According to American author O. Henry, "There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we Americans… go back home. Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American."
Walt Disney, and his concept of family entertainment, is frequently described as quintessentially American as well. Author Bob Thomas titled his seminal biography Walt Disney: An American Original. To Thomas, Walt Disney represented not only the possibility of the American Dream, but the fulfillment of that dream. Noted author Christopher Finch followed his landmark bestseller The Art of Walt Disney with Walt Disney's America. In it, he explores the uniquely American world-view represented in Walt's films and theme parks.
Disneyland is closely associated with the idea of "Americana"—and not just because the America of the 1950s produced it. Indeed, the historical themes represented within Disneyland are distinctively American in nature.
The same can be said about Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
American themes run deeply along turn-of-the-century Main Street to the cobblestone streets of Liberty Square to the wooden sidewalks of Frontierland. Here is nostalgic America at its very best, an idealized small town where we all wished we had grown up. The cozy Victorian architecture, the fanciful woodwork, and the warm colors are so inviting that even the most hurried guest rushing to favorite attractions can't help but respond—even on a subliminal level—to the warmth of Main Street U.S.A..
Liberty Square, a land unique to Florida's Magic Kingdom, continues Main Street's tradition of crystalizing an architectural time and place, re-creating the look and feel of a specific historical time period. Liberty Square's Colonial architecture, from the Hall of Presidents to the wondrously detailed Liberty Tree Inn, transport guests to a early America in a the way that Colonial Williamsburg does. The Fife and Drum Corps, the twisting lanes, and the charming nooks and crannies capture the Early American feeling with surprising authenticity.
Frontierland is big and boisterous, a fitting atmosphere for rollicking idealized adventures in America's Wild West. This land includes Tom Sawyer's Island, a salute to that quintessential American novelist Mark Twain that retains its remote, relaxing atmosphere quite apart from Frontierland's very busy main thoroughfares. The lure of the river and the fanciful Liberty Belle beacon, as does that lonely mansion on the hill. The streets of Frontierland are dotted with evocative architecture from the gaudy glory of the Golden Horseshoe to the rustic charm of Grizzly Hall. Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe is another often-overlooked masterpiece of design. With its many themed dining areas and rustic textures, it fits perfectly into Disney's version of the American West.
The sheer size and scale of Big Thunder Mountain could only have been influenced by the impressive landscapes of America's western frontier. Splash Mountain's story, of course, is based on the works of Joel Chandler Harris, another beloved American author. His Brer Rabbit stories have charmed generations with their simple morals and memorable characters, so it is more than fitting that his work is represented in this American-inspired land.
Like the Thanksgiving holiday, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom is distinctly American.
"Stand up, on this Thanksgiving Day, stand on your feet. Believe in man. Soberly, and with clear eyes, believe in your own time and place. There is not, and there never has been a better time, or a better place to live in." – Phillips Brooks, American author and clergyman
This spirit of celebrating and appreciating the "right here and now" is such a strong part of Walt Disney's legacy that it continues to permeate the themes found at Disney parks. This idea, of course, was captured forever in the Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress and in the lyrics to both Sherman Brothers' songs associated with this classic attraction: "Now is the Time" and the original "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow."
America's faith in hard work, ingenuity, and technology was the foundation for Walt Disney's original take on Tomorrowland. That has changed somewhat through the years; much of Tomorrowland is filled with science fiction and fantasy-inspired attractions nowadays. Still, some of that optimistic spirit remains—and in some of the original attractions in EPCOT's Future World, still thrives. Spaceship Earth, for example, continues to celebrate man's many achievements and inspire hopes that the future holds even more wonders for "tomorrow's child."
On this Thanksgiving Day, let's gladly grasp Walt Disney's all-American optimism for a bright, big, beautiful tomorrow.
"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." – Thornton Wilder
These words, by famous American playwright Thornton Wilder, apply more to the people who inhabit the Magic Kingdom than to any specific land or attraction. From cast members to friends and family in our travelling parties, our interactions with others make us feel most alive. It's the human element, of course, that brings the "magic" to Disney World. As Walt himself so famously said, "You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality." It is this human element that Walt Disney understood so well. And at those moments when our hearts are conscious of the wonders of the world around us, it's good to remember that the pleasures we enjoy at Walt Disney World are the result of hours of hard work, ingenuity, and creatively.
Too many people view Walt Disney World vacations as breathless marathon races with little to no time for relaxation or communication. That doesn't have to be the case, however. The spaces created by Disney Imagineers offer a plethora of space for our hearts to warm with the consciousness of our treasures.
As we reflect on the treasures around us everyday, let's wholeheartedly embrace Walt Disney's belief in the importance of human interactions.
"Thanksgiving Day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude." – E.P. Powell, American author and journalist
There are so many profound blessings in life for which to be grateful that it seems somewhat trivial to be thankful for the joy that a place like Walt Disney World brings to most of the readers of websites like this one. It's safe to say, however, that Disney—whatever that one word may conjure for each individual reader—does, in fact, bring a modicum of joy into each of our lives. If not, I doubt we would be reading—or writing for—this website! It's good to stop and be genuinely thankful once in a while, and today is as good as any other day of the year—perhaps even better than most. I've attempted to follow this advice as I wrote this piece, leaving criticisms and concerns, snarky comments and snide asides for another day. And it is in this spirit that I send you and yours thanks—for your interest in the worlds imagined by Walt Disney and for your willingness to read my columns. The connections I've made with other Disney enthusiasts through mouseplanet.com have been truly amazing, and I hope you continue to enjoy those you've made as well. Happy Thanksgiving.
(Send an email to Tom Richards)
Tom Richards is a life-long admirer of Walt Disney, something of a Disney historian, and a free-lance writer. His Disney interests include but are not limited to: Walt Disney World, classic Disney animation, live-action films made during Walt's lifetime, and Disney-related music and art.