Living in the heart of Mouse Country as long as I have, it’d be really easy to be jaded about the whole Disney thing. I’ve been dozens of times, dating back to when we were the southern outpost for visiting relatives from New Jersey. I’ve worked for the competition for over twenty years, and pretty much know how theme parks work backwards and forwards. But when I get off that monorail, and walk through that walkway with the train chugging overhead, and see Main Street sprawling out in front of me filled with people and sound, I forget all of that other stuff, and, even if only for the briefest of moments, the magic works again.
The cynic in me doesn’t want it to. I know Disney is trafficking in a sort of manufactured nostalgia, be it for the simpler, purer Main Street that no one alive ever experienced, or for the movies we have, or for our previous visits to their parks, when we ourselves were purer and simpler and had no idea about marketing or synergy or business. But it’s an involuntary, primal reaction. A carefully calculated reconstruction of a bygone era points the way to a carefully constructed fairy tale castle and elicits a carefully constructed response. And I fall for it every time.
Oh, then the press of the crowd and the earnest eagerness of the cast members and the machine-like precision of the entire operation kicks in and the luster comes off the whole thing. And that’s when a different kind of nostalgia comes along, although no less manufactured. It’s often the case that the pleasure comes not from this particular visit, but the memories of previous visits it conjures up. You remember the first time you rode The Haunted Mansion, recall that group of friends you waited in line for Space Mountain with, think back to staring up at Mickey Mouse. And so you tolerate the hour waits and the thousands of people because you’re trying to recapture that feeling again.
So even as I walked through an unfamiliar Fantasyland today, with my once-beloved Dumbo ride in the wrong place and looking entirely different, I remembered exactly how much I used to love that ride, and found myself not minding its new location all that much. I was happily ensconced in the past. Just the way Disney wanted it. And I didn’t care. The fairy tales and pixie dust worked. Besides, I’ve got enough things to be cynical about. I can do with one less.