Making Walt Proud

I was backstage at Disneyland, just behind the backstage entrance near “it’s a small world”. My high school marching band had just finished parading, marching down Main Street USA and beyond Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. With the gates now closed behind us, the band began setting down their instruments, taking off their uniforms, relaxing. I, however, was not. I was crying. I was happier than I had ever been in my entire life. I had just marched down Disneyland, an absolute dream come true. As I sat there backstage, alone and still crying, a hand patted my back, and a voice told me simply… “Walt would be proud.” (That certainly didn’t help stop the tears, if anything it brought on an onslaught of more, but only because it resonated so deeply in my sophomore-age heart.) Certainly, that sentiment seems fluffy and shallow, and if you were to think too much about it, you might be able to disqualify the statement entirely. But such meant so very much to me then, and still continues to mean so very much to me now.

Today is Walt Disney’s birthday, and in honor of such, I simply wanted to share a bit of what this man has done for me in my life, much of which I am certain you will heartedly agree with. I have never met Walt Disney. I will never meet Walt Disney. My knowledge of him only extends so far as the knowledge his closest associates have shared. Yet in learning more of this “man behind the mouse,” I found a man who helped to create my dreams, and then taught me how to make them come true. He taught me, and still teaches me, of imagination, optimism, spirit, and ingenuity. Walt Disney has inspired me and will continue to inspire me.
At the end of each and every trip to Disneyland, I sit myself on a bench near “Partners”, the commemorative statue of Walt with Mickey Mouse. I sit under the twinkling lights in the trees, with tired guests walking past me for one last photo of the castle. Many families stop and look at Walt and Mickey, and many small kids have turned to their folks to ask, “Mom, who was Walt Disney?” Their answers never fail to bring tears to my eyes. “He was a magical man who made Disneyland,” some say. “He was remarkable, he had so many dreams.” “He’s who you have to thank for the wonderful time we’ve had at Disneyland.” I stay on that bench until security asks me to leave, but until they do, I have little conversations with Walt. I report back on my dreams. It’s a tradition of mine I’ve been doing since I was 12. I make sure I am doing him proud. And to all of us dreamers, hoping to carry on ol’ Uncle Walt’s legacy, I’m sure we’re doing him proud.

Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland Park

 

Happy Halloween, all! This week, we’ve got a treat for you as Confessions reader and fellow DisNerd Crystal so graciously shared a few pictures she took while attending Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland Park!

 

 

 

 

Looks like a fun party with just a few of your closest friends!

 

Crystal (Jessie) and her parents, dressed up for the occasion!

 

Thanks for the pictures, Crystal. Looks like you and your family had a blast!

I’ve never been to one of these events myself, but it looks like a lot of fun. What about you, dear readers? Have you attended a Halloween party, either at Disneyland or Walt Disney World? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

A Bench in the Park

THE Bench. Or at least one of them. There were a few around the carousel at Griffith Park. Photo courtesy Mr. Twitchy

According to Walt, it’s important that we all remember one thing: that it was all started by a mouse. But when it comes to Disneyland, I also can’t help but think…. it was all started by a bench.

As has been repeated over the years, I’m sure by now we all know the story. Walt would occasionally take his daughters on a date to Griffith Park for a day together. As the girls would ride the carousel at the park, Walt would sit and watch, eating popcorn and thinking. Thinking about a park where parents could enjoy themselves as much as their children. Where entire families could have fun instead of someone being relegated to a bench. This bench proved to be a catalyst for Disneyland – a theme park that far exceeded those expectations.

Therefore, it was somewhat both fitting and ironic, when asked by a friend where my favorite spot in Disneyland to just “hang” was, that I responded with “a bench.” But not just any bench. While there are many places to take it easy and rest in the park, there’s one location in my opinion that has the others beat.

Simple, unassuming… and the perfect spot. Photo Courtesy of Mr. Twitchy

While not as exciting as an attraction, nor as appetite satisfying as a restaurant, there’s something incredibly amazing to me about sitting on a bench at the base of Main Street Station, looking out at Main Street toward Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. As one sits on one of these benches, especially later at night, one gets a true feeling of how amazing the park can really be.

Imagine sitting on a bench, listening to turn-of-the-century style music, hearing conversations between cast members and guests, seeing guests hurry into stores to make last minute purchases. Observing other guests as they leave the park for the day with children passed out in strollers. These same little ones who started the day with such energy and excitement are now reliving the adventure in their dreams. While sitting it that spot, you get a whiff of the popcorn from the nearby stand in Town Square, beginning to contemplate giving in and getting your own box. Keep a sharp eye out and you may see a feral cat scurry by amidst all the hustle and bustle, causing you wonder how it feels to be a small feline living in a land of over-sized mice.

If you look further down Main Street, you can see, against a backdrop of a European castle, the outline of a man and a mouse smiling at all the happy guests. At that moment, you turn to look to the fire station and see a light on – indicating that the same man’s spirit lives on…

Yes, that bench is the ultimate “just hang” spot for me. And perhaps that’s the ultimate beauty of Walt’s original Magic Kingdom. With so much to enjoy for the whole family, the benches placed throughout the park give us a view to such an amazing panorama of everything that makes it truly magical.

With that being said, now I ask, dear readers and fellow DisNerds – Do you have a favorite spot to just relax and enjoy within Disneyland or any of Disney’s theme parks for that matter? I’d love to hear from you as well!

On a side note – this weekend (Feb 21st-23rd), Confessions will once again be at Disneyland, including participating in Dapper Day festivites! Make sure you’re following on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for updates and pictures from the park!

Real Character (Or, How Peter and Jake Made Wendy’s Day Perfectly Darling)

As Confessions moves into 2014 with new ideas and stories, I’m also taking a moment or two to reflect and share a few memorable experiences my family and I had during 2013. This particular instance comes from a trip to Disneyland in September, and serves as an open letter to those who made a possibly sad experience absolutely wonderful.

Dear Residents of Never Land (aka, Peter Pan and Jake the Never Land Pirate),

I write this letter as a long overdue note of thanks for making a five year old’s day at Disneyland so incredibly magical by small acts of kindness that were, in essence, incredibly huge in her eyes – and ours, too!

You see, as I’ve mentioned in the past, Peter Pan and Never Land are huge in our household. While there are other aspects of Disney from day to day, depending on which characters we are “playing” at a particular time, Peter is the constant. Any time we’ve met you at the park, Peter, you’ve always been a highlight and we’ve been excited to see you. So, it was with great anticipation on this trip that our daughter wore the Wendy dress her grandmother had recently made her in anticipation of meeting you.

That day in the park, September 9th, 2013, we arrived and looked for you in the locations and attractions we had met you previously. The early morning yielded no results, although one cast member had mentioned seeing you around Dumbo. Yet, in asking a character handler at the Tangled meet & greet, we were informed that no, you had not made it to the park today. Later, however, we were informed by a cast member at another area of the park, “Peter should definitely be around today!” Being that there was quite a bit of confusion among cast members as to your whereabouts, I ventured to Main Street to chat with the character handlers there to see if I could get a definitive answer. Although I cannot remember the handler’s name, I can tell you what a wonderful help she was. After explaining our situation to her, she stepped back and made a call to the back. Upon her return, she sadly explained that you had some troubles in Never Land that morning. Hook and his fellow pirates were being extra feisty, and you were needed there to reign them in. Sadly, you would not be at the park that day until Soundsational parade time.

While we understood – I mean, these things happen, pirates being how pirates can be – we were nonetheless a little sad. Here our little Wendy had one wish, and that was to meet you and show you her dress, Peter. But being the trooper she was, she held back tears as we went to plan “B.” While she was reluctant to meet Tinker Bell (I guess Wendy and Tink have a bit of a past…), she was more willing to venture across to Disney California Adventure in hopes of meeting Jake (the nice Never Land Pirate) and return to Disneyland later to at least wave to you as you passed by during Soundsational.

Jake, this is where you came in. When we got over to Californina Adventure, you were not out, but were told you would be arriving shortly. The short wait was worth our while, as you instantly recognized Wendy and took her on a magical journey through the streets of Hollywoodland in search of the ever elusive second star to the right. For a full five minutes, the two of you were in your own world, walking down one side of the street and up the other, eyes peeled for any sign of Never Land.

He must be here somewhere!

After finding evidence of a possible path to Never Land (a star in the window of the Animation Building), it was time for you to move on and meet other guests waiting for you. But Jake, you put a smile on that little girl’s face – the biggest one we had seen that day.

At least, the biggest one we had seen so far.

Later that afternoon, we traversed back to Disneyland in order to catch the only showing of Soundsational that day – at park closing. Still unsure of meeting Tink in Pixie Hollow that day (I mean, she HAD wanted to shoot Wendy down, you know…), we made our way to the back of the park for a ride on It’s a Small World. After that, we sat down for a spot at the end of the parade route. As the sun began to set and the parade started, our little Never Lander waited with anticipation to wave to you, Peter.

Waiting For Pan…

Soundsational is definitely a great parade. The music, the upbeat tempo, the cast of characters… this time was no different. Very much worth waiting for. However…the main event was coming up – would you see Wendy and wave back?

Hi, Peter!!!!

Did you see her? Did you ever! Not only did you wave, but you made her feel like the most important person in the world for 15 seconds. When you spotted her, you ran over, got down on her level, and….

“Wendy!!! Where’ve you been? I’ve been looking ALL OVER for you!!! I’m so glad you made it today! I have to get back and catch Hook, but I’m so happy to see you!”

As you ran off to fight those pirates once again, and our little one squealed with glee, you took a moment to point back and tell Tinker Bell she was there. And yes, even Tink was happy to see her!

As adults, many seem to forget the magic of meeting a favorite character in the park. We tend to be the ones gasping at long lines to meet a mouse, a princess, or a boy who never grew up. We scoff at meet & greets and want to get to the rides. But for many of us, we can look at the face of a little girl who just met her hero…

“He stopped the parade just for me!!!” – her exact words!

…and it’s the most important thing about being in a magical place.

So thank you, Peter and Jake. You made a little girl’s day by going above and beyond what many expect. And I am forever grateful for moments and characters like you.

Sincerely,

A Dad Who Never Wants to Grow Up

My dear readers, I wrote this letter with the hopes that it would bring you happiness – to remember what it’s like to see Disney through the eyes of a child. I also did so in the hope that you would help me out with a small favor. See, I would love to see if this could make its way to the “friends” of Peter and Jake that were at the parks that day in September. I really would like them to know of the impact and impression they left on us that day. It truly was magical. Please feel free to share, comment and pass this on to anyone who may be able to get it to these wonderful people. Until next time, my friends, be blessed!

Thankful for Walt

Note: During the months of November and December, I will be posting something I am thankful for within the spectrum of Disney. With so much negativity in the world, I encourage everyone to be thankful and count their blessings.

One of my favorite promotional photos of Walt Disney.

Though there are so many facets of the man’s life worth celebrating, today, we celebrate the man himself. Happy birthday, Walt.

He was a man of humble beginnings. A boy with a paper route. A kid who sold candy on trains. A teenage ambulance driver for the Red Cross. A young man full of ideals and dreams who knew how to work to make it happen. A man who sacrificed much of what he had in order to fulfill said dreams. A man who left this world a better place because he was in it.

Walt wasn’t perfect – to place him on a shrine as such would be foolish and naive. Not every idea he had worked, many risks he took put him in the red, and according to many of his animators and employees, he had a temper that turned him into a “wounded bear.” Nonetheless, he had a drive and an instinct so rare in the world. More often than not, his instinct proved right. Holding back a couple Mickey Mouse cartoons in order to introduce him to the world in sound? Mickey became an overnight sensation. Making a feature length animated movie based on a fairy tale? “Disney’s Folly” was anything but. A theme park in an orange grove in the middle of nowhere? Yes, that one seemed to turn out just fine.

But as stated above, these things didn’t fall in his lap. He had to fight the naysayers tooth and nail: bankers, animators, business analysts, his own brother… But he always saw it through with hard work, big ideas, clever fixes and involvement. There’s an oft attributed to Walt quote that makes its way through different venues – “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It.” Though this quote was not actually from Walt Disney, (it actually came from Disney Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald), one can see why it could be from him. Only, had Walt said it, it would probably sound something closer to, “If you dream it, follow through. Work hard to make it happen. Follow those dreams into a reality. You CAN do it.”

To me, the man I remember and admire today is the man who had dreams and followed through. He knew people would come to his movies and his parks if he put in the care needed to make it happen. I think today that is sorely missed. Truth be told, as much as we look for “the next Walt,” there will never be another. However, if we use him as an example, perhaps we can keep the spirit and ideals alive.

Thank you for all you did and started, Walt. Thank you for being that example. Happy Birthday, sir.

Thankful For Diane

Note: During the months of November and December, I will be posting something I am thankful for within the spectrum of Disney. With so much negativity in the world, I encourage everyone to be thankful and count their blessings.

Note #2: I realize Hayden covered this subject quite wonderfully in his article, “So Long, Diane.” I am thankful for his words – I just needed to take the time to write this one out, as I am truly thankful for her legacy, and felt the need to share what she meant to me personally.

Diane Disney Miller, standing in front of one of her greatest contributions to the DIsney legacy: The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Diane Disney Miller, standing in front of one of her greatest contributions to the DIsney legacy: The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Some people touch your life in ways you never truly realize until they’re gone.

Perhaps there was this naivete in the mind of this DisNerd (and many other fans) that you’d be around forever, Diane Disney-Miller. That your voice would be heard by legions of fans worldwide of your father’s legacy. That you would continue to work to preserve the memory of what he built with not just your memories and words, but also driving forward projects such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Walt Disney Family Museum. That you would fight and speak out against the Disney company when something wasn’t right. That you would be the voice of the family for many years to come.

Perhaps it was this fantastic assumption of time standing still that made this news quite a bitter pill to take. However, beyond this, there was the fact of where I heard the news. Much like the day I heard of Robert Sherman’s passing, I was enjoying a family vacation at the Disneyland Resort. Stopping for lunch in Downtown Disney, I checked my phone for anything of interest, only to receive a notification from my friend Hayden on the passing of Diane Disney-Miller. Time really did stand still for a brief instant, and I’m not ashamed to say a few tears welled up in my eyes. I mean, here was this great voice for Disney heritage, and it had been silenced. A void that could never be filled. The one living person who had not a working relationship with Walt, but a life relationship. Someone who inspired Walt to do many of his magnificent “things,” from a theme park in Anaheim to an amazing Disney classic movie called Mary Poppins. This person knew the importance of preserving a legacy and not tarnishing a name. “What would Walt do?” is a dangerous question to be asked, but she was one of the few who could probably answer correctly – at least more than others.

Diane also wrote a wonderful series of articles on her dad for the Saturday Evening Post.

The following morning in DIsneyland, their was a definite air of bittersweet looking out over town square. Amidst Christmas celebrations on the minds of guests, and many oblivious to Diane’s passing, or what she meant to many, the flags stood at half-staff and I was once again reminded of her voice, influence and inspiration. Standing on the platform to the Main Street Station, I glanced to my left, where a light is left on in Walt’s apartment above the fire station, and thought to myself…. She must be having a heck of a carousel ride right now.

Picture taken November 20th, 2013, the morning after Diane’s passing.

Diane, I hope this is true. I hope your dad has left his park bench and your whole family is riding in a row. Thank you so much for all you did to inspire your father as well as preserve his legacy. I will always be thankful.

So Long, Diane

Griffith Park Carousel

One can only imagine the energy running through Walt’s head as he sat at on that “dirty” Griffith Park bench, watching his two daughters ride on the nearby carousel. Walt Disney claims this to be where his dream of Disneyland first began.

You wonder what sparked the dream.

Sure, Walt loved trains, and perhaps wanted a place he could showcase that love.

Certainly he thought his films and their stories were great enough to replicate in the third-dimension.

The idea of creating a theme-park had to have intrigued someone with the urban-developing and civil-designing mind that he had.

However, this author best assumes, from the stories I’ve heard told, that Walt Disney’s dream began not for any type of self-aggrandizement, but for his daughters. Watching Diane and Sharon ride around and around on that carousel, he began dreaming of a land, a kingdom where his two daughters could have all the clean, safe, imaginative fun that their hearts could dream up. Such a place was what Disneyland became. I see Disneyland and all other Disney Parks to be more of a “grand playground” for a man’s daughters than anything, a thoughtful gift from father to child, part of why I think those parks are so personally endearing.

Walt Disney shares a story with his two daughters, Sharon and Diane.

Walt Disney shares a story with his two daughters, Sharon and Diane.

Such seems to be the case with all of Walt’s creations. His dreams began at his home. His children had began reading these little story books about a nanny in England that flew around with an umbrella. His children loved them so much, he thought certainly he could bring this “Mary Poppins” character to life for them in a far greater way.

It’s my opinion, and you can hold me to it, but if it wouldn’t have been for Walt’s two daughters, I can’t imagine many of Disney’s greatest moments ever coming to fruition. They certainly wouldn’t have turned out the way they have. There certainly wouldn’t have been the same motives behind it. We have so very much to thank his girls for.

It hurts my heart to report that Diane Disney Miller, the oldest of Walt’s daughters, has passed away due to complications from a fall she had taken earlier, at the age of 79.

Diane Disney Miller, standing in front of one of her greatest contributions to the DIsney legacy: The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Diane Disney Miller, standing in front of one of her greatest contributions to the DIsney legacy: The Walt Disney Family Museum.

I can claim absolutely no close, personal association to Diane, or with anyone in the Disney family. I am merely an admirer of such. However, this news comes as such a hit to the heart to all of us Disney loyal. Diane was the last surviving member of Walt’s immediate family. Truly, she was the sole biological child of Lilian and Walt. As such, she had a way of catching my attention when I saw her on-screen in several various Disney documentaries. The thought was always, “I’m looking at Walt Disney’s daughter; can I see Walt in her?” You always could. That twinkle in Uncle Walt’s eye we’re all so very fond of was present in Diane’s. The simplistic joy she expressed as she relived stories of her growing up as the daughter of Walt immediately identified her as a Disney, her father possessing a similar enthusiasm for story-telling. Diane, thank you for helping to tell your father’s story, for being such “a fierce guardian” (as Bob Iger so aptly put it) of his name and legend. In doing such, thank you for sharing with us your own story, for showing us that the “Disney magic” wasn’t exclusive to one man.

Diane, we’re so very sad to see you go. With all of our hearts, we say “thank you.” My thoughts and prayers extend to the family and friends you’ve left here. I hope your reunion with your dear sister, with your father and mother, was as sweet and joyful as you’d ever have dreamed it to be.

– Hayden Evans

The author recommends reading THIS ARTICLE PUBLISHED BY THE LA TIMES for a more concise, informative post on Diane’s passing.