Walt Disney World

Preservationists, what do you think of Walt Disney World (or Land, if that’s your part of country)? I know preservationists who absolutely love Disney and I know some who cannot stand it. So it’s probably irrelevant to the profession, however, too often the “Mickey Mouse-ing” of history is used as a negative connotation; i.e.: meaning something is too perfect or too fake or too clean or just not an accurate depiction of history.

But, I wonder what it is about Disney World/Land that people do not like? I was just there with my in-laws and yes, it’s hot in July (of course it’s currently hot everywhere, including Vermont) and Disney World is it own place – its own world, if you will. However, if you consider the history of Walt Disney, the man, and Walt Disney, the theme parks, it has the purest of intentions to be a joyful place for parents and children and all ages alike. The biography of Walt Disney is inspiring and a true American story. As an adult, it is interesting to understand the context of the Disney’s history and how the man and the theme parks correlate. Upholding Disney’s legacy seems to be an important mission of the Walt Disney company. In Disney’s Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios) you can visit a gallery/museum of Walt’s life and watch a short film about him. I’d bet that a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco would be fascinating. Certainly, the life of Walt Disney affected the entire world.

Why mention Disney on Preservation in Pink (other than for the tens of photos I took of Mr. Stilts, the little flamingo, throughout the parks)?  Mostly, I don’t think it’s fair to call something that we find too perfect to be “Mickey Mouse history.” Do people go to Disney expecting to learn about history? Disney World does not represent everything about American culture or American history. It is perfect in Disney because it is an escape from reality. It is living in a world of imagination for a day or a week or however long you visit. It’s like walking into a land of nostalgia. And as we all know, nostalgia is always pretty and always perfect and just the type of place we’d like to stay for a while. The depth of detail throughout the entire park and on all of the rides and attractions is astounding. To me, that is what is so great about Disney. The “imagineers” think of everything and everywhere you look, everything is done for a reason. (Of course marketing plays a large role and Disney is good at it.)

Mr. Stilts overlooking the boardwalk at Disney World with EPCOT in the background. Many more pictures to follow!

My point? Let’s take “Mickey Mouse” out of the conversation when talking about historical accuracy. After all, the buildings in the Magic Kingdom of Disney World are constructed on forced perspective, where the upper stories are all smaller than the story below it. The buildings are creating a nostalgic illusion. Mickey Mouse and Disney World are completely different from a history museum or a reconstruction. The former aims for a land of pretend and imagination whereas the latter aims for telling an accurate story. Do you see what I mean? What do you think?

More pictures of Mr. Stilts in Disney will be on the blog next week. Stay tuned!

 

4 thoughts on “Walt Disney World

  1. Sabra Smith says:

    Disneyland just turned 56 years old — I was thinking it’s time for some official preservation world recognition. The place is iconic, pure Americana that has influenced the world, and I put it (along with the original McDonalds) on my list of top 10 historic sites in the world.

  2. Erica says:

    I think there is a lot to be learned about history at Disney World, especially at Epcot. The very idea of that particular park is telling about America in the 1970s and 1980s and our ideas about the future. I think the World Showcase would never be built today as it was back then but now stands as a testament to the stereotypical way we viewed the world in the 1980s. Future World is similarly dated but has been changed a lot over the past decade and so we’ve lost a lot of the quaint attractions like Horizons and the Living Seas in favor of the comparatively unimaginative Test Track and Seas with Nemo & Friends. Of course I’m talking about Disney World has if its history should also be preserved but I don’t see how that will ever be possible. Nonetheless, Epcot is one of my favorite topics when discussing recent history and thankfully it is being preserved in people’s memories, if nothing else. Glad I’m not the only one that thinks of Disney World from a preservation perspective.

    (From an architectural perspective, I also worry about what will become of the Wonders of Life pavilion because I think it is fantastic.)

    • Kaitlin says:

      Erica, I echo your statement that I’m glad I’m not the only who thinks of Disney World from a preservation perspective. And I agree: there is definitely a lot of history to be learned from Disney. However, I find that the some of the stories that are created for the ride queues can give misleading information about history. The real lessons come from observing the changes in Disney World itself — as you mention.

      One of my favorite attractions is the Carousel of Progress, which has been updated over the years, but is just such a neat time capsule. Many rides can serve as indicative f certain periods, indeed.

      Still, Walt Disney envisioned Disney World to never be completed and always changing. It’s something to ponder. We could have long conversations about this!

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