The guidebook suggests you get to the park early – set your alarms for three AM, make your way to the park by the light of a spelunker’s helmet, then go to sleep with a candle in your hand. The candle should be six inches in circumference and two inches tall; by the time it burns down and wakes you with the hot kiss of wax, you will ready for the opening of the park, three hours hence, able to defend your position by the gate, as well as identify those halt or infirm visitors you can bowl over on your way to Space Mountain when the great gates swing wide.
But we slept in. Just as well, too; if we hadn’t left when we did, I would have missed the sight of a fellow sitting in the courtyard beneath our room, methodically paring his toenails with a clippers. Snick!
I almost didn’t want to go to the park after that. The day had anticlimax written all over it.
Back on the bus. Our objective: Toontown, the often-maligned afterthought theme park created in the wake of Roger Rabbit’s ascendancy. Our guidebook – an exhaustively detailed compendium that makes Dante’s Inferno look like a Jack Chick tract – was a little dismissive of the place, but I like it. It’s overscaled and too cartoony, but genial enough:
The back yard of Mickey's house, complete with genetically altered tomatoes:
You suspect they'd giggle if you bit them. Mickey himself appears, the victim of a horrible skin condition:
The furnishings, the settings, the culture from which it draws its routines and ceremonies - all pre-war. You wonder how many people actually get the timeline here, why this looks this way, what these objects represent. It doesn’t matter, of course; this is the sort of place that rewards different people for different reasons. It’s a good thing I was unaware of the “Hidden Mickey” concept – apparently the park teems with many meeny Mickey heads, which must make it a nightmare for obsessive-compulsive types; they’d have to spend years at the park, marking off squares on a grid to denote which areas they’d cleared. But even if you’re not interrogating every surface, the place abounds with clever details you can’t miss. Sometimes you get the sense that Mouse Culture is so protean it can flow into any undefended space and take it over. For example: Minnie’s art studio. Most people probably recognize this:
It’s that famous poster with James Dean, Marilyn and Elvis, right? Then there’s this:
Older hippies probably had the Parrish original on their walls in college. It's an ad for a lightbulb named after an ancient Persian god, Mazda. Then there’s this:
The sense of Norman Rockwell has replaced the actual presence of Norman Rockwell; his work has come to define a certain sort of realistically painted story-picture that illustrates and flatters the culture’s self-perceptions. So it doesn't matter if the picture has Minnie in his stead. If anything, this proves Rockwell's power: you can remove him from his own self-portrait and it’s still his work.
Except that he's not in it anymore, and the kids filing past have no idea that he was ever in the painting.
It’s like that all over. The Disney Experience is one of the most psychologically all-inclusive and seductive thing I’ve experienced in years. After a while you stop thinking outside the possibilities of Disney; it absolutely drives out everything else from your imagination. It hits you from every angle. It works your soft spots and worms in through the cracks; it finds your fascinations and feeds them. I spent a free half-hour just studying the typestyles of Disney, and was delighted at the unerring choices – le font juste, in every case. You think they've slipped salt peter into the drinks, and then you paw through a rack of T-shirts in the gift shop and behold Jessica Rabbit: they've got that covered, too.
They have everything covered.
As you might have suspected, I have a great love for the pre-modern Disney stuff; I got some coffee cups done in the style of 1930s advertising, or rather their version of the 30s style. (Truth and interpretation play a Cupid-and-Psyche role here, constantly.) I also found a 50s amoeba-blob-shaped ashtray with Mickey’s face. You can find Mickey done in Peter Max style; you can find his name done in 2007-style grafitti. It’s as if Mickey exists both outside time and inside its specific examples. The effect is Total Mickey, Mouse without End.
The old tired Sinclair Lewis quote gets dragged out by the professional hysterics: when fascism comes, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a bible and etc. Well, friends, this is the Corporate State, right here, a world unto itself, bigger than two US states put together. They control the horizontal and the vertical, and the utility grid. The roads are private. The lakes are private. The control is hardly total – let Disney cease to pay taxes, and watch what happens. But the enormity of the area and the totality of the control is almost unprecedented. Surely it cannot be benign. Right?
In the micro sense, such as employee relations, I can’t tell. I'm sure there's disgruntlement aplenty, as with any organization stuffed with humans. Everyone seemed reasonably gruntled, but perhaps they all wore ankle bracelets that delivered mild yet instructive shocks if the employees committed doubleplus unmousethink. I doubt it. In the legal realm, such as copyright, I know they’re pirhanas. But the place doesn't feel wrong. It doesn't feel like a smile tattooed on a scowling face. Go the Mall in Washington DC, and you don't feel much of anything, really; the buildings and monuments are remote and noble and serene,
difficult to engage from without. You have to work to connect. Disneyworld has a presence. It's the damndest thing, hard to describe. The experience of the parks is completely seamless; you keep looking for the man behind the curtain. But there isn’t even a curtain.
So you take it at face value, which goes against your instincts. I was sitting by a lagoon, listening to the music drifting from the speakers on Main Street: cheerful turn-of-the-century Fourth of July Ice Cream Social music. Those of us who grew up with the Twilight-Zone mentality learned to distrust this. Surely this perfect façade hides a horrible truth. Next stop is Willoughby, sir. But what if the mistrust is the false position? What if this is what it seems?
Of course, you know better. As I said before, it's a gigantic money-extraction machine. Every time you swipe the card a data point is created to be processed and studied. But the entire objective is to make you happy. So you come back, and spend more. But if you’re happy again you come back again. You sign up for the time-shares because you can imagine yourself on the beach with your child, and because the sheltering arms of the Mouse will guide the experience, keep it within the parameters obliquely described by the previous visits: a totally integrated experience branded by the stylized head, the three perfect circles that form the Secular Trinity. They don’t promise salvation, but you do get limitless refills. If you buy the mug for $12.99.
Which we did.
Used it once.
Back on the rides. We did the Pirates of the Franchise, which sets the stage brilliantly – you descent into dank Spanish passageways, shuffle though a labyrinth that never feels claustrophobic (trust me, I’d know) and catch a glimpse of your destination five minutes before you actually get there. Gnat was impressed by the ride: how do they DO that? she asked, which is just what you want to hear. And thanks to the people who ignored the no-flash photography rule! You really helped our ability to immerse ourselves in the experience. The wenchery was downplayed, alas, but that’s how it goes these days. It was an excellent ride, and I can easily see why some suggest a movie might be extracted from its slender premise.
The ride dumps you into a gift shop, where you can purchase boomsticks:
American females peruse the collection of firearms, intrigued!
The Teacups: Daddy worked that wheel, hard. Daddy had to sit down for a few seconds afterwards, because we were pulling some serious Gs, and I nearly blew a spume of masticated hot dog. Which would have been a pity, because that was a really, really good hot dog.
The Safari Adventure: I had no initial interest in Adventureland, because Africa annoys me. Get it together, people. But the Safari ride had a 1920s feel, believe it or not, complete with English accents and period music, the whole native-bearer-yes-Bwana-gods-are-angry-we-flee implication without literal manifestations of the wretched racist stereotypes. No White Guilt here, and no apologies, either. I must commend the boat’s driver, who steered with one hand behind his back while facing the other way, towards the passengers. No small trick. But he told a series of lame rote japes whose unhumorous nature was leavened only slightly by his constant reassurances that he knew how pathetic his routine really was. (It seems to be a matter of personal style; the pilot of the boat ahead of us was far more acerbic and lively.) I would have just preferred a boat ride through the jungle in silence, because it was pretty nifty. At the end of his presentation, I led the applause, because I too have bombed big and know what it feels like. “Oh, pity claps," he said. "That’s always nice.” Poor man. Self-knowledge is a terrible thing.
Stitch’s Great TV-Show Tie-in: you are a cadet in the Galactic Police Something or Other. First, there’s a lecture from a robot, and I swear I recognized his voice: it’s Richard Kind, the guy who played Larry David’s brother on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” He was also in “Mad About You.” (I also swear the voice in the Haunted Mansion was Paul Frees, but isn’t he dead?) (UPDATE: post-trip googling reveals that it was Paul Frees.) There's a crisis, and you’re sent into a circular room to await a transport from a Level Three Offender. (Not that kind of Level Three, you hope.) Claustrophobia alert: the room goes dark, and a restraint is lower over your shoulders. Oh great. But this facilitates various special effects, the most prominent of which is a ripe smelly chili-dog belch in your face. That’s entertainment! This attraction gets hideous reviews. It's not that bad. On the other hand, Stitch spits on you. Three attractions involved simulated expectorations. I wonder if test audiences said they enjoyed the experience, but that the illusion would have been heightened if the animatronic alien spat in your face.
Dinner: Pecos Bill’s House of Dessicated Meats. Everything tasted like a steak fed through Jeff Goldblum’s transporter pod in “The Fly,” before he perfected the whole moving-flesh-around thing. This could have been an attraction itself, since our dining area contained the obligatory Inconsolable Overloaded Tyke who would not stop screaming. It would take the finest audio engineers in the world to reproduce the exact timbre of the child's wails, and the unique sympathetic waves they produced in every parent's spinal fluid.
Indy racecars: the guidebook says you should drive slow, and enjoy the scenery. Please: Daddy floored it. And Daddy won.
Last ride of the night: It's a Small World. I'm guessing that it's a reproduction of the original; it certainly looks older than everything else. The main hall looked like 1963 Christmas wrapping paper:
I couldn’t help but think of Duff Gardens, with the little robots singing “Duff Beer for Me / Duff Beer for You / I’ll have a Duff / You have one too” over and over again. I was pleased to note that Gnat was creeped out by the little robots, even though she enjoyed the ride. It’s saddening, in a way; all the world’s folkways are reduced down to clothing and dances in the name of gentle ecumenical universalism.
Tomorrow: EPCOT, and The End.