The enduring optimism of Walt Disney is still present at Walt Disney World
By Steven Hoffman
If Walt Disney himself could hop aboard the vintage train and circle the Magic Kingdom today, he would be astonished, and very pleased, by what he would see. Each year, more than 20 million people journey to the Magic Kingdom for food and for fun, for entertainment and for adventure, and what they find can best be described as magic—Disney magic.
The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, the Liberty Square River Boat, Cinderella Castle, and Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid are just a few of the attractions that delight visitors to what is, year after year, the most popular theme park in the world.
One of Walt Disney's favorite quotes was, “It's kind of fun to do the impossible.” The company that bears his name continues to do the impossible year after year, thrilling audiences with new attractions that are entertaining and exciting.
Walt Disney’s vision for Disneyland, and later Walt Disney World, was to create a place where both children and adults could enjoy themselves while spending time together. When Walt would take his own children to amusement parks, he found them to be unsatisfactory—his children might enjoy some of the rides and food, but generally there wasn't anything for adults to enjoy. Walt wondered why there wasn’t a place where he could take his children so that they could all have fun together. That was his purpose when he set out to design Disneyland—he wanted a place that would appeal to people of all ages.
Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, and Walt got to see his vision come true—much to the delight of millions of visitors who flocked to the groundbreaking theme park in the early years. The Magic Kingdom opened on Oct. 1, 1971, and while Walt Disney unfortunately did not live long enough to see his vision of the Florida project become a reality, Walt Disney World is a magnificent and lasting legacy for a man whose imagination always pushed the boundaries on what is possible.
Even Walt Disney himself would be amazed by what all the imagineering has created in the nearly five decades since the Magic Kingdom debuted. From the dazzling heights of Pandora to the depths of the seas where the Little Mermaid swims, from the breathtaking adventures offered by Soarin' to the small town memories offered by Main Street, U.S.A., Walt Disney World offers something for everyone. Walt Disney World is comprised of four theme parks, two water parks, more than two dozen themed resort hotels, some non-Disney hotels, golf courses, a camping resort, an outdoor shopping center, and more.
Walt Disney World and Disneyland are constantly evolving to deliver the experiences that people want.
Even before Disneyland opened in 1955, Walt Disney saw that the theme park, unlike the movies that he lovingly devoted himself to making, would never, ever be finished. A theme park can always be made better, and that’s just what the company has done, year after year. The theme parks have expanded and evolved beyond what even Walt Disney himself could have imagined. Star Wars will soon be a major attraction at Walt Disney World. The superheroes of Marvel will soon be featured much more prominently at Disneyland. And, yet, for all the changes through all the years, Walt Disney World and the other theme parks are still connected firmly to the man who made it all possible. Walt Disney’s optimism and sense of wonder are still present, and that's part of the reason why Disneyland and Walt Disney World are special to so many millions of people from all across the world.
Walt Disney was known for embracing optimism, and it made all the difference for him in his life.
Consider an incident that occurred in 1928, at a time when Walt Disney was still trying to get his career launched. Walt Disney was at Union Station in New York City after finishing up what had been a disastrous meeting. He had been in the city to negotiate a new distribution contract for cartoons featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, one of Walt’s creations. During the meeting, Walt had found out that his distributor, who held the rights to Oswald, had hired away most of Disney's animators to start a new studio and produce the cartoons without him. He was left without a contract and without an immediate way to produce income. He had no product, and no animators with the creativity that was needed to bring a product to life. But what Walt still had was his strong spirit of optimism.
When Walt left New York City on a train for the three-day trip home, he started work on creating a new character.
It was a mouse.
When he told his wife, Lillian, about the new character, she liked the character but not his name. She suggested a better name.
Later that same year, that new character—Mickey Mouse—debuted in “Steamboat Willie.” Not long after, the lovable, adventurous mouse was well on his way to becoming the world's most popular cartoon character, and a cultural icon that is recognized by children and adults around the world.
Many people who personally knew Walt Disney have shared the view that Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney shared many similar characteristics. In the beginning, Mickey Mouse was viewed as fearless, resourceful, and always ready for adventure. In those ways, Mickey Mouse was certainly just like his creator.
Writing in “Walt Disney: An American original,” Bob Thomas said, “Walt Disney was Mickey Mouse and Mickey Mouse was Walt Disney. Their personalities were inextricable.”
Today, in the midst of Star Wars characters and Marvel Superheroes, that mouse is still an ever-present figure throughout Disney's parks. Entertaining shows like Fantasmic! seamlessly incorporate Disney history into the show, offering a reminder about how much of the Walt Disney World of today is still shaped by those magical years when Walt Disney and his creative teams produced works of art like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella,” “Fantasia,” “Dumbo,” and “Mary Poppins.” The Fantasmic! show's thrilling finale begins with Mickey Mouse driving the Steamboat Willie Riverboat. The riverboat, from Mickey Mouse's debut cartoon in 1928, carries more than two dozen beloved Disney characters through the years.
Walt Disney once said, “I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.”
The theme parks at Disneyland and Walt Disney World are certainly more complex now than when they opened so many years ago. Visitors can now journey to Pandora or around our world or to a Galaxy Far Away during a stay at Walt Disney World, but in the midst of all that is new, that old Walt Disney optimism still endures.