Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Disney: for Every Type of Personality

In my day to day life, people often see me as someone who's not exactly the peppiest person in the group. I'm the first to admit I've got a rough-around-the-edges, say-it-like-it-is personality. Many see this as some type of mean, pessimistic way to be. I know I just have high standards that most can't live up to.

So, after people get to know me, they are always surprised when I admit my love for Disneyland and Walt Disney. "It's such a contradiction!" they say. How could someone like me, who sees what's wrong first, be so devoted to what many see as one of the most positive aspects of pop culture?

Walt inspecting Disneyland
Easy, I say. I've studied Walt Disney, I know every inch of Disneyland and California Adventure. I can quote most of the first "Toy Story" film verbatim. All these things couldn't please someone with my hard-to-please personality more.

My studies of Walt have revealed that he and I were both very hard to please. A compliment from Walt would often sound something like "That'll work." When he was at the Hyperion studios in the beginning, he was known as a kind of uncle or fatherly character to his employees, when they weren't working on projects. He had a look he'd give during presentations that sent shivers down his employees' spines. Approval and praise were not something he was known to give out freely. He'd often come off cold, something that I feel was due to his obsession with perfection.

This obsession can be seen at his one and only park: Disneyland. When the park was being constructed, he was always on site, inspecting things, making sure they were done right. He studied other parks, and came to the conclusion that the paths needed to be 20 feet wide. He spent money on things and causes others often saw as frivolous. No one thought Disneyland would work, but it did, because it was a utopia to everyone, but most of all, to Walt. If something could please such a fastidious person, it could no doubt please the world.

Walt was someone who had a knack and a need for attention to detail–more than anyone else. That's why he created such a successful company, and why since his demise (due to lung cancer brought on by chain smoking, something probably brought on by Walt's obsessive personality), it has never been quite the same.

He didn't care about money, he didn't care about fame, all he cared about was putting out an unparalleled product. That's what made him successful. He wasn't a great artist–his iconic signature is not his own, but commissioned by him to another artist, and when asked to draw Mickey Mouse to accompany autographs, his rendition was hardly recognizable. What he was great at was having a more clear vision than anyone else and using it to inspire others.

My mascot here at ASU, Sparky the Sun Devil, was done by a Disney artist, and is said to be made in Walt's image. I was not surprised to learn that a former employee would relate Walt to the devil. He was tough on those around him, and even harder on himself.

So that is why I, someone who's attitude may not align with how society sees Disney's image, feel such a strong connection to the park and its creator. Disneyland is the happiest place on earth because of a perfectionist vision brought to life, a vision that in order manifest itself, had to go against what was popular. A vision that took a lot of honesty, and probably hurt some feelings along the way. But ultimately, it was a vision that fueled one of the biggest American success stories of all time.

When I'm in Disneyland, I am in my happiest place on earth, because to me, it's the closest thing to perfection on the planet.

Why do you feel such a strong connection to Disney?

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