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The International Writers Magazine
: Kulture: If it can happen to them, why not us?

The allure of the Magic Kingdom
Gemma Ayres

It was 1928 when a man called Walter Elias Disney supplied the voice of Mickey Mouse, a character he had created, in the talkie Steamboat Willie. 76 years later, thousands of people flock to Disney theme parks for their holidays.
In 2003, seven of Disney’s theme parks ranked among the top 10 most-visited worldwide.

On Saturday mornings you can watch House of Mouse, a cartoon featuring many Disney characters. There are over 60 Disney stores in the UK, selling a whole range of merchandising goods, and you can watch classic Disney films on the stage. The Lion King was the winner of six Tony awards in 1996, including Best New Musical, while Beauty and the Beast is also highly praised; "this much-loved spectacle has thrilled more than 20million people worldwide with showstopping musical numbers, astonishing sets, lavish costumes and never-before-seen It all started with Mickey Mouse - a character created more than half a century ago who is still loved and recognised by people all over the world. "Mickey Mouse, reported Walt Disney at the end of 1933, had received 800 000 letters that year, an average of 66 000 a month. He stressed that all these communications had been addressed to Mickey personally, and not to his creator."It’s not just Mickey - every Disney film has a kind of magic; they combine likeable characters with appealing stories, as well as messages and lessons for children and adults - as they say, there’s a child in all of us!"

Disney films give hope - the hero is often an unlikely champion whose dreams are fulfilled. Cinderella escapes a life of slavery and marries the Prince while Aladdin wins Princess Jasmine’s heart not by using magic but by being himself, teaching that you cannot change who you are, and you should always be true to yourself.

Friendship is also an important part of most Disney stories. Simba gains the courage to return to the Pridelands and accept his role as King with help from his friends in The Lion King, and many other Disney characters are helped in their journey by loyal friends, such as Bambi, Dumbo and Mowgli.

There is also the message of ‘love conquering all’, apparent in many Disney films. An idealistic message, perhaps, but I’m sure I’m not alone in enjoying watching Cinderella and Ariel find their Prince at the end of the film - if it can happen to them, why not us? In almost all Disney films, we see good overcoming evil. This is something very apparent in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. "No film in history has captured the world’s imagination like Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature. Regarded as a milestone in film making, generations have been enchanted by its delightful charm and breathtaking beauty" (It says on the video box). Snow White overcomes oppression and escapes from the evil Queen to marry Prince Charming, finding good friends along the way, making it one of Disney’s most popular .

Disney films aren’t all happiness and no tears, however. They teach children about tragedy, such as when Bambi’s mother is shot and Simba’s father is killed. The character suffers a loss, but grows up to become a hero, teaching that you can turn your life around, whatever has happened. The Lion King was a huge success for Disney; "It has very much the hero’s-journey structure to it, whereby a character is catapulted into growing up by some catastrophic incident in his life. Then he has to go conquer many things, get over many hurdles, seek the wisdom of a wise man and return triumphant to his kingdom."

It can be argued that Disney films are ‘too happy’. They portray the world as an idyllic place - tragedies may occur, but there are always happy endings. However, I disagree with the view that this is bad. Disney films create a world that we all long to live in, and can experience for a short while when engrossed in a Disney movie. That realm of enchantment is spreading - we can now experience Disney magic in theme parks, Disney stores, and, if you’re desperate enough to live in a utopian paradise, you can go and live in Celebration, Florida, a town built by the Disney Company in 1995. "There is a place that takes you back to that time of innocence …. A place of caramel apples and cotton candy, secret forts and hopscotch on the streets. That place is here again, in a new town called Celebration." Russ Rymer, cited by Henry A. Giroux

There is so much that makes Disney films magical - timeless stories, likeable characters, and strong messages that draw children - and adults - to them again and again. Disney brings legends such as Hercules and Robin Hood to life, as well as fairytales such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. It teaches children while entertaining them; Walt was a firm believer in education through entertainment.
Disney films do portray an idealistic world, where there are always happy endings and good triumphs over evil - and in real life, sadly that’s often not the case. For most of us, Prince Charming and eternal happiness may not be just around the corner - but is it such a bad thing to keep believing?
© Gemma Ayres Jan 2005

Gemma is a Creative Arts student at Portsmouth University

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