Where has the magic gone?

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Tuesday 28 Mar 2023

 

There is hardly a human on this planet who has not been impacted, in one way or another by the genius of Walt Disney.

He changed the world of entertainment and raised it to heights previously unknown. His unique contributions are treasured and fostered by young and old as part of a general cultural heritage. His art gives us a sense of childlike, emotional and intellectual happiness, which is but a prelude to a far richer experience.

With pencil and paper he created some of the most beloved and unique characters in history, which he created literally out of nothing. 

He was a magician. His magic spread around the world, filling it with such aesthetic pleasure, far richer and lasting than any art or magic can afford.

He was a dreamer, no doubt. He dreamed big dreams and made the impossible possible. His dreams enriched our lives with a host of beloved friends and companions for a century. How much longer will it last?

As a young boy, his family moved from Chicago in 1906 to a farm in Missouri. The five-year-old boy was enchanted with the animals on the farm. He picked up pen and paper and he drew for hours. His drawings were so good that a neighbour gave him a few coins for the sketch he made of his horse. He was heartbroken when his family sold the farm and returned to Chicago.

He went to high school by day and enrolled at the Chicago Art Institute for night lessons where he learned everything about art drawing.

He was only 19 when he started his first commercial art company. He created cartoons that became extremely popular. He took risks, thus introducing a completely different form of entertainment. 

Despite many challenges, obstacles, and failures, he continued to pursue his dreams. Never give up, never say never: Disney finally created his masterpiece, the mouse that roared.

In 1928 Mickey Mouse was born. Officially, he is 95 years old, but the years have treated him well. Mickey’s voice was that of Disney himself, but even Disney could not rival the fame and fondness that Mickey received. Many characters followed, unforgettable and real. At times we all quack like Donald Duck.

Disney made the first animated long feature movie in 1939, Grimm’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which generated more than $8 million for the Disney Co.

He was on his way. He maintained his work ethics, challenged himself daily, and never stopped dreaming. He dreamed of a theme park where the whole family would visit and meet their beloved characters, Goofy, Dumbo, Donald Duck, etc, and in 1954 he opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

The whole world came to see the new miracle and it was an enchanted and enchanting land that drew millions of happy visitors worldwide.

Disney was not done. He had drawn out plans for another park in Orlando, Florida, where he would build a Magic Kingdom with all the familiar princes and princesses of Fairyland, but that was not all. 

Walter Elias Disney was a visionary. His mindset was to make dreams come true. His most ambitious dream was to build an “experimental prototype community of tomorrow” which would feature many attractions centred on the advancement of technology.  

Disney was a heavy smoker. He died of lung cancer in 1966 and never saw his Magic Kingdom or EPCOT. They were built decades later in 1984-1992 and they developed into world resorts, hotels, trains, restaurants representing 11 countries, their sites, their costumes, traditions, and especially their foods offered at the finest of restaurants. About 59 million people visited it annually.

Meanwhile, the company was growing, buying other companies, TV channels, film studios, businesses. The focus on the theme parks was lost in the rubble. 

They continued to make feature and animated films such as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan, Toy Story, Pinocchio, etc. generating billions of dollars, not to mention the Harry Potter franchise, Die Hard, Avatar and others numbering 140 feature films and 75 animated films.

Without the leadership of Disney, Michael Eisner and Robert Iger held their own, but a little magic was lost. 

The moral fibre that Disney cherished faded and was replaced by musical scores and hit songs, the last being “Let it be” from Frozen.

Worst of all, cherished theme parks lost $25 million during the pandemic, never to recover. Under the new management of Bob Chapek, services began to deteriorate. Prices went sky high; visitors complained and turned to other theme parks such as Universal, which was benefitting from Disney’s decline.

The most successful were the Chinese Theme Parks, 13 in all, including Disney. 

Covid-19 destroyed them, as it did many businesses, some of which would never return.

Happiness was Disney’s goal and Disney fans were no longer happy.

Boycotting Disney is trending for various reasons, some political, concerning the new “gay regulations” over defining the gender of a child. People are mad at Disney for approving such policies.

Chapek was ousted, and Iger had to come back from retirement with a bushel full of magic to revive the enchantment that Disney created.

Iger started a Love Disney campaign, which hopefully will save the company that lost 25 per cent in the market place.

More important is to spread happiness once again, which was the Disney dream, the Disney magic.

Disney theme song from Pinocchio:

 

“When you wish upon a star/ Your dreams come true.”

Leigh Hairline (1907-1969)


* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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