Perdition and redemption: My week at Disney World



The first week after school let out, my wife and I – with a few other brave adults – went down to Disney World as chaperones of about 40 or so Milton theater students.

When the parents were asked who would volunteer, our hands naturally shot up. It seemed like a fun idea. That is, it was an impulsive decision. Once we got here, I started remembering my Disney rule – “once a decade at most” and then only in a weak moment. My kids never let me forget how Disney-deprived they are.

The only thing that I dislike more than any kind of video game or TV, especially any reality show, would be Disney World. Long, hot lines, irritated dads with lobster-red arms yelling at miserable 2-year-olds trapped in strollers while mom grits her teeth and looks the other way.

If you look up the word “miserable” in Wikipedia, that is my guess as to the picture you would see.

Also, I loathe roller coasters. I have never ridden in one and I am 58. I don’t like heights, enclosed spaces or speed.

Yep, I am really, really boring. It’s just who I am. But my wife who I adore does like all those things – at least the roller coasters and their attributes. So, there you go. We’re here for a week.

I will tell you now that this column has a happy ending. Not only did I enjoy my visit, but I may come back sooner than 10 years from now.

The first of the two reasons is that the day before we got here I had a little meeting with myself about this roller coaster thing. I told myself that it would make this trip more fun for my wife if I lost this roller coaster phobia and actually enjoyed Disney.

By the end of day two, I had ridden Space Mountain twice, Splash Mountain, Rock ’N Roller Coaster and Everest, and I have my sights set on a couple more. I don’t necessarily enjoy those things now, but Christina sees that I am making an effort and appreciates it, I think.

Plus, it does feel good to trash one or several of one’s fears. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll also be able to sing or dance comfortably in public. Those would also be good ones to take off the fear list and enjoy.

The second reason this trip has a happy ending occurred after I spent an afternoon in the Hollywood Studios park. As the name implies, most of the park is a celebration of the movie industry.

From the stars and the movies in which they starred to the sets and the memorabilia associated with them, this park is fascinating even if it does include the Tower of Terror, from which up to this point I have taken a pass.

I ended up spending the majority of time in the shows and exhibits that focused on Walt Disney himself. They walk you through his personal life and his career, and there is a plethora of personal memorabilia from all stages of his life. The longer I stayed, the longer I wanted to stay and understand better who he was and what made him tick.

It seems like he was always “just a kid” – doing what he loved and following his heart. He never lost the curiosity that is found in most children but which usually disappears in adulthood. And he didn’t know what he couldn’t do – thank goodness for us all.

For some reason he reminds me of another artist who never seemed to lose his childhood imagination – Pablo Picasso.

What also set Walt apart from most of us was that he had the drive, discipline and faith in himself that allowed him to bring so many of his visions and ideas to fruition. Great art, I’ve repeatedly read, is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. And unrealized talent is quite abundant.

Making dreams come true is what he did. It’s all he wanted to do – for everyone. And it was while I was watching the documentary about those dreams that I realized the impact his films had on my life and possibly the lives of my generation.

While I watched the documentary as it went through many of Walt’s films beginning in 1937 with “Snow White,” I realized that most of the films triggered childhood memories – people, places, feelings that were important to me. And I want to suspect that they were also filters through which many “Boomer” parents also processed life and built expectations as well.

I came to guess that in some significant way, Walt and his work are part of what defines me, and probably other generations. I suspect that the magic that he created may be part of my DNA – the “good witch” anchor and ballast that have sustained me.

However, when I ask myself who would be Walt Disney for my kids and their generation, I don’t have an answer. I wonder if that isn’t part of this puzzling and sad disconnect that seems to afflict so many young people today. I just have questions, not answers. I think we need a Walt Disney – and the values he represented – in our lives now more than ever. Understanding this was the second reason that my Disney trip ended well.

Walt Disney created what we all know today because a long time ago he couldn’t find a place to take his two little girls and entertain them. I’m so glad Walt had those two little girls. Aren’t you?

For your convenience, here is just a partial list of his (over 660) films. How many of them land somewhere close to you? “Snow White” (1937), “Pinocchio” (1940), “Bambi” (1942), “Treasure Island” (1950), “Cinderella” (1950), “Robin Hood” (1952), “Peter Pan” (1953), “Davy Crockett” (1955), “Old Yeller” (1957), “Sleeping Beauty” (1959), “Pollyanna” (1960), “The Parent Trap” (1961), “Mary Poppins” (1964), “Jungle Book” (1967), “Little Mermaid” (1989), “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), “Aladdin” (1992), “The Lion King” (1994), “Toy Story” (1995).

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