Walt Disney Imagineering's message of hope in trying times

March 19, 2020, 3:26 PM · The coronavirus and Covid-19 have covered the globe. For now, only Antarctica remains untouched. Theme parks have closed their gates or postponed their openings for the season. Over the next few weeks or months, we are all going to spend a lot more time inside even as we might still need to scratch that itch of visiting a theme park.

On-ride videos are about to get more views. I’ll be rebuilding my Lego Roller Coaster and Disneyland Train... then taking them apart and rebuilding them again.

You’ve no doubt see or know about the fascinating series on Disney+, “The Imagineering Story.” My wife and I delayed activating a subscription to Disney+, only signing up for it last week. I’d like to think it was a smart move on our part, as we now have a fresh library of shows at our disposal during our social distancing. We’ve been going through The Imagineering Story over the past week, but it’s episode 5 that hit us with an extremely timely message.

In the episode, Daniel Jue tells the story of the March 11, 2011 earthquake that rocked Japan.

“There were about seventy thousand people in the parks at the time the earthquake hit. They were all taken care of and brought back home safely. That told all of Japan that Tokyo Disney Resort is safe and reassuring.”

We now find ourselves amidst a global epidemic, unsure of when our lives will return to normalcy, or even what that normalcy will be. Our world and our lives will be forever changed, much like the people of Japan after the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear disaster. Jue continues:

“After 9/11, the President [of the United States] can come out after a period of time and say ‘Hey, we’re back on our feet’ and the country feels like, okay and get back to our business. In Japan, no one announces that. Tokyo Disneyland had to open for the country to begin to heal. After being closed for about a month a month and half our guests came back in droves. We had people running to hug Mickey and thank him. And you go, this is what we do.”

As we’ve been watching The Imagineering Story, my wife and I have been remembering our own experiences at the resorts around the world. Our first time experiencing each new ride, attraction, or resort. When we get to return our favorite parks, whether Disney, Universal, Cedar Fair or a smaller regional park, they will be both familiar ground and uncharted territory. As described by narrator Angela Basset:

"Throughout theme park history, critical observers view Disney kingdoms as Pollyanna fluff, or escapism. But the Imagineers contend they build a better reality, one based not on chaos and contradiction but on order and harmony."

Bob Weis muses about the purpose of their work:

“I once asked John Hench what does all of this mean, what’s the deeper meaning of all this and he said the meaning of the parks is very simple, you’re going to be okay. By that he meant it doesn’t matter what’s happening in the world, it doesn’t matter how screwed up your life is, or whatever that might be. It’s reassurance that sense of comfort. That intangible is what we have to do.”

Kevin Rafferty explains our longing for entertainment

“If you think about in history, if you think about the Great Depression for example, everybody back then, as hard as the times were, they spent money on two things, they spent money on food and entertainment. Maybe not necessarily in that order. And people always need to be entertained, people always need the reassurance that it’s fun to have fun. That you can. That you can go to a place and enjoy your friends and family. And we need it more than ever.”

Stay safe, and know that we will have conquered this pandemic when I see your faces back on Main Street.

[Editor's note: If you are looking to learn more about Imagineering, especially while so many of us are at home, allow me to remind you about WDI's Imagineering in a Box online curriculum, through Khan Academy. (Give that page a moment to load after you click to it.) And we're going to give you an opportunity to test some of the lessons you learn from that program here on Theme Park Insider in a few days. Stay tuned.]

Replies (1)

March 20, 2020 at 10:09 PM

Wonderful thoughts and reflection. Thank you!

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