Friday, November 21, 2014

Disneyland's Future Image Problem

By Mark Landucci

…..This is what I remember. On a visit to Disneyland a couple of years ago, I was hunched over in Town Square on Main Street USA, trying to adjust my backpack. I was listening to the music, smelling popcorn, hearing laughter and just becoming immersed in the setting. With my backpack on, I stood up and faced north, looking directly at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. I took a deep breath and then I heard something. I heard someone crying, who was this? I turned to my right and saw a man, about 30 years my senior, crying. He wasn’t hurt, these were tears of joy. He was also looking at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. He said, “There it is…there it is…after all these years of seeing this on television, I never thought I’d be able to see this….” And with that, he took numerous pictures and then took off. He wasn’t talking to me in particular, he was just making a statement to himself. I just shrugged this off and went about my day. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I revisited this scene in my head and then my thoughts started to come together about this man’s statement and how at some point Disneyland will have a big emotional problem. Read more to learn about this theory, shall you?

Disneyland does not have it now, but at some point, they will. What is it? An image problem. What’s that?? Really?? Yes…you see, there are very few things in this world that are as iconic and meaningful as the image of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. I know, every Disney park has one, right? No big deal. Well, for some people, it is a big deal. Let’s remember something, there’s still a generation or two of people who were alive before the park(s) opened. To them, this image means something.

Classic View of Sleeping Beauty's Castle from Main Street

Now, in the world of Disney, there are a few iconic images within the realm of Disneyland that spark up emotions for the guests. However, nothing resonates as strong as Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. For decades (and generations) this image has been the focal point for families to meet and be photographed. Its been used for park books and brochures, it’s the central point of the nightly fireworks show, its been the gateway into a land of fantasy and its also been something else….

Sleeping Beauty's Castle During the Holidays

If you were born after 1955, then you don’t know of a world without Disneyland. However, if you were born prior to 1955, then you can recall a world in which Disneyland was not a part of your mental landscape. Let’s take this a notch further…what if you were born in the late 1940’s and were growing up in a time where you were enticed by the lure of this ‘Magic Kingdom’?  You waited every Wednesday evening for a progress report on this far off land, just to get a glimpse what was going on there. I can imagine that if you were on the west coast at the time, then the possibility of going to Anaheim would be realistic. However, if you were growing up in the mid-west or east coast, then seeing these images of a castle being constructed, rivers being trenched, railroad tracks being laid out must have been overwhelming.  Getting back to those Wednesday evenings, The Wonderful World of Disney. Now, quickly, most people will say that this show was on Sunday evenings, they would be correct if they were talking about the show from 1960 and onward. However, from 1955-1958, it aired on Wednesday evenings. Then it moved to Friday evenings in the fall of 1958 to the fall of 1960. Eventually, it settled on Sunday evenings after that. However, one thing was consistent, and that was the imagery used to promote the park. In the following image, what is the focus of this picture?


What child or young adult wouldn’t want to enter the gates of this castle? So what exactly does this (or did this) image represent to an adolescent in the 50’s and 60’s?

To them it may have represented a sense of hope that maybe someday they could visit and explore this realm of fantasy. To others, it may have sparked a sense of curiosity and wonder. To others yet, it may have reinforced the dream that the characters in their childhood fairytales were real…and that maybe they (the characters) lived in this castle.

Again, this is a hard concept for most of us to grasp. But the power of television in the late 50’s was something of an uncharted territory. Suddenly people from all across America could tune in and watch the park being built. Walt would give weekly updates on his show, eventually cumulating into Dateline Disneyland, which was a live broadcast of the official opening of the park. I think, as humans, we’re inherently nurturing. We like to see things from concept to completion and we like to care for things. And for that generation that witnessed this first hand, Disneyland became a part of them. At least, it tapped into something that struck a chord with them. And nothing really at the time represented Disneyland as much as Sleeping Beauty’s Castle did. The image of the castle has been used as a logo for Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Television, Disney Music Group and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Iconic Logos

There are guests today that still remember this. That still hold this image close to their hearts. This was witnessed by me when that gentlemen had tears in his eyes.  Contrastingly, I think guests that are from the post-Disneyland era, who enter the park, may sometimes take things for granted. Maybe that’s not fair for me to say. At the least, we don’t (and can’t) look at Disneyland through their eyes. Mainly because I (or we) don’t know of a world that didn’t have Disneyland in it. But for those that can remember a world before Disneyland, then certainly they don’t take things for granted. I do sense that they appreciate the symbolism and the meaning behind such iconic things like Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. For me, to be honest, I don’t have that connection with Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. It’s just something that hasn’t resonated with me. However, I do understand the significance and importance it played in helping to shape a culture.

First Generation Disneylanders

My gist of this is that I know we aren’t close to that point yet, but at some point we will be there. The point being that the magic link between the first generation of Disneylanders and this iconic image is broken. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there will ever be an issue with Disneyland drawing crowds of people each year. The issue will be if the people in those crowds understand and appreciate the significance.

In closing, Disneyland is full of magic; however, its greatest trick will be for them to grow with each generation. For some, it’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. For some it’s the Matterhorn or It’s a Small World. However, that unique connection between Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and the first generation of Disneylanders will be hard to replicate. 

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 comment:

  1. I know how that man felt - I did the same thing whenwhen I visited Disneyland in 1990. I grew up with the Sunday night Wonderful World of Color and then the World of Disney. It is the Iconic memory of childhood. I still get choked up walking down Main Street in both parks. The image of the castles represents imagination, hard work and determination - all of which I took into adulthood - thank you Walt Disney!