Form and Content in Disneyland

Written by Cory Gross. Posted in Features

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Published on June 06, 2014 at 12:30 am with 42 Comments

It likely goes without saying that an overabundant love of Disney and its parks are incomprehensible to most people. The majority of us have experiences of being looked at from down someone’s nose as they mutter something about us going to a Disney park (again) or, in my case, proposing to my fiancée in one. Doubtless many of us are equally familiar with the self-appointed critics who live in a state of utter exasperation that anyone could like a Disney park when there are other amusement parks with newer, larger, and more expensive rides out there.

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“Lame.”

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“Totally lame.”

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“That horse isn’t even a 3D projection! Way to drop the ball, Disney!”

As incomprehensible and exasperating as our love for Disney may be to them, the inverse is often a more vexing problem to the mouse-eared faithful. What is wrong with these people who don’t love Disneyland? Why don’t they “get it”? It doesn’t help that this “it” that other people don’t get is very difficult for Disney fans to explain. More often than not, it devolves into platitudes about Disney’s special “magic”, how it is the “happiest place on earth” and where “dreams come true”… All the advertising slogans invented by the company marketeers.

It is true that the majority of Western kids cannot make it to their teen years without acquiring at least a passing familiarity with Disney’s films and images. Most love it in its various manifestations, whether growing up in the 50′s to the Disneyland television show and the Mickey Mouse Club or in the 80′s to Ducktales and Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers or in the 2000′s to Pirates of the Caribbean and Phineas and Ferb. Growing up – at least prior to the welcome mainstreaming of geek culture – many teenagers shed their childhood interests in a desperate attempt to act as though being cynical and contrarian made them something approximate to adults. Disney becomes lame kid’s stuff, Disneyland a nightmare of endless garish horrors that one is forced to endure with their families (who are also, of course, lame). If they have to go to an amusement park, at least let it be somewhere with great roller coasters and no gross princesses.

Eventually they grow out of this phase into actual adulthood, and from there divert into a number of different streams. Some get over their contempt for Disney altogether and embrace it anew. Some trade in Disneyland, which is still considered for kids, for the PG13-rated versions like Las Vegas and all-inclusive resorts in the Bahamas. Some translate their thinking Disneyland is lame into thinking that Disneyland is dangerous, symbolic of all that is evil in American transnational corporate conglomerates. It’s not difficult to find books like Lane Crothers’ Globalization and American Popular Culture, which use Mickey and Minnie as markers for a world brought under the thumb of greed and consumer monoculture… A benign Satan compared to the likes of oil companies and the military-industrial complex. Disney peddles in images, and so its images become easy symbolic targets even if it’s a relatively ill fit.

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Walt Disney’s vision was not without its own and very real faults. With a new awareness of technology and the distance of time and sober consideration, it is easy enough to see where some of Uncle Walt’s socio-technological ideas were, in fact, quite dangerous. Consider the kind of centralized authoritarianism and ecological holocaust required to create a highway in which all the cars drove themselves, utilize rockets to change the weather, or build an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow without a single thought given to concepts of due democratic process. It’s easy, though, to pick on the undelivered pie-in-the-sky ambitions of a man who passed away 50 years ago, and unless their names are Meryl Streep, most prefer to leave him gently buried.

Instead, a frequently heard refrain is that Disneyland is fake… Its rides are cheap and its food is not. It’s a sham, a lie, an illusion masquerading as hyperreality, a dream machine engineered to separate the gullible from their money. It suffers that most dire sin of a pre-postmodern society wrapped up in existential navel-gazing: Disneyland is inauthentic.

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This is not a real dragon.

Ironically, authenticity is an inauthentic concept. Almost entirely unique to the socially-collapsing West, authenticity and the quest for it is an extremely fluid, negotiable quantity. As Erik Cohen notes in his insightful essay Authenticity and Commoditization in Tourism,

The vast majority of tourists do not demand such a “total authenticity.” Even “experiential” tourists, though seriously concerned with the authenticity of their experience, and entertaining strict criteria for judgments of authenticity, will often focus in such judgments on some traits of the cultural product and ignore others.

He is reacting against one of the most popular narratives of the travel industry: that there is a fundamental qualitative difference between the authentic traveler and inauthentic “mere” tourist. Even the most respected and otherwise insightful thinkers fall into this trap. For instance, Daniel J. Boorstin says “The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes ‘sight-seeing.’” Even the mighty Edwardian Catholic apologist and social commentator G.K. Chesterton does, declaring that “The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”

The ultimate truth is that both are tourists, whether they like it or not. The only difference is in what “traits of the cultural product” they consider critical for authenticity. Cohen asks,

Which are the diacritical traits which, for a given individual, in particular a tourist, make a cultural product acceptable as “authentic”? The question is not whether the individual does or does not “really” have an authentic experience… but rather what endows his experience with authenticity in his own view.

Why the distinction? Because authenticity is necessarily individualistic, as it is rooted in the relative disenfranchisement (or lack thereof) of the individual from the society of which they are a part. It is the Holy Grail of their own search for meaning in the world and in their engagement with alternative cultures. Often, it is negotiated with utter obliviousness to “which traits of their own culture [the tourees themselves] consider to be ‘authentic’”, which is an issue that “is rarely, if ever raised.” Some of the most stringent searchers for authenticity can be the most damaging, arrogantly expecting “traditional” cultures around the world to stay in a kind of anthropological purity as defined by them for their benefit, rather than embrace the practices and products of the “inauthentic” Western world. Consider the forthcoming addition of Avatar to Animal Kingdom and the film upon which it is based, with its narrative of protecting an “authentic,” earthy, exotic culture from the corrupting influence of Western colonial-commercial-military powers… As rendered in 3D CGI to be shown in air-conditioned, plush-upholstered cinemas. Authenticity in the matter of personal experience, then, is subjective. Any attempt to discuss it “objectively” is necessarily going to be inadequate and result in faulty conclusions, a pretension to making one’s own subjective criteria of excellence into something more authoritative-sounding than it is or ever can be.

If authenticity is in the eye of the beholder, what is it that people are seeing when they look at Disneyland? I would argue that it is a confusion of form and content. When critics argue against Disneyland on the grounds of authenticity, they essentially argue that the park’s content are cheap rides, expensive food, gaudy souvenirs and rampant corporate consumerism while its form are the jungles of Adventureland, the Old West of Frontierland, the fairy land of Fantasyland and the outer space of Tomorrowland. In making this argument, they might as well insist that a novel’s content are words printed on bound paper and it’s form are the dramas of Captain Nemo and Tom Sawyer, or the content of a human being is water and genetic matter while its form are its thoughts, feelings, spirit, ambitions, actions, relationships and everything that we classically consider to be what makes us humans.

The critic has it completely reversed. The form of Disneyland is the amusement park with its rides and trinkets and screaming children and sunstroked adults. The content, that which can inspire such a love of subject as enjoyed by true believers young and old, is the jungle, the Old West, outer space, fairyland. This is amplified in the Disney park by virtue of the fact that a Disney park does not exist in isolation. In a previous column, I observed that Disney parks are one part of a larger mental landscape created by the entire enterprise of Disney’s various divisions. The visitor grows up with attachments to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Beauty and the Beast, and is engaged by New Fantasyland because it immerses them in that imaginative world. The critic who virulently disdains Disney for creating a “kiddie coaster” is not merely missing the point, but has actively embraced being as completely wrong as they could possibly be. Form serves content. Any ride that calls attention to its form has failed as a themed attraction. The purpose of a theme park attraction is to draw us into the environment it sets about to create, not impress us with its ride mechanics. If it does, that’s great, but it should always be incidental.

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Okay I lied… An actual paddlewheeler is way cool.

The theme park is a wonderful type of experiential media. It’s not “new” insofar as people have been manipulating the environment to evoke emotions and inspire imagination since we painted woolly mammoths on cave walls. Ancient Egyptians retold their creation stories as one walked through their temples. Gothic architects drew the eye piously to Heaven by their magnificent arches and buttresses. Exhibit designers lit on something profound when they started designing their museums to replicate the rainforest, log cabin and undersea grotto. Disneyland follows in a long tradition of manipulating our environment to satisfy our imaginations. It exists to envelop the guest in sensations and experiences that might not otherwise be possible, invoking emotions and aspirations at every stage, by using whatever means suitable to achieve that effect. Whether an E-ticket simulator (but since when did simulators deserve the title “E-ticket”?), or a classic dark ride, or a simple walkthrough, the only judge of a theme park attraction’s success is its ability to imbue a sense of authenticity in the guest’s own view.

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Until I can time travel to New Orleans 100 years ago, this is good enough!

For example, the best non-Disney theme park I have ever visited is the former Bedrock City in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada (definitely not the version in Valle, Arizona, which is ridiculously bad). It was but one of the ubiquitous roadside attractions peppered throughout the interior of the province, and only had five attractions to speak of: a paddleboat canal, a peddlecar course, minigolf, a train (running on tires and an internal combustion engine), and a “Rock-See Theatre” showing old episodes of The Flintstones. What set it apart was its dedication to replicating the aesthetics of the cartoon upon which it was based. It was like stepping into a perfect simulacrum of Fred and Barney’s hometown. Every fibreglass building, every dinosaur sculpture, every costumed character, and every concrete mountain looked like it was transmuted directly from television. I grew up with Bedrock City in the Eighties, and it took until my first visit to Disneyland in 2005 to encounter anything that surpassed it for successfully rendering such an environment of the imagination.

As Cohen notes, what projects the air of authenticity for the largest number of tourists is what the great travelers may consider its direct antithesis: verisimilitude, a recreation of “what it must be like” to visit a caveman city or ride a paddlewheel steamer down the Mississippi of a century ago or careen through space in an out-of-control spaceship. There are parts of Disneyland which, it could be argued, the “real life” version would be better. Why take in the sham artifice of Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye when you could fight equally large throngs of tourists at a mutually acknowledged “authentic” temple somewhere in Southeast Asia? Unless the point is to go along with Dr. Jones in that romantic period of the 1930′s. The whole premise of my regular column implicitly advocates going beyond the park to experience as closely as possible the factual inspirations, be they the words of the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault or the landscapes of the American Southwest and African rainforest. The truth is that Disney shines its brightest when it takes the visitor to those places that no longer exist or never did exist in real life. At no point in time or space can one walk into a Hawaiian hut overflowing with singing orchids and chanting tiki statues, tour a decrepit New Orleans plantation teeming with frolicking ghosts, fly a pirate ship over midnight London and celestial Neverland, or sail beneath the waves in a cast-iron Victorian submarine.

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All these things can be done at Disneyland, at least through the springboard that the theme park provides for the imagination. Like a novel or a film, Disneyland is the medium which inspires the participant to invest themselves in an imaginative flight of fancy. A fibreglass pirate ship suspended by wire from a rail, hovering over a blacklit miniature model of London is a convincing enough means for the guest to take the next leap in imagining that “this is what it must be like” to fly with the boy who never grew up. This is ever more thrilling for those who grew up with that story and retain those fond attachments to this day. Reading it is one thing, seeing it on film is another, doing it yourself, as closely as is possible in this world, is the best of all.

Perhaps this is what the cynical, contrarian and critical don’t quite “get” about the whole thing (and some, of course, don’t want to “get” it… the opportunity to harass and offend Disney fans is its own reward). They fundamentally misunderstand the medium of the theme park. Form and content are confused so that one sees contrived artifice and C-ticket carnival rides where one is meant to see an endless ocean of stars, and wish upon them.

About Cory Gross

Cory Gross is a professional educator in the museums and heritage field, sharing his passion for history, science and art in his home of Calgary, Canada. He is also the creator of Voyages Extraordinaires, a blog dedicated to Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances and Retro-Futurism, which can be found at http://voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.com.

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42 Comments

Comments for Form and Content in Disneyland are now closed.

  1. Cory, everybody is fine with WDW building a cute and well themed kiddie coaster.

    What folks aren’t happy about is that, that is ALL they have done recently.

    That it took three years to build.

    That WDW keeps tearing out attractions or closing them like they are landlocked after Walt gave them 43 square miles of land.

    That there hasn’t been an E Ticket attraction built at WDW in 10 years.

    MK hasn’t had an E Ticket at WDW since 1992.

    Part of the reason you think Bedrock City in Canada is the best theme park outside of Disney is because you haven’t stepped foot into Universal Florida or IOA. Yet you have judged it as an “also ran”.?

    You’ll visit Bedrock City but not Universal or IOA and then super criticize Universal and IOA?

    When you see the theming at Potter you will be amazed, if you are honest with yourself. I know you said you aren’t going to even ride or experience 75%-90% of the attractions at Universal Florida or IOA, like Transformers, etc. whenever you do go to Universal. If you experienced ALL the attractions at Universal Florida and IOA, and are honest with yourself, you will enjoy several of the attractions as well.

    How can you judge a theme park without ever entering it?

    How can you judge a ride as so bad that you won’t ride it?

    It seems like you are afraid that you might, just might, like something at Universal and that you would then be cheating on WDW.

    • Cap, I love the new modulated tone. It’s still strident and defiant, but without the enfant terrible ‘tude!

      Hopefully, your quite valid points will make an impact. (I doubt it, but here’s hoping.)

      • Same ol’, same ol’… Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    • It’s funny because Universal and Disney use the same companies to build their rides.

      Universal was built by former imagineers and Disney hired the vp of Universal Creative to run imagineering. He did add dreaded screens to the faces of the dwarfs and a shadow projection on the wall.

      They are more alike then different it’s like Mc Donald’s and Chick-fil-a. One is newer and has less options but at some things it’s better then the old giant but both are fast food.

    • Captain, didn’t you judge Magic Bands without ever using them? How can you judge a product without using it?
      I’m in Orlando right now and I really enjoy the Magic Bands. I love having 3 fast passes picked before I arrive and being able to change them on the fly just but hitting a few buttons on my phone.
      It would be nice if you’d follow your own advice.
      Universal can be a lot of fun. Just meant for a different audience for the most part. Just like Six Flags or others. All can be fun. Just different. I love all of the variety that is available.

      • I have used the Magicbands – I 1000% hate them.

  2. [...] Form and Content in Disneyland Even “experiential” tourists, though seriously concerned with the authenticity of their experience, and entertaining strict criteria for judgments of authenticity, will often focus in such judgments on some traits of the cultural product and ignore … Read more on MiceChat [...]

  3. Cory,

    I think on a site pretty much dedicated to theme and amusement park entertainment, you’re not going to find too many folks complaining about theme parks being ‘less than authentic.’ The very real unreality of theme parks is what makes them so popular in the first place. So, I guess the non-Disney, non-Universal, non-theme park fans might toss around a lack of authenticity as a critique, but I don’t think that really should be conflated with a Disney critic lamenting over poor form or lack of content. We’re here; we’ve bought in to the theme park idea.

    • They share the common feature of being critics who don’t understand why Disney fans like Disney. My article was primarily to equip Disney fans to explain themselves when asked for justification.

      Though, granted, the best piece of advice is “don’t feed the trolls.”

      • How very religious of you! Onward Disney soldiers!

        In all seriousness, there’s a vast difference between someone who critiques loving Disney or theme parks or pro wrestling as childish and infantile with someone who critiques loving Disney despite divestment.

        I love Disney and yet I can totally call them out on their cheapness when they are cheap.

      • for lack of better words: duh. Everybody here (including Cory) knows that nothing is black and white. Of course there are different types of Disney critics.

      • I don’t like the new WDW because they keep destroying Walt’s original dream. Paving in the hub, adding a circus with clowns, making Main Street a bland generic mall after closing the individual shops and building a huge bus station in front of the flagship park after it was designed by Walt to take a boat or monorail do not add to the magic. It’s a money grab.

        Disney used to be the leader in thrill rides. Space Mountian was one of the first steel roller coasters. Tower of terror took the drop tower to a new level. Rock n Roller coaster was one of the first launched coasters. All of the above rides took less then four years to build. It’s sad the state that Disney is in now that they have to over hype a family coaster that killed a classic dark ride.

        Sorry but if I’m paying for the highest ticket in town they need to have the best rides. If I want history and scenery I can go to DC for less money.

      • Implicit to my thesis is that there actually ISN’T that big of a difference between people who disdain ALL theme parks and ALL theme park goers vs. those who only disdain DISNEY theme parks and DISNEY theme park goers. They share a confusion over form and content, by seeing the content of Disney parks as an assemblage of rides that happen to take a form that appeals to people for personal emotional and aspirational reasons. Their shared lament is “how could anybody like THIS?!” Their shared evangelistic zeal is to convince us that we shouldn’t like this. Their shared tactic is shame, ridicule, and insults.

        This article was my attempt at an explanation. Take it or leave it.

      • Oh, I understand the thesis. I’m questioning the validity.

  4. Regarding this passage:

    “What is wrong with these people who don’t love Disneyland? Why don’t they “get it”? It doesn’t help that this “it” that other people don’t get is very difficult for Disney fans to explain. More often than not, it devolves into platitudes about Disney’s special “magic”, how it is the “happiest place on earth” and where “dreams come true”… All the advertising slogans invented by the company marketeers.”

    It’s a bit more involved than marketeers. Branding is a long and expensive process in crafting a story, a lifestyle and a possible way of being for your potential consumers. It’s a way of giving your consumers a method of touching/experiencing the brand, and Disney is (deservedly) considered to be the best in the business at doing just that. What’s more, they spend millions a year doing just that.

    There are massive benefits to creating this effective of a brand (at one point, the GAP brand team was going to sell sand in their then-hot stores to prove a point about branding.) Disney Parks & Resorts, intentional or otherwise (and since they were the pioneers, a bit of both,) use their theme parks as a way for consumers to ‘live the brand’ as it were.

    Don’t discount branding. It’s why cola-flavored sugar water companies spend millions to convince us that one brand (Coke) is better than the rest, even though every blind or knowledge averse taste test has determined that consumers don’t have sensitive enough buds on their tongue to discern between cola-flavored sugar water brands. (Full disclosure: I prefer Coke, but I’m also aware that my preference is skewed by branding.)

    • To quote Roy E. Disney at the 2004 Shareholders Meeting:

      “As I’ve said on other occasions, branding is something you do to cows. It makes sense if you’re a rancher, since cows do tend to look alike. It’s also useful to lots of businessmen, and they brand things like detergents or shoes for almost the same reason as ranchers. Branding is what you do when there’s nothing original about your product.”

      Disney still does some things very right, but they’ve also fallen back on “branding” instead of bringing new and innovative entertainment to the parks. Bob Iger is more interested in purchasing and leveraging pre-existing intellectual property than he is in developing new ideas.

      I still love Disney and enjoy the parks, but their current focus on “branding” is one thing I absolutely detest. “Branding” is what gives us things like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train rap commercial, which would have been outdated if it came out ten years ago. When the Splash Mountain rap came out in 1989 (look for it on YouTube if you’re not familiar), at least it was a product of the times. I can make no such excuse for the current ad.

      As for people who don’t love Disneyland, the people who don’t “get it,” be grateful for them. If everyone fawned over everything that Disney did, then Disney would have no reason to improve. They could just keep raising prices without adding anything new — and they do enough of that already. It’s been, what, almost 14 years since the Rocket Rods shut down? And the empty track is still just sitting there as prices continue to rise — as is the empty Fantasyland Skyway Station, the empty Submarine lagoon, while little if any work seems to be done there (I’m still not convinced it’s coming back, and even if it does, it seems obvious that it’s only closed for so long as a cost-cutting measure by a greedy company).

      With all of Disney’s problems, I do still love them — but that doesn’t mean I automatically love everything that they do (or fail to do). Some things they get right, some things they get very wrong. And that’s been the case since Walt was around, though I think he was a lot more of a self-critic than Bob Iger is, and more focused on plussing things when he could, instead of figuring out ways to squeeze more profit out of less attractions.

      There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with people who don’t love Disney, and there’s really no need to psychoanalyze them for having a different opinion. I admit that I don’t understand those people, but I also don’t have any need to understand them. I just shrug and say “to each their own” and realize that it’s going to be one less person in front of me in line for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train when I go on my next trip to Walt Disney World.

      • That SDMT rap commercial made me laugh my nuts off!

      • However one feels about branding, the art of creating an ideological story to imprint upon a consumer market is where the action is. Disney clearly, obviously, knows this. Indeed, they are basically a chapter unto themselves when one studies and executes branding in the marketplace.

        Totally agree with you that they are relying on the strength of their brand in order to spend less on stuff at their parks. And clearly, obviously, plainly, it works, as more people go to Disney parks than the next three competitors COMBINED, whether or not they build anything or otherwise.

  5. When Walt created Disneyland in 1955, he set out to create a place “where parents and children could have fun together.” Walt’s passion for families led to the creation of Disneyland. He never intended for Disneyland to be a place that I feel has become a place intended to get every dollar possible from the guest. It has become the template for every theme park created after it. Disney theme parks are a business. They hire experts on how to get every dime from a guest. Disney theme parks made after Disneyland are designed much like Las Vegas Casinos. They lure you in with a flashy entrance, you pay a fortune to get in, they use all your senses to get you to spend more money on food and souvenirs, they up charge you again to get the best seats for shows, and while you are walking around, they try to get you to buy into their timeshare scam. If a portion of the park is not part of this template, it is torn up and redesigned to fit this template. A great example is the New Fantasyland at WDW. How many actual new attractions are there to merchandising and food stations? Unfortunately, Disneyland over the years has gone down this same road, too. Don’t tell me I’m wrong, because I worked there for ten years, and I know how things work there. The original illusion of Fantasy and theme is hard to experience because every 50ft someone is trying to sell you something expensive. What Disney needs to do to get people to “experience” Disneyland like Walt wanted them to is treat people like family. Have people pay a price to get in, but keep the shops outside the park. Give people meal cards for the day and free drink stations. Start treating people like family instead of ATMs and you’ll see more people appreciate where they are.

    • Please stop with this tired new Fantasyland argument. There are PLENTY of new rides and experiences in the New Fantasyland compared to any merchandising opportunities they added. Especially when Be Our Guest is one of the most immersive theme park restaurants ever created.

  6. Great article. The thing is having been to both Disneyland, WDW, and both coast versions of Universal. Not to mention several of the Six Flags parks, it’s unfair to compare them to each other. I have found that each park has their best and worst, bar non. It’s the environment that makes each what it is. I go to Six Flags for thrills and know I’m not going. To be a totally emersive environment that I get at Disney or Universal. Don’t expect it and don’t want it. Be very bland if all the parks where just like each other right? Go to all the parks and support all of them.

  7. I wonder how many of the Disney “suits” don’t “get it” either? In my view, this is how it goes on a Disneyland President’s first day on the job:

    PRESIDENT: Where do you get a drink around here?
    ASSISTANT: Uh, that would be Club 33, sir.
    PRESIDENT: Will there be any of “them” in there?
    ASSISTANT: No sir. The club is quite exclusive.
    PRESIDENT: Good. Who are those people coming toward us?
    ASSISTANT: UH, that would be the press, sir. They’ll probably want to know how often you come here, and what your favorite ride is.
    PRESIDENT: Ride?
    ASSISTANT: Yes, sir. It’s one of those things all those people are waiting in line for. You’ll need something that ties in with a current or future movie project.
    PRESIDENT: Such as?
    ASSISTANT: Try Star Tours. We’re working on another movie.
    PRESIDENT: Good move. Then let’s get the heck out of here. It’s hot.

    • Yes, they need to hire leadership who love the parks and are appreciative to have the opportunity to be a steward of what Walt left them with; 43 square miles, an unbelievable foundation, and a loving public who felt like family toward Disney parks.

      • FEELS. FEELS like family toward Disney parks.

        The Disney dominance in the theme park space is not something from the past tense, as the recent attendance report demonstrates.

        They’re STILL winning and winning big, and STILL at the top of mind for people looking for that good ‘ol Disney feeling on vacation.

  8. Cory don’t listen to these people. This was a great article, one that I’d like to thank you for the pleasure of reading. You people aren’t getting the point, this article talks about many things but the idea was to talk about why Super-fans love Disneyland and why cynical people don’t. In this article he isn’t bashing Universal or other parks, he is telling the difference between the form and content of a theme park and why cynical people confuse the two things.

    People judge me all the time for being a Disneyland super fan, I’m also an amateur historian of Disneyland Resort. But, I have a good heart, and I let people say what they must about the park and about my “misguided” love for Disneyland Resort. I am open to opposing points of view, I like to hear from people why they think Disneyland is bad, overrated or evil. Yet nothing has changed my mind. I KNOW Disney is a company who (like all others) has a requirement to make and surpass the profit put forth by its shareholders. And I know Disneyland’s success goes hand in hand with its making money. But lets not forget, Disneyland wouldn’t make money if it didn’t treat its guests to quality entertainment. At Disneyland, quality comes before profit, because without top quality, there would be no profit.

    When I was a child, my father took me to Disneyland a few times and I hated it. I hated every aspect of Disneyland because it scared me. I couldn’t understand why people would want to be nearly crushed to death by a massive boulder after nearly careening off a temple path into a lava pit. I couldn’t understand why people loved going down waterfalls, (after all, that’s what kills people). And I couldn’t understand why people would climb aboard a high-speed rocket and blast off into outer space without knowing their destination! (I’m speaking of course of Space Mountain) -It wasn’t until until 5 years after my last trip to Disneyland, at the age of 12 that my Dad took me again, for my birthday. All I could remember was my horror at seeing those gates and knowing I would fear every aspect of the trip (except for Haunted Mansion, which ironically was my favorite attraction) -Our first ride was Indy. I still tried to cover my eyes like I did when I was 7, but as we passed over the rickety bridge over the lava pit, my Dad took my hands off my eyes and said, “look, buddy, the bridge isn’t moving, we are, but not the bridge” I then rode the entire ride with my eyes open and realized the amazing mastery of illusion that Disneyland had made. I wanted to ride everything after that, I learned that the waterfalls of the park were safe to descend. Space Mountain always returned to port, and Thunder Mountain had no frightening drops (as I always feared but never knew when I was a child)

    My point is this, Disneyland I had realized was a place that had the ability to take you into a magical realm of Pirates, booby-trapped temples, singing animals, flights with Rex and R2-D2, and cruises through all the major jungle rivers of the world, -all while keeping you safely seated (at all times). While technically, the magic was “broken” since I had started researching, asking and discovering the technical means of which these attractions operated. I was still willing to play along, every time I went back. When I became a teenager, I went through difficult times, (trying to find a way to come out of the closet to my family) and basically trying to find my place in the world, Disneyland became my safe haven, a place where the Cast Members all treated me nicely despite that I was a “kid” -I was treated like I mattered; a place where my troubles could melt away and I could become engrossed in stories, shows and fireworks. Disneyland is now my second home. I know they make money off of every visit I make to that wonderful park, but for the memories, life and happiness it has brought me as I grew up and still am (I’m currently 22 years old) -Disneyland will always be my first choice in theme parks. That is why I am a super fan.

    • Thanks! And that is a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it!

      “In this article he isn’t bashing Universal or other parks, he is telling the difference between the form and content of a theme park and why cynical people confuse the two things.”

      I suspect it’s a matter of them needing other people to hate the same things they hate in order to feel validated. I didn’t even have to say anything about Universal directly, they were just offended at my being a Disney fan.

      • lol I noticed that too. Immediately they started commenting as if you had directly kicked universal in the nuts. Its funny to watch people bash us for being a Disney fan. I’m fully aware of Disney’s corporate responsibilities, however, I still like the product that Disney is putting out and I will keep buying, not because I’m a die-hard, but because I still feel their quality and experience is giving me what I want.

      • Well, to be fair, plenty of the language used was coded to Universal, notably the horse not being a 3-D projection.

        And notably, you’re not coming at this via a MiceChat columnist from an aloof perspective and vantage point. You’re very much engaged in the forums, notably biased, and so I suspect that some of the vitriolic responses are more directed to the aggregate you versus this specific column.

        Kevin Yee ya ain’t, buddy.

        I’m not going to get into the “just offended at [you] being a Disney fan” stuff, as I find that to be nonsense, you find it to be quite the opposite, and we’ve gotten into a few forum back and forths over that point. I like you. I think you’re an interesting voice to hear, so I’ll respect that core difference and move past.

      • Yes ayalexander… If they could just appreciate that, hey, maybe they just don’t like Disney and that’s okay but other people do like Disney and that’s also okay, it would be alright. It seems like they just cannot tolerate people liking something they don’t. At least being a Disney fan doesn’t require validation or approval from other people.

      • No, when the best theme park outside of disney is a hole in the wall park nobody has ever heard of, and you’ve never visited Universal Florida or Islands of Adventure – that is goofy.
        Then if you criticize the place you’ve never visited that’s crazy.
        It’s like you told us all about Europe but never visited England.

      • CaptainAction, a theme park relies on marketing, theme and good product in order to make their turnstiles rotate. I have been to both Universal here in Hollywood and in Orlando… let me just say, it was a load of crap, in my opinion. If Cory Gross or any other person decided NOT to go to a park, its because the park failed to meet his interests upon introduction of itself. A theme park MUST “sell” itself with promotions or else NO ONE is going to spend that hefty price to see it, simply to “try it out”. Therefore, judging the “Universal Studios” book by its cover, is entirely alright.

      • ayalexander,

        The weirdest thing is, I AM going to USO/IOA and I am hoping to enjoy at least the stuff we’re going there to see… I’m not sure where this idea comes from that I’m afraid to give it a chance in case I might like something. Projection maybe?

      • Uhhhh…it comes from your direct posts where you basically claimed that you were going to UO to go on Harry Potter and that’s basically it. You’ve said that several times on several articles where you posted several responses indicating just that.

        Now, while I may question the wisdom of spending that much money on what amounts to be a limited exploration of what your money has bought you, I believe Cap is taking the aggregate you that’s posted prior and taking you to task, even as you attempt to paint him as a crazed loon projecting and so on.

        “Pot? Meet kettle. Congratulations, you’re both black.” Phoebe, Friends.

      • Thank you for pointing out how I’ve said several times that I am going to Universal.

      • Thank you for attempting to distort the argument by focusing on a tree and ignore the forest.

      • Thanks again for pointing out that I am going to Universal and therefore the claim that I am not is dishonest!

  9. I grew up loving Disneyland extensively, so I can see where you are coming from, but I actually agree with all of the first posts. A lot of your points are closeminded.This is where I wish to expose some truth in the matter that Algernon started to touch upon.

    I was fortunate enough to meet an architect at Imagineering last summer who is an alumnus from my school’s program, got to tour the Glendale office, it was cool, whatever. I was also able to see John Shields (landscape architect at WDI) lecture at my university’s neighbor, SUNY ESF this past semester. where an I going with this exactly? Both of them shared common observations – they don’t quite understand the culture of the fanbase. Neither of them are “disney-buffs” per se,and I remember Shields mentioning that hes both interested but a little weirded out that going to the parks on a date is a “rite of passage” of sorts. My point is that it was different back in the day, as it is more different now. Disney is just abmoney-making amusement business in the grand scheme of things, and their primary goal is to entertain. Despite this cynicism and truth, my appreciation and fondness of the park doesn’t change. If someone doesn’t “get it” who cares? Your enthusiasm for the park is yours to own. You, me, or anybody can thoroughly express our fondness for something however we want, same goes for Disney. It may mean more to us, but in the end it is just a development, a theme park. What about the “bronies” who die for My Little Pony? Do you ‘get it’, why they like it? Or do you just think it is weord and judge them for it anyway?

  10. cory, have a look at the MFA thesis i did on thematic design a few years back. we might have much to talk about.

    themerica.org/blog/

    dgottwald.org/index.php?/themerica/complete-thesis-book-issuu/

    • Wow! That looks amazing! Hopefully I can sit down and actually read it soon!

      Feel free to send me a private message as well and we can pick up a conversation on e-mail!

  11. [...] Form and Content in Disneyland Whether an E-ticket simulator (but since when did simulators deserve the title “E-ticket”?), or a classic dark ride, or a simple walkthrough, the only judge of a theme park attraction's success is its ability to imbue a sense of authenticity in the … Read more on MiceChat [...]

  12. [...] Form and Content in Disneyland It is the Holy Grail of their own search for meaning in the world and in their engagement with alternative cultures. Often, it is negotiated with utter obliviousness to “which traits of their own culture [the tourees themselves] consider to be … Read more on MiceChat [...]

  13. solarnole, Disney has never been a leader in thrill rides. It was the matterhorn that was the first tubular steel tracked coaster, but there were plenty of flat rail coasters around already. Steel coasters were a dime a dozen by the time space mountain opened. All the disney thrills have been comparatively mild compared to other parks, with families in mind. Great rides, but certainly not the most thrilling.