I made a mistake tonight, and it has resulted in me sitting here in front of my laptop finding rogue tears on my keyboard I neglected to wipe up before as I type away at this blog post. Tonight, I got a little homesick from abroad and caught a recorded version of the “Disneyland Forever” fireworks on YouTube, but not just a recording from any night: this recording was from the premiere performance, kicking off Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary Celebration on May 22nd, 2015, the premiere that myself, a best friend, and our families waited nine hours for and got to experience together. I cried for several reasons: 1) The show makes me weep like an infant even on a good day. Once “I See the Light,” from Tangled begins, I’m a goner, but mostly it’s because 2) I’m over 6,000 miles (or, for my new metric system-using friends, nearly 10,000 kilometers) away from a place that I’m insanely lucky enough to call a home; Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth. I miss it along with all the things and people I love back home, as is natural when one makes a significant life change. But memories of Disneyland seem to encompass all of these wonderful things into 85 acres of expertly constructed land because of what emotions it stirs up in me.
My Disney obsession began at age three thanks in no small part to my parents, who initially were more obsessed than I ever had the capacity to be as a toddler. But soon, Disney fever took hold in full force. Of course, the films, both animated and live-action, were a factor in my adoration for the company, but above all else, it was the parks that captured my imagination because they encapsulated all things Disney in a single setting that could be felt, experienced, and lived.
While Walt Disney World was the first park I ever visited, something about Disneyland, its older Californian cousin, felt special to me in a way I couldn’t quite describe. The fact that it was so much smaller than the Florida park started to feel less constraining and more quaint and homey. What I ultimately discovered was the biggest reason for my love of Disneyland was Walt himself. While Mr. Disney had passed away long before I was born, one can still very much feel his personal touch in the park. Though wishing to spread his parks across the world, a dream which was ultimately completed by his company in the decades following his death, Disneyland was the only park he ever got to see opened to the public. He walked Main Street, strolled through the castle, rode the carousel. Whenever I pass the lamp that remains illuminated in his memory in the Main Street firehouse window, I almost can feel Walt inside, looking down and watching all park patrons with a wide grin.
Now, I know that the Disney Company itself is full of controversy and has been practically since its inception, especially with the recent announcement of the increase in park ticket prices which only seem to grow and grow every year. There are many opposing viewpoints about these and many other aspects of the company, some of which I defend and some of which I oppose, but that is a topic for another time. Today, I simply wish to tell you why this place means so much to me.
I want you to see Disneyland through my eyes; the eyes of a child who dreamed of staying in the happiest, most magical place on Earth, who turned into the woman whose dream came true:
You enter the esplanade and are immediately surrounded by joyful music and thousands of names of Disney fans engraved on bricks beneath your feet. You enter the gates with a cheery chime when your ticket permits your entrance, then pass beneath the train tracks into a promised world of “Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy.” The music shifts, signaling that you’re now on Main Street USA, straight out of the turn of the century. Is that a churro you smell? No…popcorn. No! Better still…that delicious corn dog stand on the corner. Mickey just passed you. Inside, you know it’s just someone in a suit, but a part of you feels that childlike glee at seeing an icon from your youth pass right by you. You’ve hit the castle, and now you have options: Do you want to go race over to Tomorrowland, where excitement runs high around every corner? How about Adventureland? The Tiki Room is always a surefire way to get cooled off…with the added benefit of those decadent Dole Whips. Plus you can catch a whiff of that musky, sweet chlorine scent of Pirates of the Caribbean. In the distance, you can hear the whistle of the steamboat, the horn of the train, and distant screams off of Splash Mountain’s 50 foot descent. Perhaps Fantasyland, where the most attractions are located, all crammed together, being equal parts intimidating and great fun. The sun’s going down soon, and it won’t be long before the parade and fireworks show begins. No matter what, the joy of hearing those chords from “When You Wish Upon a Star” that somehow seems to work itself into every performance inevitably sends chills up your arms. Before you know it, Bill Roger’s voice rings out throughout the park: “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Disneyland has just ended its normal operating hours.” It’s been a full day from start to finish, and your feet hurt so badly you’re fairly certain you won’t be able to stand tomorrow. Your eyelids droop, but still a sleepy smile illuminates your face in the dark. You make your final purchases for the night as you leave, although you’ve already spent far too much on all the wonderful food and merchandise in the park, and you head home, wherever “home” may be for the night.
…and it may not have been a perfect day. A screaming child may have annoyed you. A ride may have broken down. It may have been too hot, or too busy. A line may have taken far longer than you anticipated…but you won’t remember that in the end. You’ll remember the smiles, the wild laughter, the feeling of childhood nostalgia that filled you up inside. You’ll remember the happy tears, and maybe shed a few sad ones at the notion of leaving this beautiful place.
So tonight, when I watched memories from the night I stayed up for 24 hours in “The Happiest Place on Earth,” of course I cried. I miss my home. I miss the place that I have learned to love even when I didn’t have anyone to go with, the place where sometimes I will take homework, the place where my best friend works, and where I too someday may proudly wear a badge. I miss the place that made my childhood (and continues to make my adulthood) a magical place. Despite all the controversy, Disney taught me to find a prince inside a Beast, to wish upon a star, to believe you can fly, to fight for what you believe in, to endure, and above all else, to dream.
I will live in Disneyland. Magic Kingdom, Disneyland.
Where the child inside, gets to laugh and gets to ride until it’s all okay.
I believe in Disneyland. Come with me to Disneyland.
And when we get to Disneyland…let’s stay.
-Kerry Butler’s version of the song, “Disneyland,” written by lyricist Howard Ashman, for his musical Smile