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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn


Fantasyland was Walt’s favorite land when the park opened (Thomas, 1976).  The rides in Fantasyland are based on the children’s classic literature and fairy tales portrayed in Disney’s animated movies.  The imaginary is real here:

This district is constituted by images; of particular significance is the fact that these images are realized, are made living by their transformation into real materials, wood, stone plaster, etc., and through their animation by men and women disguised as movie or storybook characters.  Image is duplicated by reality in two opposite senses: on the one hand, it becomes real, but on the other hand, reality is changed into image.  (Marin, 1984, p. 245)

Doss  (1997) reminds us that Fantasyland’s rides are especially oriented to children and the rides allow children to participate in these animated adventures.  The Fantasyland rides “in particular, accommodate play, magic and intuition” (p. 181).  But Fantasyland does much more. Fantasyland, above all the other lands in the park, is a very Neptunian place.  Doss tells us that:

Fantasyland occupies a special realm, a kind of unconscious or basement level for the mythos of the human realm, for it features stories of fear, struggle, transformation, and conquest transposed to the level of the unconscious, of the fairy tale . . . . It provides a temporal space where audiences may individually and imaginatively engage with and negotiate familiar myths and rituals on their own terms.  (p. 181)

Doss (1997) mentions the "Freudian/Lacanian" perspective of fantasy, remarking that “fantasy embodies the desire for integration, fusion, fullness, and accord in a world circumscribed by separation, dissolution, and alienation” (p. 181) and goes on to note that in Fantasyland, the tension between abundance and anxiety can be worked out: 

Fantasyland’s offbeat buildings, outlandish characters, and otherworldly attractions offers opportunities for individual choice and personal transformation.   Inside the dark rides of Snow White’s Adventures and Peter Pan’s Flight, children and adults experience playful and perhaps empowering moments of disruption and defamiliarization.  For a few, brief minutes, in controlled physical settings, Fantasyland’s audiences are urged to free their minds and exercise their imagination.  Accommodating abiding cultural desires for magic and security, for release and restraint, Fantasyland remains a place where Americans truly can “feel the fantasy” . . . and at the end of the day, return to the real world. (p. 189)

In Fantasyland, we can safely engage with familiar myths on one hand, while also accessing the “emancipatory potential” which myths and fairytales contain.  So there is also Uranian side to Fantasyland.  According to Zipes:

Even the mass-mediated fairy tales which reaffirm the goodness of the culture industry that produces them are not without their contradictory and liberating aspects.  Many of them raise the question of individual autonomy versus state domination, creativity versus repression, and just the raising of this question is enough to stimulate critical and free thinking.”  (Doss, 1997, p. 181)

The emancipatory potential of these tales has countercultural potential. Doss feels that Fantasyland’s magical power is a result of simultaneously combining expressions of security, while appealing to “social subversion and cultural emancipation.”  Thus, in Fantasyland, particularly, we can see an interplay between the fantasy and illusion of the planetary archetype Neptune, and the emancipation and liberation of the planetary archetype Uranus. Disneyland, too, as a whole strongly reflects these two archetypal influences which mirror the movement of the planets themselves at the time of Disneyland's creation.  ∆RC[dl10]

Fantasyland’s dark rides begin as we leave the familiar world, and then enter into the darkness of the adventure, which is sometimes magical and sometimes frightening. At the end, much like Alice in Wonderland waking up from her dream, we come back into the familiar world, and into the light.  The “staged insanity of Wonderland is only temporary” and this is comforting (Doss, 1997, p. 187).  These rides mirror the stages of death-rebirth that play out mythically in these stories, allowing us to feel a bit of mastery, as we emerge unscathed from our different adventures.  The Disney Imagineers explain:

Actually, what we’re selling throughout the park is reassurance.  We offer adventures in which you survive a kind of personal challenge—a charging hippo, a runaway mine train, a wicked witch, an out of control bobsled. But in every case, we let you win.  We let your survival instincts triumph over adversity.  A trip to Disneyland is an exercise in reassurance about oneself and one’s ability to maybe even handle the real challenges in life. (Bright, 1987, p. 237)

Fantasyland is especially liminal in this way; it resonates with the mythic structure of the hero’s journey and the birth process.  The rides of Fantasyland, for the most part, end where they began, alluding to the endless round, the eternal return. Just as rites of passage allowed participants to dip into illo tempore and renew themselves and their culture soo too, can a trip to Disneyland. [We can take The "Art of the Show" excursion and see how Disney creates the magic of Disneyland, as well as exploring transitional space and flow. ] One of the favorite rides of Fantasyland is "It’s a Small World," which was created by Disney for the 1964 World’s Fair, along with several other exhibits. "It's a Small World" was added to the park during the 1960s and this ride has a similar archetypal interplay between Neptune and Uranus: all of the children look the same and different at the same time, and they are unified at the end all wearing white.  [The "Antistructure" excursion, located in Adventureland/New Orleans Square, gives us some insight into the emancipatory nature of this ride]. But now we are off to the most popular part of the park, New Orleans Square, an especially liminal land.


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