Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why I love Disney

In September, my family and I went to Disney for the third year in a row, in what has become an annual trip. My wife--who is a homeschool mom most of the year--uses her CPA license in Spring to earn our vacation money. With my frequent flyer miles from my day job, we can get free/discounted airfare, so the two things together let us go on a "out of budget" vacation each year. And as I said...three years in a row we have chosen Disneyworld in Florida.

This probably seems weird to many of our friends. I imagine several of them ask themselves, "Really? Disney again? Why don't they try something different once in a while?"

It isn't just for the kids; my wife and I love Disney as much, or more. (It helps, of course, that as homeschoolers we can go after Labor Day, when the lines are incredibly short and we can avoid the bulk of the crowds!)

Why do we love Disney so much, even as adults?

For me, part of it is because we live in a world that has become hyper-scientific. You all of course know my love affair with science, but our scientific mindset has gone so far that it has created a philosophy of scientism--the belief that everything can, and must, be explained using deterministic scientific modeling. We have it in our heads that we have some sort of moral duty to try and come up with natural explanations for everything around us. It is a sort of modern-day gnosticism, a worship of knowledge which has led to many improvements to our lives, but which has also ripped the wonder and mystery and beauty from us. We have transformed the world into a sterile, lifeless, cold thing--a laboratory for learning and textbook-writing.

But then, we come to Disney.

At Disney I hold my son at 9 pm as we watch beautiful fireworks explode above Cinderella's Castle, while audio from famous Disney films play in the background. Kids and adults alike are awash in mystery and fantasy. I walk around and see girls dressed as princesses, dancing carefree with their fathers. I see boys dressed as pirates, giggling as they have sword fights and gasping as the ships in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride shoot cannons at each other. You see, at Disney, the imagination and fantasy of childhood is back to life again.

My oldest son is a future engineer, I have no doubts: he loves to figure out how things work and explain it away. By 5 he did not believe in Santa Claus, and he never believed in the tooth fairy. He wants magic sets to understand the trick behind the mysteries. Like so many in the scientific world, there is little mystery for him--merely a puzzle to solve. He tries to find the hidden rope or the drop-door to explain the trick.

After all, this is what our society's approach to education creates, right? You cannot have a cartoon without an educational element. You must start pre-K by four or you are too late! We live in a world where, though immaturity now lasts into adulthood, the true fantasy, imagination, and mystery of childhood is mercilessly sacrificed on an altar of higher education...and the result is a generation of kids who are smarter than ever, but lack the wonderous beauty of a childhood imagination.

Disney is like a shot of medicine--a booster of imagination in a world which has done far too much to destroy it. This year we went to Fantasmic, and my son--the explainer--was carefully watching everything. During the show, the Mickey Sorcerer shots are projected into the air, and as the scene shows water it actually seems to leave the "screen" and go everywhere. My son, wide-eyed, looked at me and said, "Dad, it's REALLY REAL. That is REAL water! Magic really does happen!" How sad that, in our modern society, kids must be taken away from everything to an expensive vacation for a taste of imagination and awe!

More than anyone, Disney knows how to pull you out of the hectic, techno-babble of today, with its urgent rush to achieve the temporary. They know how to create an environment in which you can be a pirate, an underwater explorer, a pilot on a mission to Mars, an African safari guest, one of Andy's toys, or the rebel spy trying to escape Vader. They know how to break us out of our world and into theirs, even if just for a few hours or days or a week. And for that brief time, both we and our kids get to reuse that all-too-often atrophied muscle of imagination.

The cold skepticism of scientism gives way to the magic and beauty of a life lived in curiosity and innovation. And do not let anyone tell you otherwise--it is these things, not cold skepticism--which built our modern world.


  1. It's kind of funny to see this posted on the same day as Disney announces they've bought Star Wars and plan to make new films.

    As a fiction writer (of nerdy heroic fantasy, for the most part), I know all about the importance of imagination!

    1. Kyle I didn't know you were an author! Send me a link to your book(s)!

    2. I don't disagree with anything above...but wait until you see the vastness of Lamar Valley in Yellowstone for the first time... Yes, the science of the geysers, the diversity of wildlife, etc. is well documented. But there are few words to adequately describe the feeling you get when you round the bend and look out over the vast valley with the meandering river, the herds of bison, the coyote, the wolf, the moose, the pronghorn, the elk, the deer, the grizzly... It is as if you are looking at the loving smile on God's face.

      PS: see it with your dad