Before you skip over this article, answer one question: when you think of Disneyland, what comes to mind?
Mickey Mouse, magic, fairy tales, and most importantly, children?
According to my mother’s WeChat post from 2016, the year of my most recent visit to Disneyland, I insisted that I had grown out of the amusement park’s novelty. Lo and behold, you can imagine the irony and surprise I caught myself in when Disneyland was the first place I thought of going after a term of school. Similarly, over the years, Disneyland has become an “aesthetic” tourist attraction for adults and teenagers alike. On Weibo, a Chinese social media app for celebrities, the signature Sleeping Beauty Castle’s pastel, subdued colors are constantly seen in the background of posts. On U.S. TV last year, Disney’s 50th anniversary perpetuated many a celebration and invitation to join. We return again and again to spin in a teacup, ride gentle boats through small worlds, brave thunder mountains, and find Nemo under the sea. We stand in awe of the parades down Main Street and firework shows in fictional castles. Why does Disneyland matter to us more now that we’re older?
As a kid, the presence and concept of Disneyland did not impact me as much as I anticipate it would, today. I grew up consuming Disney classics, (Cinderella, Snow White, Peter Pan, etc.) truly living and interacting in a world of pure magic and joy. As much as I considered the fictionality of this world, constant immersion guaranteed it a major part of my days. Consequently, stepping into Disneyland was only a real-life simulation of the “happily ever after” stories and magic I was already familiar with. Around the age of nine, I had evidently stopped reading the stories. I still considered myself a child, yet a child simply too mature for fairy tales and too young for the reality of our world. Thus, I was at an awkward age where I explored neither the magical world nor the real world. The result? Disneyland barely impacted me at that age––I didn’t need it.
In comparison, now fifteen, Disneyland may offer me a place of escape. It provides a grand contrast to the world I live in and am fully aware of. In a world often filled with dissonance and sickness, Disneyland is simply a bundle of delight. In that same world where we strive for innocence and purity, Disneyland offers a haven for exactly that. It is truly immersive and convinces me to exist as the kid inside me––even if just for a day. And, with the increase in age, the impact of Disneyland, I believe, grows.
In 2019, a mother posted on Facebook “Disneyland is a FAMILY amusement park!!! Disneyland is for CHILDREN!!! People without CHILDREN need to be BANNED!!!!” In response, this post was met with opposing comments and even sparked panel debates. From these reactions, it was obvious that “childless adults and adolescents”––couples, newly-weds, college students, high schoolers, working people, the elderly––could all benefit (and perhaps heal) from a trip to Disneyland. As Walt Disney once said, “what I want Disneyland to be most of all is a happy place––a place where adults and children can experience together some of the wonders of life, of adventure, and feel better because of it.”
I listened to a one-hour-loop of “When Will My Life Begin” from “Tangled” today. It got me thinking: what if Walt Disney hadn’t kept his 20-year promise to his daughter? What if he didn’t adapt her favorite 1934 children’s book, “Mary Poppins”, into a big-screen masterpiece? What if the story wasn’t told? What about all the other stories, created, assembled, and put to life at Disneyland?
The world would be all right, of course, but it wouldn’t be as colorful. Up Disneyland’s Main Street, you wouldn’t see tiara-clad, cosplay-ing children, friends buying matching headbands and chocolate-covered Mickey hats, and the most unnoticeable, individuals sitting on the benches, simply relishing these scenes. You wouldn’t look at the person sitting next to you, wonder what they’re thinking in this fantastical world, before walking off to continue your day. You wouldn’t come back every so often, I wouldn’t strive to go back, to let the uniqueness of this magical world hit you in the heart.
The magic of Disneyland lies partly in its characters and tales, for the children and their delight. The other part, well, lies in its much-needed yet so simple presence in today’s world… this time for you, me, and our delight.