Copyright 2013 John T. Reed

Our son and his wife took their three-year old daughter to Disneyland for her 3rd birthday. My wife and I tagged along. Her birthday was September 2. We were there on September 5th, 6th, and 7th.

Parched Central Valley of California

We drove from San Francisco area on I-5. Much parched land and lots of signs about Congress turning it into a dust bowl. I guess they either cut back the water allocations or increased the cost of them. Don’t know the details. My instinct is that the water ought to be sold to the highest bidders. That will put the water to its highest and best use which may or not be growing vegetables and fruits in California’s Central Valley. We also saw lots of green irrigated crops growing there.

Mad dogs

It was about 100 degrees throughout our trip from the 4th to the 7th. Not a cloud in the sky in the Central Valley but some clouds visible in the LA area. Surprisingly, it also seemed somewhat humid when we were at Disneyland. Generally, we do not have humidity in California.

Had he been there, Noël Coward would no doubt have commented that only mad dogs, Englishmen, and people who have paid $175 each for a two-day pass would go out in such midday sun. And Disneyland is, after all, a park. That means you are generally walking around out in the sun. There are some air-conditioned indoor venues but that is not what parks are for.

Disneyland—chamber of horrors

Our three-year-old granddaughter informed us that Disneyland is a chamber of horrors. Who knew?

She loved the Dumbo ride (did it twice) and the Tea Cup ride, but pronounced the Pinocchio ride too scary. How so? You ride in a car that repeatedly goes into pitch dark rooms. The early rooms are full of scary characters and scenes. In the case of Pinocchio you will recall the story was about his being kidnapped by evil men to the Island of Lost Boys where you turn into a donkey. Pinocchio’s nose got real long. Also, they got swallowed by a whale.

Whatever, the experience was enough for her to refuse to go on the similar Cinderella ride. She also got scared on the train that runs around Disneyland. It also goes into a pitch dark room. But she was okay once there was light on the dinosaur diorama. Three-year olds these days love dinosaurs.

She had to be removed screaming from the 3-D movie “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” at California Adventure. In an early scene, the cartoon bug hurls objects at the audience—in 3-D—and accompanying compressed air jets pointed at each seat add to the effect. I recommend that show. It’s quite clever and entertaining—as long as you understand that 3-D and compressed air and moving seat portions are just special effects, not reality. Three-year olds don’t know from special effects.

She got through Ariel’s Adventure—even though it comes with the requisite pitch dark rooms and villains like an obese evil mermaid queen and a vicious barracuda.

So do three-year olds love Disneyland? Absolutely, as long as you keep the lights on and do not try to scare them. Until I went there with my granddaughter, I had no idea there was so much scaring in Disneyland.

Can 3-year olds understand future and past?

I wondered if three-year olds could understand the concept of the future like going to Disneyland next week or three days from today and such.

Sort of.

Courtney’s mom showed her a calendar of the month and marked the day they were going to Disneyland. Each day, when the sun “woke up,” she and Courtney would put a sticker on the current day thereby showing how the visit to Disneyland was getting closer. Except that she understood it so well that she tried to put stickers on more than one calendar day per day to make it arrive sooner.

Another time concept would be that it’s over and we’re going back home. At Disneyland, Courtney’s mom dressed her in some sort of princess gown or Minnie Mouse dress each day. After they returned to their Northern California home, they would awake day after day to find she had dressed herself in her Minnie Mouse dress on the assumption that being in Disneyland was an effect of putting on a Minnie Mouse dress. Today’s pre-school teachers would grade that understanding of time and place as “in progress.”

Disneyland is for females?

About those dresses. Disneyland these days is covered with little girls wearing princess gowns—$64.95 each in the various Disney stores there—or Minnie or Daisy or other female character costumes. I do not recall seeing a single little boy wearing Disney clothes. Reminds me of the typical shopping mall which has about 80% female stores selling clothing, perfume, make-up, jewelry, etc. Disney appears to be a female place to a large extent.

We went to a Lunch with the Princesses at Disney California Adventure. There she got to meet, hug, talk to and get her autograph book signed by Ariel, Cinderella, Jasmine, and Snow White. As far as I know, there is no opportunity to dine with the princes. On another day, we went to Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel to “Dine with the Characters.” There our table was visited by Prince Ali, fabulous he, and also Alice of Wonderland, Balou, Goofy, Chip and Dale, Rafiki (Lion King medicine man mandrill)—a more male group.

I must admit that when I was nine the Davey Crockett fad was at its peak. That was a miniseries featured on the then popular TV show Disneyland. I and zillions of other boys had our coon skin caps and flintlocks and all that. I recall no female counterpart stuff like Polly Crockett (Davey’s wife) clothes. So if they’re taking turns, girls for a while then boys for a while, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think Disney hired a bunch of MBAs and they figured out that females spend more money so they are turning Disney into a for-females studio/park operation.

1968 employees still there

I first went to Disneyland on a West Point trip in the spring of 1968, just two years after Walt died. One of the things I was impressed with was all the employees seemed to young, energetic, good-looking, aspiring movie stars. My recent visit was 45 years later.

They’re still there.

Young, energetic, good-looking, aspiring movie stars?

No. The same now formerly young, energetic, good-looking, aspiring movie stars. They are now in their 70s or 80s and still there. The movie star thing apparently did not work out.

For example, we went to the monorail station at Downtown Disney early one morning. Guests at Disney hotels are allowed in an hour early. There were a couple of Disney employees there—apparently in their 70s or 80s. We hotel guests were bewildered as to whether to left or right or where the line formed or if there was a line. When some of us asked where the line was, the guy in his 80s waved him arm vaguely to his right. We moved vaguely to the right but still did not know exactly where to go. He seemed out of it and wandered away oblivious to our confusion. Then a woman was asked where the line was. She appeared to be in her 70s and annoyed that pesky customers still kept coming to her workplace day after day. She gave a curt “Over there” and pointed. She then had to be asked if the line went to the right or left. Then she had to be asked where the front of the line was. She got more annoyed with each question. She was clearly in the KMA Club. He was clearly no aware of his surroundings.

By the time it was done, our family group, which was the second to arrive, ended up about 20 people back in the line.

Back in the day, no such people would have been allowed to work there. Not because of age—well maybe because of ge back then—but because of lousy customer service—ineptitude, gratuitous hostility, and in the case of the old guy, apparently early dementia. I got the impression that Disney was originally crawling with both uniformed and disguised-as-tourists inspectors making sure everyone was getting world-best service. If so, it is clear they have since been eliminated.

I am not saying that every employee at Disneyland is like that, only that none were back in the day and many are now.

Lower standards now

A lot of other cutbacks were evident. Never before did I see no horse-drawn trolley on Main Street. This time, there was only a fire engine riding that path, with hardly any tourists on it. One of my favorite places there going back to my original visit is the Coke pavilion on Main Street and its request-playing piano player. Last time I was there, I requested The Entertainer—the piano instrumental from the The Sting. The guy played it perfectly all the way through and said that was the first song everyone who takes piano lessons wants to learn. I had the same experience, only without the comments from the invisible piano player at the Magic Castle a few years ago when my best man was performing there. This month, the Coke pavilion Disneyland piano player played a brief section of it—badly—and disappeared.

Bottom line, Disneyland is still great, but they have lowered their standards. No more refreshments on Tom Sawyer’s Island (now the Pirates Lair). No more mountain climbers on the Matterhorn. No more gondolas going through the Matterhorn. One side of Main Street was almost all vacant stores. Michael Jackson’s Captain EO is back—begging the question of why it ever left and what has changed since it left.

Affirmative ation

I never thought Disney had a problem with blacks. He grew up in Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas before settling in California. In 1946, he made the innovative combination automated and film movie Song of the South starring a black character named Uncle Remus. Perhaps his most memorable scene was singing Zip a Dee Doo Dah. The character was black because the script was taken from an 1881 collection of African-American folktales. The crows in the Dumbo movie were black guys by color and their jive talk. The voices were those of the Hall Johnson Choir. Johnson is in the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

So how does this come up? At the daily parade in Disneyland a black princess went by. What character is that? Princess Diversia? Princess Tokeenia? Princess A’Postrophi’a? Snow Black? Turns out she is the princess from the story the Princess and the Frog.

Say what!? We had a video of that which our kids watched many times. That story comes from the Brothers Grimm (Germans in the early 1800s). In the one we had, Robin Williams played the frog prince and Shelly Duvall played the girl. She is a white actress. Her biggest role was Olive Oyl in Popeye. She was also a producer of the Faerie Tale Theatre which made our Frog Prince video.

So how did the role become a black person at Disney? Apparently, pure, pandering, affirmative action. Et tu Walt? Or Walt’s successors.

I am a writer. I have never published work for the screen or stage, but I have studied it to make myself a better writer in general. In that sort of writing, the race, if any, of the characters stems from the story. It is not a product placement or political statement. If you want to send a message, they say in Hollywood, go to Western Union. There are plenty of black characters in American history and literature—like Uncle Remus and Jim in Tom Sawyer and boxer Jack Johnson (subject of The Great White Hope).

No doubt Disney has not done enough for blacks in the opinions of the blacks and liberals. They have become a bottomless pit of “it’s not enough” in recent decades. The race hustling nit pickers have found racist fault with many Disney movie scenes, characters, etc. I predict that some day a new generaltion of nit pickers, born during affirmative action, will find new racist fault with Disney—for using black characters not to tell a story or illuminate a character, but solely to pander to the politically powerful of the day.

The problem for me is I thought Disneyland was a politics-free zone.

No longer.

‘Shared joy…’

Anyway, we loved our trip with our granddaughter and her parents. The Germans have a saying, “Geteilte Freude ist doppelte Freude.” It means “Shared joy is doubled joy” or less awkwardly in English, “Joy that is shared, is doubled.” Our granddaughter loved the non-scary portions of Disneyland. We loved watching her love them. When Snow White visited our lunch table, she would stand regally and hold her wide yellow dress out with her hand. Courtney immediately did the same with her own Disney Store gown.

She often asks, “Grandpa, watch me.” or “Grandpa, push me” (on a swing). Usually, I said yes. My new policy is I always say yes. It seems like she was just born. Now she’s three. Having had three sons, I know their childhood suddenly passes as if in a blink. Soon enough, she will stop asking for Grandpa to do anything with her. While she still asks, my answer is always yes. If you have a kid or grandchild, you should do the same. I wondered what, if anything, I would miss when my mom, who was diagnosed with lung cancer, died. The answer came quickly after her death. Her main role in my adult life was to be the mom in the famous line, “Look, ma, no hands!” Your parent and grandparents are your best audience. They are the most interested and they are sincerely interested. It may seem mundane while you are getting a seemingly never-ending barrage of “Grandpa, watch me’s.” You will find out how un-mundane it was, too late, when it stops.

More than a week later, I asked if Courtney was still having withdrawal symptoms. Yes, she sometimes cries herself to sleep because she can’t go back to Disneyland tomorrow. So I guess she really loved the visit as we hoped. While we were at Disneyland, I paraphrased the post-World-War-I song by Birch and Gooch, “How ya gonna keep Courtney down on Martinez after she’s seen Disneyland?”

Apparenty, only with great difficulty. For younger readers, the line in the song in question was “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” It referred to the fact that millions of Americans, mostly from farms, were drafted and sent to France to fight in World War I. “Paree” is the French pronunciation of Paris. Martinez is the Northern Califonia town where Courtney and her parents live.

Here is an email from a reader and a comment by me in [red]:

Mr. Reed,

Good recent articles. I also read your Disneyland one. Small world (yeah, we did that ride too). I was there on the 4th with my wife, then 9-month old daughter, and my in-laws. We drove down from the City and back via I-5 as well. It’s a freeway I know decently well since my wife is a Los Angeles native as well as other family members who live there.

We were at Disneyland (and not California Adventures) for only 1 day as we spent most of our time beforehand in the San Gabriel Valley.

It was very interesting to see how our 9-month old reacted to Disneyland. At this age she’s interested in seeing what other “little people” do. Looking out of the stroller or carrier, she seemed to watch what other kids do very intently. It’s as if she has some kind of awareness that they are closer to her stage in life than the rest of us “big people” adults. I was also worried about how she was going to react to the life-size characters of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. She giggled a lot. She seemed to like Mickey the best.

We all went on the slow rides while carrying her. She seemed to really enjoy “It’s a Small World” the most. She may not have understood what was going on but she seemed to like the colorful displays and the accompanying music. By that same token, she seemed to like the Winnie the Pooh ride. However, she did NOT like the Pinocchio ride. If the designers wanted to generate the visceral reaction of fear in children, they’ve certainly accomplished that. By 3pm, my wife and in-laws went back to the Hilton to let her nap there, leaving my cousin and I to jump on the fast rides like Space Mountain and such. It was a chance for us to relive a bit of our childhood as well.

I likely saw the same old people working at Disneyland that you saw. Is there any way to tell that they were failed entertainers? I simply thought they were retirees looking to earn some extra cash. [I have no idea if they ae failed entertainers or how long they have worked there. I sort of figured there were too many good looking people there in 1968 for them to not be aspiring on-camera talent. All I can really say about many of the 2013 employees is they look old enough to have worked there when it opened.]

I think they brought Captain EO back shortly after the death of Michael Jackson. It’s sort of how when artists die too young that they are somehow “forever young” in the minds of a lot of people. I think the only new part was the behind-the-scenes film beforehand with George Lucas, Francis Ford-Coppola, Michael Jackson and the dance troupe, and the Disney Imagineering team bringing the production to life. It was cool to see the 80’s style in the film.

I remember on NPR they talked about The Princess and the Frog. The big hubbub was that the black princess marries a white guy by the end of the movie. The black community seemed to be up in arms about it. I’m very confused as to what the big deal is with that.
Geoffrey Lin

John T. Reed