I originally wrote this piece in August of 2013 after I returned from Disneyland for the first time. Enamored and captivated with Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, I wrote this essay hoping to explain what makes Disneyland so special and what I had found interesting. Enjoy!
Up the Waterfall: Thematic Impressions of Disneyland
Julie Rheim: “Well, that is absolutely fantastic! But how do you top it!?”
Walt Disney: “Well, we set the place on fire! We have the audience trapped down there in this flaming city!”
Julie: “But how can they get out, now?”
Walt: “Well, now, you got into this mess by going DOWN a waterfall… How would you suppose we get them out of there?”
Julie: “By going UP the waterfall?”
Walt: “That’s right! By going UP the waterfall…. Anything’s possible at Disneyland!”
— Walt Disney and Ms. Disneyland Tencennial, Julie Rheim, discussing Disneyland’s forthcoming Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, 1965.
For almost all of my life, I’ve been a fan of Disney. Mickey Mouse presided over my first birthday. Childhood birthday gifts and holiday tidings usually brought a Disney film on VHS. And since the ripe old age of two, my family and I have spent time in the Vacation Kingdom of the World, happily just 230 miles up Florida’s turnpike and the perfect distance away to still be a satisfying and enchanting weekend escape that maintained the mystery of a far away destination, but close enough to capture my attention and establish a sense of familiarity that makes a return to WDW so comforting. That is the real crux of my involvement in Disney. Disney World was the physical manifestation of the incredible feeling and mood and happiness that Disney, as a whole, brought. EPCOT Center dominated the formative years of my interest and is still the cornerstone of my ongoing proclivity for themed design and Disney history. EPCOT provided a linkage to how the real world worked. Its optimistic drive and broad creative aims inspired an understanding in not only the exhibitive aims of the park but in how Disney used technology and art to convey a message and create an environment. Enjoyment and appreciation of EPCOT, funnily enough, broadened interest in the rest of the Disney world and the Magic Kingdom.
In an attempt in getting me excited (was that even really needed?!) for one of our earliest trips to WDW, my parents bought me a ‘Disneyland Fun’ VHS so as to familiarize me with what we would soon be visiting. Although for a park a continent away, the familiar visuals and localities on screen did their job and ‘Disneyland Fun’ became my mental image of the Florida property, despite glaring differences. That’s not our castle. Our Haunted Mansion looks scarier. We don’t have Star Tours in Tomorrowland, that’s over in MGM! And where is EPCOT!?
And so, I was aware of “the other”. There was an other Magic Kingdom out there. One that was seemingly older, had more in it, and yes, lacked an EPCOT. Despite that “flaw”, I was interested. And as I got older and learned more about Disney World, so came knowledge of Disneyland. Here was Walt Disney’s original park…. While Disney World captured my immediate attention for research and, ultimately, this entire blog, Disneyland was always revered, in my mind, as the gold standard for history and the park that set down the precedence for what thematic entities followed. Of course, with that, came a desire to visit.
Florida, sadly, is very far away from California. My family and I have always been very lucky when it comes to traveling and we have seen much of the east coast. While always an event to plan around, a vacation up to New York City or Washington DC was always more economical and feasible than an odyssey out west. Being from a family of teachers, and a student of history myself, who can complain when your destinations take you the very epicenter of what you study? And with Disney World just within reach for an easy getaway, Disneyland was really a world away. Happily, however, my chance to aim for Disneyland came earlier this year…. And as evidenced by this writing, I made it after almost twenty years of waiting and wondering. What follows, and what this entire post is meant to be, is a reflection of Disneyland, as seen through the eyes of someone who grew up entrenched by Disney World, or, frankly, any other Disney park. This is not history; this is going to be an opinionated thematic analysis of Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom as seen by someone for the first time.
Continue reading Up The Waterfall: Thematic Impressions of Disneyland