Recently, someone asked me what it was about Disney World that I love so much. I told them that a lot of what I loved was in the details that you might miss if you aren’t looking. Disney loves hiding Easter eggs in their movies (not actual Easter eggs–this is a term for subtle references to other movies) and the theme parks are no different. There are also a lot of details in plain sight that you don’t realize are special unless you know the story behind them. This is why VIP tours at Disney are probably so cool. (I mean, I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been on one. But I can imagine.)
For instance, a lot of Disney fans can tell you that all the names printed on the windows of the buildings lining Main Street U.S.A in the Magic Kingdom are all real people who have been significant to the Walt Disney Company. In Animal Kingdom, you’ll find director James Cameron’s handprint in the queue to the Flight of Passage Attraction (along with producer Jon Landau and Imagineer Joe Rhode) because he directed Avatar, the movie on which the attraction is based. At Epcot, there is a miniature train village in the Germany pavilion that gets teeny tiny decorations for every Epcot festival, including miniature replicas of the festival flags that fly overhead. In Hollywood Studios, the objects on display in the queue for Tower of Terror reference various episodes of the Twilight Zones. And then there are the hidden Mickeys. Hundreds (thousands?) of that iconic three circle Mickey head can be found absolutely everywhere from gardens to carpets to rock work and more.
But then I thought to myself, “What is it about those little details? Why do I love them so much? Why do I love good theming?” I think it’s because I love a good story. Disney has always told incredible stories. And that goes back to the very beginning. When Walt Disney was pitching the idea of Snow White, the very first full-length animated feature ever, he really had to sell it. Most people (including Disney’s own wife!), didn’t think anyone would ever want to sit and watch animation for over an hour! So for three hours, Disney acted out the entirety of his idea for the Snow White movie, complete with different voices for the queen and the seven dwarves!
Disney has the ability to make us laugh and cry and everything in between. They can even do it without any dialogue at all (if you didn’t get misty at the first 10 minutes of Up, then you my friend, are a monster). All my life, my favorite pastimes have been reading and watching movies, and when I was little, I would then act out those movies, complete with costume changes. Stories reach into our hearts and pull out emotions and ideas that we didn’t know we had. And they connect us. How excited do you get when you find out someone else watches your favorite show and now you have someone with whom to talk about it?
But I also think that this love of stories has been a stumbling block for me too. Ever since I can remember, I’ve found myself waiting for “the next chapter” and feeling like if I just make it to the next milestone, then maybe I’d find that elusive “happily ever after.” In high school, I couldn’t wait to graduate and go to college. Teen movies show graduation and then the laughing group of friends walking off into the sunset. We assume that they go on to college and…then what? Romantic comedies have our leading couple finding each other (and then losing and finding each other a few more times) and then getting married or at least walking away hand in hand to…where? Images of the loving couple gazing into each other’s eyes as they hold their new baby and then…what next? Happy endings leave us with a wonderfully happy and satisfied feeling. When a movie doesn’t have a happy ending or has an ending that is ambiguous, we often get upset. We don’t like that. We want the ends to be tied up in a lovely neat bow because logically we know that real life isn’t like that.
As a particularly emotionally sensitive person (some may say “dramatic”), I logically know that life isn’t like that. But my emotions often tell me something different. I desperately want these happy endings to be true. I want to have a “happily ever after.” Now don’t get me wrong, I have an incredible life. I have a wonderful husband and four amazing children. I have as close to a “happily ever after” as anyone could. But obviously it’s not perfect. Nothing is. When we watch, listen to, read, participate in stories though, we can glimpse a little bit of a perfect “happily ever after.” That’s why we keep watching and reading. Our stories are our escape from our imperfect lives. And I think that’s okay.
There’s a saying I see on social media sometimes and personally, I think it leans a little bit towards the idea of “toxic positivity.” The saying is along the lines of “create a life that you don’t need a vacation from.” That’s bogus! Nobody has that life! Everyone wants a break from the mundane, the hard, the imperfect. Finding a place where we can escape real life for a little while is something I hope everyone is able to do. Whether that’s a destination like Disney World, a tropical island paradise, a cabin in the mountains, or just your favorite armchair in your living room where you can curl up with your favorite book or movie, we all need a place where we can just exhale and BE.
I have a spot like that. It’s the end of my green couch in my living room next to my faux fireplace and a stack of books. I spend most mornings here and the occasional quiet afternoon. It helps give me a little bit of peace before I start my day.
My other place though, is definitely Disney World. It’s a place where you can fly to Neverland in the morning, take an African safari in the afternoon, then end the day in France with a delicious chocolate croissant. It’s a place where you can be surrounded by incredible stories that actually do have “happily ever afters” and participate whole-heartedly in them. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, just like a mountain cabin or a sandy beach might not be for everyone. But as I get older, I realize that I am who I am and I like what I like and that “guilty pleasures” are nothing to feel guilty about. So whatever brings you joy, you should do that thing. Even though life isn’t always a fairy tale, we can still find something that, if only temporarily, gives us the feeling of “happily ever after.”