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Monday, April 21, 2008

Walt Disney - What He Stood For

I mentioned before that I was reading a biography about Walt Disney called The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life by Steven Watts, and I must say I truly enjoyed getting to know Disney more as a person. I came to appreciate him as a creator, particularly with how he faced the question of whether or not his work was "art".

Near the end of his life Walt Disney was more and more the target of critics and cynics. Most of the time Walt would simply saw something along the lines of, "yes I know I make corn, and I will continue to do so". But on one occasion a critic managed to get under his skin, and this is how he responded:

He said that his films "go straight out for the honest adult, not the sophisticate, not these characters who think they know everything and you can't thrill them anymore. I go to people who retain that, no matter how old they are, that little spirit of adventure, that appreciation of the world of fantasy. I go for them, I play to them...These sort of lost souls, sophisticates, who are so bored and turn their nose up at everything, they say it's childish. Well, what the he$#'s wrong with something being childish, you know? You can't have everything profound...It's the equivalent of getting so stuffy you can't laugh."

I wonder if that's not what is wrong with Hollywood today - they're not aiming for the "honest adult" with "that little spirit of adventure" anymore. They target all that is base and vulgar in us to draw us to the box office.

Disneyland itself also came under attack for being "fake" or even "distasteful". Disney's top "imagineer" John Hench explained life as being a series of experiences, and that a place like Disneyland is a place to have a few more. His quote is as follows:

"The only thing we really keep in this world are experiences. We have to give up everything else. We can't keep our favorite shirt or car. Everything we have finally wears out or we have to throw away, or it loses its usefulness or its zest. But our experiences we keep. They're not only what we are, but they're added to that great big bundle we carry around with us - the experience of our ancestors...Walt was trying to...really give people a kind of package experience that they wouldn't be capable of having on their own."

One of the greatest compliments ever paid to Disney was shortly after his death by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He said:

"To many tens of millions, Walt Disney brought good cheer and happy hours with entertainment that lightened their hearts and refreshed their minds. To Americans of all ages and all walks of life, he was unique. Children loved his characters and his portrayal of them. Parents honored him and were obligated to him for his far-reaching aid in the sensible upbringing of families. Grandparents saluted him as a genius with films that were messages of fun and education and character building...His work will endure so long as men and women and children retain a sense of wonder, a need for bright laughter, a love of the clean and decent. Consequently, Walt Disney's name and his creations will endure through generations. In honoring him, we salute an American who belongs to all the world."

Being one who believes that the success of any nation rises and falls based on the strength of its families, I salute Walt Disney for his efforts in helping families be happy and effective, and seek a little adventure and fun together. I hope we can restore some of what may have been lost when we lost Disney.

Walt Disney - What He Stood For

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