I was standing amongst thousands of people this weekend, looking up to into the night sky, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the man responsible was somehow looking down upon us. Does he walk the streets of his kingdom and smile at the children? Does he stand on the balconies of Main Street, looking at the wonder on my child’s face and know that he gave that to them? Does he see the new attractions and stand proudly knowing that others are inheriting the vision he lived his life for?
Like most great men or women, Walt Disney was both revered and hated in his lifetime. Some despised his need to simplify a world that was not always easy, and some called him out for romantizing this world. Disney himself often stated that he was creating a world not for children, but for adults to play in. The man was marketed, designed and displayed to the same extent as the mouse he once created. His family was the first to admit that he was a difficult man to know, to understand; although the loyalty he inspired never wavered.
Disney created a world where a child’s heroes could literally come to life and walk down the street. He commercialized animals and nature because he wanted to preserve the very things he loved. He excelled at small town America, and created on one hand the nostalgia of the past but also the excitement of the future. He made life a little more magical, a little more colorful, and created a world where fairy tales came true but rarely without a dose of courage or faith. Before Disney came into our lives our heroes were rarely cowboys and Indians, space rangers, or even mermaids under the sea. We didn’t know the intimate lives of the penguins or feel the beauty of an enchanted castle. Life didn’t come alive until one man recognized the amazing power in the imagination; in the simple process of creating more than anyone else ever had. While Dickens gave us words, Disney gave us something so much more powerful…a vision.
I watch my children as we enter the park and they are confronted with an enormous castle holding a beautiful princess whose life simply changed. I watch the wonder in my children’s eyes as Mary Poppins walks down the street, easily and safely. The kingdoms of Disney are just that safe, beautiful and amazingly real. There isn’t any fighting, or princes that are not charming. And while there are often tears of exhaustion, and that occasional mother that can’t enjoy the discovery their own child feels; and while there are ice cream cones that drop to the ground, and lines that prevent immediate gratification, to a child there is something so much more powerful; hope. Magic is hope. Beauty and faith is hope. Hope is the natural emotion that while so very hard to find, so easily lost.
I picture Mr. Disney walking through the magic, watching not only the children, but overseeing the new dreams being created. I believe that he smiles each time he sees a child smiling, and I believe that occasionally he enjoys a melted ice cream just like the rest of us. And while it might sound like I am talking about a man haunting his past; I think that a man like Disney is so incredibly steep in the simple magic of a tale that he physically can’t be torn from it.
I often wonder if he regrets not doing more? Is he proud of the stewardship that he left behind, and what does he think of a computer bringing to life things that up to that point has only lived in imagination. I wonder if he was loved by his wife, or if she resented all that he gave to this dream? I wonder if in his perfection, we missed all his imperfections? When we as a society help to make a man, we tend to forget his humanity, his foibles, even his ambition. We replace it with a man who only had one dream, who only had one desire, who only worked for the good. No man can live up to the image that we create, it simply isn’t possible to be human and that great. It is reserved only for God himself.
I would like to meet Mr. Disney one day, just to know if the man was the dream. I would like to know if what he wanted in life was exactly what he got, or if somehow he was only interested in the money that his little mouse could bring. I would like to understand if his ambition negated all the incredible things he gives to my children. I would like to know if his dreams were completely in line with the amazing things that he gave. And what was the cost? What was the effort? What did he trade in order to give my children a glimpse of a world they will only know for such a brief time?
Watching a child meet their childhood heroine, watching my child meet all the characters she so faithfully listens to and enjoys is priceless. Watching my child’s eyes light up, their laughter ring loudly throughout the day is worth every dime that I have to spend to get them there. Knowing my daughter is wondering where Cinderella sleeps, and my son is amazed by a simple wooden roller coaster is worth the long drive, the heat, and even the exhaustion. Every time I visit Disney I reminded about the importance of dreams, of wishes, of magic.
We have created a world that is dangerous, and mothers that are forced to hold their breaths from the first moment their children enter into this world. But there is a little swamp in the middle of Florida that gives my children a moment different from any other they are forced to live. They get a bit of magic; and for that I will always raise my eyes to the heavens and say thank you. And if there happens to be fireworks during that thank you, I will just imagine it is his response.
Thank you, Mr. Disney. Not for your life, but for the magic you give my children. I can’t give it to them, it is not within my capabilities as a mother. But I thank you for doing that which I understand I can’t. Belief in the beauty of dreams, having hope isn’t simply important, it is vital. It is what should drive us, what should sustain us, and what should help us to create a better world than the one we inherit. Having hope, seeing magic should be a requirement for every child; not so they can be something they never will be, but so they can be something more if only for a moment in time. Thank you, Mr. Disney. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope with all my heart that you walk those moonlight paths, overseeing your kingdom, and making sure that it is there for all to believe.