Pop Culture

In Defense of Disney

Many people, who get to know my feminist, sarcastic, often-cynical self, are surprised to find out that I still love everything Disney. I love the old movies (some of) the new ones, and I absolutely LOVE Disney World. And yes, I mean Walt Disney World, the official name for the East Coast version of the park. For the uninitiated, the West Coast has Disneyland. (I not only have never been to Disneyland, but neither do I feel the need to. We have a Disneyland. We call it the Magic Kingdom.)

Now, there are arguably plenty of reasons not to like Disney. They take interesting, gruesome fairy tales and sanitize them beyond recognition for mass consumption. Their marketing to children puts cigarette companies to shame. Walt Disney himself was no Boy Scout, and many of his more offensive works are preserved forever.

I’m not saying none of these things matter. Of course they matter, and the older I got, the more conflicted I felt about my love of Disney. But the reason I’m writing today to defend it is that I have picked my side on this one, and I’m not backing down.

First, let me paint the whole picture for you. When I was growing up, we were A Disney Family. We watched the old animated films, like Snow White, Pinnochio, and Fantasia on tape. I had the good fortune of growing up during what’s known now as Disney’s Second Golden Age of Animation, and I remember seeing them all in the theater: Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and more. I remember my mom giving me the sheet music so I could learn all the songs on the piano and sing along. I remember playing “Little Mermaid” in the community pool with my friends. I remember how excited I was during Beauty and the Beast that the heroine, Belle, had brown hair! And liked books. (Disney princesses: they’re just like us!)

My grandmother lived in Orlando, and half the time we visited her there we would go to Disney World, which rounded out to about 5 trips during childhood. To this day, as she approaches 100 years old, my grandma still has a picture on her shelf of she and my brother sitting in the Dumbo Ride at Disney World. We have a picture in our house of my grandma dancing with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Those are some of my favorite family memories. It never got old: my heart always soared whenever I got my first glimpse of Cinderella’s Castle. I was too young to be annoyed by the near-constant parades down Main Street, so I would get excited every time.

Just a few years ago, I brought my now-husband to Disney World for the first time. The thing about Disney World is that while it has grown and changed a bit since my childhood, so many things are still there. I got a picture of us on the Dumbo ride to send to my grandma. I taught my husband the games my family used to play: guess what color our Peter Pan ship will be. Try to get a picture with every character at the Character Breakfast. My brother was there, too, and we learned that there is such thing as a fun Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy: Drinking around the world. While Disney itself doesn’t acknowledge this activity, people do it. All the time. And while I got mad at my husband for “falling asleep” on Spaceship Earth afterwards, it was a thrill to make another new memory at Disney World. I know that someday, when we bring our kids to Epcot, we’ll grin at each other knowingly when we get to World Showcase.

What I’m trying to illustrate is this: like so many artists, Walt Disney’s (and the company’s) original work and vision has taken on a life of its own. To me, my family’s great memories at the park, and my endless hours of make-believe inspired by their movies, are what’s really important. I used to wish I was a Princess, which I capitalize because the Princess of your dreams has nothing to do with what being a real-life princess is like. It didn’t turn me into a deluded mess; it was just pretend. And it’s something I still do now, as an adult. That’s why I write and read fiction. That’s why I daydream. That’s why I can see real-life castles and still feel that little stir in the heart of a kid that still beats in me.

Sometimes it’s healthy to just let go. I’m reminded of a Simpsons quote that actually made a lasting impact on me. Every once in a while, amidst the fart jokes and declining quality, the Simpsons says something that cuts to the quick. I’m sorry it’s an MP3 and not a video, but have a listen. I don’t want to be “always on.” I don’t want to deny myself or anyone else the fun and joy of playing pretend. I don’t want to kill my imagination, or anyone else’s. And that’s something that I got from a lifetime of loving Disney. It doesn’t mean I turn a blind eye to missteps the company has made or will make, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t respect those who view Disney critically. This is just one opinion, from a cranky,  jaded, liberal mind and the heart of a Princess

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