Holding the Hand of Disney

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Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom contains Cinderella’s castle, an iconic landmark at the heart of the Disney World and Disneyland theme parks. In a circle-gated garden stands the bronze statue Partners. Created by Blaine Gibson in 1993, it displays Walt Disney holding the hand of Mickey Mouse (Korkis). Those who have never been to Disney theme parks or are not frequent visitors may overlook this statue, but it is especially memorable to me. Figure 1 is a personal photograph taken of my brother and me in front of the statue, mimicking Walt and Mickey’s handholding position in a humorous manner. A second image, an appropriation of the statue, appeared on a news website with the tag line “Disney trims 1,900 jobs at U.S. parks,” negatively portraying the Disney theme park establishment (Figure 2). These two contrasting images manipulate the child-like aspect of Disney in very different ways. However, American families who flock to Disney theme parks continue to believe Disney upholds the family values of love, support and togetherness.

Disney’s original mission when he created the Disney theme parks was to create a family atmosphere of fun. Under the Partners sculpture is a plaque that reads, “I think most of all what I want Disneyland [Disney World] to be is a happy place… Where parents and children can have fun, together” (Figure 3). The plaque, signed by Mr. Walt Disney, describes his mission for Disney and how he wanted his theme parks and enterprise to be forever viewed. The personal photograph of a brother and sister in front of the statue directly emulates his message decades later because it portrays humor and lightheartedness in the presence of family.

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Being a frequent visitor of Disney World, I have always associated Disney with a wholesome experience filled with innocent frivolity. Compositionally, the personal photograph itself expresses the same intentions. My thirty-two-year-old brother, Justin, and I were placed on the left side of the photograph, allowing the entirety of the statue to be seen next to us. Our stature is as precise as can be as my brother stands on a platform to try and replicate the size and demeanor of the original statue. Besides my having mouse ears, my height and hand placement perfectly imitate Mickey’s stance. The presence of families walking around behind the statue adds to the joy of the two smiling siblings at the forefront of the image and once again accomplishes Disney’s primary goal of family togetherness.

Bad press in the media often tries to critique Disney and skew a viewer’s preconceptions or original opinions. The intended purpose of the appropriation of the Walt Disney statue on the online news website is to provide public disdain towards Disney, portraying the corporation in a negative light. The technological aspect of this image involves the Internet, which instantly welcomes a large audience. Many people can see the article, not only because it can be publicly accessed, but also because the URL link to this article that was published in 2009 still exists.

The compositionality of the image also plays a large factor in how it is viewed and largely persuades a viewer’s opinion based on the negative connotations associated with the article. Walt Disney dominates the focal point of the photograph, seemingly towering over the viewer with his right arm reaching up towards the sky and pointing. The angle of the shot pointed upwards makes Walt Disney look tyrannical, ruling over the land and people beneath his feet. The viewer cannot see the beautiful green grass or flowers surrounding the bottom of the statue’s platform and there are no tourists or families present in the picture as seen in the personal photograph. All that is in view is the top half of the statue with Cinderella’s castle looming in the background. The image has been chosen to fit the article title, “Disney trims 1,900 jobs at U.S. parks,” because there are no “child-like” qualities present besides Cinderella’s castle, which seems out of reach. Since the article’s goal is to slander the Disney establishment, the family element has intentionally been removed because family togetherness is Disney’s main selling point.

With the addition of layoffs, Disney has often been ridiculed for their high prices. A popular tourist magazine article titled, “Dishing out Dough in the name of Disney Fun,” directly scorns Disney for their steep fees. For example, the article mentions the new “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique,” which for $175 provides a child with the ultimate princess makeover from head to toe. Regarded as “the most popular amusement park in the world, Disney World is a money machine. Every year, it relentlessly raises ticket prices. Single-day tickets have gone up 72 percent for children in the past four years” (Craeger).

Despite Disney’s layoffs and high ticket and in-park item prices, middle-class Americans are still visiting and spending their money because of their enthrallment with the Disney establishment. In 2006, “park attendance rose by 5 percent over the previous year,” and numbers prove that this pattern has continued over the years (Craeger). At the Disneyland opening in 1955, Walt Disney said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Few took what Walt said literally, but he did, which is why “Disneyland [Disney World] remains unique; he is forever enlarging it” (Smoodin, 61). People don’t deter from visiting Disney theme parks because of few negative media portrayals; with a constantly growing enterprise, the image Walt created for Disney has remained stagnant for over forty years.

Disney theme park advertisements successfully adhere to Walt Disney’s mission of family connectedness 48 years after his death. Blanch fig4An image that appears on one of Disney’s blog websites advertises the Magic Kingdom and Partners sculpture (Figure 4). This image, titled “Disney after Dark,” displays a night at Disney World after the park has been closed for the day. It is quite a magical spectacle with the Partner’s Statue in the foreground and Cinderella’s castle illuminated in a bright purple hue in the background. The photograph was captured at the perfect instance with bright fireworks shooting off directly behind the castle in precise unison. This blog image imitates Disney’s most famous advertisement campaign, which depicts the castle in an array of clouds with bright fireworks in the sky and the tag line, “Where dreams are made of.” These particular advertisements pose an unrealistic image, while the blog image creates a magical aura of reality since it is a photograph.

Although Disney’s primary target is the family, advertisers must direct their attention to an older audience because older consumers will be the ones buying tickets for children and because “most of the visitors are grown-ups. As the park statistics prove, adult guests outnumber children three and a half to one” (Smoodin, 60). In the news website image, the absence of families was intentional. In the “Disney after Dark” photograph the picturesque family is absent, which also could be intentional. The angle of each image creates a different meaning. In the news image, the viewer is looking up at the statue and cannot see the streets of the theme park or entrance to the Cinderella castle. In the “Disney after Dark” image, the viewer sees the statue at a more inviting downward angle. The colors of the flowers and fireworks are lively and there is not an overwhelming crowd of people present, which a Disney theme park would look like on any normal day. This certainly appeals to modern families with busy lives and the every day stresses of attending to young children. The Disney blog advertisement promotes the magic and beauty of the parks, still inviting families to come and be a part of it together, while also promising the reward of a hassle free experience.

Disney was built on the American principle of family. Crossing the Magic Kingdom entrance you can be found on “Main Street.” Main Street, USA, “sets the tone and pace of Disneyland [Disney World]: it is a place for strolling. People stop to peer into the windows of the apothecary shop and the old-time general store, and to look over the shoulder of a sidewalk artist as he sketches a portrait” (Smoodin, 22). Disney prides itself on representing the working class American, while reminding everyone why family matters. Disney and their theme parks are  generally described as, “‘Whole some family entertainment,’ recommended by parents and teachers as a good influence on children” (Brode, 14). While Disney often receives media ridicule, these shortcomings could never outweigh the American values of the Disney establishment. Every day countless family photos are taken around the Disney theme parks, capturing and protecting Walt’s mission of family, togetherness, and love.

–McKayla Blanch

Works cited

Associated Press. “Disney Trims 1,900 Jobs at U.S. Parks.” NewsOK.comhttp://newsok.com/disney-trims-1900-jobs-at-u.s.-parks/article/3358928April 4, 2009. 

Brode, Douglas. Multiculturalism and the Mouse: Race and Sex in Disney Entertainment. Austin: University of Texas, 2005.

Creager, Ellen. “Dishing Out the Dough in the Name of Disney Fun.” The Record (Detroit). February 11, 2007.

Korkis, Jim. “The History of the Partners Statue: Part One.” USA Todayhttp://travel.usatoday.comNovember 8, 2011. 

Smoodin, Eric. Disney Discourse: Producting the Magic Kingdom. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Illustrations

Figure 1. Courtney Blanch, portrait of McKayla and Justin Blanch in front of Partners at Walt Disney World, June 2013, digital snapshot.

Figure 2. Digital photograph of Partners, “Disney Trims 1,900 Jobs at U.S. Parks,” NewsOK.comhttp://newsok.com/disney-trims-1900-jobs-at-u.s.-parks/article/3358928April 4, 2009.

Figure 3. Detail of the plaque on Partners.

Figure 4. Disney After Dark, ca. 2014, digital photograph, http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog.

Comments

  1. In response to Lina, I am glad that you could relate to the story being a frequent visitor of Disney like I am. I think it is interesting how you had never thought of or noticed the ridicule that Disney receives. It is a testament to the booming Disney establishment, proving that bad press doesn’t overturn a true Disney fan! Also, I am glad that you mentioned that Disney is a popular site for families not just in the United States. I focused on Disney theme parks in the United States for quantity purposes, but as you mentioned Disney continues to prosper due to it’s vast territory, spreading family fun much further than where Walt started in California.

  2. In response to Catherine, your question about how executives at Disney might have responded towards negative press in the media is quite interesting. With a quick Disney search on google or a database, not much is said about Disney in a negative tone. However, I found that after the article about Disney cutting 1,900 jobs, Tasia Filippatos, a Disney spokeswoman released a statement that said, “These decisions were not made lightly, but are essential to maintaining our leadership in family tourism and reflect today’s economic realities.” Disney doesn’t often have to respond to bad press because they continue to do extremely well in their industry. Also they might intentionally ignore criticism and bad media portrayals because it could result in further controversy, possibly bringing a simple news article into a national news headline.

  3. In response to Ryan, the article with the title “Disney trims 1,900 jobs at U.S. Parks,” doesn’t explain in detail why the photograph displaying Walt as tyrannical was chosen; However, the content of the article explains why the writer chose this particular image. For example, the article states, “The company [Disney] did not say whether it would book a severance charge, or how much the cuts would save.” The writer directly ridicules Disney for their job cuts by stating the fact that Disney didn’t release a statement as to why they made these layoffs in the first place.

  4. First off, your descriptions of the photographs of the Walt Disney statue are spot on, the descriptive language you use to describe figure 2 emphasizes the point the photograph is trying to make. However, I’m sure the article doesn’t describe in detail how the photograph was taken specifically to give Walt Disney a tyrannical appearance. Your discussion of how perspective and composition of photographs (of the same location) can significantly change the meanings held by them is very interesting.

  5. I think the comparison of the newspaper photo is really compelling. At first glance I recognized the landmark, but it is not as apparent that the crowds and “family fun” have been cropped out, so I’m glad that you included that part. It would have been interesting to hear how, if at all, the execs of Disney have responded to the bad press, because it seems as though there was a lot of it. I like how you described Americans continued support of Disney despite the bad press and how the park’s image as a fun, family orientated place hasn’t faltered.

  6. Having visited Disney a number of times with my family, I find this article to be very relevant and also interesting. The aspect that Disney receives ridicule for their loss in job opportunities and high prices was a part of the Disney world I had never thought of. It is interesting that although they do have articles degrading their missions, Disney remains a very popular site for families all over the world. I particularly enjoyed that this article has an image that is close to the author and is meaningful so that the audience like myself, can relate to the images and moreover, with Disney itself.

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