What follows is not review, nor is it a criticism, examination, or analysis. It is simply a way of looking at the world. Places have personalities. The first step onto the pavement that lies outside of an airport or train station in any new city is a handshake. There is an immediate feeling that I’ve just made the acquaintance of someone unique, and each corner I turn through the streets, each shop I stop in or restaurant I eat at, is delving further into the identity of this unfamiliar character.
The Disney Resorts are no different.
Yes, I have favorite attractions and events. Of course, I have preferred eateries. Like many, I have insufferably exhausting opinions about the most droll elements of park minutiae. When I recall the parks, though, when I stop projecting the memory behind my eyelids and start to actually feel it in that place deep in my gut that I reserve for the most precious things in life, that is when the trees disappear, the forest becomes present, and the park becomes a person.
So, to me, the story of the Disneyland Resort is best explained in the story of two brothers.
Born first, and the only one to meet their father before his passing, Disneyland has both cherished the joys and suffered the burdens that come with being the eldest. He remains a constant example, always looking to ensure that his father’s legacy is treated with respect and care. Although smaller in size, he casts an enormous shadow for his younger brother to step out from.
Walt Disney World has no memory of his father. Of course, with nothing more than a cursory glance anyone can see the resemblance. Younger brothers have their burdens as well, though, and comparisons with his the eldest have been a constant throughout his life.
To distinguish himself from his sibling, WDW tries to dazzle and impress by being grander and more exciting than all the rest, yet he still envies DL’s quiet, self-assured confidence. Lavish parties with countless guests will never match his older brother’s slightly smaller gatherings, attended by lifelong trusted friends. Where WDW hopes enough momentary amazement will enthrall strangers and prove his value, DL knows that he will always have a loyal following, which he entertains not for approval, but for mutual enjoyment.
This is mirrored in the homes they have chosen. DL lives in the dead center of the people he loves, whereas WDW distances himself from the city. Attention must rest on him, and him alone.
Having a personal connection to his father cemented a stubbornness in DL, though. Less open to new ideas, he is passionate about the importance of history. He understands the legacy he was meant to uphold, and defined himself early on. Surrounded by those who whisper in his ear, “You’re perfect. Don’t ever change,” he sometimes finds himself at a crossroads, torn between maintaining the course or taking an unexpected turn. Growing, experimenting, risking failure, or keeping people content with the status quo. While holding kinship dear enough to remain in the family business, WDW tires of talks that revolve around legacy and history. Like many younger brothers in this world, he views the line between capriciousness and creativity to be significantly blurred. It is not his lot in life to maintain a legacy, he thinks. He is a passionate innovator; trying new things, maybe ruffling a few feathers from time to time, but always changing.
Legacy is a burden, and although he has never said it, DL envies his younger brother’s ability to submit to spontaneity and flights of fancy.
The gleam in a father’s eye when he is expecting his first child is always different than it is for the next. That man is realizing for the first time that he is greater than himself alone, that part of him will live on in the countless ways his child will touch the hearts and minds of others. An entire lifetime of actions, from the seemingly insignificant to the grandest in scope, now become justified beyond all doubt. Triumphs and failures, loves and heartbreaks, they lose their former significance and become as simple as the price of admission for his memory to continue onward. That first child holds a man’s greatest pride and most sincere humility within them. That first child changes the world.
DL knows this. He has had every moment of his existence cataloged and photographed; a life built entirely on firsts. He feels a constant pressure to live up to an impossible ideal, each step carefully scrutinized. Every instance someone remarks, “your father would be so proud,” he feels a warmth and comfort, a connection to a man he had precious little time to learn from.
Sadly, this is not the only thing they say. Often times when DL tries something new, behavior people would happily accept or even encourage from his brother, he hears a phrase that turns pixie dust into ground glass in his stomach: “Your father would be spinning in his grave.”
Where most of us would lash out with violence and tears, the eldest has a responsibility. His father is gone, and for a while now it has fallen to him to make the choices that decide what the family name stands for. Cruel words cannot affect the true measure of his father’s legacy. Regardless of public opinion, he calmly opens his doors each day; clocking in for another shift of delighting and comforting with a magic that is slightly more subtle, but ever so sincere.
Now, this description is just a feeling. It does not take into account every aspect of the resorts’ histories, or factor in the corporate motivations of The Walt Disney Company. No additional research was done for this article. I simply sat down and thought to myself, “Who did I meet?”
My answers were, by their very nature, deeply personal. They were colored by my experiences, and I can easily say that I’ve learned a few things about myself in the course of writing this. But that’s the point, isn’t it? The parks you’ve had the pleasure of getting to know will, in all likelihood, be very different from the ones I’ve spent time with.
So, if you count yourself among those who possess a love of the Disney Parks, who truly gain a sense of captivation and mystery, of comfort and reassurance from them, think about giving this a try. Forget the lists, forget the facts and figures, forget the prices and travel costs. Next time you leave the parks, after the excitement has ebbed away but before complete exhaustion takes hold, ask yourself, “Who did I meet?” Envision that person, imagine their appearance, their expressions, their mannerisms; imagine their thoughts, imagine their dreams. If you are up to the task, unashamed about raw, unadulterated sentimentality, then I promise you will gain a new appreciation for an old friend.