Art, entertainment, and greed: my visit to Walt Disney World

Minnie and I


Art and greed

As you wander down Mainstreet USA in the Magic Kingdom Park of Walt Disney World, you might stop and take a peek in the Mainstreet Theatre. Here, Steamboat Willie shows how it all began depicting the first appearance of Mickey Mouse. At this point people usually stop for a bit, perhaps to rest from the hot Florida summer, laugh at Mickey's antics as he uses various animals as musical instruments (long before Beavis and Butthead were throwing cats in drying machines), and walk away amused and entertained.

That was Walt Disney's primary goal. Today, people might consider the first cartoon featuring Mickey as art, along with a host of other creative works produced by people who work at Disney. Notable among them are Carl Barks and Don Rosa, whose works sell in the thousands. However, Walt Disney himself never thought that what he, and his employees, did was art: "I don't pretend to know anything about art. I make pictures for entertainment, and then the professors tell me what they mean."

Walt Disney really had a deep philosophical goal with his entertainment values. He believed entertainment wasn't a luxury, but a necessity for a productive life. Unfortunately, that view has diminished in society due to various problems, and this trend is reflected in Walt Disney World as well. Disney's main goal appeared to be entertaining people, and he clearly managed to take pleasure in it. What he didn't seem to realise was that creating entertainment, especially the form that pleases almost everyone in an unanimous fashion, can be an art form in and of itself. Disney's creations have had an universal appeal, partly due to the self-effacing view which didn't lead to aloof works of art, and partly due to his lack of motivation for money (which I'll expand on later). From any objective perspective, to consider everything in the Disney Corporation as pure entertainment would be a folly. Still today, even though I think the Disney Corporation is motivated primarily by financial concerts, the people who create do so for their love of their creations.

With regards to entertainment, I have no complaints, and I'm all praise. During my 6 days at Disney World, I was thoroughly and completely taken care of. Except for the odd infraction here and there, thoughts such as the ones here never arose in my mind.

The Disney Corporation is extremely fortunate that they have such creative and motivated people working for them, given their lame intellectual property policies. For a corporation that prides itself on entertaining the world, and for an entity that has produced such a wealth of intellectual property, its owners, the people in charge, appear to often take actions that are destructive, especially to creative young talents. Few are unaware of the fact that Disney pursues every perceived infringement of its property in such a vigourous manner that even the legitimate uses of such property are easily stifled. This is all done not in the name of preserving copyrights or trademarks, even though that's what it might appear like on the surface, but in the name of money. Consider that Disney is more likely to challenge someone like me, who has put up pictures purely for personal display (accusing me of causing "likelihood of confusion"), and who speaks negatively about them ("dilution"), than someone like Time-Warner (whose movie A Time to Kill features a Ku Klux Klan character sporting a scowling image of Mickey Mouse), mainly because I am less able to defend myself in the present legal system.

Walt Disney believed firmly in the spreading and sharing of ideas. He was known to have said "I use the whole plant for ideas. If the janitor has a good idea, I'd use it." Today, Disney is overly protective of its intellectual property, so much so that it stifles creativity and innovation everywhere else.

If that doesn't convince you that the Disney Corporation is motivated by money, I simply invite you take a trip to Walt Disney World. In some senses, I really have no reason to complain: the package deal I had was great and well worth every cent (and I am a pure capitalist). To Disney Corporations's credit, no expense is spared in entertaining us, and admission to the park is fairly inexpensive. Yet if the current CEO followed Walt Disney's policies, he would be making a lot less per hour, translating to cheaper prices for the meals and other small items within the park, which are exorbitant. Forget the prices of the meals---I can easily afford that---I simply think it's wrong to reward someone who I consider has little to do with the creative process.

Walt Disney once said: "I have little respect for money as such; I regard it merely as a medium for financing new ideas. I neither wish nor intend to amass a personal fortune." And he lived his life this way. As soon as he had accumulated money, he risked it all, and more, into a new investment. In fact, this is what led to the building of Disneyland in the first place. Somehow that risk-taking appears to be absent in current Disney---look at the way they're recycling all the old cartoon classics with real life versions. What for, I ask. Are they really doing something new and innovative, or are they capitalising on their monopoly on the cartoons?

Mickey Mouse, to Walt Disney, was "a symbol of independence." Today, as pointed out in a self-effacing manner in the Mainstreet Theatre show, Mickey Mouse is a corporate symbol, really a symbol of greed. Learning the history of Walt Disney World and Disneyland, and Walt Disney himself, one can't help but feel a certain amount of sadness at the change in state of affairs, but I guess that's the way the cookie crumbles. The silver lining is the fact that none of this will be obvious or even apparent as you walk down Mainstreet USA.

I will end this with a couple of quotes from Walt Disney,and leave you to evaluate his words with the current situations for yourselves: "Disneyland is a work of love. We didn't go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money." and "[Y]ou don't work for a dollar---you work to create and have fun."


Entertainment

EPCOT

Visiting Disney World was a childhood dream of mine, and I was able to realise it last year. I plan to keep going back, even given the overt commercialism. It is not a place I could live in, but it definitely has magic.

I went with Maureen (who was reluctant to have her pictures taken, let alone putting it up on this page) and it was great except for the fact that she wouldn't go on the "scary" rides with me. I must say that going down Summit Plummet, which is a 60-mile-an-hour, exhilarating free (45 degree) fall down a 120-foot-high water chute, was a definite existential experience!

One of the best parts was that I was able to interact with most of the Disney characters, even though their appearance and mannerisms varied from the Disney comic books I read. A few select pictures are included here, but my recommendation if you're taking a kid is to make sure they get some time with the characters. I can't think of anything cooler.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame and I Captain Hook and I Snow White and I Donald and I Ratcliffe and I Meeko and I Chip and I Jafar and I Pluto and I Mickey and I Minnie and I Zeke Wolf and I Mary Poppins and I Some
character trying to seal my bracelet Goofy and
Goofier Pocahontas and I

Besides characters and rides and stunt shows (my favourite was the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular in MGM studios), there were a ton of visual and aural illusions throughout. A token picture of one such illusion is included here, but others included posing with cutout characters in action scenes (saving Ace Ventura from being eaten by a crocodile) and interacting with Jay Leno on a TV screen.

To this day, I enjoy Disney comic books and I spend too much on them, but it's worth it. These comic books are among the greatest pieces of art ever created, in my view. People like Carl Barks, Don Rosa, Floyd Gottfredson, and William Van Horn in my opinion are some of the best creators to ever work on Disney-owned "intellectual property". Being such a fan of the characters, and being enthralled by the magic in the books, I found the magic in the Disney Kingdom a bit of an anti-climax. I guess it's true that there's no substitute for your imagination. However, it is reassuring to know, especially after being burnt by the Florida sun, that I can always come back to the comic books and let my mind soar.


You can also read my view on my trip to Disneyland.


Pseudo-intellectual ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org || August 17-23, 1996