Thursday, August 14, 2014

How does Disneyland work? …Just read the signs…

By Mark Landucci

I have thought about the reasons why Disneyland appeals to families, to people of all ages from every walk of life… and to me, personally….And why it continues to do so. At first thought, it’s quite easy for people to come up with the obvious reasons: I go because I like the rides, I go because I like the food, I go because I like the fireworks, I go because I like the feelings I get when I’m there and I go because it brings back fond memories for me. Are all of these valid reasons? Yes! However, while Disneyland is an excellent vehicle for helping you to remember earlier visits with families and friends or what it was like to be a kid…Perhaps its strongest feature is helping you to forget. You see, I think it’s something more organic, more external and more subtle. And I think the real answer is right there in front of you. Continue after the page break for more...

As you enter the park, just past the gates, when you’re gathering yourself, gathering your family and taking the traditional picture in front of the floral Mickey Mouse, it’s easy to miss. But as you pass through either tunnel, you should look up and read the sign.

Tunnel Signage

Now, I think it’s quite common to focus on three words, Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy. And Disneyland does a wonderful job at making sure you do just that. Because just beyond Main Street USA, you are given the option of either entering a world of Adventure, Yesterday, Fantasy or Tomorrow….and there are even more engaging worlds beyond those.

 And it hits you fast… somewhere, as you walk down Main Street USA, you seem to forget. Maybe it’s the music or the piped in scents or the lights…or maybe a combination of all three. For Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary, Julie Andrews said it best: “Disneyland was Walt’s gift to a weary world. Once you pass through its gates, the stress and strife of our everyday reality seems to melt away…”

 But why does this work? Why do you forget? What and where are your thoughts focused?  Well, I think it’s important to consider the first four words: Here you leave today.  Pause….Read it again… Here you leave today….And it’s just that.  Today is gone. There are no indications inside the park that present is active and alive. There is no Todayland. Can you imagine what a Todayland might even look like?? You can’t get a Dole Whip in Todayland! What kinds of attractions would even be in Todayland??? The only links that you might stumble across are things like Starbucks© and Nikon©. The former was met with groans and sighs from the Disney purists. It’s important to note that corporate sponsors (and their products) have always been a part of the Disneyland culture, whether subdued or not. 

 And this is how it works. Clever, clever, clever Imagineers spent countless hours trying to come up with things to divert your attention. Forced perspectives, subtle colors, ambient music.  What you’re drawn towards and what you’re being pulled from-all by design. In fact, one of the first elements in the design process was to build a berm around the perimeter of the park. This was to keep the outside world and its distractions from entering the experience. And you just thought they needed some place to put all that extra dirt when digging the Rivers of America and the Jungle Cruise!  New Orleans Square, while charming, quaint and nostalgic, was built to not only provide a new experience for the guests, but to block out the view of the Disneyland Hotel.

A very early image of Disneyland showing the entire berm

You, as the guest, aren’t given the chance to even consider today. That isn’t on the menu.

 And for some, that’s a good thing. Not to say that the present is any worse than the past or the future. It’s just to say that the present is suspended or outright ignored. And that can be a good thing because the past is meant to evoke memories of an easier time. A time with less worries, less responsibilities. The future is filled with optimism and hope of what’s to come. Fantasy is filled with things that strike a delicate chord inside of us all.  The present, well, it’s all you can feel, touch and smell….that’s the here and now. But, in Disneyland, the here and now is Adventure, Fantasy, Yesterday and Tomorrow.

 But Disneyland serves, at different levels for different people, a means of escapism. John Hench was quoted as saying: “What we are selling is not escapism, but reassurance.” He’s right, of course. Mostly. But I honestly believe that guests, at least the adults with responsibilities and mortgages and anxieties, all find a form of escapism. If, for even five minutes, you can scream while racing through icy caverns or laugh uncontrollably while riding with your child on Autopia, then you have escaped. Even for those five minutes, you aren’t living in today. You’re living in the moment. Disneyland wins.

Another form of escapism is displayed by guests entering the park dressed as their favorite characters. I’ve seen countless adults do just this. Not my cup of tea. But that’s okay.  I just observe and give them a nod and think, okay, they’re letting their guards down a bit….and this is good, this is escapism. What they’re escaping from is irrelevant.  And Disneyland welcomes this.  And when others come to the park, dressed in character, then there’s a collective consciousness amongst them. Again, Disneyland welcomes them with open arms.

I’m sure not many people give this much thought. I know I’m a bit of an over thinker when it comes to things like this. But I challenge you to look for things within the park that pull you in a certain way. I want you to observe the things that aren’t there.  But mostly, I want you to relax and let things go. It’s quite alright to do so.

Until next time.

Mark Landucci comes to us from Northern California where he’s lived his entire life. He has a degree in Journalism from Sacramento State and continues to be a professional writer. Mark’s interest in Disneyland can be traced from the late 70’s when he made his first visit to the park. Instead of buying balloons, candy, t-shirts or hats, Mark’s only souvenir requests were the large park maps. He’d bring them home, open them up on the floor and stare at every detail. This is something he may (or may not) admit to still doing! Mark had a yearly subscription to the E-Ticket magazine and continues to look for missing magazines to fill his collection. In addition, he likes to read books about Disneyland as well as biographies of some of the men and women that built the park. Additionally, he listens to podcasts centered around Disneyland and Disneyworld. He is eager to discuss any facet regarding the design, history, future, attractions and social importance of the parks. In fact, Mark often offers a different view of the parks and what they mean. While he favors Disneyland, he’s warming up to the idea of Disneyworld. Maybe he’s humidifying up to the idea of Disneyworld J. Either way, he believes they both offer something unique.
Being the father of two daughters, he seems to live vicariously through them when they go to the parks. And daily conversations about the parks, including trivia about the parks is quite commonplace. I think they get annoyed with Mark, but don’t tell him that. Mark will write somewhat humorous articles that cover: attractions, history, design and maybe delve into the esoteric elements that Disneyland has to offer.


  1. And that is exactly what is so wrong with MyMagic+ and all that NextGen stuff at WDW. How can I escape from here and now if I constantly have to check reservations (on the very devices that surround me in the office)? There was a time when there was one and onlyone clock visible in all of Disneyland (on Main Street) - the message was clear: we want you to forget about time. But today , i constantly have to check fastpass return times and the like. They are testing a system at Soarin that would eliminate the Standby line - reservations only! But people don´t seem to care - they are happily typing away at their phones anyway, while the daytime parade is right in front of them... Posting on facebook that they are at the MK seems to be more important than actually *being there* (the clever ones have somebody in their party film the parade, so that they can watch it later on their phone...) They could not be any less "here" or live any less in the "now".
    Ironically enough, Disney made a short PR movie for the 5th anniversary of Tokyo Disney Sea, in wich the male part of a young couple almost completely ruins their vacation by planning everything in advance. Eventually, he realizes that he is missing the point of their visit to the park, and throws away all of his plans and reservation...

    1. You are absolutely rite my friend!! Thanks for the thoughtful comment.