Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Reflections on Disney

So, as the final portion of my wife's birthday celebrations (designed largely to distract her from the unfortunate age at which she's arrived), I took her--at her request, a request I'm convinced was motivated by a desperate attempt to retreat into the pleasures of youth and thereby to convince herself that she is still young and vibrant--I keep expecting to find her staring into the bathroom mirror and demanding to know who the fairest of them all might be--to Disney's California Adventure. I did not go without protest, needless to say. But I love her, so go I did.

It's the first time for me visiting this particularly ill-conceived theme park. I mean, isn't setting a California themed park in the middle of California kind of like setting up a Parisian themed restaurant in Paris? Or a Las Vegas-recreating casino in Las Vegas? Isn't Disney supposed to be taking you AWAY from your immediate environment and into a far-away world where the troubles of that environment cease? And yet here they design a park that rubs that environment in your nose, and their idealized version of it only serves to remind you of the discrepancy between this pasteurized recreation of the ugly truth and the truth itself, which awaits you the second you walk out that turnstile? A Bad Idea, all around, I'd say. Not that there weren't one or two cool things to do there, mind you--I'm enough of a fan of A BUG'S LIFE to get a kick out of their little small-children-oriented area devoted to that movie, which I rushed home to pop in the DVD player--LOVE that movie, which just goes to show that it's really hard to go wrong when you borrow your material from Kurosawa. Someday, just for laughs, I'm going to watch SEVEN SAMURAI, MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, and A BUG'S LIFE in a row. Or maybe not. But still.

Anyway, back to Disney. Now, I recognize that the Disney Experience wouldn't be complete without a soundtrack playing throughout one's stroll throughout the park. And of course the music in question for THIS park had to be California themed. And therein lay the horror, folks. Because, while there are plenty of perfectly fine, upbeat songs about California and it's localities: "California Here We Come," "Hooray for Hollywood," "If You're Goin' To San Francisco" and so forth--I don't love these songs, but they project, as a themepark soundtrack should, an optimistic view of the world being recreated.

But these were not the songs that dominated the catalog of piped-in classics. Oh, no. Instead, we got "California Dreaming," a song that expresses the bleak despair of the eastern winter--a winter of the soul, mind you--and how one dreams of what is never to be--one can never reach the "California" of the song, either as a place or as a balmy cure to the soul-sickness suffered by the singer. This is not what we want to hear as we make our way to the churro stand. (Side note--we most especially do not want to hear--and I'm not kidding about this--a calliope version of this ditty as we walk by the carousel. Sweet LORD.) Or take "California Girls" by the Beach Boys--pop gold, to be sure, but isn't the subtext of the song the fact that the local chicks are much better lays than any of the other skanks in the good old U.S. of A.? Not exactly family fun for the kiddies, is it? And Seger's "Hollywood Nights" was playing, a lovely ballad of a dumb Midwestern kid who comes to L.A., meets a girl on the beach who bangs his brains out, foolishly falls in love with her, only to have her dump him for better times elsewhere, and finds himself staring down at the lights of L.A. in a state of borderline suicidal despair. Cool! Can I get a picture of myself standing next to Mickey with a look of sickened nausea on my face?

What were these people thinking??? Didn't they realize? Didn't they listen? Or was it just a bored committee of losers rubber stamping any song vaguely relating to what they were selling? I think the latter, don't you? (Kind of falls into the same category as Carribean Cruiselines decision to use Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" as their new jingle, ignoring the fact that the song is about the vampiric nature of heroin addiction--"Here comes Johnny Yen again, with a lust for life, with a lust for life..."--um, that's Iggy talking about how the urge to shoot up is coming over him, an addictive urge that sucks away at his ability to live--that not only kills him, but condemns him to a living death in the meantime. You know, the Onion--brilliant folks that they are--did a parody news-story about a bank using this exact song in their ads--only to have life imitate satire--is there anything sadder than life imitating satire?--when Carribean picked it up and actually ran with it. Terrifying, really.)

It just goes to show that it's all been downhill since Walt died.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It reminds me a bit of Broadway musicals about how cool it is to be on Broadway. The concept strikes me as insipid, and yet somehow people like it. I suspect that a big part of what happened is that the Florida parks may have had too much of an impact. In particular, the Disney/MGM theme park is heavily themed around golden age Hollywood, as you might expect (and a lovely, if somewhat small, park, imho). They had a number of very successful attractions (Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Muppetvision 3-D particularly come to mind) that really had a Hollywood theme. Disney likes to save on what must be pretty massive engineering and architectural costs by reusing attractions in multiple parks. I don't just mean general concepts, such as the castle in the middle, but proprietary ride systems, like the Star Tours platform, which is duplicated in Florida, or the jolting cars of Indiana Jones (rethemed rather less successfully in Fla. as a time-travel/dinosaur rescue ride--but they needed SOMETHING to go in DinoLand USA). Anyway, the success of many of the Hollywood themed big-ticket attractions in Florida, together with the to-me-inexplicable continuing appeal of Universal Studios, must have convinced the Disney people that there had to be a way to use this stuff. Another Florida connection is in the hotel. In Florida, of course, Disney has a staggering number of hotel buildings, clustered into "resorts," each of which is themed a particular way. The fanciest and priciest of the bunch is a Victorianish thing called the Grand Floridian, which looks a lot like the Del Coronado in San Diego, except with blue instead of red roofing. If a hotel in Florida themed for Florida's golden age works, must have gone the thought process, why not a hotel in California themed for some of the most iconic of California's now-classic bungalow/craftsman architecture. There, again, we've got a Classic California theme going. I think from there it's an increasingly small step to developing the theme into a theme park. Wanna bet someone told them that Disney guests had polled a desire for some more traditional thrill rides (California Screaming . . . Maliboomer)? My guess is that those elements combined with an economic model suggesting that they needed to expand their scale to make more money to suggest that a California theme was not at all a bad idea. I'm not defending their music choices, mind you. But I think that Disney has always succeeded at presenting a sanitized and idealized view of the world around. Remember that Main Street was Walt's favorite part of the park. Personally, I don't think the new park is such a bad idea for adults at all. The biggest problem I see with it is a lack of stuff for kids to do and love. How interesting can a winery or a tortilla factory be for a 6-year-old, after all. But for adults . . . I don't know -- I think the new park is fun.

Steve G.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous Steve. The new park is flawed, but still can be a lot of fun.

California Screaming is by far the best thrill attraction at any of the Disney parks around the world and the Maliboomer is good for many "cheap" thrills. In fact, the Boardwalk area as a whole is very well designed and to me is the centerpiece of the park.

I haven't been to the park since we went for the preview days, but at that time the Hollywood section was a complete waste. Maybe now with Tower of Terror to anchor it, it'll flesh out a bit.

Don't forget that the Disneyland that we loved as kids and young adults had already gone through many iterations and fine tuning by the seventies and eighties. The first time I went to Disneyland, Space Mountain was still under construction. Think about it. The Rocket Jets was probably the second best thrill ride behind the Matterhorn at that time. In our lifetime up to now, Disneyland has added Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones, Fantasmic, Star Tours, Captain Eo (shudder) and now Buzz Lightyear's Rocket Jets. Give the new park a chance. It'll get better over the years.

- Anonymous Vince

3:50 PM  

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