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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Overviews of the Overall Structure

Disneyland is its own world: a supreme example of hermeneutics, where the work not only opens up a world, but is its own world and represents other imaginal worlds—literary, cinematic and otherwise within itself.  At Disneyland, you can literally physically enter into the world of the work, and participate in it, while going to and fro!  That is Disneyland's design.  Disneyland is a shared experience and an influential landmark.  At Disneyland, you can go round and round, as well in many different circles, from the Disneyland Railroad which encircles the park, to many of the rides that go round and round, beginning and ending in the same place.  The Disneyland railroad is a bit reminiscent of the hermeneutic circle, because you can get on and off in different places!  In 1953, before Disneyland was built, Disney explicated his vision in an outline of the Disneyland Project, which alludes to the third movement of hermeneutics—application:

The idea of Disneyland is a simple one.  It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge.  It will be a place for parents and children to share pleasant times together in one another’s company:  a place for teachers and pupils to discover greater ways of understanding and education.  Here the older generation can recapture the nostalgia of days gone by, and the younger generation can savor the challenge of the future.  Here will be the wonders of Nature and Man for all to see and understand.  Disneyland will be based upon and dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and hard facts that have created America.  And it will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts and to send them forth as a source of courage and inspiration to the world.  Disneyland will be something of a fair, an exhibition, a playground, a community center, a museum of living facts, and a showpiece of beauty and magic.  It will be filled with the accomplishments, the joys and hope of the world we live in.  And it will remind us and show us how to make these wonders part of our own lives.  (Wakefield, 1990, p. 106)

As can be seen, many of these sentiments were encapsulated in the dedication plaque.  They also marvelously express the Uranian-Neptunian dance that is at the heart of Disneyland, since these archetypes figure prominently in Disneyland’s underlying plan. Wakefield (1990) says that this outline, used to obtain financial backing, “reading like a utopian manifesto . . . provides us with an insight into an understanding of Disney’s previous film work which must be regarded as a blueprint for the later theme parks” (p. 106). 

Wakefield (1990) sees two different patterns at work in Disneyland: death and rebirth, and the grafting of real actors into imaginary landscapes.  In the former category he sees the park experience akin to a rite of passage:

Films such as Snow White (1937) or Sleeping Beauty (1959)  are classic examples, are tales of death, rebirth, suspended animation and miraculous redemption.  These themes find their corollary in the Disneyland experience.  The past, as we shall see, is represented as a dead and inert mass, committing the future to an unwanted half-life that can only be broken when it is co-opted by the imagination of the child and is resurrected in the present.  Whilst history is resurrected from the dead only to be reborn within the theme parks, the visitors themselves are required to suspend animation when they enter the Mecca of fun; to leave one’s car is in a sense to leave something of one’s American humanity and in an act of abandonment to consign oneself to another power.  Restoration and redemption only occur when one returns to the parking lot and re-enters the ‘reality’ of the non-Disney world, bearing, and enhanced by, the fruit of the Disney experience.   Walt’s reality redeems American reality within this spiraling and tautologous logic of the ‘second world.’ (p. 106)

Ray Bradbury, a Disneyland enthusiast, echoes this rebirth theme: “Disneyland causes you to care all over again.  You feel that it is the first day of spring of that special year when you discovered you were really alive” (Holliss & Sibley, 1988a, p. 68).

The second pattern that Wakefield (1990) sees in Disneyland is the grafting of real actors into an imaginary landscape, which goes back to Disney’s first animation experiences, and his Alice in Cartoonland series that began in 1922.  In that series, several actual live-action Alices over the years cavorted with animated animals on animated backgrounds.  In later films, such as Mary Poppins (Stevenson, 1964), which we will discuss at length in its own chapter, Mary takes the Bert and the children into an imaginary landscape when they jump into the chalk picture in the park, and other imaginal experiences ensue after that.  Lastly, in Tron (Lisberger, 1982), Jeff Bridges, the “user” enters into the imaginal world of the computer and finds himself involved in gladiatorial games. Wakefield (1990) notes that these movies

can all be read as in some way exploring the genre established by Lewis Carroll.  However, it is in the theme parks that we see the soliloquy to this Carrollian obsession—where ‘real’ people meet the ‘reality’ of their childhood dreams.  In this un(adult)erated utopia, the epiphany of the hyperreal pervades not just the spectacle, but also the whole set of relations that participate in its existence.  As Debord was to claim in the late 1960s, “the spectacle is not just a collection of images, but a social relation among people mediated by images.” (pp. 106-107)

Interestingly, Disney’s fully animated version of Alice in Wonderland appeared in 1951, after having had to go back to the drawing boards several times over the years since 1933.  Disney’s Alice, loosely following a mélange of Carroll’s novels, plunges into a rather surreal imaginal world after following the White Rabbit.  Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (Geronimi and Jackson, 1951) synchronistically debuted during the planning stages of Disneyland in 1951, and was the first Disney film to be introduced or promoted on television during Disney’s first foray into television—the 1950 Christmas Special, where the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party clip was shown.  Once again, we have a confluence of the Uranus-Neptune planetary archetypes with this premiere pairing of fantasy and technology.

Disneyland provides a series of stories with death-rebirth themes that can actually be physically participated in—movies that can be walked or ridden into, since different rides follow the Disney versions of classic children’s stories.  Indeed, this death-rebirth theme seems to be eternally returning, and we, too, will return to the death-rebirth theme shortly when we explore Disneyland’s structure archetypally in the following section. First, I will consider others' interpretations of the map of Disneyland before applying Grof's cartography to Disney’s creation.


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