As much as I enjoy the rest of the parks, Tomorrowland is home. It’s the only part that doesn’t have any historical antecedents. Main Street is an idealized small town - a hell of a rich small town, by the way - and the big castle is idealized feudalism without the wretched peasants and hereditary rule. Frontierland is a myth about a myth. Tomorrowland is a dream.
No, I don’t do Space Mountain. Natalie does, though - fearless with the zest of youth she is, and it’s the first thing she wants to do. We did the Laugh Floor, and once again we weren’t picked for the interactive portions. We’ve tried everything. Look dull! Look smart! Be down front! Be up back! Be by the lights! Don’t be by the lights! Nothing you can do. Last time we went through it four or five times, but not so now - the line by ten was doubled back on itself six times, and I expected they’d come up with a show where Bernie Madoff is sawed in half by Mickey and Minnie and gold coins shower out of his intestinal cavity.
Same with Buzz Lightyear. Never waited more than a few minutes; now we stood like Soviets queueing for a potato. We came to a fork where the FastPass people, the Optimates, were joined with the hoi polloi; the guard bade us to wait. I noted that it was busy today. She said yah, sure, they had to close the park on Wednesday. They were at full capacity. Imagine driving to Disneyworld and finding it closed. How do you explain that to your kids? It’s like Mickey turned his back on you. It’s like running for the last boat to leave the sinking ship and making eye contact with Mickey, and he gives the order to cast off. You’d expect that from Donald, but not Mickey.
After all these times, it’s still a disorienting ride. Disorientation is the key to all the good rides - total sudden immersion. It’s hard to describe the sensation of entering a small room crammed with colorful targets shining in the black light, seemingly suspended in space; you move from room to room, and in every room there’s a slight reset to your surroundings, so you’re searching for new orientation in slightly more familiar surroundings. That’s the fascinating thing about these rides - because they’re constantly loading and unloading, each set-piece consists of a discrete reality endlessly repeating, always new for you.
Then the tram. It’s hardly a thrill ride - just a little jaunt around Tomorrowland, with peaks into other rides. This time I recognized the model City of the Future of Tomorrow you pass - it’s the original model for Epcot, I believe.
Having just watched a documentary on Walt Disney’s original plan for Epcot, it made more sense. It’s everything I don’t like in modern urbanism, really, but I think this would have worked - and it would have been renovated beyond recognition by now. But what if it hadn’t? To think there might have been a late-60s-style planned community with people movers and underground roads and enclosed faux-downtowns - it would be fascinating to see now.
You can watch the original here, if you like.
He died two months later.
I think I mentioned this the last time, but I find Walt a fascinating character, partly because he strikes me as remote and unknowable. What you saw was probably what others saw, with much more passion and anger and petulance and generosity and smoking, but I just can’t get a grasp of the man. He strikes me as devoid of reflection and contemplation, a paddlewheel in constant motion. This doesn’t mean he was empty or false - on the contrary. But he seemed always in the grips of an enthusiasm, an idea, a project, and managed to be the rare sort whose restlessness and constant need for a new project was accompanied by the will to see things done. When you read how many times the organization was close to being scuppered with money problems, you can see how there might not be time to sit back and reflect on What It All Means. Besides, that’s a silly question. It’s obvious what it means. It’s right there. Look at it. Ride it. Hear it. Enjoy it.
Of course, I find him interesting because it’s a form of self-flattery: he managed to make legit both sappy nostalgia and starry whiz-bang futurism. He loved the small town and the moon base.
Which brings us to another venerable attraction. The Buzz Lightyear FastPass machine spat out free bonus FastPasses to the Carousel of Progress, which I adore. It’s taken three days to stop singing the song. If you’re unfamiliar with the ride, it’s four robot-acted tableaus in which a genial American sits in the kitchen and talks about all his new gadgets while his wife irons and the kids play. (In the earliest segment, the son is using a new-fangled stereoscopic viewer to look at pictures of Little Egypt, which was the early 20th century version of sneaking peeks at pr0n sites.) Each segment concludes with the signature song, which must have made the sophisticates roll their eyes when the exhibit was premiered at the ’64 Fair. There’s a bright new beautiful tomorrow / shining at the end of every day / there’s a bright new beautiful tomorrow / just a dream away. Sure, it’s defined in terms of appliances. So? They make life easier. Progress.
I have a fondness for the post-war period.
The rest of the day was spent on the usual events, the sort of trip a Disneyworld hater would call the Stations of the Dross, but as long as Natalie enjoys it, I enjoy it. From the metallic whimsy of Tomorrowland to the water and the birds in Frontierland:
We hit Philharmagic again - at this point I enjoy the audience’s reaction almost as much as the show itself. The children hold out their hands by instinct to touch the things floating in front of them, and the adults would too, if they admitted it to themselves. The other 3D shows are wonderful pieces of entertainment, but this thing is Art on a different level, and only the parade of Licensed Characters keeps the stony-hearted detractors from giving in.
Wife and child went to ride Space Mountain again; I said I’d meet them at Tony’s. Went back to the theater, where they play old cartoons. Watched that silly and very odd “Flowers and Trees,” which I know by heart. It’s the only place in the entire park where you can sit and watch an original product as it was originally presented. They’re not selling you anything. There aren’t any Flowers and Trees rides or plushies or mugs or shirts. It’s just a link back to the early days of the company, presented with understated pride.
THEN OUTSIDE FOR A LOUD PARADE that mixes up all the characters on various floats and encourages the dreaming and the wishing and the magic and the rest of the key words, as if it’s a Powerpoint brought to life. Nothing as musically memorable as the evening parade, but a pleasant diversion. We left afterwards, having spent $20 total. We were done with the parks, and in need of a nap.
Pool time. Dinner at the Turf Club, the resort’s restaurant. Bought a drink and sat outside and had a resurgence of STABBING FEAR.
The door was down. right? I’d seen it go down. The door was down. I know it was. Just because we’d sped off before I’d seen the garage door go all the way down and stay down doesn’t mean it didn’t stay down. Relax.
Everyone went to bed early, but I stayed up for an hour banging away on the novel.
The last day: took the ferry to Downtown Disney, and hit DisneyQuest. It’s a five-story arcade, more or less.
First stop: the animation lesson. You sit at another truncated Mickey-thing:
Natalie was horribly unhappy with her Donald, which was UGLY and STUPID, and this put her in a sad mood for half an hour. So we did another, and she was pleased. And critical: no offense, dad, but Goofy's teeth are kinda wrong.
Where on earth did she get that star-shaped T in her name?
We headed upstairs to play video games. Theyhave every game in the world. Including old ones: I got my old Centipede skills back in a second; Natalie played Burger Time, which is like me playing a 1940s pinball machine when I was eight. They had 80s machines I’d never seen before:
We played some virtual-reality games that reminded you how we were supposed to be living in virtual-reality worlds by now, until you actually played them and realized that wearing ten pounds of smelly gear on your head detracted from the immersive nature of the game.
Ice cream, a boat ride back to the resort. I took one last stroll around, and found something I hadn't seen: a courtyard with statues representing the various seasons. Pensive spring:
Then the bus to the airport, the jetway to the plane:
Up in the air and off to sleep. Wheels down, wake up. I got the car, and drove home still singing the Carousel of Progress song, to the annoyance of others. Another trip to Disneyworld. More of the same, many new things. A good start. No more Disneyworld in the fall for me, though. Spring from now on. Spring as long as she wants to go, and spring as long as I can take her there.