Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

One of my favorite memories from my trip to Walt Disney World last month was my visit with Elsa and Anna, queen and princess of Arendelle in the movie Frozen.

That movie has taken over. Literally. It is the fifth-highest grossing movie of all time, and you can see its influence all over the Disney parks. There is hardly any Frozen merchandise available anywhere, the show guide features a hefty advertisement for the opportunity to catch even a passing glimpse of the sisters in the afternoon parade, and the wait to meet the duo rarely falls shorter than three hours.

Luckily for me, most of the kids who want to meet the princess (of all the little girls dressed as princesses in the park, I’d say probably two-thirds were dressed as either Anna or Elsa) have already gone to bed by the time the park closes at midnight. I only had to wait a half-hour when I got in line shortly before 12 a.m.

I figured after a very long day of constantly meeting with people for pictures (I realize they swap out cast members dressed as Anna and Elsa, but even so) they would just try to power through the last few people in line. Of course there was an adorable little girl right in front of me, and Anna and Elsa both dropped to a knee to give her a hug, a few words of encouragement and a perfect pose for the photo. I was nervous that I would be the weird bearded guy who is clearly too old to be meeting the princesses and that they would really want to rush me along (in related news, I might have self-esteem issues).

But that’s not what happened. I told them how much I love their story and they asked me about my favorite characters. When I told them I love Olaf but jokingly said Sven is “okay, I guess,” they laughed and said they were going to tell him I said that. Then they asked me about Marshmallow, and I said he was quite scary and mean. At this point they quickly informed me that he’s actually really sweet and wrote Anna an apology letter because he felt bad about everything. Especially after he found Elsa’s tiara (watch all the way through the credits next time), he really softened up. Elsa even said he was only doing what he was told, and she said she felt really bad about it because she had been scared at the time.

Naturally, Anna did most of the talking. That should be expected. But they were both so wonderful and engaging, and they even said yes when I asked if they wanted to build a snowman (we couldn’t actually do it then, because it was too hot and Elsa would probably get in trouble with some peeps if she altered the climate of Central Florida, but next time…). I could not imagine the experience being more enjoyable, and I really loved the experience that there, in that park and with Anna and Elsa, their story wasn’t just a movie. It was real. And that made me feel bad for Olaf. I never saw him anywhere, which led me to believe that he’s probably finally doing what frozen things do in summer (Kristoff really should have told him).

Of course then when I had a chance to meet Princess Aurora she was very nice as well, but she didn’t seem as excited. I guess in fairness it was after midnight and she is kind of narcoleptic, so perhaps that was the issue – either way I did tell her I was happy to see she was awake.

I’m not really sure at what age you realize that these movies are merely fantasies. I don’t remember when I figured out that the characters weren’t real. I do remember seeing Beauty and the Beast in a movie theater (first movie I ever saw in a theater) and being absolutely terrified by the beast. I have no idea if I realized he was just a character on the screen; it didn’t matter at that point.

But of course we do eventually reach that age: we discover our favorite characters aren’t real, we can’t all be princes and princesses, animals can’t talk and wishing upon a star is just a fantasy. We lose our innocence, and along with it our hope for the impossible. And when we lose our hope for the impossible, it doesn’t take long before our hope for most anything begins to fade.

I think it’s fascinating that early in the movie Pinocchio we see Jiminy Cricket prior to his experiences with the marionette and the Blue Fairy. He sees poor Geppetto wish upon a star that his beloved Pinocchio would be a real boy, and he turns to the camera and says to the audience, “A very lovely thought, but not at all practical.” This is Jiminy Cricket saying this, the voice behind Disney’s most famous anthem “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and often the narrator of Disney fireworks shows focusing on the very idea of wishes.

But that’s what our world is. We see kids dream big, whether it is a girl wanting to be a princess, an astronaut or the President or a boy wanting to be a baseball player or an actor, and we kind of chuckle to ourselves. It’s a very lovely thought, but it’s not at all practical.

I hate this about our world. I realize that we have to be realistic in our ventures and learn that not every dream comes true, but we take it way too far. We live in a world of cynicism, and it has permeated everything to the point that we can’t even talk about classic Disney movies without someone complaining about some negative stereotype or role model. I mean really, after Frozen came out one of the biggest debates I kept hearing about it was whether it was super feminist and “Yay, Go Disney!” or actually weirdly anti-feminist and “BOO! Another sexist Disney movie!”

When Walt Disney created Disneyland, he wanted it to be a place of escape. There’s even a plaque as you enter that reads, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.” There truly is something special about stepping into another world, one where all the stories you cherished as a kid are real.

I was kind of amazed how many people thought I was crazy when I told them I spent 10 consecutive days at Walt Disney World. In fact, most of the people I told responded with a horrified face and something to the effect of, “That sounds horrible!”

I don’t get that. I’m not stupid or oblivious – I saw all the things that could make people bitter and whiny while I was there. It was very hot; it rained; the place was packed; lines took forever; rides were broken down; people were obnoxious; strollers block everything; it costs SO MUCH MONEY. Those are all true, and I pity anyone who walks out of a Disney park focused on that experience.

This was my experience: For 10 days I got a chance to walk into a world where magic is real, where I could interact with some of the princesses and other characters I’ve loved since before I could walk. I had a chance to hug Winnie the Pooh and was attacked by Tigger (surprisingly not Piglet, though. But I’m ready for it; he’ll always get you when you least expect it.) I took pictures with Goofy, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and countless others. I saw Baloo and King Louie wander down the street.

I convinced Steven Tyler to give us backstage passes to an Aerosmith concert and took a limo to get there in time. I got to be a castle guard in a recreation of the night Belle fell in love with the beast. That was actually kind of bittersweet for me, since I’ve always wanted Bell to fall in love with me…

I wandered various countries of the world, mingled with Star Wars characters and got to simultaneously be in New York and San Francisco. And whenever we went to Magic Kingdom, my days began and ended with an awesome view of Cinderella’s Castle. And fireworks. You can’t forget the fireworks.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just an obsessive Disney fan (confession: I am), and “normal” people wouldn’t be this way. But when I saw the lanterns from Tangled floating up the castle in one of the coolest projection shows I could ever imagine, I didn’t think it could get any better. But then it did. Buzz Lightyear made the tallest tower take off like a rocket, and shortly after the blowing leaves turned to snow and Elsa laid claim to Disney’s greatest landmark.

I couldn’t tell you what it is about Frozen that captured so many hearts across the world (including mine), but when “Let It Go” echoes throughout the park and you see a 40-foot Elsa declaring where she’ll stand, you can feel the excitement work through everyone around you. You can’t tell me in that moment that magic isn’t real. Maybe that’s true out in the “real world,” but maybe that is more an indictment of that real world than a statement about someone’s maturity level.

The truth is those 10 days ended and I came home. But while others seemed to think I should be so bored/irritated/exhausted that I would be desperate to get away, I was really sad when I turned to view the castle for the last time and realized I don’t know when I’ll see it again.

Beauty and the Beast is my favorite movie of all time; Toy Story 3 still makes me cry; when I was a kid I had a The Little Mermaid birthday party and at one point had the entire dialogue of Aladdin memorized. Whenever I hear the name “Kevin” mentioned I say (or at least think… there are times when it would be very inappropriate for me to say) “Kevin’s a girl?” I listen to Disney music on Pandora pretty much every afternoon in my office at work and sing Disney karaoke in my car and often at home. My sister just had a son, and when I heard his name would be Elliott I immediately started with the Pete’s Dragon references. They have not ended and will not end anytime soon. Let’s just say he’s going to be a dragon for Halloween, whether my sister likes it or not. This list could go on for pages, but at some point I need to go to bed. And when I do, I will fall asleep to Frozen playing on my TV.

*Side note: The entire paragraph above, along with pretty much everything else in this post, pretty much explains #reasonstylerssingle perfectly.

Disney is pretty much where I’m happiest, and I can’t wait to share that experience with my nephews (and hopefully eventually nieces) and someday (if #reasonstylerssingle ever dies) my wife and kids of my own. It had been 12 years since my last trip to Walt Disney World, when I got to march in a parade at the Magic Kingdom (one of the top achievements of my life, along with being in a Disneyland parade four years ago. I might have my priorities a bit out of order). I really hope it isn’t another 12 years before I get back.

Until then I’ll just have to stick to the movies and the music and share the magic with my nephews. Because no kid in my family is going to get away without knowing the pure joy of Disney. Someday they’ll lose the innocence and grow up, just like we’ve all done, but I hope they will remember that we can always reclaim that hope and joy when we wish upon a star and engage with our favorite Disney movies or parks.

It might not be at all practical, but it is a very lovely thought. And as Jiminy Cricket eventually came to realize, practicality is not nearly as important as a genuine heart and hope when you wish upon a star.

One thought on “Where dreams come true…

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