Our family pilgrimage to Florida included a couple of days paying homage in the temple of Disney. Our hopes that son David might be transformed into a “real boy” in Florida got me to dig out the old Disney Pinocchio movie when I got home. That video’s spools have as many miles on them as we put on the family car this holiday.
I love Walt Disney movies. We knew all the words to all the songs of Mary Poppins and the Sound of Music. I love the adventure of “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” and the mythic quest of Mogli in the “Junglebook”.
Folks from another generation may already have a hint of what I’m getting at. Where they read Jules Verne and Rudyard Kipling – or had them read to them – my generation consumed a shorthand, visual version. Sure it contained all the moral and cultural lessons of the books. But just like the Wonderbread I ate – most of the nutrients were lost in the processing. It was packaged as wholesome and nutritious and “everyone” agreed. We were all on a Disney created adventure ride called the commercialization of North American culture.
I guess I was a weird enough kid to hunger for more. I dug up the originals and read them - and then I read the works that inspired them. There I found the shades of grey that weren’t there in Disney’s full-colour, but very black and white, caricatures. I found the moral nuances that taught one to look for the spicy or bitter tastes beneath the sugary icing of Disney stories.
And now I find a self-critique of the world Disney sells, right in one his oldest movies. Pinocchio, distracted from his quest to be a real boy, gets trundled off to Pleasure Island.
“Pleasure Island! Oh boy!” exclaims Pinocchio. He hasn’t learned anything from his narrow escape with the PuppetMaster. He was quick to skip school for a quick ticket to fame in the theatre. Now he’s ready for another easy road.
Disney portrays an island dedicated to every delight a boy could imagine. Fun, food, fantasy – no worries. If you watch that segment of the movie, you can see the inspiration for what was to become Walt Disney World. Sure Pleasure Island is a seedier version – boys drinking and smoking and fighting – but the concept is there. Play all day – your every fantasy laid out before you.
If you remember, Jimminy Cricket shows up just in time to help Pinocchio. They barely escape before he’s totally transformed into a donkey (just a tail and donkey ears) to work the mines for another 50 weeks before the next vacation. Donkey ears – Mouse ears…hmmmm?
But that’s why I hate Disney. Agree with me or not. That’s how I feel every time I drive up to those gates. (I’ve been there three times now) I’m distracted from my quest to be a real boy once again. We dump a wad of cash at the door, and enter into a world of imagination – NOT!
It takes absolutely no imagination to enjoy Disneyworld. All it takes is your time and money. Leave your imagination at the door because it’s all supplied for you here. You’ve just purchased the imaginations of the interpreter’s of our culture. They’ve provided a spin on the old tales and the underlying message is – “Be quick! Life is short so gobble it up.” There’s an energy in the air (not to mention the garbled sound track of excited music throughout the park) that keeps us moving quickly from one ride to the next.
If I was a truly wise person, I would be able to enjoy the harmless fun that Disneyworld provides. I could sit back with Honest John the Fox and the Evil stagecoach driver and join in the laugh at the plot behind the Pleasure Island scheme.
“Relax Allan. Of course it’s about the money. Don’t get all righteous on us now. Just enjoy the ride.”
I’d like to laugh along - it’s just that I’ve already grown long donkey ears and a tail, and every time I laugh – a donkey bray comes out.