I guess I should start by saying that it’s been a while. Just over a year, actually. I also feel that I should once again apologize that “Ranking the Disney Canon” has still not been finished. It’s due to a combination of putting my writing energy into my future career as a hopeful screenwriter/director and the busyness that comes with a senior year of college dedicating yourself to that career. I’m actually in the midst of plotting the return of the rankings, in a bigger way that you might expect. Though I don’t have an update on that plan for you readers at this moment, I promise you’ll be hearing more on that subject in the near future.
But the Rankings are not why we are here today. Or am I here, since I’m the one writing this piece. I’m writing on Disney and Beyond for the first time in a year because I’ve just been thinking. In retrospect, it’s been a crazy year for me. I graduated college, first of all, which relates to most of the “crazy” that I mentioned in the very last sentence. I’ve had so many good and bad experiences, so many friendships solidified, so many ideas for my future, and so much fear about it too.
But more importantly, (Not actually more importantly) it’s been a crazy Disney year for me. I got to meet Roger Rabbit, I promised Anastasia Tremaine seven castles (which I still haven’t given to her), and I chatted with Rapunzel about Captain America’s wardrobe choices. Come to think of it, I got to meet Captain America and Thor too, something that not too long ago was a faraway pipe dream. I’ve ridden rides for the last time and rides for the first time. I did Tom Sawyer’s Island for the first time! I’ve gone to Disneyland more times than I can count, and honestly more times than I could ever imagine. I’ve had two more Disney World trips than I thought I would have. And this is all before getting into the Disney films, new and old, in theaters and on Blu-Ray, that I’ve seen and rediscovered and been inspired by. (I own The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad on Blu-Ray now. How nuts is that?)
But beyond the trips where I ride the same amazing rides over and over again and have somewhat insane conversations with characters, beyond the films and the parks, this past year (or so) in Disney has been defined by the people I’ve met, the unique experiences I’ve had, and the raw emotions I’ve felt during what I would tend to call life changing and affirming experiences. From this past year (or so) in Disney, seven of those meetings, those experiences, and those emotions have stood out to me over the past couple weeks, a crazy couple weeks for the Disney community.
I am here today to share with you those seven personal moments, those seven ways in which Disney has changed me, and made view a Whole New World, if you will. You may have seen me mention these moments before on Twitter or Facebook, but I feel that back on this blog, I’ll have a better opportunity to expand upon and explore why Disney is so important in my life. So read on if you dare. Without further ado, and without further apology, here are Reflections on Seven Moments from the Past Year (or so) in Disney, presented in reverse chronological order.
A Wedding in the Old West
To me, the “Legends of Frontierland” experiment at Disneyland was a great success in my eyes for a number of reasons. For those of you who don’t know what “Legends of Frontierland” was, it’s a sort of role-playing game set up in Frontierland, where guest pledges their allegiance to either Frontierland or Rainbow Ridge, earn “bits” by performing tasks, sending out messages, and making arrests, and compete to buy land for their town. But among these number of reasons that this unique Disney experience worked enough to be extended past its original end date of September 1st was because, like in any good role-playing game, everyone got way too into their roles. Both Cast Members and guests went above and beyond, creating a sort of actual society full of mayoral elections, town poets, and relationships and rivalries that turn into friendships beyond the pathways of Disneyland. Even though I was only able to participate in “Legends of Frontierland” twice, the amount of memorable moments I’ve accounted for because of my fellow guests and the absurdly wonderful Cast Members participating are too numerous.
But none was more memorable than the wedding that occurred on Wednesday, August 27th, 2014.
I was in the park that day specifically check out the activities in Frontierland before its end date, because I’m one of those people who wants to savor every moment of a Disney Experience before it might be gone forever. When I entered Frontierland that day, I already felt a buzz in the air. The excitement in everyone’s eyes was evident. Finally, I heard the announcement straight from the telegraph: at 5:15, there would be a wedding in front of The Golden Horseshoe. Afterward the announcement was made, the “citizens” of Frontierland and Rainbow Ridge were trying to find out everything they could about it. It turned out that a real life couple had gotten engaged right in the middle of Frontierland earlier that day, and as witnesses to the deed, the Cast Members and guests decided that a wedding must be thrown, even though this couple were newcomers to the #MyFrontierland experience.
(My apologies, but I have no knowledge of their names, which would be particularly useful for this story. For the record, they were both citizens of Frontierland and one them had the identity of Jack Rabbit.)
(For the record, I also represent Frontierland, repping WDW’s grand version for the west coast crowd.)
Anyways, I had other matters to attend to that day, namely a Fastpass to Indiana Jones with my hypothetical name on it, but I knew I had to be back at 5:15 to witness the third wedding of my life. And sure enough, at 5:15, I was back in Frontierland, as a crowd had gathered around The Golden Horseshoe, full of Frontierlanders and Rainbow Ridgers setting aside their differences, all waiting for our lovely Peter Pan themed couple to get hitched. The ceremony was presided over by the Mayor of Frontierland and various other citizens, both Cast Members and guests. The couple had to announce their wedding vows out of a giant megaphone, making sure everyone could hear the love they were declaring to each other.
As the crowd grew, the wedding gifts were presented. A pineapple from our friends in neighboring Adventureland was given, and a special button from Main Street City Hall was received. The town poet, who had entered the park that day as just a guest, wrote and read a beautiful poem to the crowd. A song to the tune of “Oh Susannah,” also written by our town poet, was sung by the entire wedding party. The citizens of Frontierland and Rainbow Ridge pooled their bits together to purchase five separate pieces of land for the happy couple. And every member of the crowd was given a small plastic glass of a concoction known as River Water to toast with as the newly “wed” couple finally kissed.
(Of course, five minutes later, in my clumsiness I nearly spilled my River Water onto some poor woman’s sandaled feet. I apologized by giving her the bits I had accumulated that day.)
To me, this story represents two aspects of Disney Magic that I love so much. One, it represents the most magical side of Disney fans and Cast Members. Here is a couple that were complete strangers to the participants of “Legends of Frontierland” no more than 6 hours before, and yet everyone was going out of their way to give gifts, congratulations, and participate in the ceremony. Disney Magic, to me, is a reminder of the joyfulness and kindness that can exist in life, and the way that the citizens of Frontierland and Rainbow Ridge made this act of kindness come together is nothing short of amazing to me.
The other aspect that’s amazing to me is how this kindness and joy has the ability to be shared with every single person who entered Disneyland that day. As the crowd of forty or so people watched the wedding ceremony, other guests who weren’t participating in “Legends of Frotierland,” guests who were coming from Fantasyland and Main Street to ride Pirates or head to Splash or journey to their reservation at Café Orleans, were passing by. Many of them, parents and teenagers and 20somethings, stopped to see what was going on. And many of them stayed to watch the wedding unfold, most of them with a smile on their faces thanks to this bit of surprise Disney Magic.
Showcasing The World Cup
The World Showcase has long been my favorite place in the entire world. My experience with the 2014 World Cup Final was the best confirmation of that fact that I could have. Friday, July 11th, 2014 was my full day at EPCOT, my favorite Disney Park, if that wasn’t already clear, on this past Disney World trip.
I had seen tweets and blogs about the ways in which Disney World and EPCOT were celebrating The World Cup, and I was excited that I had the opportunity to check out the festivities, especially since I have become a huge fan of the World Cup and of international soccer over the past 12 years. With the Germany-Argentina final fast approaching, that Friday was my one guaranteed opportunity to check things out. While the decorations of the flags of all countries playing in the Cup outside the Odyssey buildings and a soccer themed topiary of Donald and Goofy were a treat to see, what really captured my imagination that day was the way in which I witnessed guests and Cast Members show their excitement for the final on Sunday.
My favorite thing about visiting The World Showcase, bar none, is watching guests discover an entire new culture. Sure, visiting The World Showcase is nothing like visiting those actual countries themselves, but to watch people who may never have an opportunity to visit France or Morocco or Japan or Norway explore the shops and exhibits of each pavilion, and especially watching them ask questions to the international cast members about their life back home or a specific food or just engaging in simple conversation, to me, represents the beauty of The World Showcase goes beyond the architectural representations of each country.
On that Friday, I heard a family from Alabama chat with a woman working in Sportsman’s Shoppe about Brazil’s astounding loss to Germany in the semifinal. In that same store, I saw a married couple from Texas look through the various Premier League jerseys on sale, trying to figure out which teams were good and which teams their children might want to root for. When I had dinner in France that day, a conversation about the entire Cup happened between the waiter and the family at the table next to me. In Japan, an American tourist and a British tourist shot the breeze about the intensity of a good soccer match as they waited for the rain to blow over. To me, this was all impressive considering the stereotype that Americans just don’t care about soccer.
None of this compared, however, to the buzz in the Germany Pavilion that day. It seemed like every single person made mention of the big match of Sunday. Everybody, from American guests to British guests to Japanese guests to everyone in-between, was saying good luck and sending their well wishes to the German Cast Members. Those very same German Cast Members had a look in their eyes that spoke of both their excitement and their nervousness. It was in that moment that I decided readjust my schedule so that I could return to EPCOT on Sunday to enjoy The World Cup Final amongst the backdrop of The World Showcase.
Sunday comes, and after a morning at Hollywood Studios, I took a Friendship Boat to EPCOT to try to catch the match. After finding out that both the viewing party in the Oddesey and the viewing party in the former Wonders of Life pavilion were at capacity (which continued my impression that Soccer was actually becoming a thing in America), I decided to spend the duration of the match in the German Pavillion. Sure, they probably wouldn’t have screens set up in order to preserve the magic of the World Showcase, but at the very least I could update Cast Members on the score and celebrate if them if the Germans took home the gold. When I arrived at Germany, I started walking my way through the various stores, and quickly found myself in the Weinkeller, which, as the name implies, is a sort of wine cellar where guests can find a number of German wines and beers. At one of the tables, I found a young couple watching the Final through the Watch ESPN app on their iPhone. Naturally, I asked if I could join them, and the kind folks allowed me to join in.
The image of the three of us watching a soccer match being played in Brazil on an iPhone in middle of a German Wine Cellar in Walt Disney World was both too absurd a situation and an amazing representation of the beauty of technology that I had to take a photo.
Throughout the next hour and a half, people would walk through the store and get a quick glimpse at the game and comment on it before going about their day. The German CMs, of course, were trying everything they could to get a glimpse of the action. One particular CM, who was behind the counter for the first half of the match, would come to “wash our table” even if it just meant he could watch is country for ten seconds. Other CMs from the Karamell-Küche and Die Weihnachts Ecke shops next door quickly rushed in and made us promise that we’d update them if anything major happened, any goals scored, any red cards, any major injuries, we had to let them know.
This continued on and on, until we got into a 0-0 match at the end of regulation, which meant there was to be an overtime period. By this time, the group watching the match had turned from me and the couple to a crowd of maybe twenty people, all huddled around this iPhone, seeing if either team could get a goal. And finally, it happened. The Germans scored. The crowd, people from all over the world, cheered and clapped and jump for joy. We all, by this point, had made friends and had conversations with many of the Cast Members and even the managers of the German Pavilion, and all of us were completely on board for a German victory. At the sound of our cheers, the German CMs from all around the pavilion rushed to us to catch the replay, to catch a single but important moment in their culture occur. There was already hugging and tears from the Germans, and though they soon had to get back to work, they made us promise once again to rush to their working stations if any other goals were scored.
I forget at this point how many minutes were left in the match, but those last minutes were as intense as I’ve ever been watching a sporting event. Every rush by the Argentinians was a heart stopping moment, and every stop by the Germans was a huge sigh of relief. We began to even be worried about the possibility of the iPhone running out of battery, until I quickly downloaded the app and subbed in my phone to watch the Germans take the victory. I wish I had been able to take a picture of the crowd watching along with us, and I wish I could have captured the exact moment that Germany became the 2014 World Cup Champions. But I did have to take one for the team in order to ensure that all of use watching could see those intense final moments. And when those final moments drifted away, and the match officially ended, the celebratory roar that erupted throughout the entire pavilion was almost as loud as Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.
With the final match of the World Cup over, I grabbed my iPhone, thanked the crowd, especially that young couple that I had been watching with from almost the beginning of the match, and rushed out to hug some Germans. I still, in some sense, regret not being able to capture that roar of a championship country, or the pure raw emotion of the first seconds of celebration. But here are a few pictures of what I could capture of the next five minutes of the joyous lunacy that is sports in a nutshell.
Once again, being that they do have a job to do, the German CMs eventually had to return to work. I stuck around a bit to chat with those I could about the victory, to watch guests come to Germany to get a celebratory beer and bratwurst, and to capture more pictures of Cast Members still letting out their emotions. Eventually, I had to get going to other things I needed to see around the World Showcase that day, but those two hours in the Germany Pavilion stuck with me for a long time. (As made obvious by me writing this much too long post about it.) The reaction to the German victory and the intensity and nervousness my new German friends had throughout the entire match proved to me that the importance of The World Cup goes beyond even the passion I have for my hometown Chicago, or the typical hometown passions of any typical sports fan. There is so much patriotic pride for the World’s Game, and I was shown truly how special the game of Football could be.
And as mentioned before, it was a striking reminder of why The World Showcase is my favorite place in the entire world.
For The First Time in Forever, I Finally Understand
Another reason that the surprise Disney World trip I took in July was a matter of good timing was that I was going to be able to actually experience the Frozen Summer Madness event at Hollywood Studios. I’m always excited to see new things at the Disney Parks, and the limited time new things are no different. Many times, because of my distance from Disney World, often I am looking at limited time affairs from afar, so the opportunity to see ice-skating and a new fireworks show was one I was not going to miss.
It was during this experience that I truly understood how deep the Frozen Madness this country is experiencing. It’s honestly somewhere in between the Star Wars fandom and BeatleMania. The rush for merchandise, the families excitedly waiting to build snowmen and to eat Anna themed cupcakes, and the men, women, and children finding their opportunities to take their Olaf Selfies proved as much to me.
But we’re not here to talk about Frozen Madness. Well, not specifically. We’re in this section of the post to talk about the pixie dust that falls over the parks when night falls: Firework Shows. I had never actually seen a Fireworks Show at the studio, much less a non permanent, non holiday special such as Star Wars Fireworks or the main event of this evening, Frozen Fireworks. I even rearranged my schedule after the World Cup viewing decision in order to make sure I saw the Fireworks Show on Saturday, July 12th, 2014.
After spending a good bit of time getting reacquainted with my favorite Hollywood Studios attractions, I made my way to find my Fireworks spot and was stunned by the amount of people already waiting for the show. I mean this… this was a CROWD. This was a Christmas type crowd, packed to the brim from the very front of the event stage to the entrance of the park. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the crowd, considering Frozen Madness and Firework Shows and all that. But I kept that in mind as I found a seat near the ABC TV Theater.
After a very enjoyable show (during which people SCREAMED at the sight of Kristoff and I very much enjoyed the “Love is an Open Door” segment), I made my way towards the park exit. And that’s when I saw one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen in my life.
I saw a little girl, dressed as Elsa, sitting on her father’s shoulders and above the rest of world, pretending to control the snow falling around her as “Let It Go” blared around Hollywood Boulevard. As soon as she caught my eye, I couldn’t help but to keep looking. I watched the awe in her eye and let my own eyes tear up a bit. I took in her infectiously joyous smile, and I smiled myself. I watched the passion she had for the moment and the dreams that existed in her every movement and I allowed myself to feel alive. And as I am ought to do in these moments, I reflected on a number of things as I headed out of the park and onto my bus back to Saratoga Springs.
This was a reminder that the magic of the Disney Parks is bigger than any of us can ever truly realize, just as life is bigger than we can even imagine. As Disney fans, we tend to have our own opinions about what should and shouldn’t be added to the parks, what should and shouldn’t be taken away, and what we enjoy and what we want others to enjoy. And in many ways, that’s fine. Healthy even. But when I watched that nameless little girl see the world as perfect for that one brief moment, I was reminded that the Disney World, and the world itself, is much bigger than me. I can take in all the Frozen stuff that Disney puts out and analyze it and enjoy it and debate about it with other Disney fans on Twitter. But that girl’s wordview, the perfect vision of life she had, is something I lost a long time ago and yet still have inside me. It’s that insane experience that completely defines what the Disney experience should be, the experience I try to give even an inch of to my friends and family who think my Disney obsession is a bit crazy. This moment put everything in perspective, and it’s a moment that I often think about when discussing Disney with the masses.
This moment also put into perspective why I want to be a filmmaker. A group of people, animators, directors, writers, producers, the whole lot, created a piece of work that effected this girl’s imagination in such a wonderful way. It made me want to make a piece of writing or a filmic work that affects someone even an inch as Frozen opened up that little girl’s heart.
All The Cats Join In
(After those marathons of stories, I’m sure a small little interlude will be a bit refreshing to the eye, no?)
Saturday, May 17th, 2014 was only a day past my graduation, and it would probably come as no surprise to you readers that there was a certain amount of anxiety about my future. I mean, I was a college graduate! I want to get into the film business! I want to make Disney Films! How was I going to manage all that? How was I going to be an adult?
What better way to settle my mind than a weekend stay at the Disneyland resort with my whole family?
Well, that Saturday was technically a me day, my opportunity that weekend to spend some time at parks and do the things I love to do, like musical chairs with Alice and multiple trips to the newly reopened for exploration Temple of the Forbidden Eye. But once again, the real magic happens as night falls. To some people, the combination of Disneyland and Saturday nights means one thing: Swing dancing. It had been had really long time since I had been to Disneyland on a Saturday night, and I just love the concept of swing dancing at Disneyland because it’s an event that’s so uniquely Disney and so richly connected to the history of Disneyland. There’s was no way I wasn’t going to check it out on this particular Saturday. My intention was to watch one of the later dances in the evening and check out the scene before going about with the rest of my night.As you might have seen as a common link in these stories, I like to let plans shift every once in a while.
That night, I truly took in the performances happening in front of me, not just by the Swingtown band but also by the guests who were extremely skilled at the art of swing. I watched as they switched partners, chatted with each other, and caught up with each other’s lives. I realized that this wasn’t simply a random group of strangers on a date night, but instead an entire community, nay, a family who enjoy Disneyland and dancing all the same. Well, probably not all the same, but they certainly shared those two interested.
As I stuck around and watched the rest of the night’s swing dancing sessions, I reflected on that sense of community. My thoughts turned to my fellow Disney fans that I’ve met on Twitter and various fansites and in the parks and the sense of community I had with them. I thought about the screenwriters I just graduated with, and bond that I had made with them over the past four years. I thought about my closest friends and the ways in which I’ve shared my closest moments with them. And of course, I thought about my family, who were just beyond the Esplanade, enjoying a quiet night at the Grand Californian. Having the opportunity to share that night with the Disneyland Swing Dance community calmed me down just a bit. I knew that no matter what this confusing future in adulthood would be that I would have my family and friends, both the ones I know personally and the ones I meet on my journey, will be there to help me along the way.
That One Time I Worked on the Disney Studio Lot
With the recent release of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and Fun and Fancy Free on Blu-Ray, I finally got a chance to check out “The Reluctant Dragon,” the main bonus feature on the set. Of the many immense joys that come from watching the film, the one most personal to me is the ability to see footage of the Disney Studio in the era of Walt Disney himself. During a recent viewing, I couldn’t help but to realize how absurd it was that just a year ago, I was working on the Disney Studio lot.
It was pure stroke of luck that semester that I had an internship at Marvel Studios was the semester that they moved their operations from Manhattan Beach to the Frank G. Wells building at the Disney Studio. And though I can’t talk about my time at Marvel for obvious reasons, I sure as hell can talk about the amazing four months I spent at the Disney Studio! For those four months, I spent three days a week at the studio and relished every minute of it. I’ll never forget driving onto the lot for the first time, the elation I felt to even have a small taste of my larger dream in life. Just to park in a parking structure known as The Zorro Lot was grin inducing. I had taken a tour of the studio once through D23, but there was no feeling in the world like walking through the lot on that very first day.
Throughout my limited time at the studio, I took every opportunity that I could to make my time on Walt Disney’s lot as memorable as possible. I would arrive a half hour early to walk around a bit. I enjoyed my ability to walk around the Legends Plaza and to pay tribute to many of my favorite Disney heroes. I’d spend at least a part of my hour break inside the studio’s Disney Store, just to listen to the Disney music playing and to sneak a little playtime with the stuffed dolls. When I got my one opportunity to enter the theater on the lot, I took it in a heartbeat. When I got my second opportunity to visit the Disney Archives, I relished every last moment I had in there. I would buy lunch at the commissary every day because the food was actually pretty good and because IT WAS THE COMMISSARY ON THE DISNEY STUDIO LOT! I even got to attend my first movie premier, which was a nutty experience even in itself.
I made sure I’d walk pas the animation building everyday, because I couldn’t believe I had the ability to stand next to the place where most of my inspirations came to be. I took a couple of afternoons to walk past the buildings that once housed the sets of Mary Poppins and the Fantasia Orchestra. For those four months, both in the original sections of the studio and the sections added later, I just appreciated the surreal feelings I was experiencing. Here was the ground that many of my heroes, from Walt Disney to Mary Blair and everyone in between, once stood. And now I was standing on it. For those four months at the studio, I felt like I was home.
But, unfortunately, I knew my time in this new home was a limited engagement. My last day at the studio, December 18th, 2013, was simultaneously the longest and shortest day of my four months there. While the hours passed by quickly, I took as much time as I possibly could to take in the Legends Plaza, the Disney Store, the Commissary, the Animation Building, and the studio as a whole. Even so, before I knew it, the night fell, and it was time to walk back to the Zorro lot one final time. I’ll admit to you right here that I teared up as I walked through the studio that last time. It was hard to think that I wouldn’t be traveling back to the Disney Lot that next week, or that next semester. Every time I walked onto it, it was magical feeling for me, from the first day to the final day, and to think I was going to lose that magical feeling was a bitter pill to take.
In another sense, however, that final walk-through was still a magical moment for me. It was confirmation that there was nothing more I wanted in this world than to be able to work at the Disney Studio every single day. It was reaffirmation that my dreams were the dreams that I wanted to chase. It was another bit of motivation for me to work hard, write good material, and continue on this journey I started when I came to California in 2010. I still miss the studio even as I type this sentence. I wish dearly that there were some easy way to get back to it, or some way to start making my movies on that lot. If my four months there told me anything, it was that I will make it back. I can guarantee that.
It wouldn’t be any stretch to call the two D23 Expos I’ve been able to attend the two most fun weekends of my entire life. There are plenty of choice candidates for that title, but can there truly be a better choice than a D23 Expo weekend?
D23 Expo is, in many ways, a Disney Fan’s dream. Beyond all the news from Disney about the future of its animation, its films, and its parks, which are always a treat to receive, it is a weekend filled with one-of a-kind Disney merchandise, unique Disney themed panels full of wonderful stories and the occasional information drop, celebrities in the form of Imagineers and Animators, and thousands of Disney fans getting to meet each other, chat with each other, and share in the magic that we’re all so passionate about. It’s a special weekend that I look forward to living every two years.
This past D23 Expo, one special, once-in-a-lifetime event stood out above all the rest: The Richard Sherman/Alan Menken concert.
When the Sherman/Menken concert was announced, everybody was ecstatic, as was I. This was one of those moments in time that you couldn’t imagine ever happening in your wildest dreams, and yet here was an opportunity to see possibly the two most important and best songwriters in the history of a company that in many ways defined by its music perform in the same night. There was no way I was going to miss this for anything in the Disney World.
It was now Saturday, August 10th, 2013, and after waiting in line for who knows how long, I was sitting the Arena, my phone out of battery, my feet tired from a full day at the expo, waiting for the concert of a lifetime to begin. Finally, Richard and Alan walk onto the stage, and I knew in an instant that this was going to be one of the most special things I ever had the privilege of experiencing.
I could spend some space talking to you about all of Richard’s amazing stories about working with Walt and his brother Robert, and all of Alan’s stories about working with the great Howard Ashman. I could recount to you that time Richard forgot the lyrics to Winnie the Pooh and we all had to help him out, and how Alan ripped through his discography like the Monorail zips from The Magic Kingdom to EPCOT. But to save some time, and because I want those of you who haven’t seen it to experience something honestly spectacular, I’m just going to post Inside the Magic’s wonderful videos containing the entire event. I’ll let you discover some of the more magical moments yourself.
The personal Disney moment I’m here to tell you about comes in the latter half of Alan Menken’s half of the concert. By this point, I’m already completely blown away from what’s been happening for the past three or so hours. Hearing these stories and songs from the people who helped create them, and in a way helped to influence my whole life, was already causing a million different things to rush through my mind. It was at this moment that Alan Menken began to perform songs from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
I watched attentively as Menken performed songs from one Disney’s most underrated musical scores, as “Bells of Notre Dame” and “God Help the Outcasts” rolled through my ears and rattled in my brain. As Menken transitioned into the next Hunchback song, I started to feel something stirring inside me. I don’t know why at this specific moment I was starting to feel it. It might have been because I had been up since 5AM and hadn’t eaten since 5:15AM. It might have been because I was unable to handle the surrealness of this whole weekend, and my ability to witness something so, so special.And maybe there was even a higher power involved that night.
As Alan Menken belted out “Out There,” I had a spiritual experience for the second time in my life.
I can barely come up with the words to describe what I was feeling. I was outside of my own body, all around the room, flowing with the music. I was on another plane of existence entirely. I was in a million different places, and yet still a single whole. I was connected to all things Disney and all things in my past, present, and future.
That might sound like a bunch of nonsense, but that is the recollection I have of the emotions I felt during Menken’s performance of “Out There.” I credited those emotions to the spirit of the entire night, a night that transformed me in ways that I still don’t really know. In many ways, it was probably the greatest three hours I’ve ever spent, or at least among the greatest three hours. I’m sure it makes more sense to you when I say that D23 Expo weekends are the best weekends I’ve ever had.
The Birds Stand Still, And The Tiki Room Flies Away
I haven’t revealed this final story to anyone, I don’t think. It’s by far the most personal story I’m sharing with you here, but I feel this post is as good a time as any to share it. This post is already too long as it is, might as well go all in, right? This story, to me, represents why Disney is so important in my life.
August 2nd, 2013 was in the middle of a very tough time for me in a variety of personal and professional ways. That summer, I had gone through a tough relationship experience that forced me to reevaluate the person I was and the person who I wanted to be. More frightening to me, I also realized something that summer that I don’t think I’ve told anyone until now: I had been spending so much time over the past year working on adaptations of material I didn’t have the rights to because I had been struggling to come up with an original script idea for a while, and I was starting to realize that my future as an adult was standing right in front of me. At that point, I didn’t know if I would be able to handle it, or to have the ability to find a path to my ultimate goal of making all those adaptations for Disney.
By happenstance, August 2nd was a date that I had scheduled for a Disneyland trip for a while, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I needed a day to myself, a day to try to calm down and get away and go to a place where I know I could think. It was the type of day where I rode Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride five different times. The type of day where I took a couple walks through Sleeping Beauty Castle. It was the day that I saw Mickey and the Magical Map for the first time, which I heartily enjoyed. But throughout the entire day, fear, sadness, rage, and confusion all rattled inside of me, and I tried to make sense of all of it as I made my rounds.
My rounds through the park eventually took me to The Enchanted Tiki Room, a Disney fan favorite and an attraction I had enjoyed very, very much up to that point. As the reflections continued in my head and throughout my entire body, I took in the pre-show as I had done many times, and made my way into the theater, heading straight for the my favorite seat in the house, the back of the wall straight across from the entrance. And soon, we woke up Jose and the glee club and began to sing.
The Enchanted Tiki Room holds up so well today because it is a perfectly structured attractions. The emotions flow perfectly from segment to segment, from happy and energetic to calm and serene to peppy and catchy to angry and brutal and finally all the way back to happy and energetic. That flow was exactly the cure I needed for all that ailed me. My emotions moved side my side with the emotions of the show. During the opening song, I thought about the past three years at USC and what had gotten me here. During “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing,” I confronted love in a way I hadn’t in a long time. As we moved into the musical luau, I felt calm, reflecting on some of the better moments I tended to forget about at times like this.
Suddenly, drums. Chants. Red Light. It was the Hawaiian War Chant, the climax of the show.
Remember the angry and brutal emotions of the show I mentioned earlier? That’s The Hawaiian War Chant to me. And in that exact moment, it was at its most brutal for me. The drums and the chant roared at me. The totem poles of Tiki Masks stared at me. The rising intensity of the music matched the intensity of my mind. I had to close my eyes, and in that moment, memories flashed before me. The anger and the rage that had been bubbling inside me were all there, right in front of me. I confronted everything I hated about myself and every mistake as I had made as the song became faster and faster.
The thunder cracked. The rain poured. All those emotions inside me crashed together. I broke down and cried.
But as the birdies above me began to talk about clouds with silver linings, something amazing happened: I had an idea! A story idea! And then another one! And another one! We stood up to face the door, and I figured out that I actually needed to be broken first before I could fix myself.
Within the span of a simple Tiki Room show, I experienced an entire emotional breakdown. So, of course, I immediately rushed back to the entrance and saw the show again.
The rest of that day became the start of a personal journey that took another six months to truly complete. In the days and months that followed I still made mistakes and had confusion and needed to think, but that moment in the Tiki Room was what unscrambled all that into a personal reaffirmation of my own identity. In the weeks that followed, I found that Disneyland had not only become a personal place of peace for me, but also the place where I wrote my best work. The Tiki Room is still where I get my best ideas, and as I told my fellow classmates once, “I go into the Tiki Room, and suddenly it all makes sense.” It has become one of my favorite attractions and probably the one that is most important to me.
Over a year later, on August 27th, 2014, the same day as the Frontierland Wedding, I watched World of Color for the first time in forever, and as thoughts about my passion for Disney, my desire to create films that may or may not be in a future World of Color, and my status as a college graduate came to my mind, I once again became emotional. Naturally, once the show was over, I bolted out of California Adventure, headed straight to Disneyland, and took a seat at one of the final Tiki Room shows of the night to help unpack my head.
That night, I realized something vitally important: Disney is so important in my life because it has changed my life in so many variable ways. Without Disney, I don’t have that dreams I have, I don’t meet the people I’ve met, I don’t go to the places I’ve been, I’m not the person that I am. Disney is more than a company to me, more than animation, more than theme parks, more than entertainment. Disney is my comfort. Disney is my joy. Disney is me, in so many ways. Disney makes me feel alive. Disney is what pushes me. Disney is in my heart, in my mind, and in my soul. Disney is something that has and will molded me and shaped me and defined the very person that I aspire to be. Disney something that shows me fantasies can be real. It may take a little more than wishing upon a star, but dreams are still attainable.
Disney has given me so much more than I can ever really say in an overly long blog post. And the idea that I might be able to someday put something back into Disney is humbling in and of itself. To have the ability to put some stamp onto the legacy of the company, and in turn have the ability to effect someone as much as Mickey and friends have has an effect on me is something I can’t even fathom, and desire so badly. My journey to Disney continues. I don’t know where it will take me. I don’t know when I’ll get there. But the Disneyland Railroad has to stop sometime, and when it stops at the stations where I get to make Disney films, or Disney attractions, or just make someone’s Disney day, you can be sure I’ll jump off at that stop.
Until that time, I’ll keep having Disney Moments, I’m sure. And who knows what’ll happen the next time I get sprinkled with some Pixie Dust.