Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Disney Theme Parks and the Sense of Wonder

As I read my new book by Jeff Kurtti, I found myself very interested with some of his characterizations of the theme park embodied in Disneyland. Kurtti writes:

For Walt, Disneyland was a world seen through fantasy, a place of warmth and nostalgia, full of 'illusion and color and delight'. A 1953 proposal for Disneyland promised, "Like Alice stepping through the Looking Glass, to step through the portals of Disneyland will be like entering another world."

And further on:

In a sense, the Park is a form of "virtual reality," because it is a place that, although not real, creates its own reality.

Today, is there anything "real" about Disneyland? The parks at Walt Disney World? I mean, in the sense that people really suspend disbelief when they pass through the turnstiles? Or are we jaded and cynical to the point where nothing on Planet Disney can break through this shell?

I'm not talking simply about enjoyment; the parks are full of enjoyment for one and all. There's something there for everyone. But I find it hard to imagine that there is the same sense of wonder about the places that there probably was when they first opened.

I wasn't around then. I never went to Disneyland before 2008. And I only went to Disney World one time, that being in high school, when I visited with our high school band, and we drummers were more concerned with chasing girls from a band from the New England area than appreciating the park. (And that was in 1975!)

I'd love to experience these parks as something really new, something that had never been done, or even tried before. There is still some of that, since most places fall far short of the Disney ideal. Marriot's Great America (now Six Flags Great America) tried to theme their areas according to parts of the country, but as the big coasters invaded, the theming disappeared.

I love experiencing the parks today; I love seeing them through my sons' eyes, and I love the enthusiasm that they both have for discovering new and fun things about different parks. But I know I'm in a theme park, and not just academically.

Maybe I'm just too old. Maybe I've got too much life experience. But I do wish I could have seen them as those early visitors did, as something that didn't exist until Disneyland was opened by the visionary we call Walt Disney.

No comments: