Selling Happiness? A Disney Insiders Thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow”: Part 3

Imagine if Randy Moore made his own theme park: Randy Moore World.

First of it’s Main Street – all crumbling, broken, and run down. The park officials are using the money for repairs on their secret coke habits.  What’s that you smell?  Not popcorn, it’s cotton candy tinged with smog!  Ahh … cotton smoggy.  You purchase a cookie , not shaped like Mickey’s head but instead like an unemployment office.  It first tastes sweet but then finishes with the taste of hot garbage at the back of your palate.  It’s a Small World has been replaced with It’s a Deadly World.  Japanese animatronics take rosie cheeked pot shots with rifles at those little Australians playing with the kangaroos.  The ride operators just let people of any size on rides saying “Hey, the world’s a dangerous place, take your chances.”  As you are buckling up a recorded voice instructs you “Enjoy this ride with your father but not too much.  It may give you a false image of the love you have.  It will probably be the only positive memory you have because at some point your parents will get divorced and he’s going to take off on you.”  Expedition Everest is transformed into a ride called “S#@! Happens.” where the ride actually breaks down at the top.  Randy Moore World.  Now that’s a place I want my family to go for generations.

In the last blog I said that Disney tells stories interactively that reach children the world over with their message.  A good question to ask would be “How do they know people will respond to the stories?  The answer is simple:  Disney knows they will respond because they have already responded!  This business about Disney being some insidious corporation that brainwashes people into believing a certain brand of happiness is obvious nonsense because nearly all of the stories that Disney tells do not originate from Disney itself.  Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, the Jungle Book, Peter Pan, and I could go on and on, were written by other people.  The Lion King is based on Hamlet for goodness sake!  Disney is just retelling popular stories with interactive elements.

Each section of the Disneyland Park (and subsequently Magic Kingdom) was based on a popular movie genre of the time.  Disney didn’t invent space travel (and therefore Space Mountain) being fun.  People watched movies about it and wanted to live the stories out.  At WDW all of the parks follow this mold.  At Epcot, you can ride Soarin’.  Why?  Because hang gliding is already established as fun.  Or you can ride Test Track and get an idea of what tests cars have to pass in developmental stages to make them fit for consumer use.  Why does it bring happiness?  Because people already enjoy cars the world over.  This principle works for Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios (or any other Disney park).  The content of Walt Disney World and Disneyland (and the Disney company is general) is by and large set by the world itself, not Disney propagandists.

Not all of these stories are happy.  In fact, most of them involve tragedy.  Bambi’s mother is killed.  Mulan’s country is being invaded by murderers and her society will not allow her to do something about it.   Again, I could go on and on.  Moore’s essential line in the film that  “Nobody can be happy all of the time” doesn’t make sense because at no point in the Disney retelling of a story do they emphasize that you can or should be happy all of the time.   It’s ironic that the filmmakers  rode Small World dozens of times to get the shots needed because they clearly never listened to the lyrics  “It’s a world of laughter, a world of tearsIt’s a world of hope, it’s a world of fear …”

The Disney message, created as a moral amalgam of the stories around the world, is that happiness is won through overcoming adversity by never stopping in the belief that there is something better we are supposed to be and can achieve.  The overcoming of adversity often requires a helping hand from kind people around us who believe the same thing or a helping hand from God/fate .  This is “magic”.  This is “imagination”.  This is “believing”.  It is not setting limits on the power of love in action.

Moore says that he tried to see Disney through the eyes of the foreigner.  I talked to a lot of foreign visitors while on the Dream Squad.  I know for a fact that right now some guy from Argentina or India is walking through the parks with a silly hat on.  I love that.  Moore is implying that Disney is just an American thing from his statements.  From my experience there, I found that part of what made Disney wonderful was that it was one thing that most of the world could agree on!  I sat next to an Irish boy who had the time of his life on Soarin.  I talked to a Cuban man who told me that he took all of his Cuban friends who visited first to WDW to show what a good thing could be in America.  I took pictures of countless smiling Japanese tourists in front of Spaceship Earth.  I talked to Chinese tourists whose first glimpse of the Forbidden City in their country was at the film in the China pavilion.  People from all over the world wear Goofy hats because they find common ground to relate to Goofy and Mickey  and the others.  That’s why they are beloved.  Those personalities are in every culture.

Walt said that Mickey was popular because he created him without an agenda.  He was just supposed to be a little guy that brought smiles to people.  Then he left a lasting reminder to the people coming after him that we should all remember that “it all started with a mouse.”  That doesn’t sound like some profiteering madman.  This is one of the most quoted Disney lines from the cast members.  Consider these other words from Small World.

” … a smile means friendship to everyone.  Though the mountains divide, And the oceans are wide.  It’s a small small world”

Escape From Tomorrow’s setting in Epcot is especially confusing.  Epcot houses the World Showcase, a place that honors countries from every part of the world.  People from those actual countries, despite their ethnicity, social class, or religion all work together there.  (The designers purposefully put the America pavilion in the hardest to reach spot to ensure people would go to the other pavilions)  The fountain in the middle has water from rivers and lakes all over the world that were poured into it at the inaugural in a celebration of that unity.  Every night Epcot has an amazing fireworks display called “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth”.  The entire show, like Epcot, is devoted to the amazing things the world does when it works together.  It shows the history of the human race culminating with mankind reaching space (a common theme in Epcot) – a feat that was made possible by the contribution of many nations working together.  I used to work on those nights and I would watch the faces of people from all over the world light up in the glow of fireworks as they watched.  At the end, the people who crowded around the world showcase would all applaud – seriously, every single night without fail – and it was like the world joined hands and agreed for a few minutes.  It was amazing.  Those moments will stick with me for the rest of my life.  The best part of the Dream Squad was working on the fountain those nights, giving high “fours” with Mickey gloves to those hands connected to the smiling people as they walked out of the park.  I wasn’t bamboozled or tricked into those emotions.  I was confronted with a moment of the power of harmonic love.  It was not manufactured.  It was not some corporate trick.  It was real.  For that moment at least, the world agreed together that something about their day and something about that moment was universally good.

If you listen closely to Walt’s Epcot/WDW spiel (linked on the last blog) you’ll find that he doesn’t promise happiness.  He promises that he will provide a place that has tools that can be used to find it.  At WDW, the message, decided by the world, is not that happiness is something that accidentally happens to you.  Happiness is won.  Things need to be overcome for it to happen.  Mr. Moore pinpoints the issue he has with the reality of his father/son relationship.  To him, the WDW magic was a parasite that lived because of the love it leeched off of the power of his relationship with his dad.  The relationship is gone, so the magic seems false.  Anyone caught up in the “magic”, therefore, to him, is feeding the parasite.

Perhaps, however, Disney has never said that it in itself is the magic.  Perhaps it has always said that the magic comes from the things you overcame and do overcome.  Perhaps there have always been villains portrayed in the world stories that Disney has chosen to adapt who find ways to make themselves unhappy no matter what blessings surround them.  Perhaps, by enhancing and allowing us to live for a moment in the love we once had or have now that has been won, Disney allows us to remember the power of goodness and that remembrance may cause change.  In all seriousness, clearly Disney forced Mr. Moore to confront the issue that has been unconscious in him for a long time that he would not address: the relationship with his father.  That pain was real even though he built a false world around himself to prove that it didn’t need fixing.  Perhaps he will have trouble finding happiness until he exhausts all of his options to repair that love.  Instead of doing that, he’s gone to herculean lengths to make a movie to criticize literally all of humanity in an attempt to justify that his situation doesn’t need to be or can’t be resolved.  Before asking the viewer what hidden reality they are confronting, perhaps he need to ask himself some questions.

A while back, a cast member saw two women standing in front of Disney’s iconic castle.  That cast member, a popcorn vendor, did what a lot of cast members do: asked the women if they would like him to take a photo of them together in front of it.  They did.  The cast member went back to the popcorn and thought nothing of it.  A few weeks later the photo came back to the cast member via the backstage offices with a note.  The note said that the women involved were two sisters that hadn’t gotten along for years.  They came to Disney to try to talk about the situation.  The photo taken was the first one they had had together in decades.  After the photo was taken, they each broke down and fixed their relationship through tears.

(Part IV coming up next deals with WDW and Christianity as well as the “parasite”: is corporate profit on emotional experiences evil.)

Selling Happiness? A Disney Insiders Thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow”: Part 2

Selling Happiness?  A Disney Insiders Thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow”: Part 2

I can’t believe the Disney merchandise people haven’t thought of this headgear yet .

“Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Wesley – The Princess Bride

Just shy of 50 years ago in November of 1963 Walt Disney flew over a swamp and said “I’m going to make that place the happiest place on earth and people from all over the world are going to come to it.”  Realizing that most people don’t equate happiness with festering stench holes filled with snakes, Walt decided he was going to make Walt Disney World on top of that place.  So, he snatched up 43 square miles of land using false names (you can see those names in the windows of Main Street), started building,  and now that swamp is 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 20 Resorts, 5+ complexes, golf courses, and only the occasional snake.  (True story:  I saw more snakes at Walt Disney World than I did living 6 years in Australia.  One of those fanged nogoodniks actually bit me in the Canadian pavilion at Epcot. )

When you become a cast member at Walt Disney World the first thing you do is take a course called Traditions which tells you the story of WDW.  In that class they show you a video from long ago of Walt all duded up with a grey suit pointing a ridiculously long stick at various places on a floor to ceiling map promising a place dedicated to the happiness of everyone who would come to visit.  (You can check out the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxC_a7qnGi8)  The new cast members are then told that they are going to help make his promise true.  No pressure new cast member, you’re just responsible for making people from all over the world happy.  Here’s a puffy Mickey glove – good luck!

And this is where the mind control plant will be …

The thing with people, and I know because I am one, is that people are fickle things.  Last night I stood paralyzed in front of the refrigerator 5 minutes trying to make a choice between a Poptart (chocolate fudge) and an apple.  Most people have no clue what will make them happy and even when they do experience happiness it may be gone as quickly as a pop tart at midnight.  Too quickly delicious Poptart … *sigh* … too quickly.

So getting back to Mr. Randy Moore and Escape From Tomorrow, Randy apparently has a beef with this happiness deal and how it all goes down at the mouse house.  You see, Disney World in general is a larger version of Disneyland which is itself a place Walt Disney created for the purposes of having a nice place to visit on a Sunday with his daughter that didn’t involve carnie folk. (Another true story: Walt was a bit afraid of carnies.)  Disneyland grew from that idea to become a safe place for amusement that people everywhere could come to to be enveloped in stories told by people who love telling stories.  Every part of the parks and surrounding areas are built to tell stories from the ground you walk on to the music you hear.  Every person working is called a “cast member” because they all become an actor playing a role.  I’m going to get back to this in the next installment, but Disney approaches that fickle thing called happiness by letting people physically interact in stories associated the world round with happiness and excitement for children.

As a child, Randy was affected positively by this story telling.  Then, Randy’s relationship with his dad, who took him to WDW, disintegrated and when Randy returned with his child he felt conflicting emotions surrounding the positive memories he had as a child and the one’s that replaced them.  As an adult, Randy found himself weirded out by these conflicting emotions and came to think that maybe Walt Disney has insidiously constructed some false land where people are brainwashed into living completely in the moment of those constructed, false values by the 60,000 + cast members that are all Manchurian Candidated into propagating.  Get ready for some upliftment, friends, because your soul will certainly be soaring after these inspiring Randy Moore quotes about Walt Disney World and his feelings toward it now!*

“It’s kind of madness. Everyone’s saying, “Celebrate the magic, believe,” that kind of stuff. There was a moment when we were at the phantasmic show in Orlando. It’s at their MGM studio park. At one moment in the middle of the show, there was this hail of pyrotechnics, and all of a sudden, Mickey just appears on the stage at the top of this mountain. There are lasers everywhere. Adults all around me literally gasped as if a god had appeared before them. This was genuine emotion. Somehow they had been brought back to whatever it was they felt when they were kids. At one point when we were shooting one day we were riding to the park and a mother was telling her kids, “Listen, for mommy, Disney World really is magic, so you guys have to behave.” My director of photography and I were listening to this and thinking, “This is the weirdest thing we’ve ever heard.” This woman has been just deeply affected. She believed the magic.”

Ah, what a gem.  Believing that wonderful things beyond your imagination can happen is “madness” and “weird”.  Thank you, Randy! More please.

I’d gone on the first real Disney World trip with my wife, who’d never been there, and my two kids. She’s a nurse and goes between floors at hospitals. At one point she turned to me at some princess fair or something and said, “This is worse than working the psych world at the hospital.” Which is not the easiest floor to handle. So I started seeing it through her eyes, from a foreigner perspective: She’s from Kurkistan, part of the former Soviet republic. “

I love that he clarified that the psych ward is “not the easiest floor to handle.“.  I have always wondered about that.  Finally a formerly Russian nurse came to sate my curiosity.  I don’t know about you, but I just need more from Moore!  I’m hooked on these soul filling  and not-at-all-insulting-to-millions-of-people quotes!  How about these dandies?

“I don’t consider myself a rebel, but I have kids, and you cannot keep Disney from invading their minds.”

“I’d like people to come out of the film thinking about the hidden nature of all things.”

Man, Randy is depressing.  But is Randy right?

Please allow me a response.

***

Three hour wait for Toy Story Mania. Huh. I’m starting to question this whole “Disney” thing.

Continued in Part 3 tomorrow.

Quotations are taken from “Five Questions with Escape From Tomorrow Director Randy Moore” at the Filmmaker website http://filmmakermagazine.com/63249-five-questions-with-escape-from-tomorrow-director-randy-moore/ and from “Sundance 2013: ‘Escape From Tomorrow’ Director Randy Moore Says ‘I’m a Product of Disneyworld’” by Eric Kohn at the Indiewire website http://www.indiewire.com/article/sundance-interview-escape-from-tomorrow-director-randy-moore-says-im-a-product-of-disney-world

What Rain Man Thinks – Oscar Series # 4

(All media is telling you something.  This is the fourth post of a series where I take a look at the thoughts conveyed through Oscar winning movies. This isn’t a typical critique where I say I liked blah about the movie because of blahbity blah.  I’ll make an attempt to take a look at themes in general and on Jesus and Christianity.  Spoilers are a necessity on this so be warned!  I will assume you have already watched this movie.  Previous entry in series: Gandhi.)

Rain Man

Best Picture, Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman), Best  Director (Barry Levinson), Best Writing 1988

Susanna:”You use me.  You use Raymond.  You use everybody.”
Charlie: “Using Raymond? Hey Raymond, am I using you? Am I using you Raymond?”
Raymond: “Yeah.“

Sometimes a performance in a movie is so strong that it takes a film away from its original intent and draws the focus to the character.  A modern movie that illustrates this is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.  In these cases, the message of the movie becomes secondary to the character study.  This is the story of Rain Man.

The primary intent of Rain Man was to tell us that our family relationships, or lack of them, have powerful effect on us.  That was before Dustin Hoffman successfully lobbied a change for Raymond to be an autistic savant instead of mentally retarded.  That made the focus of Rain Man to tell us about autism and that we need to pay more attention to it as a society.  The evidence of this change is found in that Raymond ultimately does not end up living with his brother (the found family and healed Charlie route) but instead goes back to an institution (a result of another successful lobbying effort from Hoffman).

Even though it begrudgingly took second fiddle , the film still has a lot to say about the effect of family in our life.  Rain Man thinks that broken relationships with our family affect most everything we do.  Rain Man also thinks that we often purposefully misunderstand our family’s motives to mask our own selfishness.  Rain Man thinks that lack of family makes you off kilter in life and that found family has tremendous healing power.  Family is antidote for the poison of selfishness.

Direct references to Christianity or morality are sparse in the film.  Charlie’s girlfriend Susanna gives half-hearted appeals about how using his brother is “wrong” despite the fact that she clearly aids Charlie in being deceitful in his business dealings.  Most of the reference to God is indirectly played out.  First it is played out as the power behind the family unit.  Second it is played out through a common theme of film and literature: the estranged father.

In this theme, the father is stern.  Distant.  Always mildly disappointed.  He never gives his approval.  He surgically points out weaknesses.  The son, somewhat reckless – impulsive – is never good enough.  He leaves but his father’s disapproval haunts him.  It affects his life.  This story resonates timelessly because it springs from our deep spiritual subconscious.  God, to us, feels like a stern, distant father.  We are never good enough.  He promises us things but only when we are worthy of them.   We are mad at him, but we secretly think he’s right.  Our shortcomings haunt us.

Charlie’s story plays this out.  He has a disapproving father.  At his father’s funeral (subconsciously connecting it to Jesus death for us), his father’s will voices his disapproval and his disappointment with his son not trying to connect with him more.  Charlie’s frustration with his father is illustrated with a story he tells of getting all A’s but not getting the thing he wanted – to ride in his father’s special car. Charlie’s used that pain to get into the high end car business where the ethics were fast and loose.  Charlie makes a spiritual reference after this story by claiming his father is in hell looking up and laughing at him.  That means Charlie’s experience caused him to question his father’s goodness.  The parallels that can be drawn to our spiritual lives are vast!

The sad thing is that God is nothing like the caricature we paint him out to be.  Like Charlie, we mask our greed by accusing him of being not good.  As God says to Job, “Would you discredit my justice?  Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”  (Job 40:8)  Our enemy, the accuser, is a master of PR and uses skillful revelation of parts of God while subduing others to paint God as the father described above.  He whispers that our desires are good and that God doesn’t give into them because he doesn’t really love us or want the best for us.  This was essentially his technique in the garden and he still uses it masterfully.  But, God is not like that!  He is a father who gives generously when asked (Matt. 7:10), regardless of our righteousness (Romans 5:8).  He was willing to die for us.  (Romans 5:8)  He always listens.  (Hebrews 10)  He cares.  (1 Peter 5:7) His love abounds.  (John 3:16)

Connection to God puts us into a family.  We, like Charlie, do not know how good that family is until we become a part of it.  That family, the church, scrubs away our selfishness, sometimes in ways that frustrate us.  But, in the end if we stay with it, we, like Charlie, will feel it’s unbelievable goodness.

Charlie:  “I just realized I’m not pissed off anymore. My father cut me out of his will. You probably knew he tried to contact me over the years. I never called him back. I was a prick. If he was my son and didn’t return my calls, I’d have written him out. But it’s not about the money anymore. You know, I just don’t understand. Why didn’t he tell me I had a brother? Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that I had a brother? Because it’d have been nice to know him for more than just the past six days.