Selling Happiness? A Disney Insiders Thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow”: Part 4

As we walked through the facades on either side of us, my friend Doug shouldered his head back and coolly took in the view.  Our pace was fractional, it being off season, and only a few people wandered across our path.  “Man”, he said with a whistle following, “It’s sad to see how far man will go to build a monument to himself.”

I had moments like those when I worked at Walt Disney World.  Moments when it all seemed false and maybe even prideful.  Moments when it seemed like mankind was desperately trying to feed itself an illusion and a lifeless corporation held out its palm to collect a fee from those addicted to distracting themselves.  There were moments when it seemed that the illusion was a consumable item imprinted into the consciousness of the world of a company that streamlined its stories into marketable forms.  They were moments of a broken world poking through a grand show, like noticing a makeup line 2 hours into a great stage production.

They were just moments, though.  Moments in a long period of time like a note in a beautiful concerto.  Walt Disney World is all of those things above at times but, from my time there, I learned it is something better in much greater proportion.  Where Doug saw vanity, my friend Chris saw Disney World as a wonderful place where the creativity God gave man was on display.  There are those who are looking to substitute Disney for good parenting but there are more parents who are using Disney to join in exploring childhood with their kids.  There are certainly some who want distraction from the crappy world they live in but many, many others experience Walt Disney World because they want to embrace the positives they see in the people around them.  These aren’t thrill junkies, after all you can go to much better parks for thrill rides, these are people who want to experience stories.

Disney has at times and still does market a consumable philosophy of life (nearly all consumerism does, fyi) but the massive percentage of what they do has nothing to do with maximizing profits.  If that were so, they wouldn’t care about doorknobs on the streets being authentic or providing poorly frequented street entertainment at high cost (such as acapella singers in the American Pavilion) or building water conserving pipes into Spaceship Earth to collect rain or growing a lot of the food in the Land pavilion that is eaten in the quick service locations there.  I could literally go on and on.  Disney cares little about streamlining profit at the cost of providing a truly great experience.  That to me tells me that it cares far more about the experience its providing than the bottom line.  It believes in the message.

It makes sense why that is if you think about it because no one works at Disney for the money.  There are 60,000 plus employees at Walt Disney World alone and those people do what they do because they love people, not money, and they want to pass on joy and hope for a living.  One of the most frequent questions I got at Walt Disney World was “Why are all you guys so happy all of the time?  It’s so weird!”   First, I hope being happy isn’t weird, but second, trust me, cast members aren’t happy all of the time.  There are plenty of times when it is just a job.  There are times when an employee high 5’s a kid and then runs backstage to lather on the antibacterial soap.  However, I found that most cast members like their job because they are placed in a spot where they get to do good to people all day.  These are the people – the people on the ground – that control the message no matter what corporate bullet points say.  No shadowy Disney corporate panel could change this.

I can attest that the Disney corporation is not controlling, despite the hype.  I was given ridiculous freedom to help people in whatever way I saw fit – far more than any job I’ve ever had.  This is the biggest difference between Walt Disney World and other corporations when it comes to service –it is not mere talk, it diligently empowers the little guy.  If it didn’t, people who want to be happy wouldn’t dedicate their life to working there.  Randy Moore actually edited Escape From Tomorrow in South Korea because he was supposedly so afraid of Disney evil corporate types finding out (side note to Randy: if you are trying to hide something Disney, east Asia is probably not the best spot).  To this day there has yet to be a peep from the supposedly over litigious company.

It seems like a lot of the issue of people thinking Disney is evil comes from people who think that they see something that others don’t.  Randy Moore, the film maker, was bothered when a woman told her kids to behave because Walt Disney World truly was magic to her.  What bothered him was that she supposedly “believed” in the magic.  He seems to be missing the point that she acknowledged that life isn’t to be that way all of the time.  From talking with thousands of people from all over the world let me snuff a myth out: people are very aware it’s a show.  They are aware that it is streamlined to limit some of the harshness of reality.  They know Disney is an ideal.   They like that.  They like the belief that we can be better than we are.  It certainly gives our past and our future a facelift concerning the purity that existed in them but not in a propagandic way.  There is a knowing minimizing of the ill motives to pull out the pure ones.  It is a dedicated focus on the good intended and that stems from a faith in humanity.  This criticism that a mass of people are being bamboozled by a sophisticated corporate spell shows that the people criticizing have the opposite of that.  They don’t have faith in humanity.  My advice to the critics: talk to the actual people going there without a predefined motive.  You’ll find they’re pretty smart en masse and a hopeful bunch at that.  How is there change for the good without visualization and hope in humanity?

In my day, I’ve run into a lot of people who have tried to convince me that Disney is anti-Christian.  From working there, I don’t see it.  If the idea is rooted in the idea that Walt Disney World is not a substitute for Jesus or the church, I agree, but I’ve never seen anything that there is a company wide effort to imply that it is.  At Epcot every year  they have a thing called the Candlelight Processional at the stage near the American Pavilion which people line up for hours previous to get into (far longer lines than for the classic bands that play there in the spring like Davey Jones or Boyz II Men).  In it, the story of Jesus is told to the backdrop of Christmas carols.  I’m telling you – the story straight out preaches Jesus.  The line for it is longer than any ride in the park which should tell you something about the hunger for the story of Jesus!  Further, the attractiveness of the parks stems from an encouragement to have a childlike spirit – something that is very Christian.  Over all, Disney has compiled a world message and wants to see people get together, love each other, be good to each other, and enjoy community together.  These are all Christian virtues.  Anti-Christian messages can be found in anything.  They can be found in Disney.  Sometimes they can be found in corporate mandates.  Remember, however, that it is tens of thousands of people employed there telling the story together that make up the true message of Disney.  No matter what happens at the top, it’s the people on the ground who decide.

There is a desire in the world to go out of its’ way to corrupt things that are pure.  With the sheer availability of vice, it causes a person to stop and wonder why people spend so much energy taking things that are sweetly connected to childhood or positivity, like puppets or cartoon characters, and debase them as well.  I suppose there are those who will say and really believe that they are showing that the things they learned in childhood were false and the feel anger toward them.  It may be worth consideration, however, that a lot of this is based on people who want to legitimize their own moral decay.  In order to do so, they must attack or corrupt the things that speak out against their conscience.  Ephesians 4 talks a lot about this:

“Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.”

It may also be worth consideration that there is an enemy who has lived this philosophy from the beginning.

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It is implied from Randy Moore in the title and content of his film Escape From Tomorrow that he wants to escape from a commercialized view of the world perpetrated by a soulless corporation try to capitalize off of sham values.  I jokingly created Randy Moore World in the last post to illustrate something serious.  It is easy to criticize or sling mud.  It is hard to offer an alternative.  Not offering an alternative is more than an act of cowardice, it is the act of a drowning man trying to submerge a rescuer who is trying to save others from drowning.

If you are escaping “from” something then it follows that you are also escaping “to” something.    Walt Disney World is not salvation.  It is not perfect even though it gives glimpses of perfected things.  It does not offer a completed path to get to perfect.  If people were looking to Walt Disney World to do that, then they would be disappointed.  Walt Disney World may be one of the best the world has to offer at the illusion of perfection but the real thing, however, is only found in Christ and the church.  In a way, Escape From Tomorrow confirms that.  But, without glimpses or way points along the way, is it not much more difficult to get there?  The tomorrow I want to escape from is one where people accept that there is no true goodness so they never bother to try.   You can never reach a destination you don’t believe exists.  In that way, Walt Disney World becomes much more than a theme park.  It becomes a laboratory where people experience the goodness that could come with the desire and the tenacity to get there.  It is tangible proof of a true good.  It becomes a taste of a tomorrow that could be if it is chosen.  And, when people choose it and try to reach it, it takes it out of the realm of philosophy and makes it, in some portion, reality.

As Walt said, “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world.  But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

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.

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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

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

Selling Happiness?  A Disney Insiders Thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow

by Todd Tipton

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While I was working at Epcot in the summer of 2008 I came across a family setting up for a picture across the World Showcase Lagoon with the Big Golf Ball .. er .. Spaceship Earth .. majestically in the background.  Being  a good cast member I stopped and asked the family if they would like me to take the photo.  They agreed and I, a veteran Disney photographer by this time, asked them the question I asked before all photos at W.D.W. to get smiles.

“What does Mickey Mouse like?!?”

The family looked back at me in their Goofy hats and shouted “CHE-E-E-ESE!!!”

Well, all except for one little boy who instead shouted “MONEY-Y-Y-Y!!!!!!!!!”

I was laughing so hard I had to retake the photo.

This year, a film that is essentially a feature version of the story above called Escape From Tomorrow caused a bit of a stir at the Cannes film festival.  Said stir emulsified in response to film maker Randy Moore, not just because he bothered to make a dystopian, David Lynchesque film about the happiest place on earth, but because, *gasp!*, he did so by gorilla filming in the parks themselves.  No, I do not mean magical Disney gorilla’s filmed him, although I would definitely see that film.  Instead I mean that he shot scenes in the theme parks without getting permission.  Oh no you didn’t Randy Moore!!!!!!

As you can imagine from the fact that he did not get permission, the point of the film isn’t particularly complimentary to Disney.  The plot centers on an unemployed father losing his grip on reality during a trip to Walt Disney World leading to surreal hi-jinx around the parks like getting into fights with characters, implying that some of the princess characters are actually hookers for Japanese businessmen, and calling Spaceship Earth a “testicle” all in an attempt to justify a line at the end of the film that is apparently the profound statement it was made to deliver: “You can’t be happy all of the time.  It’s just not possible”.

Well, that and to tell us that Mickey likes money.

I have not seen Escape FromTomorrow.  I mean, I would watch it but I highly doubt I or any of you good readers will ever get the opportunity to do so because Moore violated a whole clown car full of intellectual property rights in filming this on WDW property without permission and would likely get his chip ‘n’ dales handed to him in a colorful gift bag by Disney snipers/lawyers if it ever approaches a watchable medium.  So, it may seem funny that I’m going to do a review of a film I haven’t seen.  However, I don’t need to watch the film to weigh in on the moral of it which has been clearly stated by the film maker.  A few years ago I came to Walt Disney World as a non-Disneyphile and managed to get myself into a spot working 6 months in a position that was the ultimate insider’s view of the entire operation: 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, golf courses, arenas, shopping areas, 20+ resorts, and 60,000 + cast members.  I had unparalleled views into the nuts and bolts of the operation of the parks throughout entire seasons, interacted with cast members across the spectrum of company hierarchy, and had complete access to the inner workings of the minds of the Disney guest s from all over the world.   I have ideal experience to comment on the things asserted for our consideration in this film.

So, did I come away jaded with the Mouse ?   Is Walt Disney World truly the happiest place on earth?  Is it what this film says it is?  Is Disney a soulless, insidious corporation only looking after its bottom line?  Does it peddle happiness like a cheap commodity?  Does it attempt to control the very definition of happiness and force it on others by marketing into the subconscious of children through colorful characters?  Does Walt’s cryogenic head lie under the bowels of Spaceship Earth awaiting mourners like Stalin’s body?

And what of the faith I profess?  Can you love Christ and still approve of Disney?

Step out of your car and into the cabin of a written monorail headed towards the answers of these questions and more in this three part series:  Selling Happiness?  A Disney Insiders Thoughts on “Escape From Tomorrow”.

Por favor mantenganse alejado de las puertas …

 

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