In 1955, the gates of Walt Disney’s “Magic Kingdom” first swung open in Anaheim, California. Costing $17 Million dollars (what is now worth just over $150M), Disney’s park utilizes over 160 acres worth of land, incorporating many different forms of artificial and natural scenery ranging from rivers, to hundreds of varieties flora. In the park’s construction, over 15 homes were relocated, What was once valuable and fertile farmland was essentially terraformed for Mr. Disney’s cartoon creations. Even more intriguing, unlike most modern construction projects where visionaries are far removed from the nitty-gritty, Disneyland’s visionary had his fingers in many phases of the park’s creation, paying most astute attention to detail. If his design teams could not conceptualize exactly what Walt envisioned, he would simply redraw the plans himself. But why was all this effort put forth in the first place? What was Walt getting into with this project?
As one of our generation’s most successful storytellers, I speculate that Disney’s goal was to create a living story, one that would continue to evolve, lengthen and deepen even in the post-mortem (fresh Disney content is released each year, and the most popular of this content is most often made into an attraction at the park). As such, Disneyland is one of the few places where all audiences are able to be literally immersed in a network of separate but united narratives of all types. It is the central hub of Disney’s empire, allowing for fans of all Disney stories to participate in their own unique experiences with these stories. Whether this experience deepens understandings of these narratives is unsaid. However, as the result of this physical immersion, the medium of the park is able to contribute to narratives in a way no other medium is able to. The story seemingly becomes real, transcending the limitations that other media place on those stories. It no longer exists in a comic, an animated short, or a radio show. Instead, it holds a tangible spot in our reality. Of course, just because the story is able to take form, it doesn’t mean that this story suddenly becomes true. It is still fiction, yet for some reason (as most of us can attest to) it feels so real.
Our willingness to participate in this feeling of “realism,” is what allows for this realism to take place. While this constructed imaginary world (buzz word, woo!) contributes to the ease in which we are able to give into this property, it is ultimately up to park-goers to allow themselves to be swept away by the “magic of Disney.” Perhaps this explains why young children and mature adults are able to experience deep play at Disneyland, while angsty pre-teens attempt to sulk and resist the workings of this special medium