In today’s day and age, one of the most common complaints that I see online is that Walt would never have allowed the Disney Parks, especially Disneyland, to become what they are today. Now I’m not here to claim that I have a link to Walt’s brain that allows me to read his mind, but I do think that I’ve learned enough about him and the Disney Parks over the years to understand that this complaint is completely ridiculous. While there are more than the reasons I’m about to list, here are the five that I deemed the most important in my quest to prove that Walt would be proud of the Parks today.
When Walt created Disneyland, one of the most important aspects was that guests feel like they are immersed in the magic, causing the outside world to fade away. So much of that magic has to do with cast members creating the greatest guest experience possible. In the years since Walt passed, the Disney Parks have continued their sensational guest service to a level that no other theme parks can compete with. It has progressed to the point where anything short of exceptional service is considered out of the ordinary in the Disney Parks.
Beyond guest service, Walt would have loved how when families visit Disney Parks, they feel like they are in another world. You forgot all of your worries and cares when you are there, one of Walt’s biggest goals for the Parks. Even amidst all of the changes these Parks have experienced over the years, they remain a safe haven away from the real world.
Walt was always forward-thinking when it came to Disneyland. Once an attraction was completed, it was not truly done as there were always ways to plus the attraction and make them better than before. Recently, there has been a renewed focus at the Disney Parks, particularly Disneyland, to update these fifty or sixty-year-old attractions and give them the facelift that they needed. In the last few years, both Peter Pan’s Flight and Alice in Wonderland have undergone refurbishments that added new digital technology, but in an extremely tasteful way.
We have also seen complete reimaginings of Star Tours and Soarin’. While neither of these attractions’ new version is beloved as the original, both worked to bring the attraction into the modern world. It shows that Disney is always looking to plus its attractions to keep guests engaged, and if that isn’t something that would make Walt proud, I don’t know what is.
Overwhelming IP Presence
It is difficult to argue against the previous two reasons, but things get a little more interesting here. When Walt was creating Disneyland, nearly all of the IP (Intellectual Property) in the park was contained within Fantasyland. Today, IP is a part of nearly every land in every Disney Park around the world. It is difficult to tell what Walt would have thought of this move because he was a champion of creating unique attractions that would help feel guests feel immersed. Along this same line, Walt was focused on creating a great story for each and every attraction, and that mission has not changed at all, with the IP actually aiding that in many ways.
Speaking of IP, many fans are upset that purchased properties like Star Wars and Marvel are joining the Disney parks in such major ways. But looking way back, every Disney Animated Classic up until The Lion King was based on stories from other mediums, so even though films like Snow White and Peter Pan seem so quintessentially Disney today, their creative origins arose in other ways. From that logic, Disney has been incorporating others’ IP in the parks since its origin, so Star Wars and Marvel simply stand as the next evolution in Disney Parks. Bringing it all together, I believe that Walt would be proud of the IP in these parks because Disney is creating stories and experiences unlike anything else in the world using all the resources they have.
Promotion of Future Films in the Parks
This next point is one of the easiest to support because we know Walt’s exact thoughts on it from his actions creating Disneyland itself. When Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was first announced in 2015, many denounced it as simply building a giant promotion for the new Star Wars films that Disney would be creating, none of which had been released yet. I never quite understood this argument because Disney would have been foolish to not take advantage of creating marvelous attractions based on the multibillion-dollar franchise that they owned.
Additionally, Disneyland’s castle was originally going to be a castle dedicated to Snow White, but Walt, knowing that Sleeping Beauty would be released four years after Disneyland opened, decided that we would get the Sleeping Beauty Castle that we know and love today. It was a shrewd move that certainly worked to get people excited about the film, especially when the walkthrough opened two years before the film. In this case, the evidence is certainly stacked towards the idea that Walt would always have approved of promoting his films in the Parks.
Innovation in the Parks
All of the ideas that we have looked at so far are compelling reasons for why Walt would be proud of the Disney Parks, but I believe the most important thing to remember is that Walt was an innovator at heart. He prided himself on providing guests with attractions unlike anything they had ever experienced like a thrilling mountaineering experience (that doubled as the world’s first roller coaster to use tubular steel) and a chance for guests to climb aboard one of the largest submarine fleets in the world. Walt always did his best to change the guest experience in unimaginable ways.
Walt Disney Imagineering has taken this innovation to levels beyond perhaps even Walt’s own imagination. What sounded like a fantasy even five years ago, to create an immersive land when you can interact with townsfolk and have your experiences documented for future visits, will soon be possible when Galaxy’s Edge opens in a year. This Westworld-level of immersion is the next step in the evolution of theme parks, and I’m positive that Walt would be ecstatic that his company managed to pioneer something so influential.
Overall, I hope that the argument I presented today has helped you see a broader look into Walt’s mind and his feelings towards the Disney Parks. But most importantly, always remember that “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”
Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.