Building a gigantic fairytale castle and putting it on TV on Sunday night in color might have been the smartest PR move in the history of marketing.
It’s impossible to look at the thing without feeling like you’re ten, sitting in front of the First Color Set your family had, happy it was Sunday night, hoping it was a cartoon tonight instead one of those nature shows. They were okay, I guess, but you would prefer a Chip and Dale to learning about beavers. If Uncle Walt knew this, he didn’t let on. In fact he didn’t seem to realize you preferred the cartoons to learning about beavers. You wouldn’t have brought it up if you met him. If he asked you’d say you liked the nature shows just fine. You can’t imagine ever telling Uncle Walt something like that. Not because he was scary or anything, but you just didn’t, and you also suspected that he would just drop you and move along to the next kid. Not because he was mad or anything, but if you didn’t get it, he wouldn’t waste any more time on you.
You got that feeling, somehow.
It stands at the apex of the intersection of kitsch and beauty, and beholding the castle from certain angles is like living in the Matrix with full knowledge it’s false. You don’t really care. (mouse over for 8 second shot.)
Sometimes the ersatz historicism – say that three times quickly, and you’ll get a degree - has whimsy, as in the capitals inside the castle. Adding to Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, we have Bibbitybobbitian:
Sometimes, though, the sets (and that’s all they are, really; sets) have a heft that gives them gravity and dignity, and you wonder what the difference is between this, built in the 70s or 80s, and the revived classicism grafted onto college buildings and office towers in the twenties. Not much.
But all that came later in the day. First we hit my favorite place, Tomorrowland. Not because it has the best rides, but just because it isn’t aping any particular time except the post-war dreams of the future. It’s an optimistic place with lots of perforated sheet-metal, more or less.
(G)Nat wanted to do the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. We did this last year. It’s quite clever. Half the show is premade; there’s some improv with the audience, using computer-generated characters hooked up to actual humans whose faces must be wired up to the character. On the way in you’re asked to text your jokes to be read in the show. This being the modern world, there’s a GIANT WALL OF LEGAL DISCLAIMERS:
You agree that Disney shall have the right to your knock-knock joke for the rest of all time, to be used in technologies not yet conceived by the mind of man. You also assure them that you have the right to use the knock-knock joke, and you do not expect monetary compensation for passing along the knock-knock joke.
The show incorporates audience members, and (G)Nat was so keen on getting chosen we went three times in a row. Didn’t work. Maybe next year.
Since we were doing different things this year, we hit the Carousel of Progress. It's hard to get a kid to enter somethign called the Carousel of Progress, but I promised her robots. And robots there were. It’s an updated version of the show first seen at the ’64 World’s Fair. Robots in a typical American home describe the state of technological progress in 1900, 1927, 1947, and the present. (Dates approximate.) The “Disneyland Secrets, Stories and Magic” DVD has a documentary on the ’64 show, and Uncle Walt explains how the robots were programmed:
This fellow operates the robot. As Walt informs us, the information is stored on this advanted, jet-age computer:
That was almost 45 years ago. Think of it: Motion capture stored in a computer, running a robot. Forty-five years ago.
The new version is more impressive, but a baby cried throughout the entire early 20th century. Screamed. Non-stop. The audience began to shush the child around 1927, and by 1947 half the audience was shushing. Eventually the mom turned around, faced the audience, and shushed them back.
Then they got up and left. What is it with people?
It was entertaining nonetheless, and the optimism of the song that concludes every segment was either saccharine drivel or perfect post-war can-do cheer, depending on your perspective, and the amount of coal tar in your heart. There’s a bright new beautiful tomorrow, waiting at the end of every day. By the end of the show, half the audience was singing along. You wonder what Uncle Walt would have thought if he'd known people would be enjoying this stuff a half-century later. Delighted, no doubt, and curious how much revenue it had thrown off.
That's the thing about Disneyworld in general: everywhere you look, you get the sense that Disney himself would have loved it. Except for the no-smoking signs.
Off to Adventureland where, among other things, we visited Tom Sawyer’s Island, accessible by a 47-second boat ride. Went down a mine shaft, crossed a floating bridge, and found a veranda where one could buy a Coke and sit in the shade in rocking chairs and watch the paddleboat thrash past.
Aside from a ninny yakking on her cellphone and the chilly Coke in plastic bottles, it was just like the 19th century.
You never see any planes overhead. I wonder if they keep them from flying overhead to preserve the fantasy.
By two it was 90 and we were beat, so we hit Minnie’s house in Toontown before heading back to the hotel. I love the details in her house. It’s all very 40s, right down to the style of the electrical plug-ins. Things that don't have to be accurate are, nevertheless. Here's the coffee can in which she kept her brushes:
The magazine in a rack was the old Cosmo, before it became a silly mag for the doxy-ninny set:
Home to sleep, and back for more.
Boo, etc. You have to do the Haunted Mansion, where fear and dread are communicated with Poe-era architectural motifs:
(Photoshopped that one up a bit. In fact I've photoshopped most of these one way or the other, and if anyone wants to complain that I've destroyed the essential integrity of the Disney experience, go right ahead.) The architecture of the Haunted Mansion is close to the architecture of Main Street, but more severe, and also more American. Main Street is Second Empire, i.e. French; the Mansion is Colonial Revival-meets-Gothic-in-a Greek-Revival-Quarry. Whatever you chose to call it, the style is now the preferred semiotic signifier for horror, decay, and romantic corruption.
This year I decided to terrify the daughter by turning into a zombie after we were disgorged into loading area; I went slack and moaned and said I was not Daddy but DEADY. It had the desired effect. When the voices of Frees and Thurl began to narrate the journey, I told her that those guys were DEAD. Which is true. Alas.
Dinner at Tony’s, which is cavernous and tiled and loud – if you’re inside. We got the porch, which had a view of Main Street and the Parade. That, my friends, is Disney Perfection. The parade draws from the entire catalog of characters, including a few from Fantasia: interesting how that movie ended up providing one of the most iconic Mickey images, i.e., Mickey the Wizard (he seems to have continued his instruction, since he’s no longer the Sorceror’s Apprentice but an actual accredited conjurer now) as well as the Demon Chernobog, who rose from a float and spread his inky wings. After the parade had trundled out of sight, trailing a vast nimbus of light that lit up buildings down Main Street, it was time to get a good view for the fireworks. Found a great spot. Waited. Waited for the inevitable people who would come along and ruin the view, and sure enough: a couple with a balloon. Like the moon eclipsing the sun, the balloon managed to obscure most of the castle, so I squirmed through the crowd, shouldered my way over to their location, put on my best Gosh Folks smile and asked if they could lower the balloon, since it blocked the view of the folks over there.
They looked at me like I was a complete arse. The wife rolled her eyes and the husband actually snorted. But they lowered the balloon.
What is it with people? In general. And specific.
(G)Nat fell asleep on the bus back to the resort, which is perfect. A seamless transition from one dream to the next.