Saturday, October 3, 2009

Brave New World

Walt walked through the gates of Magic Kingdom, wiping the sweat from his brow on the hot July afternoon. He made sure to take slow steps, taking in every crack and crevice of the concrete he was walking on. He smiled at the thought of people's names inscribed into the ground leading into this, the culmination of his life work, at the heart of which sat an enormous castle - an actual castle, by God - colored blue and white.

He wondered why there were men checking bags.

He walked through the turnstiles and breathed deep. He closed his eyes and, one last time, envisioned the same image he had when he came up with the idea of the Magic Kingdom. He opened his eyes, and laughed to himself. He kept walking at the same speed as before, taking in every minute detail. People were rushing, he noticed. No one noticed the fountain on the left. No one noticed how neatly the shrubs were cut. No one saw the names in the windows! No one even cared to notice the subtle change in theme as they moved from one land to another. Walt was puzzled - not troubled, but a little puzzled. He moved through each land, soaking in every step he took. If he could spend a week in each land, he would. He loved how the Cinderella fountain made men appear to be bowing to her. He loved the look on the faces of the kids as they searched for the ring in the front of the Haunted Mansion. He loved those orange rocks in Tomorrowland. They reminded him of Mars. He didn't know who Stitch was, but he certainly admired the work that went into convincing so many people they were being licked, or breathed on.

He sat on the curb, and watched the parade.

As Walt went into the MGM Studios, he couldn't help but be overcome with a feeling of nostalgia. He always loved the Golden Age of Hollywood, and here it was. The Hollywoodland sign gave him a rush of memories. He loved the dedication here -- the feel of old Hollywood. The camera store; the giant model of Gertie near Echo Lake; the Chinese Theatre in the distance. He didn't prefer the giant Sorcerer Hat blocking the view. "Too much," he thought. He marveled at the sophistication of his animatronics. How the Imagineers had come this far was beyond him. The Wicked Witch of the West, he thought for a moment, was a real actress! It wasn't until a second later that he'd realized the movements of the woman were a purely evolved form of what he helped to create. He stayed until night and watched Fantasmic!. He teared up at the finale, watching everyone cheer and rave for Sorcerer Mickey. 80 years later, and the Mouse is still as popular as ever. He walked under the Crossroads of the World, straddled by Mickey, and still couldn't shake how amazed he was by the show.

The next morning, he headed into Animal Kingdom. He loved the feel of it all - it was wholly reminiscent of his work on True Life Adventures. He stayed for what seemed like an eternity at each area, observing the animals, and observing others' observations. He rode Kali River Rapids, and got soaked, which was nice in the summer Florida heat. He watched the 3d film within the Tree of Life, marveling at how far the technology had come. He wasn't sure about the scariness, though -- some of the kids didn't seem to care for it too much, to say the least. He gazed at the Tree before and after the show, trying to spot each animal carved into it. He peeked around Dinoland, USA, and Camp Minnie Mickey. He rode Kilamanjaro Safari, which was his favorite in the whole park. If he could ride this all day, he would. "An attraction that never stays the same," he said to himself. He thought it perfect. He stayed there until the park closed, then went and thought long and hard.

The next - and final - park to visit was EPCOT. He was intentionally saving it for last. Part of him was worried that what was currently known as EPCOT had drastically deviated from his original vision. After all, without EPCOT, there was no basis for Disney World as a whole. The other part was incredibly excited, and knew that no matter what, his dream was in good hands.

He stood outside the gates, for what could have been ages. And yet, the excitement within him was uncontrollable. Any doubt he'd had about this park instantly vanished when he saw Spaceship Earth. He spent the entire day looking over every inch of Future World alone, and spent the next day at World Showcase. At the end of his time there, he left the park, and walked towards a young man in a blue shirt. He was constantly drying his hands on his pants up until the moment he shook hands with Walt, at which point he asked him how he liked the parks. Walt smiled and said, "Let's have a talk."

He sat in a chair in a well-lit room, across from 30 or so Imagineers, each of them top of their field; the collective conscious of the Imagineering community. "There have been a large number of complaints," they said. "People feel we've been deviating too far."
"Well," Walt began, "you have a lot going for you. This whole resort is amazing. But I can't help but wonder why you all seem to have such low confidence in yourselves."
"The people are split -- they demand improvement, but don't want change," they said. "Everything here is a byproduct of those concerns, and it's getting terribly difficult."
"But change is necessary," said Walt. "The whole concept of these parks is dependent on the notion that evolution is the greatest factor. Without it, this dream is nothing."
"People complain, though, that they want what was there before. How can we evolve if there's only monotony?"
"Evolution does not mean 'to restart'. It's simply 'to grow'. It's the same core, but a constantly shifting structure."
"We can't help but feel like there's a different motive," the Imagineers said. "Take Horizons, for example. As outdated as it was, it needed a change. People still complain about it! Do you not think it's somehow rooted in their concern for their childhood? As if a piece of it was removed?"
"Of course it is!" said Walt. "Memories are the key factor in these parks. It's the memories that keep people coming back. You will always have people show concern over returning somewhere, only to find that their fondest recollections have been completely wiped clean."
"There are also those who feel like we sacrifice story for technology."
"In many cases," said Walt, "technology IS the story. Think of Carousel of Progress. But it's true; a good story is never solely comprised of the newest advancements. They need to complement each other."
"But doesn't the technology possess more of a symbiotic relationship with the story? We could easily tell the same story of Star Tours without the ride technology we have in place there."
"Yes, but it isn't about telling the story. It's about immersing the guests. One of the shows in the Studios - The Great Movie Ride - the story could never be told without the concept of immersion. If not the illusion is broken - you're simply watching a movie. The story helps create the world. The technology helps transport them there."
"But is that making people happy? Are they enjoying themselves in these worlds we create? For every person who leaves the parks unhappy, there's another instance where we haven't done our job."
"A lesson I've learned in all my years of working in entertainment is that there's simply no way to please every last person. You will always have to deal with a sole body of criticism at any point, and that's something you can't help. You have to press on, and do what you know is your best work. My second night here, I sat in the Brown Derby and watched a young boy at dinner with who I later found out to be his Aunt. Every time I looked up at the young man, I saw him with a huge smile on his face. He simply was amazed. He was in the middle of this magical world, outside of any troubles of the real world, completely immersed in what you all have created. I approached his table after several minutes, and introduced myself. I met the boy's Aunt, and shook his hand, thanking him for making my day.
"That boy will have nothing but fond memories for that trip for the rest of his life, and you all helped make those memories for him. If you can help cultivate that happiness, that growth of imagination, in at least one child, then you're on the right track."

Walt stood up to leave, and shook hands with each of the men and women, and left. He himself looked forward to returning in the future, if not to see how this World has changed.