Posted by: laughs4dads | December 3, 2010

The Care and Feeding of Childhood Fantasies or “Say It Ain’t So, Walt!”

Childhood fantasies are beautiful and fragile things, and I fear we treat them badly.

Perhaps it is because we have forgotten ours.

I don’t remember what I dreamed about at two years old, but when Casey was that age, I wanted to believe her fantasies were pure and bright, full of furry creatures and lilting music.  Her fantasy world, I imagined, was one in which Mickey Mouse and the Cookie Monster co-existed, where every animal, every plant, every object was capable of speech, where nothing could go wrong that couldn’t be solved in the time of a 7-minute cartoon.

Casey had embraced a special circle of friends in her waking hours: Mickey, Goofy, Bert and Ernie, Pinocchio, ALF, and a few less famous but nevertheless beloved creatures of varying sizes, colors and filling materials.  And I believed she dreamed up wondrous adventures with all of them.

Because Barb and I valued Casey’s fantasies (and, I think, envied them), we decided to take her to Walt Disney World in Orlando.  It was there we discovered, without much surprise, that America, or, at least, American business, did not value our child’s fantasies as much as we did.

Like Las Vegas, Orlando is a city without a geographical reason for being.  There is no shore, no port, no mountains, nothing but flat, boring land and sinkholes, which are these lakes that appear suddenly when a patch of ground disappears for no apparent reason, swallowing anything that happens to be on it, like, as in one celebrated instance, a Porsche dealership.

And just as Vegas is a town that sprouted up around a vice, Orlando is a town that was built around a mouse.

I’m aware that the city existed before every available piece of land was turned into an architectural nightmare of resorts, amusement parks, fast food places and souvenir stores, all with no other purpose than to make a despicable living off children’s fantasies and the people who have made the pilgrimage to pay homage to them.  In fact, we happened to have friends who lived in Orlando, and these friends did not make it a habit to dress up as forest animals, so we knew there were some normal people who live in central Florida. But were it not for this prior knowledge, you could not have convinced us that Orlando’s mayor was not a talking duck. (This all happened 22 years ago, remember, so it may be different now, especially considering some recent election results in Florida.)

Every furry, talking, singing, dancing creature had been captured and squeezed onto t-shirts, towels, mugs, umbrellas, lunch boxes, sunglasses and more.  They had even removed Donald Duck’s beak and glued it onto a baseball cap.

And it seemed a shame that Walt Disney, a man who so carefully and protectively cultivated so many fantasies, had his name on so many of the enterprises that are now so thoughtlessly destroying them.

For weeks before our journey, we built this trip up for Casey.  “We’re going to see Mickey,” we’d tell her.  And, if asked where she was going, Casey would reply, “On a plane in the air.  See Mickey Mouse, the duck, Goofy.”

And so we arrived in Orlando with a simple goal of locating Mickey Mouse, introducing him to our daughter and snapping a few pictures.

What we found out, however, is that Mickey Mouse is like Big Brother in the novel 1984.  His likeness is everywhere, but you just can’t see him in person.

We spent a day looking for him at Disney World.  We took two different forms of transportation just to get from the parking lot to the front gate.  We paid a fortune for tickets.  All this to get hit with a bunch of commercials.  Every two feet there was a “Kodak Picture Spot.”  Every three feet there was a souvenir store.  We got to wait on half hour lines for three minute rides, many of which were sponsored by great American fantasy-fulfilling corporations like Goodyear.

In the end, we had met Goofy and some minor characters like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.  But we saw neither hide nor ear of Mickey Mouse.

Our friends who lived in Orlando told us that Mickey was sheltered like a superstar, and that he never made personal appearances (like at corporate receptions, for which he was available for hire) without a body guard.  And here I always thought it was Pluto who protected him.

After our disappointing day in the Magic Kingdom, we went to a “Character Breakfast” at one of the many humongous resort hotels that are part of the Disney empire.  Goofy, Pluto, Chip ‘n Dale and some characters I didn’t recognize wandered around the dining room while we ate an expensive breakfast for which we had waited half an hour–just like the rides.  But Mickey wasn’t there.  No Minnie, either.  There wasn’t even a sign of Donald Duck.  Perhaps he was finally getting fitted for a pair of pants.
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We finally had to fool our own child.  We took her into the official Disney Character Store where they had a human-sized stuffed Mickey, and we said, “Look, Case, there’s Mickey,” and I muttered something in a high-pitched voice, and Casey seemed satisfied, but I still felt guilty, so I told her that Mickey said she could pick out anything in the store to take home.

And so we returned home with a duck hat, a plush Pinocchio, a little Daisy Duck doll, a Winnie the Pooh and a Goofy puppet, not to mention a bunch of t-shirts.  We don’t know if Casey bought our Mickey Mouse scam and, if she didn’t, if she was disappointed.  But I know we were.  It seemed the only thing magical about the Magic Kingdom was how it made our money disappear.  It was certainly not so magical as a child’s fantasies.

When it comes time for you to plan your trip to Disney World (and the time will come, because we have been conditioned to think we are bad parents if we don’t give our children the experience), take my advice and stay home.

Your children will treasure their fantasies much more if they don’t see them on t-shirts.

(On the other hand, Casey, now 24, cannot wait to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.)

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