Monday, March 17, 2008
Disney Snapshots - Part Three
Despite Nora's urinary tract infection that had her calling for a bathroom every few moments, (we watered a few patches of Florida sawgrass), despite Mia's vomiting in the back seat after the Polynesian luau, I can't help but describe our week with a word Disney has nearly trademarked: Magical.
I'm not talking breathtaking thrills (we rode no roller coasters) but a quieter kind of otherworldliness. Nora's mesmerized "Let's watch them," at the sight of Alice, Tweedle Dum and Dee and the Mad Hatter running past us to climb aboard their spinning tea cups. Watching fireworks over the water as our boat drew us home to Wilderness Lodge after a day at Mickey's. Sunset over the same lake, its entire shoreline as magically dark as any Minnesotan boundary water – here in the development-crazy metropolis of Orlando.
I got swept up in the Disney Experience, even finding myself a little verklempt as I watched the wholly committed actress who played Snow White gently talk to my awe-struck girls.
(This is no place for irony, but it was funny to hear Snow White trill in her helium-high voice, "I'm just having a hard time writing on this surface," as she tried to autograph with our uncooperative pen.)
(Sorry. Another grown-up giggle: "What movie is he from?" asked Randy.
"That's not a character. He's an Amish man who happens to look like a leprechaun.")
“Hello, Princess,” say the "cast members" (the Disney name for employees.) “Welcome home.” “Have a magical day.” This place makes Six Flags and their ilk look like fly by night carnivals, run by sullen teenagers. Here, they hire competent and unflappable grown-ups and indoctrinate them in an ornate building off I-4 named “CASTING.” When Nora bursts out “Pee-pee!” in the middle of an Animal Kingdom jungle walk, a woman in khaki appears instantly to whisk us behind a rope to a hidden bathroom. Friendly street sweepers seem overjoyed to give us directions.
It was the kind of magic that renewed my appreciation for carefully designed stagecraft.
I get the impression we really are walking through an acres-wide theater piece. Hair and make-up? The face painting pavilion and the Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique where little girls get their hair teased, pinked, kinked and DID.
Since our girls had no tolerance for any ride with more G than the gentle teacups, our "rides" mostly consist of sitting down and being transported past stages with animatronic or cardboard "actors." It's a Small World, Pooh's Wild Ride, The Carousel of Progress.
At Mickey and Minnie's houses in Toontown and on the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, we simply walk through the elaborate sets and imagine the actors who seemed to have just stepped away.
Our home for five days was the Disney Wilderness Lodge. When we step outside the villas building to walk under the curving breezeway constructed of enormous logs, I can smell pine and fresh air. Every time I take a deep grateful breath and every time I wonder if the scent is piped in.
Running in the woods around the lodge, among the ruins of trees strung with dead kudzu, I saw sprawling lantana bushes bursting with tiny clusters of pink and white, pink and orange flowers. I passed brown rabbits, a red cardinal, a turtle in a closed shell. Does Disney truck these in for our pleasure?
Every bit of The Experience is designed. Surfaces, corners, views have all been considered. Randy and I have visited over-designed spaces that defied the adage "form follows function." But here, comfort and ease are enhanced by the decorative. Even the guts of rides are beautiful – exposed struts are wrapped in bronze and purple with studded flourishes. The subtle pitch of the sidewalk quickens our hearts at the outset of the day when we confuse exertion with excitement and soothes us with ease as we turn towards home.
Mia pauses to pick up tiny bits of metallic confetti off the ground. Each piece is a bright color outline of the three intersecting circles that create an outline of the mouse’s head. “Even the garbage looks like Mickey!” I say to Randy. Frank Lloyd Wright had his sphere and cube, Charles Macintosh had his rose and Disney has three connected circles, one large, two small. It’s the shape of plates, of decorative ironwork along our hotel hallway, of an enormous pylon supporting power lines.