We slept in and had breakfast in the room. Next time I will bring cereal and other morning items, so I don’t have to pay nine dollars for half an ounce of Raisin Bran. I exaggerate, but not entirely; at the end of the night I was picking up provisions in the main market, and overheard a conversation between a sunburned lager-bellied patron and a clerk. “Yahve six packs?” the fellow asked. He had six beers in his arms. “No,” the clerk said sadly. I suspect he’d had this conversation before. “Only seengol.”
“How much'eachovem?” Mr. Wantbeer asked.
“Fi thirry fi.”
“So a six pack is . . . oh man.” Despair. Thirty-one dollars for a six-pack. Of Miller. Of Miller Lite.
At least our morning coffee was free, thanks to my titanic assertion of my injured status the previous day. We boarded the bus and went to Disney Hollywood Studios, formerly Disney MGM. Never been there, and didn’t know what to expect.
Well. There’s a spot under my chin, right under the dimple, and it’s slightly bruised and a bit abraised. The former was caused when my jaw hit the ground and the latter came from dragging it a few dozen yards. Because if we get to construct our own heavens after we die, this is mine.
The dumbstruckery began at the gate, which rose like a hallucination: it was the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, back from the dead:
Beyond, standing atop a rotating steel ball in the space once reserved for the giant RKO mast, Mickey:
But that was just the teaser. Once inside, Natalie grinned and said “I bet you like this, Dad, because it’s old.”
It’s the right kind of old, kid. The right kind. Holy jeezum crow:
Of course it’s ersatz, but tell me why a building in 1925 with a Roman façade is any more genuine than a 1998 reproduction of a 1942 structure. You could make the case that this is more genuine, because this is our style; this is American. Well, French Art Deco filtered through an American lens. With European modernism tossed into the mix. Okay, we stole it all. But it’s ours now and everyone knows it.
This, for example, hints at the famous, if unneighborly, Lescaze brownstone in New York:
It’s not really a dentist’s office – the plaque lists tenants like Ruth Canal and C. Howie Yankum. And nothing probably ever looked like future-perfect:
It’s not as if movie theaters usually combined these colors and styles with such abandon:
But if it’s all a bit more than the real thing, it makes up for the lack of the real thing nowadays. This could have come from the ’39 World’s Fair:
And this looks forward to the 50s, but walks right up to the border of the forties and stops, leaning over:
But was it fun? Of course. I did not do the Tower of Terror, as I am averse to the very things that define the ride. We did the backlot tour, a distinctly underwhelming event – you board a tram, and you drive past props from old movies. Is that the real Herbie the Love Bug? Who the hell cares? But then the ride enters “Catastrophe Canyon,” and you experience the twin pleasures of death by immolation and death by unexpected submersion, and all is forgiven. Did the Playhouse Disney show, and I was surprised Natalie wanted to see it; no Olie, and she’s past that demographic. Perhaps it was her version of Sha Na Na, a nostalgia act for the carefree days of toddlerhood. It was the first time I’d realized how much the Playhouse Disney lineup had changed – a batch of new shows have replaced the ones we watched, although they still have the same messages: Work Together, Solve Problems by Thinking.
As opposed to the shows of my childhood, which encouraged us to solve problems by spasmodically acting out the first thought that flickered in our brains.
To be honest, the shows of my childhood had few lessons, which is why we liked them – no one was shoving spinach down our gaping mouths, just sugar and Fizzies. I don’t believe any of those lessons stick, except as templates kids expect to see repeated over and over again. We fixed it! We solved it! We found it! Whatever. Kid’s TV can be boiled down to Dora asking a kid “What was your favorite part?” followed by silence as the kid says nothing, and Dora pretends that she’s listening.
There’s a nice exhibit on Walt Disney’s life, including an authentic reproduction of his animator’s desk, and an authentically authentic recreation of his office, complete with four glass ashtrays the size of astronomical observatory lens. The diorama concerning the rise of the Disney TV enterprise has a backdrop photo of a family facing a new suburban rambler – dad has a hat, mom has a dress, and the two kids are dressed in fifties mufti. The outline of Mickey is projected on the house. This must chill the blood of some, truly; everything wrong with America is summed up in that simple image. Patriarchy, sprawl, heedless reproduction, dress codes, the inevitable social atomization of suburbia, car culture, and the omnipresent watermark of branding identity stamped on the entire wicked concoction. Hissssss.
Well, I saw a happy family bursting with pride and optimism, but I'm twisted that way. As for the floating Mickey-mark – well, wait a bit, and I’ll get to that.
It’s a recreation of the famous LA eatery, of course, and the walls are lined with portraits and caricatures of bygone stars. One in six might be identifiable today, if you’re a student of the era. To have your picture on the wall of the original Derby was the height of fame, but their time has gone; the restaurant, in its own way, is a mausoleum. (Make that a mouseoleum. Hah! Sorry.) Most of these people ended up unknown to the nurse who drew the sheet over their face, I’m sure. The ferryman never saw your movie. Even that one all the critics loved.
The cutoff point seems to be Johnny Carson. It’s almost jarring to see him there, like seeing Burt Reynolds in the background of “Casablanca.”
After a grand meal of steak and Cobb Salad, with table-side amusement provided by the newlyweds at the adjacent table (she was a free spirit, he was an uptight know-it-all who criticized the crème brulee with utmost confidence, absolutely certain he detected a note of almonds, beyond the point where she was impressed) we headed over to the new Toy Story ride. Tre-fargin'-mendous. Half the fun is the pre-ride scene-setting, but almost everything in the Pixar portion of the park softens you up and replays the emotions you may have felt while watching, say, Toy Story, or perhaps Toy Story 2, or maybe the boxed set of Toy Story and Toy Story 2. Most of the Pixar area, in other words, is Toy Story, and I’m not sure why; a few days later in the airport, we sat next to a couple in the food court who spoke Spanish, and I caught nothing but the mom’s request that the child play with “Lightning McQueen.” Surely a roller-coaster begs to be made from Remy’s run through the sewers and walls of Paris.
Anyway: you race through a course in your car, shooting darts or rings at 3D objects. Fast, loud, great fun; you’d ride it again until your shooting hand fell numb and your eyes grated in their sockets.
Last stop: Fantasmic. It’s an outdoor light-and-sound-and-pyrotechnic extravaganza based on Mickey’s nightmare. Apparently he only dreams of licensed characters; even his imagination is walled by copyright. Various scenes from various movies are projected on 60-foot-tall walls of water; there’s copious fire, piratical interludes, barges with famous Disney couples, villainesses, and a recreation of something I’m starting to suspect is the seminal moment in the whole Mickey canon: the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Volumes could be written about that “Fantasia” sequence; I remember how much I loved it when I first saw it as a teen, mostly for the moment when he ascendeth the streamlined cliff and commandeth the stars and the water, wearing The Hat that granteth all things. In simple commercial terms, the appearance of Mickey may have kept "Fantasia" from sinking into the vault for decades – by ’39 he had been eclipsed by Donald and done in by a decade of rough-edge polishing; the “Sorceror’s Apprentice” may have been his last act of mischief. It certainly worked: he’s now identified with The Hat. Apparently he passed the job interview and got The Hat when the Sorcerer retired, or just swiped it and left town. The details of the transition are unclear.
Left on the bus, as usual. The driver had a fine laconic voice and a practiced line of patter, as the best ones do. He led everyone in “Zip-a-dee-do-dah,” and the entire bus sang along. (I embarrassed my child by shouting out MAKIN’ A DOLLAR A MINUTE at the proper moment, but believe me, if there's ever a place where the opposite of ongoing dollar-accumulation is true, it's WDW.) When we drew near to the resort, he bade us to sing the Mickey Mouse Club theme, and everyone did, from the kids to the old duffer in the back. Why? Because we like you.
And that’s why I don’t mind the image of Mickey projected on the house in a museum devoted to his creator and corporate overseer. I’m sure everyone on the bus could have disagreed about 9,972 different things, but damned if we didn’t all know the words to the song on the bus ride home.
The wife and child got off at our villa’s stop, and I rode the bus to the end of the line to get some stuff from the grocery store. Talked to the driver. He was amused by the bailout. He said he could use one himself; he had a $400K mortgage on a house now valued at $250K because of the foreclosures on the block. We talked about mark-to-market. He said he would hang on and drive the bus and pay his bills, and what’re you gonna do?
Lead a busload of strangers to sing childhood songs in the dark, I thought. Worked for Walt. I asked him if people always sung along when he started.
He said they did. Every night. Every day. Every ride.
I suppose so. Everything here, as the Zip-a-dee song has it, is satisfactual. How apt: that’s a perfect word, and it’s not real. But everyone knows what you mean.