Muse #12: A Smile in Your Heart

“And off we go! Off to Neverland!”

-Peter Pan’s Flight

If you like to go to Disney World as frequently as I do, then you know the three attractions in Fantasyland that ALWAYS have the longest lines. It’s a Small World counts because its theme song is literally the most played song in the world, and everyone and their mother has a love-hate relationship with it (there’s more to it than that, of course, but that’s the funny part). The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train always draws a crowd because it’s the most hi-tech ride in all of Fantasyland, and being surrounded by sparkling gems is a girl’s dream come true.

But Peter Pan’s Flight? That can be a little tricky. It doesn’t boast a song nearly as catchy as “It’s a Small World.” According to today’s standards, it doesn’t boast advanced animatronics by any means. At the first glance, it comes across as another IP-heavy dark ride that retells the movie scene-by-scene. The ride system is extremely simple. And yet if you buy Genie+, this is one of the attractions I would recommend grabbing a pass for, because the line is frequently around 2 hours long.

Why is it so popular?

I think the answer is in the title: Flight.

For the longest time, the idea of defying gravity utterly romanced the human psyche. To us, it was the supreme image of defying the odds in life, of complete freedom to dance in the air and travel where we wanted. It was tied so closely to the American dream of individualism. Now that we have conquered the skies with airplanes, however, that romance has dimmed quite much. It is obscured by the hustle and bustle of the modern airport: the boarding passes, the loudspeakers, the big bright signs that are ridiculously hard to read, etc., etc.

But if you ride Peter Pan’s Flight with children, they are completely taken aback with wonder. On my youngest sister’s first trip to Disney World, I sat next to her on Peter Pan, and a tangible joy crept across her face. She really believed that she was flying, that she was free.

On this attraction, Walt beckons to our long-lost love affair with flight by lifting us up into the sky with a vessel that’s meant to travel across the deepest seas: a pirate ship. And this pirate ship isn’t flying by hanging from a railing in the air. Oh, no. It’s flown by pixie dust. Indeed, Disney always has a cast member by the end of the boarding area, pretending to shed pixie dust on each and every ship just before the lap bar automatically lowers into place.

If this were any other theme park, hiring someone who isn’t helping with the mechanics of the ride would be considered a complete waste of labor and money. This cast member does nothing to enhance the safety of the attraction. But Disney recognizes that this cast member stands at the heart of the ride. She is the reason the attraction draws re-rides over and over again. This cast member is the storyteller, the reminder that, in our modern mindset, we think of airplanes belonging in the sky and ships belonging in the sea, that there can be no overlap. But she ushers us into a world where these categories are erased, and all by imagination. After all, in the film, pixie dust enables flight only when the children think of sublime and lovely thoughts.

Peter Pan’s Flight thus encourages transcendence, to dream of things that are bigger than our comprehension. It enhances this message by pulling riders into the story; Peter Pan talks to us, and the animatronics are designed to look like they’re smiling at us and are thankful for our help. We thus discover that transcendent thinking leads to good deeds—and oh, has God shown me that that is ever so true!

Yes, the attraction is simple and, from a technological standpoint, outdated. But the subtle yet undeniable message of transcendence and good deeds tug at the souls of both the young and old, so they can’t wait to go back. And that is truuly magical.

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