The Magic of Disney
The Labor Day Weekend usually marks the end of summer. While it is often seen as a sad time - the weather turns cold, the days get shorter, and school starts once again - it can't hold a candle to the saddest of all thigs; going home after a week in Disneyland. It seems that Disney and summer vacation go hand-in-hand, and it's a place that we just can't get enough of.
So this month, as we close out summer with the turn of a calendar page, we look back at the "happiest place on earth" - Disneyland (and Walt Disney World). And, although it will be challenging to present the magic of Disney on one page, here's a brief summary of the man and the fruits of his talents
Walter Elias Disney was born in Chicago on December 5, 1901, but grew up in Marceline and Kansas City, Missouri. Too young to serve in either the Army or Navy during World War I, Walt became a Red Cross ambulance driver, and after the war took a job working as a commercial artist and cartoonist in Kansas City. In May of 1922 he started his own animation studios, Laugh-o-gram Studios, with $15,000. By the end of the year the studio was facing tough times, and by July of 1923 he filed for bankruptcy. He sold his movie camera and used the money for a one way ticket to move to Hollywood with his brother Roy. There they started the Disney Brothers' Studio and began working with a New York distributor on thier early character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. In 1925 Walt hired an ink-and-paint artist named Lillian Bound, and after a brief courtship, they were married.
During a 1928 business trip to New York, Disney discovered that the rights to the character had been aquired by Charles Mintz, the distributor of the Oswald cartoons. Along with Oswald, Disney had lost all of his animation staff except Ub Iwerks.
Animation & Film
In 1929 the studio created Silly Symphonies which included many of Mickey's newly created friends: Donald Duck, Goofy (known then as Dippy Dawg), and Pluto. In 1933 the short Flowers and Trees won Disney his first of may Oscars. 1937 saw the release Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disneys first full length animated feature. It too won an Oscars (actually, one statuette and seven miniture statuettes). It was followed by a string of features including the classics Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and their most successful animated film, The Lion King.
In 1950 Disney decided to branch out and begin making live action films. He chose the Robert Louis Stevenson 1881 classic adventure Treasure Island as his first effort. Other live action movies followed including the Academy Award winning 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1953) and Davy Crocket, King of the Wild Frountier. Additionally, the studio began producing wildlife documentary films that would bring thier share of Oscars and profits to the studios, including The Living Desert, The Vanishing Prairie, and more recently the annual Earth Day releases from Disney Nature such as Oceans and African Cats.
In 1995 the computer animation feature Toy Story became the first full length computer animation feature. It was produced by Pixar and released through Disney Studios. In 2006 Disney aquired Pixar and added CGI to hand drawn animation to thier successive releases with the likes of A Bugs Life, Finding Nemo, Cars, and Ratatoullie.
Mouse in the House
On the returning train trip to California he developed and sketched a new cartoon character. His inspiration came from a mouse that took up residence in his Kansas City Laugh-O-Gram Studio. Many years later, in an interview, he told how he came to be inspired to develop his new animation star:
Walt Disney World
If You Go:
Be prepared to spend a lot of time on your feet. All the Disney parks require a lot of walking and waiting in line. Become familiar with the Fast-Pass and use it whenever you can; it witll make your wait in line much shorter.
Try to stay at one of the Disney properties (the service and amenities can offset the higher cost), and take a break during mid-day by returning to your hotel and taking some time for lunch, a dip in the pool, and a short nap during the hottest part of the day. Make reservations early if you intend to attend one of the popular character breakfasts, and (if available at your destination) purchase a meal plan. See the most popular attractions early in the day when lines are shortest (or use the Fast Pass) and try to get priority seating to Fantasmic ($$$).
Don't try to see the park in a day - it can't be done. Expect to spend at least three days to see all of Disneyland and two days for California Adventure (California), with half a day thrown in to explore the Downtown Disney area. These estimates give you time for enjoying the parades and firework display as well. For Walt Disney World, give yourself at least a week to see all the theme parks, and remember - there is more there tan just the rides!
If you go in the summer months, take a hat and sunscreen. Spending a vacation nursing a sunburn is no fun. Also, drink plenty of water. There are many drinking fountains located throughout the theme parks, so use them. Off-season months (September througyh April) are less crowded and park hours are ususally shorter, except for the seasonal events like Halloween and Christmas.
But, regardless of the season, take the time to view the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse - "Partners" - located at the hub that leads to the different theme areas. Take a moment to remember the man and the mouse that made it all possible.
Walt Disney & Mickey Mouse
"They (the mice in his office) used to fight for crumbs in my waste-basket when I worked alone late at night. I lifted them out and kept them in wire cages on my desk. I grew particularly fond of one brown house mouse. He was a timid little guy. By tapping him on the nose with my pencil, I trained him to run inside a black circle I drew on my drawing board. When I left Kansas to try my luck at Hollywood, I hated to leave him behind. So I carefully carried him to a backyard, making sure it was a nice neighborhood, and the tame little fellow scampered to freedom."
He showed the drawing to his wife and said he was going to call it "Mortimer Mouse." She thought that name sounded "too sissified" and suggested "Mickey Mouse" instead.
The studio quickly worked on a new series of animated shorts featuring Mickey. The first two films, Plane Crazy and The Galloping Gaucho were both silent and failed to find an audience. The third, however, was a sound short called Steamboat Willie, with Walt providing the voice of Mickey. It became an instant sensation and the success that would fuel Disney Studios to bigger and better things.
From that one cartoon character a kingdom was born the likes of which the world has never seen. It was a kingdom of happiness that Walt Disney shared with the world through his films, his theme parks, and his imagination.
Walt Disney took an interest in providing a safe place for his daughters to play and often took them to the park. While there he considered building a park of his own for people to bring thier children that would be clean, safe, and offer entertainment to child and adult alike. In 1954 construction began in Anaheim of Walts dream, and after 365 days, on July 17, 1955, Disneyland officially opened. At it's opening, the park had 18 major attractions. Today there are more than 60 rides, attractions and adventures including parades, firework displays (depending on the weather), and seasonal celebrations. To obtain financing for this $17million venture, Walt had to partner with the ABC television network and agreed to provide them with Disney television programing. Both the park and the television show became a huge success. During construction of Disneyland, Walt often stayed at the park all night to oversee the work. He had an apartment buildt over the firehouse at the park entrence. Today, visitors can see the light in the apartment which is turned on evey night, as a reminder that the spirit of Walt Disney is still alive.
By the 1960's Walt considered adding a park and hotel accomodations to supplement Disneyland and would include a planned city designated the "Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow" - EPCOT. The new project was located twenty miles from Orlando, Florida and the land was aquired. Walt died of lung cancer in 1966 and never saw the completion of his project, which opened in 1971 with the Magic Kingdom theme park. This was soon followed with Epcot (1982), Disney Hollywood Studios (1989), and Animal Kingdom (1998). In 2004 the California theme park added the California Adventure Park park.
Now the Disney parks have gone international with parks that have opened in Tokyo (1983), Paris (1992), Hong Kong (2005), and Shanghai (2016). Additionally, Disney now also offers shipboard adventures on their own cruise line as well, with cruises to the Caribbean, the west coast of Mexico, Alaska, and several European destinations.
But to those of us who remember the magic that Disneyland brought into our lives, the original California Disneyland remains the crown jewel of the Disney properties.
The Electrical Light Parade opening float (occasionally driven by Mickey Mouse)
Daisy Duck at a Toontown Diner
The Magic Kingdom - Walt Disney World
Spaceship Earth - Epcot Center