Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Our Sentiments Exactly

ay I have your attention for just a moment please…

As you might be aware, there is quite a celebration upon us. Today is the birthday of a very dear friend of mine – a friend whom I’ve known as long as I can remember. I speak of course, of Disneyland. There isn’t much that I can say about Walt Disney’s fabulous kingdom that hasn’t already been said. We all share this mutual friend, and we all know the bond we hold. We know the enlivening sights and sounds, the fond memories, and that gushy feeling which pulses through us at the mere mention of its name.

On this day, Disneyland celebrates 57 years of giving us that tingle, and though we might gripe and grumble at the ravages of time and maturity on our dear comrade, that feeling has always been there, and will always remain. As I stated, there aren’t many original compliments one can pay to Disneyland, but I would love to honor our shining Birthday Star with a little celebratory anecdote…

I have to preface this story with the moderately-known fact that I am an artist, and have largely dedicated this talent to an un-Disneyland-related comic for the last several years. (The very nerve, right?) Well, last Saturday – hot out of Comic-Con, San Diego – I sat down at a quiet coffee shop table, hoping to accomplish a little writing and sketching for this project. I stared at a blank piece of paper, brainstorming for ideas, and though I was seemingly without distractions, this is what wound up on my page in less than an hour:

This isn’t unlike most of the doodles I churned out as a kid. Every other piece of paper had a crudely-drawn Matterhorn on it, complete with cave holes and a Skyway.

I keep this little index card scribble close by, as it’s always been one of my favorites:

 Judging by the Fantasmic! dragon on the right, I was probably about 10 when I sketched this… quickly, in pen, without photo references. That’s what Disneyland did to us as children. It CONSUMED us! Whether you were an artist or not, you probably couldn’t close your eyes without seeing Dumbo spinning in circles or pirate cannons blasting over your heads or a baby Brontosaur begging for food. I know you did, don’t lie!

I recently acquired a ’58 Disneyland souvenir guide on eBay. Upon first opening its pages, I noticed quite a few key words had been underlined by its original owner. While some might have frowned at a “graffiti’d” item, I absolutely loved that another child – a little girl, in fact, named Jeannette Johnson – was as enamored by Disneyland as I was… in the 50's! I had found a new friend.

Who could possibly be upset that a child found the words “on a mule ‘train’” and “ultra-modern in exterior design” important enough to underline?!

The biggest gem of all, however, was an index card (See a connection there..?) with what appears to be the opening of a school report:

“How would you like to ride a flying elephant as though you were 3 or 4 yrs. old. Or had you rather take a voyage to the bottom of the sea, or explore the universe in a space rocket.

There is a particular place in the United States where a person can do all three of these things in just one day. This fabulous place is Disneyland.

Disneyland is a “Magic Kingdom” because it combines fantasy and history, adventure and learning,”

And unfortunately, that’s all we get to see of Jeannette’s amazing report. I couldn’t find any way to describe how wonderful Disneyland is, or how it fascinated and enthralled us as kids… but I think these few lines speak volumes. (Jeannette, if you’re reading this, and have a fantastic memory or are an organized hoarder, please share the rest of this report with us. I need to know how it ends!)

So now, Ladies and Gentlemen, I conclude my brief testimonial with a toast. Let’s raise a glass and a bottle o’ rum to This Happy Place of 160 acres. Here’s to our dear old friend, thriving as ever, and may it continue to enrich the lives of the young and young-at-heart for another 57+ years..!

Happy Birthday, Disneyland! Now, it's your turn to close your eyes and make a wish.
Love: Eric, Ginger, and Jeannette 

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Grim-Grinning Good-Time!

ell, a quick update for Disneyland Annual Passholders seems like a lovely way to begin the week! Even though the news I have to deliver is quite grim, it is brought to you in the most grim-grinning way:

 Tickets for Mickey's HALLOWEEN Party go on pre-sale TODAY for Annual Passholders! 

They sell out very fast.

 Spend-thrifters pay heed: some of the cheaper dates land on a weekday, so before you try to save $20, make certain you're selecting the proper dates! 

  Let's see... you're getting a discounted rate just for being a Passholder, parking is included (in case you don't already have a parking pass add-on) and a chance to get your tickets before anyone else. As you probably already know, it's very rare that Passholders see these kind of perks, so I surely do recommend you put the nail in this coffin. And what better time than HALLOWEEN? If you need any more motivation to attend this ghoulish bash, check out my overview of last year's event. I'll tell you, my personal enthusiasm for something Disneyland is currently promoting has to be enough for a spooky story over a campfire, so if it means anything to you that it has been able to crack the icy heart of a purist - albeit, slightly - , I bet you'll probably enjoy it, too. Give it a stab. Or a crack.

For those of you not in the Annual Passholder crowd, regular pre-sale for Mickey's Halloween Party begins on July 16, 2012.

... Now, get those incredible costumes ready and treat yourself before Donald tries to put firecrackers in your pail!!!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Hard Facts

eady? Begin.

  In elementary school, when most kids rose and recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, I was standing right next to them with my hand over my heart. But as much as I respected the American dream and my freedom, I stood there and smiled lovingly at those stars and stripes as I was reminded of something very different. Each and every time, I gave my own Allegiance to Mr. Disney, his Disneyland and to my Mother – three of the most all-American things I knew. And by the time the 4th of July rolled around each year, I was simply bursting with patriotism because it meant I was going on my annual trip to Disneyland and I knew all my Pledges of Allegiance were finally about to pay off.

  I was probably instilled with patriotism and Disneyland very early on. My Mom was born on July 3rd, and in the midst of the World War II baby boom, so I was used to hearing her talk about patriotism, being like an Independence Baby and seeing her little American flag accessories hanging around her neck or as a brooch on her blouses. To me, she was indeed a symbol of America… strong, proud and full of fireworks. Her first visit to Disneyland was in 1956 and, like most of us, that’s when she fell in love.  Before that, she was already a fan of Mr. Disney from television and through his animated features – I grew up watching her dance and sing around the room performing her best Snow White impression for me and listening closely to her stories about a magical man named Walt Disney that created Mickey Mouse and a place called Disneyland. Because of this, by my first visit, I was already peeking around every corner hoping Mr. Disney would appear (I guess you could say some things never change).

  Because my mom was born so close to the 4th of July, it was her request every year that we went to Disneyland for the holiday and to celebrate her birthday. And what better place to spend it? Mr. Disney was known for his patriotism and filled his park with exactly that. Me, my Mom, my Grandma and my Great-Grandma (four generations of American women!) would pack into my Grandma’s car and we would excitedly head south down the 5 Freeway to the Happiest Place on Earth.

  I knew we had arrived when I was able to see the Matterhorn peeking at me through the trees near the freeway exit, but nothing made it more official than being welcomed by that gigantic, beautiful, light-up Disneyland marquee at the parking lot entrance. It would flash all different types of things at us through the years, but I was always most impressed with the animations; Tinkerbell’s animated pixie dust, the Electric Light Parade floats that rode by and the occasional bursts of fireworks.  We would usually arrive in the giant parking lot in the early afternoon and normally found ourselves a parking spot in the ‘Pinocchio’ section. I would find a seat in my red-and-white striped fold-up stroller and we would embark on our day of adventure – sometimes into the park by foot, sometimes by that gorgeous blue and yellow mechanical mule train.

Me, 4 1/2. July 4th, 1985.
The back of that amazing dress!
  During this time of year, the park was always decorated lavishly for the holiday. Red-white-and-blue banners where everywhere, even on me. I would wear my special 2 sided holiday-colored Mickey and Minnie dress every year until it wouldn’t fit me anymore. The weather was was also usually hot and the park filled with families, but it was never so crowded that you couldn’t move. Which was a great thing, because we had a LOT to accomplish!!

  Our first stop was always to buy a pink Mickey-shaped balloon for me somewhere on Main Street. With my new balloon tied to my stroller, our next stop was through Adventureland to Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room and then to Jungle Cruise, my Mom’s favorite. Next was a visit to New Orleans Square so I could enjoy my personal favorite, Pirates of the Caribbean and no visit to New Orleans was complete without The Haunted Mansion. 

Me & Mom seeing an elephant fly.
  Upon arriving at Fantasyland, we would sometimes pass through the Castle gates and prepare ourselves for the magic, but would often make a special detour to throw a wishing penny in Snow White's well. My mom couldn't resist but to sing along at the Grotto and by this time, I was pretty good at accompanying her. Inside, I would hold my breath as I was swallowed by Monstro and dumped into Storybook Land's miniature paradise. We then would fly over London on Peter Pan, spin in Teacups on The Mad Tea Party, take a twirl with Dumbo and feel like Ladies on a King Arthur Carousel horse. We would take time out in Fantasyland to stop in and admire the beautiful Madame Alexander dolls on display at the Tinkerbell Toy Shoppe and then head to the Village Haus for lunch - or, sometimes Big Thunder Barbecue. After our burgers or chicken, we would usually catch a bucket and take a trip with the Skyway to Tomorrowland. This was the scariest part of our visit for me because I would have to duck and hide so that the TERRIBLE NOISY MONSTER in the Matterhorn wouldn’t see me and think I was delicious as we passed through his icy home. A feeling of relief always comforted me knowing I was too small to ride it, even though I felt the Matterhorn was magnificent and it stood as the landmark of arriving at Disneyland for me.

  When we somehow survived in one piece and arrived in Tomorrowland (oh, how I miss you!!), we would always take a seat on the PeopleMover, see the moon of Endor with Captain Rex on Star Tours (which I had no idea had anything to do with Star Wars, because I had never seen it !) and help Michael Jackson bring The Gift to The Supreme Leader in Captain Eo. Rarely did we miss a chance to watch the Circle-Vision film and once in a while, when I had the nerve, I would go on the Rocket Jets all by myself.

  Frontierland meant The Mark Twain or Sailing Ship Columbia. I preferred The Mark Twain because the roller fascinated me and I liked all its different levels. And after a trip around the Rivers of America we would probably head to Bear Country to visit the Country Bear Jamboree and give everyone’s feet a rest . I was never happy with this decision because I was pumped on adrenaline, but I did enjoy the show and I now relish in the many times I was able to sing along before it was stolen from us.

The perfect parade stance.
  But all this was just build-up to nightfall, where the park REALLY came to life for the holiday. All I could think about during the day was the 4th of July Fireworks lighting up the sky for my Mom’s birthday and the Electric Light Parade that trailed down Main Street. For these events, the giant cherry on the ice cream sundae we had enjoyed all day, we always found a good spot just a little bit early near and near the Hub. I would watch the Parade while leaning forward in excitement – I couldn’t miss a single twinkling light and I  was so curious as to how everything was made. My Mom, Grandma and Great-Grandma would stand behind me, munching on popcorn and pointing out the sites with me. The most fascinating part of the parade for me was the billowing American flag at the very end that seemed to be 100 miles long. I would always swell with pride at the site of it and was impressed at how they must have brought it out JUST for the 4th of July every year.

  The fireworks followed and were always fantastical, accompanied by a soundtrack of devoted Americans singing their hearts out in honor of their country. The sparkling bursts would crackle and bloom the sky with majestic beauty as they painted the gazing faces of the crowd like a thirsty canvas. I always imagined Tinkerbell having something to do with that.  As I watched, I would think about Mr. Disney and the experience he gave to me and my family that day. It was in these moments that I fully understood how Disneyland made me complete, and I swore to myself that one day when I was a grown-up, I would visit there as much as I possibly could and also figure out a way to somehow repay Mr. Disney for the place he gave us that we could share, all four generations of us, together.

  We would wrap up our day by shopping on Main Street. I loved wandering around the stores seeing all the different things they had to offer. (Even back then, I could tell that Disneyland was much more than what I was  given and Main Street was where my suspicion started. I knew there was something I was missing, it just took me some time to figure it out.). Even as exhausted as I was when we heard the closing announcement echo through Main Street, it was always a very slow, sad trip to the car. For all of us. Our day had ended and it would probably not be until next 4th of July that we could embrace Disneyland's magic once again. 

  The women I would always make my trips to Disneyland with are no longer with me, making our tradition something that memories are made of. However, I have no doubt that they will all be at the park to celebrate today, my Grandma snapping photos, my Mom munching on popcorn and my Great-Grandma classing up the joint even more, just by being her.

  I’ve come to find that one of the most appropriate ways to experience Disneyland at its most beautiful is on the holiday that celebrates freedom. I was lucky enough to experience it at a young age and at many ages after that. Today, I have stuck with my promise to Mr. Disney while also practicing my freedom of speech by co-founding a blog about one of his greatest accomplishments. And I can easily say that if it weren’t for the correlation of Independence Day, my Mother’s birthday, and Disneyland, I wouldn’t be the person that I am.

  And so, you see, on this 4thof July, the little girl with her hand over her heart grew up into a woman with her hand over her heart. As an adult, I understand quite a bit more about the “hard facts that have created America” and remember this when I Pledge my Allegiance, though nothing else about my pledge has changed, since then; I still think of my Mom, Mr. Disney and his Disneyland and all the ways they have taught me to work hard, follow my dreams, enjoy life and not let anyone tell me any differently. For this, I am eternally grateful, because I can’t think of many lessons more American than those - and they truly are worth celebrating.

Happy Independence Day 
(and, Happy Birthday, Mom!)