Anaheim — The complimentary breakfast at the motel was the usual fair—cheap donuts, “o” shaped cereal, weak coffee. It didn’t matter—we were two blocks from the happiest place on earth: the Anaheim Convention Center. Also, we were really close to Disneyland, which was where my daughter Laura and I were going to spend several hours that would seem like an eternity.
Sorry, that last line was from a movie trailer for Shutter Island; Laura and I had a great time at Disneyland. So anyhow, as the day started I poured my coffee and looked around the room at the other motel guests. Mostly they were families, people of all ages, types, and nationalities, much like the theme song of the Magic Kingdom’s It’s a Small World Ride. I smiled grimly, for I knew these people would soon be my competition on the lines for rides and churros.
During our day at Disneyland I discovered why they call it a theme park. One theme is a long, meaningless water ride with an ever-repeating song: the It’s a Small World ride is one good example; the Pirates of the Caribbean is another. And then there is the death theme. I wonder if anyone has ever done a doctoral dissertation on this aspect of the Disney ideology. From my extensive research, which involved Googling “Disney” and “dissertation,” I found Elaine Bradtke’s Entertainment or Crowd Control: An analysis of the use and function of themed music ensembles in Walt Disney World and Maria-Lydia Spinelli’s Fun and Power: experience and ideology at the Magic Kingdom, but not Disneyland and Death. But take my word for it, the place is lousy with morbidity. The prototypical death attraction is Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, which takes us through one disaster after another until we die, go to hell, and then—tada! The ride's over! What’s the message there? But the Toad ride isn’t the only example: the Indiana Jones Adventure, the Haunted Mansion, the Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Winnie the Pooh rides all have dark undercurrents of death and a very musical afterlife.
And speaking of dark, you could feel the tension building that evening as they roped off sections of the park for the big parade. I asked one of the flashlight-wielding cast members if the rides to Fantasyland were open. “Yes—only the Storybook Land ride is closed,” he said, waving us on. Keep moving, folks—this is serious business.
Our peak moment at Disneyland came, of course, on the Mad Tea Party ride, which we won, beating all the other contestants hands down for amount of spins per ride. Laura pointed out that some of the other contestants, who were under 6 years old, may have been handicapped. I don’t care. We won.