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Disney In Depth: The Power Of Escapist Entertainment
Brett Nachman   |  

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We are told in Peter Pan that through having faith, trust, and pixie dust, we can fly. To soar. To flee from society, even if only briefly. We believe in this magic for the hope that our worries will disappear. Disney seems to possess that touch on individuals, especially “geeks” like me, who find value in a break from reality for the hope of dream-like atmospheres.

Since the devastating massacre in Aurora, Colorado, struck the United States with another tragedy, in an environment where many Americans seek diversions – at the movies – I began thinking of the importance of escapism in our society. Though we cannot avoid actuality, and boy would it be unhealthy if we denied truth, I feel we must continue to place merit in visiting worlds of whimsy. Whether they be fictional in the form of Disney films, or where the lines become blurred even further in the Disney theme parks, Americans shall always depart from reality in favor of some fantasy.

Nobody can downplay many of the hardships our country has experienced in the past decade. From massive acts of violence in our cities and educational institutions, to natural disasters that threatened many a person’s livelihood, we have suffered indescribable hardships. But we persevere, as Americans do, standing side-by-side to overcome the challenges we are presented. And amid that trauma we seek rejuvenation. For decades the Disney magic has assisted us in that search for renewal.

Peter Pan and Tinkerbell

When World War II struck the globe, Disney characters helped encourage citizens to support the efforts of our troops. Later, The Wonderful World of Disney series aired specials that emphasized themes of community and resolve. As the decades passed, more examples indicate Disney’s ever-presence in our lives, to serve as distractions from harshness, but also to remind us of the most cherished aspects of life. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has led initiatives promoting healthy eating and fitness. Most recently, The Walt Disney Company’s “Heroes Work Here” campaign has worked toward enlisting veterans to find suitable employment within the massive corporation.

In these ways, Disney has incorporated two essential elements to enliven the spirits of individuals: brand messaging and purposeful goals. Utilizing familiar figures and meanings to assist people in feeling both renewed and assisting others, is something you cannot find very often. On the other hand, Disney has also exemplified its efficacy in achieving its “claim to fame,” to an extent, in offering escapist entertainment. Here, the target goal is to redirect stress in favor of bliss.

Disney’s influence in delivering healthy pastimes is almost inexpressible. How could anyone, or I for that matter, justify the gift this entity provides in inspiring a sad child to laugh or a pressured parent to unwind?

First off, let us explore the Disney films. The animated classics have always delved into an aura of mystique, evoking individuals of all ages to use their imaginations to the fullest. Pinocchio instructs us to tell the truth, or else our noses could grow long enough to nest birds. What a giggle-worthy moment. Lady and the Tramp develops a romance between canines, causing us to suppose dogs might dine over a plate of spaghetti. Bella Notte, indeed. Aladdin treasures fantastic wishes of varying proportions, but the protagonist’s final fancy grants Genie the best riches, his freedom. What a good friend. Absolutely these movies suspend veracity. Would we really want a place like Pleasure Island to exist? Or even the treacherous Cave of Wonders for that matter? But in their aim to entertain, they enlighten to an extent. They demonstrate that film is a medium to successfully eradicate our troubles, and also a format to make us believe the impossible out of what does occur in real life. Sure a magic lamp cannot bestow a meager “street rat” with three wishes, but there’s always a chance to help out a buddy. No magic required. In this way, movies – and especially Disney ones – validate their importance in society, notably when society reflects a bleaker picture.

Aladdin characters

One area that rarely manifests bleakness is the Disney theme park. In the United States, the Disneyland Resort, and to a more powerful extent, the Walt Disney World Resort, provide escape to the ultimate level. Invisible borders close off the outside world – well, if you can imagine the hotels and restaurants marking Harbor Boulevard in Anaheim do not exist – to capture in positivity and all the pixie dust possible. No, the theme parks are not immune from real-life dangers, as various instances of accidents and acts of wrongdoing suggest. Sadly even Disney cannot repel everything bad, but good always predominates in that atmosphere. Here we experience an almost surreal setting where we cannot necessarily differentiate fact from fiction. Of course elephants cannot fly, but at the Magic Kingdom we feel inspired to push aside our doubts and rise over Fantasyland. At Epcot we launch to Mars in state-of-the-art consoles that simulate a lack of gravity. Even more we must question if what we are undergoing is, in fact, pretend. Boarding a service elevator at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we know the tower has trapped terror, but it’s all in good fun. The Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom causes us to double-take that we are still in Orlando, and not the savannas of Africa. Back at Disneyland Resort, similar attractions, as well as original ones, convey that same ingredient of imagination-turned-reality.

The enchantment extends to Disney’s numerous hotels and other destinations across the nation, from the new Au’lani resort in Hawaii, to the hit musicals on Broadway in New York City. Disney’s tens of thousands of friendly, compassionate cast members make us feel like we’re part of a massive, caring family, one where we appreciate everyone’s unique backgrounds and stories. Video games capture us into the exciting worlds of Pirates of the Caribbean and Tron, among others. The television shows share our favorite characters, from the classic bunch of Mickey and friends to new pals like Phineas and Ferb. Merchandising brings the Disney touch to our kitchens and bedrooms with fanciful products. Even the movie soundtracks transport us to happier places.

No matter our tribulations, be it based on personal loss, economic situation, natural disaster, or any other factor, we must always find time to take a deep breath and find a safe, healthy avenue for escaping those hassles. Luckily for us, in all forms of our culture, the magic of Disney is forever present. A constancy that summons delight and security. The term of “Disney magic” is somewhat hackneyed at times, but when tragedies strike communities, a nation, even the entire globe, perhaps few things are more instrumental in their simplicity.

This is Brett Nachman signing off, wishing you joy in your wholesome escape. Return back to Disney In Depth next week for continued fun, and sometimes even thought-provoking, content.

Follow me on Twitter at @bnachmanreports to catch an alert for new editions of Disney in Depth.

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