When Naf said she wanted to go to Disneyland, more than anything, I didn't exactly jump for joy. I was rather neutral about it. From what I remembered of my last trips, ten years ago, Disneyland was nothing but lines for rides that I liked at the time, but wasn't overly enthusiastic about. It was overpriced, overcrowded, and founded by a man who, according to family legend, fired my grandmother for being Jewish.
I actually dropped that cynicism about two hours into the park. I'll be the first to say, Disney is a horrible, capitalistic empire. They have watered down and rewritten an awful lot of Northern European legend and heritage, from Snow White to King Arthur. They have built empires that draw people away from going anyplace with real interest or merit on a vacation, flocking to Orlando and Anaheim rather than any cultural, historically or geographically interesting destinations. They have built a media empire with an awful lot of dubious influence. And finally, I'm sure researching this would be a good idea, but I'm pretty sure Disney was an anti-Semite. Not just because Disney, the company, fired my grandmother when she said she was Jewish after being hired as a secretary, but because in all of "It's A Small World", there is not one Jew.
But Disneyland, despite all those factors which I recognize outside the park, is a place that does bring imagination into reality. The rides are amazingly detailed, from Pirates of the Caribbean to the painted scenery in Mr Toad's Wild Rode. The staff (while likely brainwashed) are friendly and open and seem genuinely happy to be there, part of the Magic Kingdom. And the scope of the park is amazing - each ride is a story, with a plot, theme, characters - and every ride and land and show is totally different from all the others. It pushes the imagination, it's a place of pure make believe, and they have gone to great lengths to make everything so almost believable that it's not too far a jump to pretend it really is.
And that was the fun of today - pretending. Big Thunder Mountain really is a mining train. The 3-D effects in "Honey, I Shrunk The Audience" are actually there, jumping out at you. That really is a sea battle in Pirates. Once I stopped trying to see the flaws in the park, and started seeing the alternate reality that Disney was trying to create, in all its Technicolor, I had a fantastic time. It's more fun to ride the Haunted Mansion believing in spooks and admiring how real they seem that trying to see the mesh the holograms are projected onto.
I recognize that Disneyfication has been pivotal in turning American culture into America cheese slices, but it felt so good to see the park from that child's perspective. And it's a hell of a lot cheaper than Botox when it comes to dropping fifteen years fast.
So I had a wonderful day today. I was there with friends, after all - four of us, all together - and we totally rocked the park. There's now a FastPass system, where you can pick up said pass, and it tells you to come back at a certain time a few hours later. When you come back, during your designated time span, you don't have to wait in what is now the "standby line". The only catch is, you can't have more than one ride FastPass'd at a time. We got passes for Indiana Jones, and realized - we were designated for a time between 12:45 and 1:45, but it was only ten in the morning...and if we wanted to go on any other "line rides" during that time, we'd have to wait for them.
Fortunately, we were able to walk right into the Haunted Mansion, and then into Pirates of the Caribbean. And there's never a line for Davy Crockett's canoes, because they require physical labor. After canoeing, we ambled around Frontierland and Critter Country and went back to Adventureland for the Jungle Boat ride and the Tiki Room. And all this filled up the two hours before we were finally able to go onto the Indiana Jones ride.
The Tiki Room and Indiana Jones were actually attractions that I loved for totally different, yet similar reasons. The Tiki Room was so 1950's idyllic it was hilarious. And it was so carefully crafted and done, every plant and bird singing, in perfect early 1950s harmony. Everything moved, even the stone carvings on the walls, all singing and animated. And even the flowers in the corners, and the birds in the back of the room, moved and sang constantly, to add to the illusion.
Indiana Jones, which is a new ride, is done in the classic long ride fashion. The line goes through an environment created to look like the ride, fake bamboo and fiberglass rocks. The film detailing the safety rules was done in the style of a 1920s newsreel. The ride's motions were calculated perfectly, the props and backgrounds were detailed, and the frightening moments were done just right. I squealed when the boulder threatened to roll over our Jeep, and then we dropped twenty feet to avoid it. The illusion was so well done, and so much work went into it, that it was an experience.
And that's when I just lost my cynicism, and began to completely enjoy myself. Disney might have backed the Nazis, but he had had enough vision and imagination to create an environment I could experience. He started a park where every attraction is made magical by the work and effort that goes into making the illusion complete. Disneyland strives to make everything as real as possible - or to make everything as imaginative as possible when real isn't - and it makes a day in the park absolutely incredible.
And thanks to the FastPass, the lines weren't terrible, and we rarely spent more than twenty minutes in line for anything. I think the longest line was for ice cream. We were able to ride Big Thunder Mountain three times. We rode the Matterhorn twice. We went on Star Tours and the new Buzz Lightyear shooting game ride twice each. We did Autopia and Honey I Shrunk The Audience. We rode the Fantasyland rides (Alice and Mr. Toad), and managed to survive "It's A Small World". And we even got on Indiana Jones a second time, later in the evening. We watched the fireworks and a few random street performances and picknicked just outside the park gates. We had a fantastic time.
Oh, and both times on Pirates, we yelled in pirate talk and told jokes. "What's a pirate's favorite letter?" one of us would say, and we would all chorus a yell of "RRRRRRRRR!!" "Second favorite?" someone would reply, and we would yell "IIIIIIIIIII!!" Fortunately, most people thought this was funny enough that they didn't glare at us when we proceeded to yell in piratespeak throughout the ride.
I have been to the real versions of the places represented in Disneyland. I have been to New Orleans, and I have been to Death Valley. I have been to the Old West, and to Hawaii, and have read the original versions of almost every book and fairy tale that is now a Disney movie. And I still prefer the originals, because Wind in the Willows is more clever than Mt Toad's Wild Ride, and I won't even get started on the historical horrors in Sword and the Stone. But the way that Disneyland shapes imagination into reality, themes into lands, dream into park, the million ways that the illusion becomes reality (from real plants to fiberglass mountains) - sometimes, dropping the cynisim is the best thing I can do. $53.00 bought me entrance into that park, and I think I only really got my money's worth the moment I decided that the music piped through the park, the familiar choruses of those old, kindly movies, all of that was making the place a little more enchanted than I expected it to be.
I think I had a better time today than I did at twelve. I was so happy to be there, to see all the wonders that took so many people to create. I loved being in the older parts of the park, imagining how wonderful they must have been in 1955, how happy it must have made people to go on things like the Matterhorn and "It's A Small World" when the idea was still new. I thought a lot today about how many people have been made happy by falling into those cartoons over the years, the rides and the movies and all of it, and I think...I think we take it for granted. I think, with so much media around us, we can't appreciate something like Disneyland without a conscious effort.
And besides, Star Tours? Sheer genius. I so love that ride. Who needs Return of the Sith when you have a flight simulator to take you on a star tour gone wrong?