Growing up in California, Disneyland was an annual family pilgrimage. My sisters and I looked forward to this trip all summer, giggling in our twin beds, plotting which rides we’d go on and in what order. The night before, the excitement was enough to keep us awake all night with anticipation. Once in the park, our parents let us stay until closing. We’d run around in a stupor from the all-nighter, but loving every second of it, afraid to let it end. My parents also loved our tradition, wearing matching Disney t-shirts and enjoying the childish rides and shows as much as we did. Combine family vacations with school field trips and I’ve probably been to the theme park around 40 times.
The genius of Disney is that, as a company, it has managed not only to monopolize the family-friendly movie genre — note that all of your favorite childhood films are probably Disney’s, even Mary Poppins, something I just found out last week — the company has become a full-blown empire consisting of products, images, characters, and real-life places that work like heroin in the veins of children. If that sounds extreme, take away little Jimmy’s Cars movie or Emma’s Ariel doll and watch them jones like Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream.
As an adult raised in the 80s, not only did I witness the rise of the sing-songy princesses, I watched those b-tches on repeat, played with dolls made in their likeness, memorized and sang their songs, and even branched out to adore non-human characters like Simba. Visiting Disneyland was the closest I could get to the animated worlds I adored. One could say that I sucked Disney’s commercial teat until I was delirious.
I know that not all people understand my irrational love or the allure of visiting Disneyland. It is ridiculously expensive, commercial, crowded, and in summer a place teeming with rude tourists, screeching children, and parents who find it perfectly acceptable to change two infant’s diapers on patio dining tables as other diners look on (something I witnessed last month). This is not to mention Walt Disney himself, who is said to have been a wife beater and possible racist.
Call it nostalgia, or Stockholm syndrome, but none of this bothers me. When I think of Disneyland, I think of being a kid, of being with my family in a place that was magical to me. The music, shows, parades, rides, and yes, even the stores filled with shiny Disney merchandise filled me with wonder and beckoned to me like an oasis. They do even now that I’m an adult, living an adult life sorely lacking in wonder.
I’m no fanatic, nor did I ever think of honeymooning there (yes, some do), but I have had the “how can you possibly enjoy Disneyland” conversation with more than one friend. I can see that waiting in line for hours to ride on a big plastic elephant while sipping on a $10 Diet Coke does seem sort of crazy. But my point is, unless it played a part in your childhood, you will never get it. It’s like looking forward to Christmas with your family even though you know you’ll come away being pissed off at someone. You remember your childhood-self adoring it — the joy of unwrapping presents and doing whatever else it is people do on family holidays, and hope to conjure some small part of that feeling again.
As anyone who has paid rent, failed to land a job, done taxes, or simply lived the mundane adult lives that most of us do, you know as well as I that there are few occasions for glee. Sure, we all have weekends and vacations (if we are fortunate enough to afford them) but for many of us, nothing comes close to igniting the childish sparks of delight we once had for holidays and theme parks. For me, Disneyland is the closest I get.