We took our five-year-old granddaughter to Disneyworld. We enjoyed it. Our Princess Tiana room had headboards that sparkled when we pushed a button. When our plane got snowed out, the resort took us back at the Priceline rate, no extra charge. I missed the major snow storm while I was laying by a pool. I learned things. Good, good. I hope my granddaughter did not learn too much except that we really love her. But I learned a lot.
Let’s be positive first. Disney knows hospitality. That is something to learn. If our church were as ready for visitors as they are, we would have more visitors at our meetings. The “cast members” are so well trained! — a little robotic as a result, but I am being positive. They gave my granddaughter an “It’s my birthday” pin to wear and fifty people must have noticed it! — get a corn dog and get special recognition from your waitperson! During the Mummerlike Festival of Fantasy parade, a dancer actually interrupted her routine to lean down and wish her happy birthday – it choked me up.
Disney connects people to their brand. That’s also something to learn. We met a family on the plane who were going to Disney for their daughter’s spring break (that is what she wanted to do). It was their thirtieth trip! In Downtown Disney (a shopping and eating village) there is a giant store devoted to Disney everything. People buy it and wear it. Witness the pink crocs with a Mickey Mouse logo lighting up when you see my blonde descendant. We should connect people to Jesus so effectively.
Then there is that other stuff, like the entire insidious philosophy behind the place. There’s a LOT to learn there! For instance, the welcome show is a good example of getting the philosophy in there right off the bat. We got to the entrance early because we desperately needed to go visit Elsa and get our autograph book signed. (For the uninitiated: yes, you heard right). We did not know there was a welcome show planned for the several thousand people waiting for the gates to open. The essence of the welcome show is: today is going to make a memory you never forget. I think the message is: life is like an autograph book filled with the memories of getting something you really want and like. Those moments are what we work for, even what we live for. “You can make them today! It is up to you.”
We visited Tinker Bell, too. She is the most obvious example of the “dreams come true” mantra one hears all day at Disneyworld. I think Disney thinks they are a dream come true, so look no further. But the idea is: if we just believe, our expectations will be met. I think more people might believe this “positive” piece of theology from Tink than believe Jesus is their Savior. I would not be surprised if many people who believe Jesus saves them thinks he does it because they believe it. My daughter-in-law sent me a clip from the Book of Mormon when I was marveling at Orlando. She reminded me of how prophetic that musical is. Mormonism has the same foundation as Disneyworld – stories of sorcery and fantasy turned into a theme park in Salt Lake City. They believe.
The loving parent needs to do some brain-unpacking if their child shows signs of thinking the Disney myth has a basis in reality. Don’t they? There is a witch behind every bush. Boys are pirates and girls are princesses. Pretending it is normal to exist inside a giant machine that makes everything magical is OK. Saying “have a magical day” is something people do. Stealing the essence of cultures by stereotyping their character and then making a movie and a theme park ride out of them is OK.
Let’s spend a little more time on that last one. Disney is the crown jewel of an empire mentality. You don’t need to visit the far reaches of the empire to experience “otherness.” It is collected, like thoughts in a thought zoo, in the theme park. The theme is, “We have stolen your identity and reduced it to Aladdin or the Princess and the Frog, then we sell it back to you.” (Isn’t that magical!) They even melodify our epidemic of isolation and solve the problem by advising we live “free” in an ice palace we created by our special power we used to hide. Our faithpushers have caught on to this technique and have constructed their own megachurch theme parks. Disney pushes this tourist view of the world with an Animal Kingdom and Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) in which they reproduce the exotica of far away lands that are safely caged in Disneyesque surroundings. Disneyworld is hugely philosophical.
The most redundant teaching has to be: in a “world” full of stories, the end is always boy gets girl (or now, vice versa), never child meets God. The place is scrupulously scrubbed of Jesus. What does a child make of that?
What is a Christian who lives in a Disney world to do? I am a pilgrim moving through. I can taste the sweetness of a well-intentioned “cast member” without becoming one. But I will have to have some healthy dialogue about every piece of propaganda that gets into my house. Most of all, I will need to build an alternative that makes more sense than Disney as it incarnates the living God.