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“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.”~Walt Disney
Disneyland was Walt Disney’s first encounter with theme park design, but it was Walt Disney World that possessed the physical space Walt needed for him to fully express his imagination. Where Disneyland has two parks, Walt Disney World has four—that is, if you don’t count the two waterparks, Disney Springs, The Boardwalk, and over 20 meticulously themed hotels. Even though I’ve basically been to Disney since I was born, to this day I still regularly learn something new, and the learning is a greatly rewarding experience.
Although I love looking for nitty-gritty details (trust me—last time I went to Disney, I made a point of visiting a wall that covered the entrance to an abandoned attraction), sometimes the big picture needs more attention. The four parks that make Walt Disney World are Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Magic Kingdom is nearly the direct equivalent of the first Disneyland park; if you equate Disney with childhood innocence, nostalgia, and the old Disney movies, then Magic Kingdom is best for you. EPCOT aims to foster cultural and scientific awareness by having one half of the park operate as a continual World’s Fair and having the other half demonstrate the technologies of the future. Hollywood Studios has entire lands dedicated to specific Disney movie franchises, namely Star Wars and Toy Story, and shows guests how filmmakers create movies. Finally, Animal Kingdom possesses several lands themed after different continents around the globe, showcasing the animals that one can find on each continent.
Today’s muse will explore the first park to open at Walt Disney World Resort: Magic Kingdom. Magic Kingdom has the best layout by far of any other amusement park I’ve visited—and I’ve been to several outside Disney. Why is the layout so effective? Simply put, it is shaped like a wheel. The hub of the wheel is Cinderella Castle, the icon of Magic Kingdom. Each spoke of the wheel connects the hub to a different themed area of the park. If I want to bring first-time visitors and want to feel like I am really smart, I would take them to Magic Kingdom and show them all the shortcuts. Despite the firework crowds every night, there are so many ways to get from place to place, and it’s extremely difficult to actually get lost.
The layout isn’t just good for shortcuts, though. It accurately reflects the stages of Walt Disney’s life, which is why the whole park somehow feels a lot more conservative and nostalgic than perhaps all its successors. Take Main Street, U.S.A., for example. This is the entranceway to Magic Kingdom, modeled after the small Midwest town Walt grew up in at the beginning of the 20th century. All the buildings here look like they came from that era, and the cast members (i.e., employees) all dress as if they are still living in that era. You can still see horses clomp up and down the street and hear trolleys rolling by. On the left side of the park are Adventureland and Frontierland, which honors the imagination of young Walt. Here you’ll see Tom Sawyer Island, complete with a whitewashed fence, wooden rafts, and dark, creepy caves. It did not surprise me when I found out that, as a little boy, Walt loved Tom Sawyer. Frontierland can also be taken to represent the metaphorical wilderness Walt persevered through when he struggled for so long to make a living off of his artwork. Also on the left side of the park is Liberty Square, which highlights how well Walt’s story fits right in with the American Dream.
The right side of the park features Fantasyland and (my favorite land of Magic Kingdom) Tomorrowland. Fantasyland represents the time when Walt’s artistic career finally succeeded economically, and he was able to push the limits of imagination in his movies. Finally, Tomorrowland points to Walt’s goal of using stories to transform civic society with his stories—which is basically what he envisioned with EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, before his death in 1966.
If you walked around the perimeter of this circle, though, you would never walk through the castle, because the castle is right in the middle. The castle’s placement represents the heart of Walt’s imagination—that truth, goodness, and beauty can and do exist. The spokes reaching to the outskirts of the park reflect just how much that heart shaped each area of his life.
As a Christian, though, even the physical layout of the park can hold devotional value—not idolizing Walt, but understanding my place on Earth. After all, isn’t this fleshly life taking the long way back home to our heavenly home and Father—and isn’t heaven supposed to influence everything we do? I believe this is why so many people love Magic Kingdom—it reflects (perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not) the eternal truth that we were made for heaven. But until that day, we are wanderers on the edges of the wheel, on the Circle of Life.