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60 Years Ago this Week Disneyland Opened

What is the Disney "Magic"?

July 23, 2018

People think Disneyland is the oldest amusement park in the world. Actually, that honor goes to Bakken, located North of Copenhagen, Denmark, which opened in 1583. Well, maybe it’s the oldest in America? No, that’s Lake Compounce, in Bristol, Connecticut, which opened its doors in 1846. Then it must be at least the oldest in California. Nope, that would be Knott’s Berry Farm, in Buena Park, California, which began operations in 1920.

If the question is, “What is the largest amusement park in the world?” the answer is Disney, hands down. In fact of the five largest amusement parks worldwide, the Disney brand is on four of them. Those would be Disney World in Orlando, Disneyland in California, Disney Paris, and Tokyo Disney. Number five is Universal in Japan.

But the key question is, “What is the most influential amusement park in the world?” Amusement parks are nothing new. People have been grouping rides, attractions, shows and food in parks with varying degrees of success, for over 400 years. So why is Disney so – well, magical? Why has it captured the imagination of generations?

It all goes back to Walt Disney. He was an artist and illustrator who became the first cartoonist to integrate sound with his animated cartoons. He was also a visionary. He took his “Steamboat Willy” cartoon, which featured the first version of Mickey Mouse, and parlayed it into a worldwide empire that has changed the way billions of people think about vacations.

Vacations used to mean going to the shore (lake or ocean), visiting family, or sight-seeing someplace nearby. Today if you ask children the world over where they would like to go for vacation, most cry “Disney!” And millions of adults who don’t even have children go to one of the four Disney destinations for vacations, anniversaries, and – yes – even for their honeymoons.

Part of the appeal is that everything is in one place. Fun, rides, shows, food and lodging. There’s everything from fast food to fancy sit-down restaurants. And there are hotels for every pocketbook.

But what really pushed Disney to the top was the magic that Walt Disney created. It’s hard to describe or quantify. Some of it is practical. Disney insisted that every effort be made to keep his parks safe and scrupulously clean. And visitors appreciate that.

However, if you ask people what keeps them coming back, a few things always come up. The kids are absolutely enchanted. I have “borrowed” kids to take to Disney just to see the joy on their faces. But it’s not just for kids. Disney makes it fun for the whole family. Even jaded teens who find everything in life “boring” break down and have fun at Disney.

I’m trying hard, but I can’t find the words to describe the essence of the Disney experience. If someone forced me to put it in one word, it would be “whimsy.” Life is suspended while you’re there. You can forget about your problems and stress and just be young for a day. It’s fantasy, but sometimes fantasy is just what we need.

I don’t wear rose-colored glasses. I realize that some bad people have gotten their claws into the Disney operation since Walt died. I have been critical of Disney’s sponsorship of “Gay Days” (even though they claim they don’t promote it). I was saddened when they changed their “no alcohol” policy.

And I have seen the shift in their movies from family fun to darker offerings and those that support the leftist liberal agenda – particularly special rights for homosexuals. I even supported the Southern Baptist boycott of Disney that began in 1997 and ended in 2005. It was ended because the Convention saw signs of improvement in the areas they were protesting.

If Walt Disney was alive today, I believe these things would not be. Disney was a good, kind man who was loved by everyone fortunate enough to be close to him. More important, he was a Christian. He said, “Whatever success I have had in bringing clean, informative entertainment to people of all ages, I attribute in great part to my Congregational upbringing and my lifelong habit of prayer.”

Concerning his movies, Walt said, “Deeds rather than words express my concept of the part religion should play in everyday life. I have watched constantly that in our movie work the highest moral and spiritual standards are upheld, whether it deals with fable or with stories of living action. This religious concern for the form and content of our films goes back 40 years.”

Today Disney – like all of us – has both good points and flaws. When I visit I concentrate on all the good that has survived. Walt Disney was such a strong force for good and decency that even the huge pressure exerted by an increasingly secular world has not been successful in crushing his vision.

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Dr. Tom Barrett is a pastor, teacher, author, conference keynote speaker, professor, certified executive coach, and marketplace minister. His teaching and coaching have blessed both church and business leaders. He has been ordained for over 40 years, and has pastored in seven churches over that time. Today he “pastors pastors” as he oversees ordained and licensed ministers in Florida for his ministerial fellowship.

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