I’ve been thinking about this post for a very long time. Indeed, it was only watching the video of the Paris EuroDisney trip the other night that reminded me I hadn’t actually got round to writing it. As you can see from the title, this is more to do with the Disney ethos and how it can affect even a hardened cynic like me who has never wished upon a star or embraced a foam-rubber mouse in his life.
Let’s just go back a few years. When the family first went to Disney Florida it was without me. Not through any lack of funds or pressing work commitments. No – I just didn’t want to go. Didn’t like the films, didn’t like the characters, particularly didn’t fancy Uncle Walt and his unsavoury reputation, and just couldn’t see the attraction. Well, well – what a journey we have been on since then, to use the modern parlance. As you will all be bored of hearing, I was finally dragged kicking and bah-humbugging off to Florida in the summer of 2011. And loved it ! I loved the country, I loved the food, the driving, the people, the parks, the rides. Everything, everything. The only things we didn’t really do were the Disney parades – oh, everyone else in the party rushed off to cosy up to the nearest cartoon baboon, mouse or super-hero. I even got involved in persuading SpiderMan to do a short piece to camera for the kids back home. And very nice he was. But I found most of the other ‘Disney’ stuff – the park opening rituals in particular – slightly tedious and annoying. And like most English people, congratulated myself on my ‘adult’ attitude.
Fast forward two years and we find ourselves in EuroDisney at the same time as their 20th Anniversary celebrations – well, by the time we got there it was actually 21 years but they’d decided to keep it going for just a bit longer (see what I mean about the cynicism). I’d thawed a little in some of my hard-headedness, but was totally unprepared for the emotional impact on me of the closing parades, with all of the characters dancing and singing along to the 20th Anniversary song. Subscribers to my Facebook page will be all too familiar with this and the video I produced to accompany it. Perhaps it was being with Nathaniel, who had to be forcibly restrained from throwing himself into the road every time a new set of characters came past from Toy Story or the Jungle Book or Peter Pan, or indeed any Disney production. But I found it all incredibly moving and uplifting and life-affirming and really, really enjoyable. So much so that we came back to see it again, as well as the lunchtime meet and greet with some more foamy characters. Indeed, my only regret was that we dipped out of the fireworks and light show at the Enchanted Castle on our last night. We were tired and I had a cough, but we were told that it was amazing, so should really have stopped.
So this time, when we go to Florida I intend to throw myself into the whole thing. Mouse ears, cosying up to characters and watching the parades. I suppose the whole thing raised questions with me about how we cut ourselves off from certain types of experience by our attitudes – what is ‘appropriate’ or ‘suitable’ or even ‘dignified’. We are more susceptible to this in our country I think, and tend to regard others (Americans in particular) as somehow more gullible or child-like or naive. Just look at our response to their national anthem and the heart-thumping seriousness with which they tend to do it at major national events. We sing ‘God Save the Queen’ but that’s not the same thing at all. Indeed, I don’t think it classifies as a national anthem – more a hymn of servitude, a last relic of our forelock-tugging, cap-doffing, “I-know-my-place” deference to a corrupt aristocracy. ‘Rule Britannia’ has more of the national anthem about it, but overlaid by a nasty sort of jingoism and imperialism.
Anyway, I don’t want to get side-tracked by a different debate. What I’m on about is the idea that, actually, believing in magic – that the world is a wonderful place where you can do wonderful things and that anything might just be possible – is not necessarily a bad thing. As a Leeds supporter, the belief in magic is, of course, second nature and demonstrates yet again how football holds many of the keys to life. Rather like ‘Star Trek’ where, at the end of ‘Insurrection’ (the Picard rather than Kirk version of ST, but we’ll leave that for now) Data is encouraged by a child to make time for play every day, as part of the business of being more human. A wonderful film and a great idea.
Roll on Florida !