fortune. Is this not the perfect word for that entire experience?

Disneyland is not a weak, diluted version of the world. It is a potent concentration of it. I don’t like Disneyland. I love it.

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