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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

The Central Importance of the Center—The Hub and Sleeping Beauty Castle

The Hub

Disney was very insistent on the idea of the hub. The hub is the crossroads of the park, and as we know, mythologically, crossroads are very special places where strange and wonderful things can happen.  The hub is the place “from which roads to other lands radiate like the spokes of a wheel.” The “miracle of the hub,” according to Disney, is that the hub “gives people a sense of orientation.  They know where they are at all times. And it saves a lot of walking” (Bright, 1987, pp. 62-63).  The hub is also a place not only where groups can gather to plan their adventures without disrupting the flow of the park, but it is a central place where they can traverse and change their minds easily, going off in new directions, and a place to come together later on in the day.  The hub is where the Disneyland dedication plaque is located as well as the statues of Mickey and Walt.

The hub is like the axis of a wheel, and this point is very important to play.  So, let us pause here, as many guests do, and go with bricoleur David L. Miller on a slight tangent as to discuss play as it relates to the movement of a bicycle wheel.  D.L. Miller, author of Gods and Games (1970) met German philosopher Gadamer when Gadamer was lecturing at Syracuse where Miller taught. Anxious to know what the learned professor thought about his book, D. L. Miller (1996, online) relates their discussion in his article "The Bricoleur and the Tennis Court":

Gadamer told D. L. Miller that Miller had missed the point, but that this was not Miller's fault, Gadamer remarked, but the fault of the English language.  Gadamer explained that in German and French, the words for play and game are the same—“ein Spiel spielen” in German and “jouer un jeu”  in French. Because of this, Gadamer told Miller that Miller had “wrongly thought that play had something to do with fun and games.”   Gadamer then went on to discuss the bicycle analogy, saying that with a bicycle, if you tighten the nuts too tightly, then the wheel won’t turn.  The right amount of "play" is what enables the wheel to move effectively.  If there is too little play, if the wheel is too tight, it won’t move at all, or at best movement will be strained or constrained.  Similarly, if there is too much play in the wheel, the bicycle becomes unstable or the wheel will simply fall off.  Gadamer called this “spielraum,” latitude, leeway, freedom or room to maneuver.  From this, we can see that play is not a matter of games, but a matter of leeway (D.L. Miller, 1996, online).  D. L. Miller further explains:

“Lee” is the sheltered side of any object, so it is the side of a ship that is turned away from the wind. The point is to have some leeway, some play, as in a bicycle wheel, a little space, some distance . . . .  the point is to give ourselves some leeway.  Topos.  Some space.  Spacing . . . . Things are not playful, of course. I know that. I know that life and this world are not fun; that they are difficult, impossible, tragic, etc. Like the Buddha said: "All life is suffering." But there is always some play in it. Not ha-ha; not game. But space, leeway, Spielraum.

When I was young, we had a whole room at our house where we played, it wasn't called the den or the family room, but the playroom, and it gave us a space in which to play. If play had its own room, it must have been important! [No doubt, it had a lasting effect on me.]

Play is then a kind of emptiness upon which everything depends. ∆RC[dl9]   At Disneyland, the hub allows for play.  The hub is the empty space around which everything else turns and it facilitates movement.  [At the hub, we can take an excursion into the "Cherishing of Childhood" and explore neoteny, the retaining of childlike traits into adulthood. Neoteny is of central importance not only to Disneyland, but also to our species. ] The hub is also where Sleeping Beauty Castle is strategically located, and we will go there next.

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Sleeping Beauty Castle is the first and most important “visual magnet,” in the park, as it draws visitors down Main Street USA towards it.  Walt’s favorite term for these attracting devices was “wienie” because he saw them as being similar to the reward or enticement that is held out before someone to keep them moving towards the reward, like a carrot on a stick.  Sleeping Beauty Castle is located at the hub, the center, and this magical illusionary place indeed is central to Disneyland. Sleeping Beauty Castle signals that Disneyland is no ordinary place. Disneyland is not a normal amusement park, nor or a history park or technological exhibition: It is “Disneyland,” a world of fantasy and make believe.  Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, located at the hub, tells us this is a grand playground, where play can happen.  Disneyland is a place where illusion, fantasy, and magic reign.  Love and relationality are also implicit, but more subtly, because Sleeping Beauty was saved through the love of not only the prince but was loved and protected by the three fairies and the woodland creatures, and her well-meaning parents loved her enough to let her go and live in the woods.

The hub, where Sleeping Beauty Castle is located, is a place “where all other equally fantastic and unexpected dimensions of time and place begin” (Marling, 1997, p. 68).  Sleeping Beauty Castle is also the portal to Fantasyland, which one enters after crossing the Castle’s drawbridge.  Sleeping Beauty Castle is a highly significant symbol and became the park’s trademark as well as the logo for the Disney films—in an abstracted animated form.  The Disneyland television show featured the Castle as its legendary introductory shot, with Tinker Bell waving a pixie dust wand.  In the summertime and on holidays, the Castle is the site of nightly fireworks displays and Tinker Bell’s flight.

As we cross the drawbridge and go through the Castle, we find ourselves in . . .


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:


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