I would assume that most people who read MiceChat (especially those reading Samland) are the type who visit the Disney parks more frequently than the average guest. Just a wild guess. With that in mind, I am pretty sure that we may have shared this experience:
You are chatting with friends, relatives, coworkers when somebody mentions your upcoming visit to a theme park. All of sudden the group recoils, some roll their eyes back in their heads while others ask, “Again?” “Why?”
Try doing that in a room filled with architects and urban planners. For many of my peers, Walt Disney represents everything that is wrong with the built environment. The term “Disneyification” was not meant as a compliment. Although many of them might not admit it in public, some quietly have come to me to share their passion for theme parks knowing that I won’t rat them out.
As much as they might bemoan the parks, architectural historian Beth Dunlop got it right when she wrote in the new edition of Building a Dream, “Urban planners study Disneyland to understand ideas of proportion and perspective and to learn, more technically, about the flow of pedestrians and the placement of public spaces. Disneyland simply changed the way we think.” Hard to argue with that one.
The park’s importance to the image for the Los Angeles region cannot be overstated. New York Times architectural critic Paul Goldberger once called Disneyland “the town square of Los Angeles.” In 1966, architect and philosopher Charles W. Moore once called the park the “most important single piece of construction in the West in the past several decades.” This was the man who coined the phrase, “Place is the projection of the image of civilization onto the environment.” Nobody understood that better than Walt Disney and his Imagineers.
Another booster was shopping center developer and town builder James Rouse. In 1963, he was the keynote speaker at the Urban Design Conference at Harvard University and said, “I hold a view that might be somewhat shocking to an audience as sophisticated as this – that the greatest piece of urban design in the United States today is Disneyland.” As proof he stated, “It took an area of activity – the amusement park – and lifted it to a standard so high in its performance, in its respect for people, that it really has become a brand-new thing.”
Even science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury chimed in when he said, “In Disneyland, he [Walt] has proven again that the first function of architecture is to make men over, make them wish to go on living, feed fresh oxygen, grow them tall, delight their eyes, make them kind.” Why would you not want to visit a place like this? Bradbury suggested, “Disneyland liberates men to their better selves. Here the wild brute is gently corralled, not used and squashed, not put upon and harassed, not tramped on by real-estate operators, nor exhausted by smog and traffic.” I want to go there.
Part of this was due to an underlying operating system that controls how this urban space works. Historian Karl Ann Marling compared the park to television. She said, “Each ride [was] a four- or five-minute segment, slotted in among snacks, trips to the restroom, and ‘commercials’ in the form of souvenir emporia.” What could be more like home? Instantly comfortable.
What is most strange is how the park plays with the frequent guest’s mind. For example, superstar Disney historian Jeff Kurtti said that visiting the park frequently “is revelatory in the drastic change you will see – and the almost complete lack of change you will see.” He is right.
Long-time Imagineer and Disney Legend, John Hench, tried to document the formula. He was quick to point out, “It’s all very obvious, careful communication, watching what you say, and being explicit – and having something to say in the first place.” For the park, a three-dimensional experience, the early Imagineers drew from their experience making movies. Hench said, “In motion pictures, you start out with an establishing shot, a long shot, a wow.” Keep that in mind when you walk up to the turnstiles or pass through the tunnels under the railroad tracks, walk through Town Square, and see the Castle off in the distance for the first time.
For the formula to work, more was required according to Hench. He said, “Walt wanted all the details to be correct. What it amounted to was a kind of visual literacy.” Walt told his team, “I want them to feel they are in another world.”
For almost sixty years, we have been able to test these ideas. However, I think it is time for another research trip. Oh one more thing. When you are done explaining this to everyone and they are still not convinced remember, you will be the one having a Dole whip.
There are so many more reasons. Anybody?
THE LIGHTNING ROUND
Some very brief book reviews.
Walt Disney and Assorted Other Characters by Jack Kinney (1988 – Out of Print)
One of the best books I have ever read about Walt Disney in the early days. This is an unvarnished look at life at the studio from February 1931 until 1957. Kinney adds punch to his stories with delightful quick sketches. Although Walt Disney Productions created some of the best family entertainment ever, the crew of artists were a bit more, how shall we say it, adult. The studio politics, the tensions generated by the creative process, and colorful descriptions of many of the eclectic artists who worked there are captured in Kinney’s book.
I bought the book online.
Walt Disney: Saving America’s Lost Generation by R.H. Farber (2012)
Did you know that there was a Mickey Mouse Club before the famous 1950s television show? And this group was bigger than the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts of America combined. Deep in the middle of the Great Depression of the 1930s, took comfort by joining like minded children in their love for the little mouse.
Farber tells of how Harry Woodin of the Fox Dome Theater in Ocean Park, California asked Walt Disney if he could start a fraternity for children. Both men saw this as a win-win and a new cultural institution is born. Within in a couple of years there would be more than 3,000 local clubs. More than three million children were involved in the organization. All sorts of rituals and merchandise were created for the club and the book is loaded with historic photos. The book is a reminder of the power of Disney in the 1930s and how his studio captured the imagination of a generation.
Author sent me a copy for the review.
Work in Progress By Michael D. Eisner with Tony Schwartz (1998)
The book was written at the height of Michael Eisner’s power and prestige as CEO of The Walt Disney Company. Although Eisner strives to live up to the books humble sub-title (Risking Failure, Surviving Success) the book is quite entertaining now that some time has passed. The book opens with the sudden death of Frank Wells, Eisner’s partner at Disney, and ends well before his trouble with shareholders in the “Save Disney” movement of 2003-2005. The book is not a revisionist’s history of historic events. It is Eisner’s point of view and quite valuable when compared to other narratives dealing with the same historic events.
I bought the electronic edition.
The First Earth Battalion: Evolutionary Tactics Operations Manual (1979) by Lt. Col Jim Channon, US Army
Ever seen the movie Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)? The film was based on the British documentary by John Sergeant and the book by Jon Ronson and begin with an ominous title card that reads “More of this is true than you would believe.” Throughout the movie, the lead characters constantly refer to The First Earth Battalion Operations Manual. That manual is available online. I can’t really say anymore for national security reasons. Good luck future Warrior Monks.
The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom by Aaron Wallace (2013)
When is a travel book not really a travel book? When Aaron Wallace takes on WDW’s Magic Kingdom. The book is organized as a traditional guidebook. The author tackles each land with a quick introduction and then goes attraction by attraction. Basic facts are presented right up front then we are treated to a deeper look. Stories range from the original inspirations for the rides, a focus on a particular topics such as that special Disney humor or an introspective essay describing why we react the way we do while enjoying the rides. As you can imagine, I love this stuff and Wallace does a good job. At the end of each ride description is a sidebar featuring a movie that you should watch before your visit. Sometimes the films deal directly with the attraction and at other times they help to provide additional context and not directly related. The footnotes are well worth the read. I would think that anybody who enjoys where I go with my writing would really enjoy this book.
The publisher sent me the book for this review.